Small business owner Tracie Reeves-Hartman demonstrates an entrepreneurial spirit by bringing catering services and a downtown café to Loveland through her Fresh Plate Café & Catering concept, something to be celebrated during National Small Business Week. The Loveland Business Development Center will be spotlighting a couple of businesses during this week.
About National Small Business Week
Every year since 1963, the President of the United States has issued a proclamation announcing National Small Business Week (April 29-May 5, 2018), which recognizes the critical contributions of America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Tracie Reeves-Hartman of Loveland brought the concept of farm-to-table to Fresh Plate Café & Catering in downtown long before healthy, farm cooking came to the restaurant and food service scenes.
“I felt there was a need for better quality food and better selections,” said Reeves-Hartman, general manager and owner of Fresh Plate Café, 325 N. Cleveland Ave., and Fresh Plate Catering operated out of a commissary kitchen in Loveland. “It was a little bit of a risk. Will people want this? Will they pay more? … Now everybody is doing that.”
The Catering Side
In September 2013, Reeves-Hartman opened the catering side of her business to serve the Northern Colorado and north Denver areas with event planning and menu creations. She sources locally and uses fresh ingredients in her catered offerings and, in the café, does the same thing for the sandwiches, salads, soups and breakfast items. She makes most everything in-house, such as her sauces, jams and jellies, and offers items geared to various dietary needs from gluten-free to vegan.
“We have a little spin on everything, and I think that’s what makes us unique,” said Lori Worthington, café and catering manager at Fresh Plate. “It doesn’t take a lot of time to have a quality meal without it being fast food.”
Reeves-Hartman works at creating new recipes to keep the menus and offerings fresh and interesting.
“I love taking different flavors, things not done before, and putting them together,” she said. “I pay attention to the presentation, to how things look, the colors, shapes, sizes and textures, to create something unique.”
Originally, Reeves-Hartman, who worked in the food service industry for 30 years, wanted to serve her recipes through a combined catering business and brick-and-mortar café, but she couldn’t find the right property downtown in Loveland to do both. She began with her catering business, working out of a commissary kitchen, later moving to a second kitchen in a church building.
“I love downtown. I’ve always been a fan of downtown,” said Reeves-Hartman, a member of the Downtown Development Authority board and of the Loveland and Berthoud Area chambers of commerce.
The Café Side
Reeves-Hartman continued looking for a café location, learning about the storefront on Cleveland Avenue, though it was not ideal without room for a separate kitchen. The 750-square-foot space can seat 18 and has an ordering counter and open cold prep area, but there isn’t a stove, oven or hood. The cooked meats, pastas and other items have to be brought in from the commissary kitchen.
“To me, they go hand-in-hand. The catering is a great way to promote the café, and the café is a great way to promote the catering,” Reeves-Hartman said. “If you have a kitchen and are catering out of it, why not open the front and send food out of it also?”
Reeves-Hartman opened the Fresh Plate Café in November 2016 and too quickly opened a second café in a Loveland business that mainly serves the employees there. She opened that location in June 2017 because the opportunity came along, she said.
“We expanded a little too quickly and that got stretched a little too thin,” Reeves-Hartman said. “We were still dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s, developing a foundation here.”
Some of the Challenges
Reeves-Hartman waited too long to bring in a manager to the downtown location, selecting Worthington to fill the role six months ago. She also found that having the catering separate from the two cafes presented a few challenges, including having to travel among the three locations to bring in food items.
“It presents challenges, but it works,” she said.
To address some of those challenges and develop and grow her business, Reeves-Hartman worked with the Loveland Business Development Center. She had some experience already in restaurants, catering, event planning and marketing, along with a degree in marketing from Indiana University in Bloomington. She worked as an event coordinator for the Hilton Hotels & Resorts and helped open an event center in Bloomington.
“I worked hands on with them before I opened any doors,” Reeves-Hartman said.
Reeves-Hartman worked with the LBDC to get advice on business planning, choosing a location, operating a restaurant, choosing the right equipment and establishing the best pricing strategies.
“Is this profitable? Is there a market for what I want to do, and how do I determine that?” Reeves-Hartman said. “I didn’t take a step forward in any area without working with the SBDC. … It would have been harder, and I probably would have missed some key things.”
Later this spring, Reeves-Hartman plans to extend the café hours from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Saturday to as late as 7 p.m., plus offer hours on Sundays.