Full Bellies and Smiles at Happy Belly Deli
Ron and Laurel Cameron, residents of Winooski, saw a need in their town for a place where people could meet while enjoying tasty, freshly prepared food in a casual setting. Within such a pedestrian-friendly area, they envisioned a little shop that could offer room to relax along with a unique menu, fresh offerings, and great service. This was how the Happy Belly Deli you know and love came to be.
They’re not like a lot of other financial institutions I’ve worked with, and I say that in a good way. They’re very friendly and their people are good to work with.
In 2012, Ron found an opportunity to purchase the business and revamp the space to focus on the deli while developing a core menu with special offerings. Today, the Happy Belly has become not only a place to grab great coffee and awesome sandwiches, and snacks, but also a community gathering place where everyone in town can go to feel comfortable and at home.
“We’re focused on making you happier when you leave than when you came in,” said Ron. “A lot of it has to do with the food. The food is the absolute best it can be for a good price. It’s all about getting you to your happy place, and that’s what we strive to do.”
In 2014, with the Winooski store going strong, Ron and Laurel expanded their business by purchasing a second location in Colchester and turning it into the Happy Belly Market with similar offerings as the primary location.
Both Happy Belly stores offer a wide range of options for hungry Vermonters; from daily soup offerings, panini sandwiches, and burgers, to breakfast cereals, desserts like brownies and ice cream, and even poutine, a local favorite. No matter what you are hungry for, a quick visit to Happy Belly should fix you right up!
“The first thing I did when I bought the store was decide to have the focus be on the food and the deli because the fact is, anybody can go anywhere to get a bottle of Coke or a jar of mayonnaise, but they can’t always get a really good panini, wrap, or burger,” said Ron.
With a background in retail and financial advising, Ron Cameron would seem to be an unlikely restaurateur. However, his retail background lends itself well to management of his stores. With 11 years of experience in retail, he says that he missed certain aspects of the trade, which Happy Belly fulfills.
“I missed having employees,” Ron said. “I liked the training and development aspect of it. I’ve been growing people, training them, watching them develop, and promoting them.”
When we asked Ron why he got into the business, his answer shows that it had much to do with the food, the town, and the people of Vermont.
“Winooski’s pretty cool,” said Ron. “I’ve lived in the Burlington area, the Middlebury area, and Winooski, and I like it here. The people are nice.”
Ultimately, it was Ron’s love of food led him to pursue this endeavor.
“I really love food and eating out for me is one of my favorite things to do for entertainment,” he said. “I know I’m not alone, and if I can offer a creative place where people can come to be happy, entertain themselves, and be well fed in the meantime, that makes me happy.”
After just two years in business, Ron had Happy Belly humming along, with people in place to ensure his guests had an awesome experience in Winooski, so he set his sights on expansion. The Colchester Happy Belly location is a little smaller, but quite similar to the Winooski store, offering Paninis, wraps, salads, and sandwiches.
Ron said he opened the Colchester Happy Belly because he likes to stay busy. “The Winooski store was running very, very well, and I decided to try to open up a second location and try to have a small chain.”
Both delis offer more snack items and different types of beverages than most places in town, so there is something for everyone to love at the Happy Belly. Looking for Mountain Dew Black Label? Happy Belly has it. Almond Breeze singles? Check! Fresh baked brownies? You can satisfy your sweet tooth or opt for healthier options like fresh fruit or a granola bar. Happy Belly also has fresh New England salads, falls wraps, and ham, roast beef, or turkey sandwiches ready to grab and go.
Much of Ron’s success with Happy Belly can be attributed to his skills in hiring the right people. In fact, Ron says “We get comments literally every day about the employees. That means a lot to me. This morning in Colchester, I got a compliment about one of the employees that, actually, I just promoted over here in Winooski.”
When asked about further expansion plans, Ron said he definitely wouldn’t rule it out.
“Two stores are a lot right now, but it’s all about getting my employees to a place where they can function 95% without me,” said Ron. “When I can get to that point, that’s when I move on and keep building it up.”
Ron also attributes his success to his partnership with Opportunities Credit Union, and says they were great about making sure he had the tools he needed.
With his store right next door to the Winooski Opportunities branch, Ron checked into the credit union’s business loans because he had heard that they were a small business that is friendly with a strong and reliable reputation. “I had heard nothing but good things about Opportunities,” Ron added.
Ron has enjoyed working with Greg Huysman, the Senior Business Development Manager at Opportunities. He says that Greg is “very straightforward and friendly.”
“It’s nice to deal with someone who gets it,” said Ron. “Not a lot of people get it. They have their own agenda or they’re just trying to get you in and out. I really, sincerely think Greg’s not that way. It’s nice to work with him.”
He also extends this sentiment to the rest of the staff at the Credit Union, saying “They’re not like a lot of other financial institutions I’ve worked with, and I say that in a good way. They’re very friendly and their people are good to work with.”
Ron says he would recommend Opportunities to other small business owners as well.
“I feel like they’re literally, genuinely, sincerely trying to help me out, and that makes all the difference in the world. I try to partner with vendors and financial institutions and whoever can provide a good back and forth relationship. With them, I definitely feel that way.”
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