By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Bahamian cheesesteak franchise yesterday said COVID-related financial assistance from the Small Business Development Centre (SBDC) was “the saving grace” for its second store expansion.
Tianya Bethel, the incoming operations manager for Charley’s Philly Steaks, told Tribune Business “we wouldn’t have been here right now” opening a new restaurant at the former Carl’s Jr location on Independence Drive without funding from the Business Continuity Loan initiative.
While not divulging the amount of funding received, she said the pandemic had been especially tough for the franchise, held by her parents, Samuel and Tanya Bethel, because health-related concerns meant some customers were reluctant to visit its existing Mall at Marathon food court location even after lockdowns were eased.
“It was a hard blow, but I guess you could say that for everybody,” Ms Bethel told this newspaper. “The location in the Mall was a bit of a handicap because a lot of people didn’t like coming out of the cars to go in there because they were scared to come into contact with other people.
“It was really hard and we did take a blow. The assistance the government gave to businesses like ours was a sort of blessing in disguise. It helped to pay for this [expansion]. Without the assistance given we wouldn’t have been here right now. We would not have been here at this time. It was a saving grace. Everything had slowed to a halt.”
Charley’s second restaurant expansion has enabled it to add 40 Bahamian jobs amid the economic devastation inflicted by COVID-19. Kwasi Thompson, minister of state for finance, who attended yesterday’s opening, said the Bethels were able to use the financial assistance facilitated by the SBDC to pay rental expenses, continue to pay staff and reduce debts owed to local suppliers.
“To be able to sustain your business and support your employees during the economic challenges that the pandemic has caused is a great accomplishment. You could have sacrificed many years to build a profitable business but no one could have ever anticipated what we were confronted with last year,” Mr Thompson told the franchise holders.
“The coronavirus pandemic halted progress for so many business owners here and around the world..... We are honoured that the Bethels were able to take advantage of this assistance to sustain their business.
“In speaking with our team last week, Mr and Mrs Bethel expressed that without this assistance from the SBDC, their savings would have been depleted. SBDC’s funding was able to cover their rent-related expenses, support their staff and reduce debt with their local suppliers.”
Extolling the SBDC’s virtues, Mr Thompson added: “Many Bahamians, including the Bethels, have been able to sustain their businesses despite the challenges thanks to this kind of government funding. I am pleased that our support was able to keep so many businesses open and secure employment for so many.
“The Bahamas is full of budding entrepreneurs but many need that extra push to start turning their dreams into realities. This is where collaboration or simple act of receiving support can spark success.
“Access Accelerator [the SBDC] was built to do just that. The programme has proven itself to be a tangible resource to support these Bahamians by giving them access to necessary financing. This establishment is clear evidence of this.”
Ms Bethel, meanwhile, said the SBDC’s support had also proven “a saving grace” for the Bethels’ other businesses in the tourism industry. These include C & C Scooters, a scooter rental firm, and an outlet in the former Prince George Wharf visitors’ welcome centre that sold refreshments to cruise ship passengers.
“Thankfully we didn’t put all our eggs in one basket with tourism and differentiated because it would have been even more difficult,” she added.