Professionals and commuters in the Winooski and Burlington North End area are often running on pressed schedules that don’t allow for time to sit down in a restaurant to eat a balanced lunch. Cheryl Strenio, owner of The Little Red Kitchen in Burlington, is on a mission to bring fresh and healthy foods to these busy professionals who want great food fast, whether they’re on the go or would prefer to enjoy the restaurant’s lovely indoor seating.
Her unique deli and gourmet shop, The Little Red Kitchen, offers everything from flaky pastries and coffee to sizzling paninis and homemade soups. The fresh-but-fast food Cheryl serves up has quickly become a lunchtime hit with the many healthcare professionals who work in the neighborhood.
“I have to tell you that 85 percent of our customer base always comes in and says it’s like Cheers here; everyone knows your name,” says Cheryl. Her personalized approach to business has won over walk-in customers and landed the business plenty of catering clients too.
Located at 505 Riverside Avenue in Burlington, The Little Red Kitchen boasts fresh-made daily specials alongside homemade soups and panini sandwiches. In addition to making fresh-to-order sandwiches and treats, Cheryl notes that “we have meals quick to go, just held in our case, and I’ve found that that’s usually what works in this part of town. It’s not really an area where people can come in and sit down for half an hour. They’re on lunch breaks and they’re in a hurry.”
Meeting the needs of busy commuters, the time-pressed lunch set, and catered orders from local businesses and schools is a breeze for Cheryl, who spent a great deal of time thinking about the type of concept that would work in this location.
Where the needs seem to pan out, Opportunities always made a way…
“My husband and I really looked into the traffic data in this area and about 30,000 plus cars go by here a day,” said Cheryl. “This is a really good location because we’re surrounded by busy healthcare professionals and dental staff who are looking for healthier options like the ones we offer.”
Although she has several employees, Cheryl is still the central player in menu creation and food preparation. She executes daily specials that are among the most popular items on The Little Red Kitchen’s menu.
“Most of the time, specials are planned out, but when I’m really, really busy, I can pull from the refrigerator and make a special on the spot,” said Cheryl. “They usually end up being the best ones that everyone wants!”
Cheryl and The Little Red Kitchen love being able to support local farmers, cheesemakers, and bakers too. Whenever she can, Cheryl features local produce and foods in her menu items.
Of course, every small business owner encounters challenges. Cheryl may have a Le Cordon Bleu education and entrepreneurial background, but there were many things for her to discover about running a food outlet.
“I had tons of things to learn,” said Cheryl. “I mean, I’d come in as a Chef, not as trained staff on a point of sale system.” Thankfully, Cheryl has a dedicated husband, Scott, who assists with financial management. While Cheryl tackles the tough work in the kitchen, he handles all the accounting. It’s a powerful duo.
Asked where she got the spark to start her small business, Cheryl says, “I was an entrepreneur before. I used to stage, clean, and decorate houses to sell…I just knew I always wanted to own and operate something and I think it’s been an amazing experience.”
Getting a comprehensive culinary education at one of the top schools in the world was just the start of the food entrepreneurship journey for Cheryl. As the owner of The Little Red Kitchen, she’s seized the opportunity to provide healthy, gourmet food to thousands of customers. And while Cheryl says she isn’t thinking of opening a second location right now, it could be in the cards for the future.
Financially savvy, Cheryl and Scott knew that choosing the right lending partner for The Little Red Kitchen was important. Heading to Opportunities Credit Union was almost instinctual for Cheryl, who’s had an account there for 22 years.
“Where the needs seem to pan out, Opportunities always made a way, and that was really important because I was a single mom for ten years,” Cheryl shared. She had financed a home through Opportunities long before she had the chance to establish her restaurant and was impressed by the experience. This is what led her to contact Opportunities again when she wanted to become a business owner.
At Opportunities, she worked with Greg Huysman, Senior Business Development Manager, to realize her business dreams. For Cheryl and her husband, everything about the experience was stress free. She says that “Greg was wonderful. Scott and I just loved working with him and he actually comes here now, too.” In fact, many of the folks at Opportunities Credit Union order from The Little Red Kitchen. It’s a great testament to the local institution’s concern for the small businesses that it finances.
Cheryl shares that she feels confident recommending Opportunities to friends and business associates “because they really work hard with individuals to be able to help them to get a loan. I feel like they go above and beyond what a bank would do.”
For Cheryl, Opportunities is more than just a credit union. They are a lending partner that understands the unique business environment in Vermont and work to help entrepreneurs launch their own thriving enterprises.
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