In 2015, Vicki Lehnerz opened Skinny Vic’s in Slinger, WI. As her lease was nearing its end in 2018, she realized she needed a location with more visibility. She was working with her mentor in the SCORE program, which is a nationwide network of volunteer, expert business mentors. The mentor referred her to the UW-Milwaukee Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for help obtaining funding for the restaurant’s new location. Cheryl Mitchell, a consultant at the SBDC, was thrilled to help this unique restaurant find new success by assisting with finding a new location, budgeting and funding.
“Cheryl was able to give me insight and a different perspective on so many different avenues. She helped guide me through processes and keep me moving forward. She questioned me with projections and forced me to see that the experience I had was enough. I don’t think I would have gotten through this process without the SBDC and especially Cheryl,” Vicki said.
THE RIGHT SPACE
Vicki considered many important elements for the new facility like employee entrances, delivery drop off accessibility and even space for outdoor trash receptacles. She researched several West Bend properties and originally thought they were too expensive for her budget, but research of nearby properties and negotiation with sellers ultimately allowed her to lease the property at 804 W. Paradise Drive. With Cheryl’s help, Vicki was able to obtain a Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC) loan guaranteed through Small Business Administration (SBA) in December 2019. Construction for the new home of Skinny Vic’s began in January 2020. Then, the COVID-19 crisis hit.
Contractors and electricians quickly left the Skinny Vic’s construction project when the statewide shutdown was announced in response to the pandemic. The restaurant opening was delayed for months. But there were silver linings. Since the opening was delayed, Vicki did not have to figure out how to pivot from full-service to only take-out service. She didn’t have to manage staff layoffs. She was able to focus instead on how to be successful during the crisis. The space, which she originally feared might be too big, was now the perfect size for offering adequate social distancing. The first month’s sales in June 2020, when the restaurant finally reopened in the new location, were 5% over the projections.
THE UNIQUE MENU
Vicki’s sensitivity to customers’ needs and their feedback was very evident and the offerings at the new location garnered lots of community support. Many of the favorite menu items from the original Skinny Vic’s were welcomed back. There are only “real” foods at Skinny Vic’s, including many gluten-free friendly and dairy-free friendly options. In fact, Vicki said that only two items in her whole kitchen are not gluten-free. She uses soybean oil instead of butter and opts for lactose-free, coconut or almond milk for use in her smoothies. Skinny Vic’s also offers a gluten-free fish fry. The restaurant boasts fresh-squeezed orange juice that even uses frozen chunks of orange instead of ice, so the flavor is never watered down.
ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS
Vicki loves working for herself because she can implement her own ideas and her own operational procedures and solutions. She said the toughest part of the reopening was hearing all the “no’s” from contractors, lenders and others. She didn’t expect to take two years to reopen, but in the end it was worth it. Her advice to other entrepreneurs is to “persevere and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” She commented that “if your heart is in the business, you will find a way to succeed.”
Accomplishments with UW-Milwaukee SBDC
- Location assistance