Big Dreams, Small Businesses
● By Aimee Cormier
By Amanda Jean Harris • Submitted Photos
Rusty Steel wasn’t all that into donuts. But, that all changed a few years ago when he took a chance and left his long-held job.
“When I started I didn’t even eat donuts,” Steel says with a laugh.
It’s been four years since he left a nearly decade-long career managing Hobby Lobby to open Cajun Glaze Donuts. His reason, if not a love for sweet fried dough?
“I knew I could manage people and that I was a hard worker and I felt like it was time to take a chance,” Steel says.
His chance wasn’t without trial. Steel planned to open a Meche’s Donut King franchise. But, once in New Iberia and ready to roll, he was faced with an injunction, because the name closely resembled another donut shop in the area. Instead of fighting, Steel chose a new name and logo and was able to do his own thing. The new name meant no easy name recognition and a challenge greater than Steel had first anticipated.
“You want to start a business with name recognition. Starting something with a new name is a lot different,” Steel says.
He was able, however, to take some of the things he learned from the Meches.
“We use the best products we can buy to make the best donuts,” Steel says. “We make everything fresh.”
From red velvet cake donuts and apple fritters to traditional glazed confections, the crew gets rolling at 1:30 a.m. to prepare for a 4 a.m. opening. They are closed at noon each day. It makes for a long day, especially so in the early years, for Steel. We had to ask how much weight one gains constantly working in a donut shop. The answer was surprising.
“I lost weight until just 6 months ago when I hired a manager,” Steel says.
He says hauling 50-pound bags of flour and sugar and moving constantly kept the donut weight from accumulating. And the long hours are paying off from the business end.
Thanks to the work shifts of many in New Iberia, there are a healthy dose of patrons at 4 a.m. grabbing donuts before their 5 a.m. shifts start.
Concrete Revolution is more than just flooring. It’s an art form. And from an unlikely source. Keefe Duhon was a machinist who began working with concrete flooring on the side in 2008 and soon realized it was more than just something extra on the side.
“He realized he had a gift for it and he left his career to start this business,” says the newest member of the Concrete Revolution team, Wess Robinson. ”It started as the staining of concrete and then he realized there was more to do than staining. There were actual art elements.”
Those art elements have created what some call “art you can walk on” for every area of someone’s home — inside and out.
“He took an opportunity to grow his business and provide a different type of solution besides staining or painting concrete. But, making it artwork.”
While Robinson only recently joined the fray at Concrete Revolution, he was there in some ways from the word go.
“Keefe’s wife is my first cousin and we are good friends and close,” he says recalling the early days of deciding on logos and a name. Robinson even did the first few jobs with his cousin-in-law just for fun.
Robinson, however, worked in the oil and gas industry as a learning and development manager.
“I’m a people person. I have marketing, leadership and advertising skills. That was the missing link for Keefe expanding the business. With the relationship we have and the trust we have, it’s a great merging of the two of us to take the business to the next level.”
Both men took a leap of faith to take Concrete Revolution to the next level and now the business is expanding more than ever. It’s likely thanks to the durable nature of concrete, making it a solution that works outside and inside coupled with the flexibility of making it your own.
“The concrete becomes a canvas and that’s where you put the art,” Robinson says. “For new construction we may be doing the entire inside of the home and the outside — patio, porches, garages, driveways, walk ways, around pools.”
In addition to the diversity of location for pouring concrete is the revolution of what can be made of concrete in a home.
“We are going vertical,” Robinson says. “Fireplaces and custom mantles and carving. Grottos around custom pools. We are able to take things and go up. It’s more than decorative flooring. We are doing things no one else is doing and it’s an interesting and affordable option.”
The concrete can be treated to look like marble with a better price tag and can withstand more than materials like carpet or wood flooring. After a flood you would just clean the floors off, no ripping anything up.
“It’s so durable – and we are growing on many levels. It took a leap of faith; this is something completely different, but it’s a growing local business and we have a lot of trust. We are family.”
Recipe for Success
Debbie Mitchell will never forget the day her husband came home from his hitch offshore and said he wasn’t going back. He was tired of missing out on their lives. He was done and Debbie, a new wife and respiratory therapist, says he asked her to join him. In what?
“I said, the only thing we can do is cook,” she recalls.
And cook they would.
“I took my last paycheck — $685 — and put it into the business,” Mitchell says. “My mom said, ‘but, you went to school and you have an education.’ My mom said, ‘if it doesn’t work out … but, I know you would eat grass before you told me.’ We never looked back.”
That was 25 years ago. Today Vern’s Catering and BBQ is a staple in South Louisiana.
They started by catering for a group tailgating outside the Superdome with nothing more than two Magnalite pots for equipment and a burner. But, they had food. Good food. That day it was fried chicken and Mitchell says the partygoers spent more time outside eating than they did at the event. The couple quickly grew a reputation for quality food. But, it was Mitchell’s choice to join the Chamber of Commerce that changed the trajectory of the business.
“I had such an ill conceived idea of the Chamber,” Mitchell says of the New Iberia Chamber comparing it to something akin to a country club.
“I realized what it was – thousands of potential customers. I went to every Chamber event and became the networking queen,” Mitchell says.
Soon the couple was headed to the Essence Festival where they scored some of the highest scores ever. And then came the biggest opportunity of them all — the Super Bowl.
“We went to New Orleans with 10 to 12 different dishes. Everything. Greek and Bahamian, Cajun, Creole,” Mitchell says. “All the things we could do.”
The committee was impressed with their efforts (that were much greater in scope than the average samplings.)
“They said we have two more weeks of sampling. But, go home and prepare yourself,” Mitchell says. “For two weeks we couldn’t tell anybody. We were catering the Super Bowl in 2013.”
In 2015 they spent a month with their staff in Arizona for the Super Bowl and are hoping 2017 will be another Super Bowl catering event for them.
Twenty-five years ago they were cooking outside the Superdome. Today, they have catered inside it and it’s all for one reason, Mitchell says.
“It was a total leap of faith.”