Owner Name: Hannah Rush
Business Name: Trillium Farm to Table
Business Website: www.trilliumnh.com
Location: Laconia, NH
SBDC Advisor's name: Rita Toth
As part of our ongoing Covid Creativity Stories series, NHSBDC recently had a conversation with Hannah Rush, owner of Trillium Farm to Table restaurant in Laconia, about opening a new business in the middle of a pandemic and her collaboration with the NHSBDC team…
When the shutdown began, what was the immediate impact on your business?
Hannah Rush’s business, Trillium Farm to Table Cafe in Laconia, was not yet operational when the shut-down orders came down in late March. She had planned to open in May, in a renovated space that was once a cupcake bakery. She had secured the lease in January, with plenty of time to renovate. “Everything just got harder at that point,” Hannah says. Renovations were delayed, but she and her space were finally ready on June 18.
One of the more difficult aspects of opening in the midst of a pandemic was getting supplies. Big companies she used were consistently out of products. “It was so hard to communicate with them. The supply chains were all screwed up.”
Her main focus is serving creative, nutritious food that is “veggie-forward,” and everything is made from scratch and sourced locally.
The locals who knew she was opening in the midst of the crisis, she says, “thought I was a little crazy, but they came in and basically said ‘Cheers to you’ for trying.”
It was, however, pretty easy to find all the new employees she needed. “People were bored by then,” she said. She was actually able to hire part-timers who worked only the dinner hour at other restaurants. “That ended up being a win-win for all involved.”
At the height of summer, Hannah employed 10 people, three of them full-time. She actually had to add a few more in the busiest months, but now, she says, “We’ve all got a little better at what we’re doing. We’ve worked out the kinks.”
An inevitable slow-down for winter will likely result in cut-backs.
Trillium is intended as a “fast-casual” dining experience, and Hannah was thankful she hadn’t planned on opening a fine dining establishment in these times. It would have required a complete re-make of the menus.
The plan had been to start Trillium Farm Cafe with just lunch offerings, but after a short time, Hannah added dinners, too, just on Friday and Saturday nights. “We didn’t want to be overwhelmed,” she said. “Summer was just so busy. People wanted to get out, so offering dinner made sense.”
The cafe’s patio space made it an ideal location for outdoor dining. “We got really lucky, with our huge patio and some small tables inside that could be appropriately spaced.”
Will you continue the changes and adaptations you have made once concerns over COVID-19 are behind us? Are you planning to institute more changes in the near future?
Hannah reports her indoor dining space was not used much over the warmer months. “People were still uncomfortable eating inside,” she said. “But our community is very supportive. They’ll come and take advantage of take-out over the winter.”
Are you collaborating with other businesses, municipalities, organizations, etc., for the first time or differently than in the past? If so, in what ways?
Once things opened up, the Belknap Mill sponsored a scavenger hunt event in the community to showcase small businesses. They set out clues that encouraged people to find various businesses. At Trillium Cafe, a local quilting group had put its quilts on display for the scavengers to find. “That was just good for us to get our visibility out there since we were still new to the community,” Hannah said.
As a former farmer herself, Hannah found and worked with many area farmers who became her regular suppliers. She’s excited that many of them have growing seasons into January, enabling her to continue to find her signature fresh ingredients. Her menu will change a little, emphasizing winter root vegetables, and she and her staff canned a lot of produce for the cooler months.
How has SBDC helped you and your business, especially in the last year?
Hannah worked with SBDC advisors Rita Toth, who works out of the Belknap Economic Development Council, and Warren Daniel in writing her business plan.
“They just had so much knowledge,” she said. “I didn’t know how to organize everything for the plan. They gave me the guidelines, and I was able to get all my thoughts on paper.”
She needed the business plan for acquiring her lease and obtaining a line of credit at the bank. Both advisors have followed up with her throughout the months since the pandemic. “I couldn’t have done this without their help."
This client story is part of NH SBDC's ongoing collection of COVID Creativity stories about businesses surviving and thriving during COVID-19.