Big Bon: A Story of Perspective, Persistence & Pizza.
Kay Heritage’s business story is unique. It’s uplifting and inspirational. It bucks the trend.
Heritage owns three foodservice businesses in Savannah, GA: Big Bon Pizza, Big Bon Bodega and Big Bon Ghost Kitchen. And despite being around for just five years, plus navigating through a once-in-a-lifetime, business-altering pandemic, and a hurricane, and some personal hurdles, the “Big Bon” enterprise is thriving.
Of all the business sectors affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a reasonable argument to be made that the restaurant industry was the most severely hit. According to the National Restaurant Association, more than 110,000 eating and drinking establishments in the United States closed for business — temporarily or permanently — last year, with nearly 2.5 million jobs erased from pre-pandemic levels. Restaurant and foodservice industry sales fell by $240 billion in 2020 from an expected level of $899 billion.
Heritage, who is as gracious as she is optimistic, attributes part of her success to partnering with North Star Leasing for financing some of the equipment needed to get Big Bon Bodega (featuring wood-fired bagels and sandwiches) off the ground in 2019.
“We started with Big Bon Pizza, a food truck in 2016, and by 2019 we decided we needed a brick-and-mortar shop,” Heritage said. “In the middle of construction, we needed to come up with an additional $120,000. We quickly learned that banks, particularly for start-ups, are not willing to lend you money without leveraging your house or life. North Star Leasing helped us finance the full $125,000 for an oven, prep tables and much-needed refrigeration. It was pretty crucial equipment.”
While we at North Star Leasing are thankful for Kay’s kind words, we had no doubt that, with Heritage at the helm, Big Bon was destined to be a success. For her unrelenting drive, compassion and vision, we’re proud to partner with her and recognize her as the latest North Star All-Star.
“From the moment I met the Big Bon family….literally and figuratively…. I knew Kay had the necessary determination, drive, excellent food and quality customer service needed to succeed”, stated Dan Feeney who personally approved that first $125,000 lease.
The fact that the Executive Vice President of North Star Leasing knows Heritage and her business so well is a testament to how connected she is to the Savannah community. Big Bon Pizza was the first food truck to open in the coastal Georgia city where Feeney’s daughter, Abigail, was attending college. When Big Bon was building a new space, it was Abigail who connected her father with Heritage. “I don’t think Abigail knows the impact that introduction had,” said Heritage. “We now have 21 employees, and we all want to push cultural creativity through food here in Savannah.”
Feeney said the decision to offer financing to Big Bon was an easy one.
When asked why she didn’t simply run the pizza truck more to generate the additional revenue needed, Heritage stated that she wanted to focus on providing her customers with the best quality pizza and experience. Her goal was to work to improve her inventory management skills since running a bricks-and-mortar restaurant is a little different from a food truck. “I really enjoyed her honesty in that she didn’t know every answer to my questions” Feeney added.
Months after Big Bon Bodega opened its doors in 2019, Savannah was walloped by Hurricane Dorian. Painfully, and with many tears, Heritage had to close for a week. She reopened, only to have COVID-19 hit six months later and alter the world’s history.
“It’s incredible how resilient a small business can be,” Heritage said. “We never closed the shop. We were compliant with everything the CDC advised, and we went mostly to online sales. That went from 15 percent to 60 percent of our sales. We tried to give the community sympathy, empathy and trust.”
Heritage said customers would order one bagel online and leave cash tips – sometimes as much as $100 – when they came to pick up their order.
“On days we were open, people were thanking us for still being there despite the chaos in the world around them,” she said. “That’s the type of community we wanted to support.”
And support they did. Heritage, with her husband battling cancer at the time, rolled out the Big Bon Pizza food truck and sold wood-fired pizzas – donating the proceeds to bartenders, cooks, chefs, and waitstaff for other restaurants in Savannah. She then launched Big Bon Ghost Kitchen, which she calls a “full-service Airbnb of food trucks.” The concept is easy: Chefs or restaurants without food trucks can rent the Ghost Kitchen for a short time and offer their culinary creations to new customers.
“We’re getting through it,” Heritage says proudly. “It hasn’t been easy, and I don’t think it’s supposed to be. People talk about overnight successes, but the reality is it takes 20, 30 or 40 years to have success.”
One big lesson Heritage has learned through it all?
“As business owners, we’re all tougher than we give ourselves credit for,” she said. “We get up each morning and go out there and do it.”
Now, with sales 50 percent higher than they were the first year, Heritage is turning her attention to developing her staff and the next generation of young foodservice entrepreneurs.
“I want people to feel like they belong to a community,” she says, “to have a stake in what’s around them.”
And North Star Leasing will be there to support the next great thing this successful entrepreneur will cook up.
Inspired by Kay’s story? You, too, can become a North Star All-Star by partnering with North Star Leasing to help you grow! Learn more.