After several years working in the food and beverage industry along the West and South Coast of the island, Samantha Robinson felt she was ready to pursue her dream of opening her own eatery offering customers natural drinks, salads and wraps.
Today, the mother of five has done just that plus added a competitive edge, that is, offering food customized to her client’s preference which is prepared while they watch.
The route to achieving this business with a difference was mapped with careful planning. First, Robinson gained the necessary experience and training. As detailed in her impressive curriculum vitae, she is a certified food and beverage manager with the practical experience to match, including the fact that she managed a café in Holetown, the upmarket section of Barbados’ tourism belt.
Those achievements are important but Robinson knew they were insufficient. As an independent operator, she had to test the market.
“I started out by putting my homemade salads and wraps at places like gas stations. They were well received . . . I also got to learn more about the market,” she said.
One of these establishments which sold her products included a kiosk in Norman Centre, a Bridgetown mall. They did well, and it was there that Providence had a hand in her future as an entrepreneur.
Robinson said that when the operators of the business decided to move out, the property managers asked whether she wanted to set up shop at the spot.
It was a tempting offer since people were already visiting there for her food and the mall was developing a food court which meant there would be lunchtime traffic. That led, last October, to the birth of Café Paradis, and a dream had come true.
But then, one of the biggest challenges that usually stymie new small businesses presented itself. Financing her fledging café threatened to become a headache. Café Paradis didn’t start with a large cushion of money; Robinson got an input from her stepfather and used personal resources. But that wasn’t enough to give her company long-term viability, so she went the traditional route of approaching several financial institutions for a loan.
However, accessing funds proved impossible since Café Paradis was starting with a clean slate and had virtually no verifiable business records or security. Robinson was stumped but not defeated, she asked questions and pondered over her challenge. Finally, she recalled that about a year or two previously, she had read a newspaper article about The Cherry Tree Trust, a charity that supports micro-businesses and entrepreneurs who are having financial difficulties expanding or starting their businesses.
A few minutes later with the help of Google, she had adequate information from the Trust’s website to activate what was the start of her business’ relationship with them.
In December, she had not only secured a loan but a very supportive relationship, which she highlighted during a visit at the CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank headquarters at Warrens, St. Michael.
Robinson told the Bank’s Managing Director, Retail and Business, Mark St Hill, “What I like about . . . (Cherry Tree Trust) is that they help with business plans, they gave me a mentor, people check in on me. It is very supportive, like a caring family, you get guidance.”
The two met during an informal ceremony at which St. Hill presented the trust with the third tranche of money under an initial five-year agreement which will see the bank committing $150,000. The trust, a privately owned charity, extends loans to entrepreneurs who may have been rejected by the banking system because they are too young or don’t have the collateral or enough experience in business.
St. Hill said CIBC FirstCaribbean was happy to assist small micro businesses like Café Paradis which would normally fall outside of the scope of its regular banking business and the trust was an adequate vehicle for offering this helping hand.
It was also important, he said, to meet with the beneficiaries not only to learn about their businesses but to encourage them along the way.
During his conversation with Robinson, the English-born entrepreneur spoke about her twin 16-year-old sons’ involvement in the business and so hinted at a budding succession plan. Robinson said they work in their spare time at Café Paradis and were learning a lot about the operation.
She noted that her clientele is growing and although people could choose from freshly made but already prepared food, many opt to wait and watch as their custom-made choices are prepared.
“The ambiance is great, they have Wi-Fi . . . we tell them how long the preparation will take and so they always leave quite satisfied,“ she said.
Robinson, who can truly be described as a Caribbean woman, with lineage in Grenada and Jamaica in addition to her Barbadian connections, is still dreaming and translating these dreams into plans and actions aimed at leading to a bigger tomorrow. In the future, she sees her café offering drinks made from Grenadian cocoa and chocolate as well as coffee and teas from a wide selection of blends from throughout the world.