2011 November: Five Questions

Lisa Towne owns Mama Lisa’s Little Italy in Castle Pines, Colorado. In 2008, Towne was determined not to become another fallen business owner due to hard economic times and she worked with her local school district to provide healthy meal options for kids. Today, she runs a full-time restaurant serving three day parts as well as a five-day-a-week school lunch program.

Q. You moved to a new location this fall.

What were the biggest challenges associated with moving?

With the increased business that was added with the school contracts, our largest challenge was timing the move when the schools were closed and we did not need our kitchen to fulfill the school contract.

Q. You joined with your local school district to start a new lunch program. How has this increased your business?

By working the school contracts into our existing business model we have increased our sales by 110 percent. Our fixed overhead remained the same and labor increased by 40 percent, however, our capital investment was minimal. Overall, we couldn’t be more thrilled with the concept of having schools as another revenue stream.

Q . You recently branched out from offering the lunch program two days a week with a limited menu to five days a week with everything from macaroni and cheese to Sloppy Joes. Why not stick with pizza and sandwiches?

Broadening our menu offerings presented us with the chance to go to five days a week. In addition to offering a full spectrum of fresh menu items, we offer gluten-free and dairy-free options for the children daily as well. All of our bread is baked in-house which is cost effective and provides a much fresher, healthier product for the children. My son, the pickiest eater I have ever met, was my muse and source of product development. If Justis would eat and love the foods we were offering, just about any kid would approve. Plus, it’s a wonderful promotion, in a sense, for the wider selection of foods we’ll be offering at the new restaurant.

Q. You offer breakfast on top of your lunch and dinner sales. Why add a breakfast component to your business?

A: In order to maximize the sales within one location, I felt we needed to be open to diversification. We added breakfast after running a cost analysis on adding the labor and equipment for the third meal. We realized that we could add another 25 percent to our overall sales with minimal capital investment. The morning crew arrives before 6 a.m. to start cooking for the school contracts, (so) adding another cook and several servers was not a huge investment into a densely populated upper-income neighborhood that currently did not offer a breakfast at a full service restaurant within four miles. On top of breakfast as a “new meal time,” we’ve also added an internal bake shop that bakes all the breads needed for the school contract in addition to baking bread, muffins and cookies that we can offer for retail sales.

Q. Have you considered expanding your business to include additional locations?

A: Yes, if all the numbers look good we will add a second location within the next five years in an area/neighborhood similar to our current location in Castle Pines, Colorado.

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