Here's how a pair of Washington, D.C., restaurant entrepreneurs earned a visit from President Barack Obama during National Small Business Week.
The White House thinks this sandwich shop is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Well, at least during National Small Business Week it appeared to. If you've ever wondered how to get the U.S. government to talk up your business, take a lesson from Taylor Gourmet.
When the SBA wanted to kick off National Small Business Week and highlight President Obama's small business legislative agenda, the first event was a presidential meeting with a handful of small business owners at Taylor Gourmet, a Washington, D.C., sandwich shop about two miles from the White House.
My office is just a couple of blocks from the local chain's original location, and I've eaten more than a few hoagies there over the years. So, when I heard SBA Administrator Karen Mills talking about the president's visit and how an SBA official had convinced its owners to apply for an SBA loan to finance an expansion, I have to admit I smiled.
The guys behind Taylor Gourmet are Casey Patten, 32, and David Mazzen, 35, friends from Philadelphia who bought an old row house in a dicey Washington, D.C., neighborhood in 2006. The area of town, H Street NE, had been devastated by riots in 1968, and was only just starting to see signs of revitalization. The house itself had apparently been used as a crack den at one point.
"When we pulled up the carpets there was blood on the floor," Patten told me. "When the shades were drawn that's when they were packaging crack. When they rolled up people came to buy it."
But now, that neighborhood, not far from the U.S. Capitol, is turning around, and Taylor Gourmet, which Patten told me launched in their row house only after their first-floor tenant refused to renew a lease, is now a great success.
Obama dropped by Patten and Mazzen's third location, which was financed with an SBA-backed loan. The president bought a 12-inch Spruce Street hoagie--roast turkey, prosciutto, roasted red peppers and sharp provolone--and also picked up "an assortment of sandwiches" for a lunch with congressional leaders, a White House official later said. (Part of the store's schtick is its Philly theme; the bread is trucked in from Philadelphia every morning, and all of the sandwiches are named after its streets.)
Patten said the visit came about as a result of his ongoing relationship with the head of the Washington, D.C., local SBA office, who had originally walked in off the street while touring the area in 2008. It was in that first meeting that they talked about the idea of applying for the SBA loan.
Since then, Patten and Mazzen have opened two more shops. They're currently working on opening a sixth store—and employs 110 people.
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