It is notoriously hard to break into the restaurant business, let alone succeed in it. Melissa Coriaty has managed to do both with Verbena, a restaurant and catering business located in South Portland, Maine. Offering local ingredients at reasonable prices, Verbena has grown to a total of six employees, with another hire in the works. Support from CEI helped Vebena expand at a time when many other restaurants were closing or just managing to survive.
A former sous chef at Hugo’s, one of Portland, Maine’s, premier restaurants, Melissa knew at some point she wanted to start her own business. When her father spotted a small restaurant/catering business for sale on Craig’s list, she decided to take the plunge. She purchased the business on December 31st, 2008, and opened the new restaurant on January 4th, 2009, amid a torrent of distressing financial news. Despite the odds, Verbena’s reputation for serving (and catering) quality food grew almost immediately.
“This has been a wonderfully supportive community,” said Melissa. “From the outset it was clear the local community was excited to have Verbena here and that has made a tremendous difference.”
In the years following, Verbena grew to the point where significant kitchen and restaurant renovations were necessary. “We were at capacity and really had no way of expanding without undertaking considerable modifications which included a new ventilation system, kitchen equipment and front-of-house renovations to increase work flow efficiency and customer experience,” said Melissa. Enter CEI, which provided Melissa with a $35,000 loan. Melissa also sought out business counseling with Sarah Guerette through the Women’s Business Center (WBC). Together, Melissa and Sarah identified ways to increase Verbena’s bottom line, improve efficiencies, and develop formulas to accommodate fluctuating expenses.
“Working with CEI was terrific. More than anything else, in CEI I felt like I had a partner. Art [Stevens], my loan officer, was almost as happy as I was when the loan came through and Sarah’s expertise has enabled me to make better business projections and decisions.”
— MELISSA CORIATY, Owner, Verbena