Liz and Bruce Hoffman are setting out to create an entrepreneurial culinary revolution in Connecticut. The couple launched their startup ThymeShare a year and a half ago with the mission to provide a space for entrepreneur chefs, caterers and home-based businesses to invent, experiment and grow.
On September 3, 2015, the Hoffmans signed the lease for 485 Main Street, Hartford. They expect to open in January, 2016. The five-year plan is to replicate ThymeShare in every urban city in New England.
According to the ThymeShare website, the business concept is to offer a complete culinary solution that facilitates small business growth, supports the community ,and enhances the city of Hartford.
“ThymeShare is a small business that believes in small business,” emphasizes Liz Hoffman, Co-Founder and President.
Liz, who has a marketing background, supported her husband Bruce’s idea for the company and helped develop the business plan, which includes a pop-up 110-seat restaurant and celebrity chef competitions.
With his operations and Six Sigma credentials, Bruce acts as Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of ThymeShare. The couple combined their talents, passions and funds to get the business off the ground. Both quit full-time jobs to pursue their dream.
“We believe so much in what we’re doing. We’re 100% committed and involved,” says Bruce.
“We are so close to our vision,” adds Liz.
GETTING TO THE HEART OF HARTFORD
The couple developed ThymeShare around their love of all things culinary. They also tried to approach the business concept by trying to determine a type of business that would succeed in Hartford.
“We asked ourselves, what’s Hartford’s identity?” Bruce recalls. “It used to be insurance and manufacturing, but there is always one staple: food.”
The Hoffmans, who were both born in New Britain, CT, purposely chose to locate the business in Hartford. “It’s our way of giving a little spark back to Hartford,” says Bruce.
“There are so many avenues for growth here in Hartford,” Liz pointed out. “For instance, you can lease land for urban farming to provide an urban farm-to-table experience. Plus, we are close to public transportation.”
UTILIZING CONNECTICUT STARTUP RESOURCES
The Hoffmans worked closely with Tammy Warner, Business Advisor at the Connecticut Small Business Development Center (CTSBDC). “Tammy really helped us focus and acted as sounding board, poking holes in our business model,” says Liz.
The couple also consulted with Connecticut-area executive chefs to be onsite resources. “No one knows everything,” Liz acknowledged. “It’s important to surround yourself with the right people with tools, resources and knowledge.”
There were a lot of obstacles to getting ThymeShare up and running. For example, the space needed to be health-code compliant, explained Bruce.
With regard to funding, the couple put in about $100,000 of their own equity. They met with Stephen Cole, Hartford’s Director of Economic Development Division, Department of Development Services, who referred them to Hartford Economic Development Corp. (HEDCO), where they were able to obtain a $150,000 line of credit.
The Hoffmans also worked with the Spanish American Merchants Association, Inc. (SAMA), a nonprofit organization that serves as a vehicle for the economic growth of Connecticut-based businesses. The organization was created to help business people, especially Latinos, develop a better understanding of economic principles.
Rosa Jacinto, Loan Officer and Small Business Specialist at SAMA was “our biggest cheerleader,” Bruce says.
One of the goals with ThymeShare was to have no external investors. “We didn’t want anyone to dilute our vision,” Bruce underscored. The Hoffmans also plan to turn ThymeShare into a B Corporation by January 2016.
“A typical corporation has a board that is focused on profits and can take measures to remove people regardless of the vision,” explains Liz. “Making ThymeShare into a B Corporation allows our mission to stay pure—the priority is maintaining the vision rather than solely focused on profits,” she continued.
“Our vision would be both for profit as well as charitable commitments,” adds Bruce.
COLLABORATING WITH CONNECTICUT STARTUP COMPANIES
ThymeShare will be working with FRESH Farm Aquaponics to structure a fish tank within the space that will act as a sustainable ecosystem. FRESH Farm Aquaponics is working with Connecticut entrepreneurs to use aquaponics to cultivate a sustainable food future in many communities.
In addition to supporting culinary startups, the Hoffmans will give 20% of their revenue back to charity. They also intend to build their staff with what Liz refers to as “non-violent second chancers” as well as veterans recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “We feel it’s important to give back to veterans,” she emphasized.
The Hoffmans plan to have eight to 10 full-time employees with benefits and 12-14 part-time employees who will work 20 to 25 hours a week and earn $14 an hour, explained Bruce. “We see these individuals as our future,” he stressed. “With everyone we plan to hire, no one is stuck in one position washing dishes or cleaning up. There is room to grow.”
Another way ThymeShare plans to give back is through a non-profit culinary camp geared toward nine to 13 year olds, which will be funded through grants. “We want to break the cycle of the social welfare system and provide opportunities,” says Liz.
HELPING FOOD ENTREPRENEURS MAKE THEIR VISIONS A REALITY
Along with charitable giving and providing a place to test business assumptions, ThymeShare will also offer business classes to culinary entrepreneurs.
“True entrepreneurs work with the right resources to create a reality out of their vision,” says Bruce.
“Most new restaurants fail,” he continues. “The idea behind the pop-up restaurant is to help entrepreneurs who want to open a restaurant—they can use the space to test their concept. Once they are successful here, they can build a following and stay in Hartford.”
“It takes a leader to say: I know what I want to do, but I don’t know everything,” adds Liz. “To build your dream, it takes a tribe. It truly takes a village.”