Sometimes entrepreneurs struggle for years to find the perfect product or business idea to fulfill their startup dreams. For others, the concept serendipitously appears.
This was the case for Tawnya Clark, Founder of The Batata Shop. Clark grew up on Detroit’s Northwest side close to Marygrove College. The resourceful entrepreneur illustrates how perseverance and patience can help Detroiters, both young and old, grow their business slowly and successfully–a recipe for long-term success.
While caring for her ill grandmother, who was limited to a restrictive diet, but loved sweet potatoes, Clark began to experiment with different combinations and recipes in an effort to diversity her grandmother’s menu. Years earlier, her family had taught her to make waffles and pancakes from scratch in an effort to preserve the family’s Sunday brunch tradition. Inspiration hit one day while watching a chef on The Cooking Channel. Clark turned her kitchen into a laboratory and began to perfect a recipe for sweet potato waffles. Shortly, thereafter, the concept for her business was born–a company specializing in creating small batches of whole wheat baked goods with sweet potatoes, including waffles, pancakes, breads.
Then came the first major decision as a budding entrepreneur. What should I name my company? Clark decided to use the spanish word for sweet potato, batata, to distinguish her company and its brand. And, well, the sweet potato shop just doesn’t have the same ring does it?
A tasty product, catchy name and a cult following among friends and family members gave Clark the confidence to enter the first cycle of the Hatch Detroit contest in 2011. Although Clark did not win the competition, she learned a great deal from the experience and underscored the importance of being resilient. “Ted Balowski and Nick Gorga were gracious and gave me invaluable feedback on my concept. They encouraged me to start selling my product in an effort to prove my market existed. I didn’t make it, but the experience put me on the path to success and gave me the kick in the pants I needed to move beyond catering for my friends and family.”
Clark has a clear vision for the future of The Batata Shop. Ideally, she would love to open a brick and mortar restaurant in the Livernois/7 Mile area close to where she grew up. She sees the restaurant specializing in a “breakfast menu, but with enough business to gain a full day following” that will help stabilize the neighborhood’s economy and offer an alternative to popular breakfast spots in the ‘burbs. Clark is also finalizing plans to launch Eat My Batatas, a youth development program for children interested in pursuing culinary arts, as well as testing the feasibility of selling a line of packaged frozen waffles in grocery stores.
Until then, she’s remained committed to developing her business through pop-ups and catering gigs. “My plan is built on what I consider a modest growth model. I want to develop slowly and establish my market. Although I would prefer not take on debt, if I need to, I will have several years of establish business credit to make that process easier.”
In a time where social media allows people to capture moments from their lives and instantly disseminate them, it is somewhat novel for an entrepreneur not to despise incremental growth. Yet, Clark remains open to all possibilities. “I learned how to be patient and how to persevere. I’m clear on what I want to create, but I’m continually learning about my business and seeing where the model I’ve created takes me.”
And, we bet it will take her far! Follow The Batata Shop on Twitter @thebatatashop to find out where you can buy her yummy waffles, complete with homemade pecan butter spread.