Bryan Flynn and Ron Williams know it takes a business plan, financial discipline and hard work to open a new business.
Their latest, The Sweet Spot dessert café, opened in early January at 126 North Broadway. Before that, they'd owned several stores in Victorian Square and independently Flynn, 36, had a computer consulting business and Williams, 40, opened new restaurants for a national chain of steakhouses.
The men opened their first store, Good Scents, in Victorian Square in 2008 after a couple of years of making candles, hand lotion and bath salts in custom-blended fragrances and selling them at craft festivals.
After Good Scents, the partners opened two other businesses in Victorian Square, The Sweet Spot ice cream shop and the Soup Bowl. When the owner of Everything Kentucky decided to close, they bought that business.
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In August 2012, Victorian Square was bought by The Webb Companies and Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate of Cincinnati. Shortly after, Dudley Webb, chairman of The Webb Companies, said the new owners hoped to reinvent the block of restored 19th-century buildings with an eclectic mix of tenants.
The entrepreneurs and the management company couldn't agree on the lease, so the partners went looking for a new location. After negotiating a lease in Hamburg Pavilion next to Ramsey's, they had second thoughts about leaving downtown.
"We feel downtown is on the edge of coming back in a big way," said Flynn, 36, who majored in chemical, biomedical and electrical computer engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
And they were reluctant to walk away from the years of work invested in cultivating a downtown customer base.
"We didn't want to alienate our customers," Flynn said. They were able to negotiate a 15-year lease in first-floor retail space of a parking garage owned by the Lexington Parking Authority, across the street from Victorian Square.
As it did in Victorian Square, the Sweet Spot serves 16 flavors of Blue Bell Ice Cream and mouth-watering pastries, including iced cake truffles made on site. But it has expanded into a café, with a lunch menu of soups, sandwiches, salads and quiche, all made fresh daily. A limited selection of Good Scents items and Kentucky Proud products also are sold.
Before they could rent the new space, "We had to submit a business plan and a financial plan," said Williams, who was a business and finance major at Middle Tennessee State University.
That's because the parking authority wanted to make sure Williams and Flynn would succeed, said Gary Means, the parking authority's executive director.
To other budding entrepreneurs, Williams recommends developing a detailed business plan.
"We put everything down, from food to payroll to toilet paper, and everything in between," he said. "We worked with our accountant for two days."
The café needs to take in $400 a day, half of which covers payroll and operating costs. The other half goes to advertising and building the business, he said. "We really don't plan on paying ourselves for two years."
Using savings, plus help from their families, "We are financially set to cover our personal expenses for two years," Williams said, even though that means he and Flynn sometimes eat peanut butter sandwiches for supper. Startup businesses need to be prepared for that kind of financial picture, he said.
The men agree that the sacrifices are worth it. Williams, who opened new restaurants for Logan's Roadhouse for six years, always wanted his own restaurant.
All the equipment, including ice cream cases, tables and the kitchen sink, were bought thorough the online classified-ad service Craigslist. Williams, Flynn and their families did all the work installing equipment, decorating pressed-tin panels on the walls and upholstering banquette seats.
Williams and Flynn are looking for 500-square-foot spaces to open more Sweet Spot cafés in Lexington in about eight months.
"We've got enough ice cream cases and tables and equipment in storage, we could open a place next week if the right location opened up," Williams said, laughing. "We're crazy guys."