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Fast Track

The story of an upscale catering and take-out food store

Name and age: Debrah Vanchura, 42

Company name and description: Epicure, an upscale catering and take-out food ranging from sandwiches to home meal replacement entrees

Starting point: Epicure opened in November 1997 with a $150,000 SBA guaranteed loan.

2000 sales projections: $300,000

Staff: Epicure has four other employees: a full-time assistant manager, a 35-hour-per-week kitchen assistant and two part-time chefs.

The story: Vanchura had been cooking for clients in her own kitchen as a personal chef for about three years under the name Helping Hands in the Kitchen, an adjunct to her husband's upscale residential cleaning service. She knew she was in a gray area concerning the health department and, to really grow, she'd have to hire people and move into a commercial facility. "We thought, if we invest in building a kitchen, we might as well make it a retail space and maximize [it]," Vanchura says. With the change in venue came a change in name, and Epicure was born. Along with a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen, the shop has indoor seating for 12 and outdoor tables in the summer.

The surprise: Because Vanchura's early business had been built on home meal replacements, she expected her retail location to grow in the same vein. She was wrong. "I thought that would be 70 percent of my business, but it's more like 25 percent," she says. The remaining three-fourths is split between walk-in and corporate business. She has a steady lunch clientele, and regularly delivers lunches and dinners to companies in the downtown Portland area.

The strategy: "I have to let the business tell me what to do," Vanchura says. "When I first did my business plan, my sales were projected on delivered and carry-out home meal replacement entrees. That's not the way it's turning out." So, she's focusing on the corporate business and looking for ways to build that market. "If I'd stuck with my original plan, I don't think I'd be in business right now."


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This article was originally published in the June 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Fast Track.

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