Small businesses fill needs

Starting a small business can be a difficult step. Whether it’s done to fulfill a dream, to improve the community or just as a hobby, entrepreneurs need dedication and commitment to make their work a success.

For Ross and Denise Opsal, starting a business was partially a way to help their town.

Ross Opsal was a school superintendent before, while Denise sold after-market truck accessories. They had moved back to her hometown of Sac City after they retired.

“The property on Main Street became available, and not wanting to see another empty storefront on Main Street, we decided to purchase the building,” Denise Opsal said.

The building now houses Tea with Lillian on one side, Cede’s Bark Bistro on the other, and an event room called Sac on Sixth in the back. They will celebrate one year of running their own business on July 9.

“We realized (the tea room) would not be self-sustaining, so we added the bistro and the event room to give us three options for revenue,” Opsal said.

Each facet of the building offers a different atmosphere, she said.

“We get offer to Sac City many of the things we loved when we traveled,” Denise Opsal said. “Whether it was Des Moines or New York, or Omaha, this was the kind of place we wanted to find and hang out. So then that is what we chose to offer to northwest Iowa in a small community, realizing that you don’t have to have 100,000 people to have this kind of a venue.”

Deb Davis, owner of Sister’s Homestyle Entrees in Humboldt, also started her own business to fill a need.

She saw her son, nieces and nephews all trying to start families, and the difficulty of having to cook a meal after a hard day at work.

“The biggest thing is I wanted families to start sitting down and eating meals with their family,” Davis said. “If I could take a step out of shopping for groceries, and preparing it, where they could just put it in the oven, what a great idea.”

She started about four years ago, selling home-cooked, frozen meals. Originally she believed it would be a very small business – something to do as a hobby.

The response was better than she had hoped.

“When we first started doing single meals, we were doing 200 a month. As of last month we were doing 33,000 meals a month,” she said. “We went from one employee, me – now we have about 30. We’re looking at a big expansion.”

Davis had help planning for the project from Lisa Shimkat and the Iowa Small Business Development Center in Fort Dodge.

“They have just so much knowledge. They guided me in a lot of different ways,” Davis said.

They helped develop a five-year business plan, and then helped re-design it after the five-year goals were unexpectedly met in only one year, Davis said.

“I think people who own their own company, they have to be 110 percent into it,” she said. “They have to be willing to work as many hours as it takes to accomplish what needs to be done. A lot of people think I can own my own business and have a 9 to 5 job. It’s not that.”

Being your own boss does offer some freedoms, said Tamara Aguilar. There’s no one micromanaging you, and you can make your own schedule.

“You don’t have to answer to anyone. The only one you have to answer to is the customers,” Aguilar said. “The customers are the people that are actually your bosses, because they’re the ones that pay you.”

Aguilar and her husband, Santiago Ferreira, opened El Paisita Mexican Restaurant in Webster City in September. They opened their first El Paisita four years ago in Hampton.

Prior to owning restaurants, both had been in the restaurant industry for about 30 years.

The additional responsibility leads to some long hours.

“The challenges are, you’re the first one in, you’re the last one out,” she said. “Things could go wrong in a very short time period. You’ve really got to take care of your restaurant like a little baby. … I always tell my customers, I have to go to Hampton and check on my ‘kids’ there.”

The first two years are critical in establishing a business. After five or six years, things begin to settle down, she said.

As an owner, Aguilar has to know how to do everything, from administration to cooking to serving.

“I wait tables,” she said. “We’re working the front of the house, the back of the house all the time. Me and Santiago believe it’s vital to build relationships with the customers and the workers.”

One of the most difficult parts is being in charge of employees. Aguilar and Ferreira make sure they are down-to-earth and relate to the employees, and pay them a competitive wage, she said.

“Once you get a good team,” said Aguilar, “you have to really keep it there.”