A strong community, Tiny Drumsticks has 15 employees with three New York locations and over 50 paying clients. And it might never have happened – or grown – without a few credit cards.
Like many small businesses, the origin story for Tiny Drumsticks, a communal kitchen facility in New York City, began with a need. Connie Sun, who founded it with her partner, Benjamin Sloan, was struggling to find a space to cook and prepare food for her catering business.
“Everything I found was subpar,” says Sun. “They weren’t well-maintained or easily accessible. It was not easy to find anything for caterers because most were built for bakers. Nothing was the right fit and they didn’t warrant the cost.”
She and her colleagues were all vying for the same thing that didn’t seem to exist, so in 2013, she ventured into the shared kitchen world. “We had no idea what we were doing,” says Sun. “Because it was a new thing, even the health department didn’t know what to do – they kept throwing new rules at us. We had to work hand in hand with them to get it going.”
The company offers several tiers of service: single, one-time events and photo shoots (the Food Network has used them for segments), a middle tier for people who typically come in for 20 to 40 hours a month and permanent tenants who live and breathe in the space, working up to seven days a week. The spaces are impeccably clean, organized and equipped for just about any culinary use. Her clients are diverse, of all age ranges, backgrounds and different career goals.
“We have a strong community,” says Sun. “The pandemic showed how well we can all work together. We helped each other a lot during that time. In fact, we started a GoFundMe campaign where we raised over $40,000 and distributed $400 checks to more than 100 people.”
Today, Tiny Drumsticks has 15 employees with three New York locations and over 50 paying clients. And it might never have happened – or grown – without a few credit cards.
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What were the most challenging aspects of getting Tiny Drumsticks up?
The hardest part was working with my business partner. We didn’t know each other super well, but we had the same goals. Our personalities matched and nothing was off the table, but getting to know each other was hard.
Occasionally we would explode at each other, but after a while, we learned not to do that! We had to communicate and when we did, it made a huge difference. We saw so many small businesses fail because one partner couldn’t talk to the other, so in the end, we made a point to communicate no matter what.
The other challenge was that there was no road map for this business. We couldn’t look to other communal kitchens and say, “That’s what we want to do.” It forced us to be flexible and open-minded.
It must have been expensive to start – did anything blow your budget?
My first career was as an interior designer, so I was able to deal with the construction costs. The biggest cost was equipment. For example, a tilt skillet, which is a brasier that can hold 30 to 50 gallons of just about anything, is very useful and people want to gain access to it. But a cheap one is $18,000 and can easily go up to $30,000, and we had to buy a few. Then, there are roll-and-rack ovens, for $20,000 each – and we have five of them!
That’s not the end, of course. We have to maintain the equipment. With the amount of use they get, these items break down and eventually need replacement. They don’t have any real resale value, either.
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How have you been using credit cards for the business?
At first, money wasn’t easy. We did everything through our own pockets. It was difficult not to bleed money. No one was lending money, so we used our own cash and The Platinum Card® from American Express. So much of what we needed was put on them to get started. It was stressful but we paid them off. We then rewarded ourselves with the points we had earned and took a trip to London!
And now you have business cards?
Yes – we began with the Bank of America Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard credit card. We have a business account with Bank of America and they were willing to give us the card with a $35,000 credit line. That really helps, especially during the winter months when there are extra heating bills and when you have to pay for the surprise costs that come up. We can even pay back the card with the cash we earn.
That’s not the only card we have, though. We also got the Capital One Spark Miles for Business because we needed another card. Every so often we’d max out the first and need more credit. Having both is a good way to manage the expenses and have a safety net.
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Do you have any other debt?
After a while, we did eventually get a business loan, and we now have five years left on it. We don’t like it because the APR is high – about 14%. It’s terrible. We were trying to work with the lender during the pandemic and asked for a hardship plan. They said yes, but sent late payment notices anyway. It has been frustrating. When you have a small business you can get desperate, but you do what you have to do.
Is building and keeping good credit important to you as a business owner?
Definitely. Ben and I have really good credit. We never carry over a balance. The more you do that, the less you have to worry.
As business owners, we don’t need the extra stress of worrying about credit card debt. Keeping our customers happy is enough! Paying back the loan is a pain, so we make sure we don’t carry over credit card debt. We don’t want to chase after people and we don’t want anyone chasing after us.
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What are the future plans for the business?
We have a lot of expansion plans, so we want to offer different avenues for our tenants. We’d like them to run everything through us, not just use it as kitchen space. They can have offices and run their meetings. We will use Tiny Drumsticks as classrooms, photo studios and event spaces.
Any words of wisdom for entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
If you don’t take things personally and have a goal in mind, you are a true entrepreneur. A lot of people doubt themselves but you have to be sure of yourself. Also be flexible, so that you can move ahead and not be bogged down by the bad things that will happen – and they will happen. You’ll take the punches and move on.
And advice about money and credit management?
If you were not a former accountant, you should get one. It’s really smart to have someone help you and look over everything because it’s so easy to get lost! You’ll never calculate everything you spend, so a good accountant is essential. They will also make sure you’re filing everything legally and will tell you where you need to cut back, how to plan ahead and how to stay organized.
Regarding loans, try to avoid borrowing as much as possible. With credit cards, you have to be on top of them. Pay them off every month. That should always be your goal. If you keep the cards clear, you can use them for a rainy day.