I’ve been with Nav for not quite six months (but in COVID-19 time, it feels more like six years). Being relatively new, this was my first experience interviewing potential grant winners for Nav’s $10,000 grant and I am blown away.
Of all the things we do at Nav, offering grants to deserving small business owners just became my favorite. Folks like Malik Rhasaan (known as Che Butter Jonez) and his wife Detric Fox-Quinlan (known as Bae Butter Jonez) are a pair of business owners that really have something special going on. I loved the eclectic vibe of their business and can’t wait to try one of their Lamb Burgers, which Bae says, “Is guaranteed to bring you back.”
I can’t wait for my next trip to Atlanta.
Normally one of Nav’s team members surprises the grant winners in person, but because of the coronavirus, we told them they’d won the $10,000 grant via a video conference call. Malik & Detric’s application stood out for a few reasons — the challenge their business faced in the midst of the COVID crisis as customer numbers declined, how they responded by doubling down on the fundamentals and their love of being small business owners. The couple plan to use the $10,000 prize to purchase equipment for a shipping container that will become their base of operations, as they lost their previous operations center while cutting costs during COVID.
I’m really glad I got to be part of this—and am anxious to visit this food truck and a Lamb Burger with a side of brussel sprouts for myself. (Another favorite at Che Butter Jonez.)
“Food is a great connector of people.”
The inspiration for Che Butter Jonez comes from South Jamaica, Queens — 134th and Guy R. Brewer, to be exact. “Queens is the most diverse place in the world and growing up there I gained a great appreciation for good food,” says Jonez. “I come from the borough that birthed Run-DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, LL Cool J, and 50 Cent. My truck reflects that.”
The diversity in Queens inspired a great appreciation for flavors, good food, and great conversations. “People have some of the best conversations over food,” he says. “We wanted to create that type of environment in our community.”
Community, Customers, and a Food Truck
There’s nothing easy about running a small business. For most small business owners it becomes much more than a job, it becomes a way of life. I think this is particularly true for restaurateurs and even more likely if your restaurant is a food truck. Despite the challenges, “I cannot give up on my dream,” he says, “and I don’t think my wife would let me if I wanted to.”
One of the things that impressed me most about Che Butter Jonez was that when they described their business, it was their focus on the community and their customers that were the most rewarding for the two of them.
“Seeing the people in my community return week after week to eat with us,” says Che, “is what makes this business so rewarding. Our customers have embedded us into their lives. We have had people share their wedding anniversaries with us, drive in from other states, and bring their parents and their children. There is nothing more rewarding than that.”
Speaking with Bae, she says it was the way the community rallied around their business that kept them on their feet during the coronavirus crisis. Not only did they continue to patronize the truck when they could, they often paid it forward so Che and Bae could continue to offer free meals to essential workers and those in need—something they both said was important to them.
What It’s Like Running Che Butter Jonez
A thriving food truck business has all the challenges associated with running a full-service restaurant—without a permanent location; and in tight quarters. “People assume a food truck is easier and more cost efficient than having a bricks-and-mortar location, but it’s not,” says Jonez. “It’s very predatory, as everyone wants a piece of the small piece of the pie you hope to earn.”
After spending time talking to them, I think it’s safe to say they wouldn’t choose anyone else to face the challenges of running their small business with. “Working with my wife knowing that we are building a legacy for our children is what it’s all about,” he says. “When you can get up every day and do what you love with the people you love it just doesn’t get any better than that.”
Facing the Future Together
Bae says finding a permanent location in their community to grow the business is their biggest challenge. They have an incredibly loyal following and are excited to put the grant to work so they can continue to pursue their dream of a bricks-and-mortar location.
They intend to pour the grant money back into their business so they can continue to grow. “We had a path for our business before COVID-19 created our new normal,” says Bae. “This grant ensures that we can find our way to that path once the pandemic is over. The grant makes the path a little clearer during these exceedingly difficult times.”
They heard about the grant because they already had a relationship with Nav. They bootstrapped the start of their business with personal savings and the generosity of family and friends who believed in them, but like most small businesses, they sometimes needed a little extra capital to fuel growth and fund other business needs. They understand the synergy between personal and business credit and how it facilitates financing options that might not be available if you ignore it, that’s when they found Nav to help them navigate the world of business credit and financing.
Bae read about Three Tree Coffee, the previous grant winner, in an email from us and decided to apply. “My wife came to me that evening and said we should apply in the next round and see if Nav can help us sustain our business. We took a chance, and we won,” said Che.
We’re glad they did.
Everybody Needs a Good Support System
Bae suggests that everyone needs a strong network of support. People you can learn from, bounce ideas off, and genuine people you can confide in. When running a business she says, “Know that fear will come, but belief in yourself will beat out that fear every time. Stay the course! Everything you have ever imagined for yourself is on the other side of that fear. Move past the fear and win.”
I couldn’t say it any better myself. Congrats, Che Butter Jonez.