February 17, 2017
Helen Grace King and her sister Leila King noticed “the energy at the corner, and the vibes it gave off”. The “corner” of Scott and Markham streets was then The Hop Diner but after approaching the owner they soon found themselves renovating the space and opening At the Corner, a modern diner serving American and Southern cuisine. The pair secured Jordan Williams, sous chef for the Pine Bluff Country Club as head chef. He has since left and now the new chef and PR guru is Kamiya Merrick, a Canadian native who, of course, was involved with ensuring poutine was offered on the menu.
Leila describes At the Corner as “More of a modern diner, really a funky finer diner.” The goal is to wow people with the menu and the service. “I really want to be known for our service and our community feel, my mom and I are both service oriented.”
They will be talking with Kerry and her listeners about working with family in business and the unique challenges running a locally sourced restaurant. Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
[0:00:03.2] TB: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Be sure to stay tuned till the end of the show to hear how you can get a copy of this program and other helpful documents.
Now, it's time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.
[0:00:19.4] KM: Thank you, Tim, and thank you to our listeners. I’m Kerry McCoy and it’s time for me to get all up in your business. For the next hour, my guest and I will be discussing how we maneuvered the path of entrepreneurship in pursuit of being our own boss. The hope is that if you own or want to own a small business, you will gain some insights today of the risks and the rewards. Now, you may be asking yourself, “What qualifies this lady to do this?” The answer is easy. It’s experience.
I started my company Arkansas Flag & Banner over 40 years ago with a meager $400. During the last four decades Arkansas Flag & Banner has grown from door-to-door sales, to telemarketing, to mail order and catalog sales and now relies heavily on the internet. Each change in sales strategy required a change in company thinking and procedures, wisdom, confidence, and the company grew. My initial $400 investment now produces nearly four million in annual sales.
In this next hour, here is what not to expect. Don’t expect textbook answers or pie in the sky theories. What you will hear is a candid conversation about real world experiences, so be prepared for the truth. It’s not always easy to hear. For example, in business there are very few overnight successes. I worked part-time jobs for nine years before Arkansas Flag & Banner grew enough to support just me. It’s now grown and expanded so much that just to operate efficiently we require — Are you ready for this? A purchasing department, a shipping department, a technology department, a marketing department, a sales department, a production department, customer service department, and a retail store. 25 people make their living from Arkansas Flag & Banner, but that didn’t happen overnight. Starting and owning a business takes persistence, perseverance and patience. My experience is deep and wide and my advice is free.
Say hello, Tim.
[0:02:32.1] TB: Hello, Tim.
[0:02:34.6] KM: My guest today is Helen Grace King, and her sister, Leila King, co-owners of @ The Corner Restaurant. This is a family owned business that opened its doors to the River Market neighborhood in March of 2015. Along with having a thriving breakfast business and menu, @ The Corner Restaurant offers burgers, dogs, soups, salads, sandwiches and daily specials. Each day this family of four serves up a welcoming atmosphere of gratitude and appreciation.
It is my privilege to welcome to the table Leila King and her sister, Helen Grace King.
[0:03:20.2] LK: Thank you so much for having us.
[0:03:21.1] HK: Thank you.
[0:03:22.2] LK: It’s truly a gift to be here, and we admire you and everything that you do for the community of Arkansas. So this is really cool for us.
[0:03:30.3] HK: Yes, very cool, and what an inspirational story about Flag and Banner. I did not know the story behind and for you to put your blood, sweat and tears into a business and to see it become something successful just reassured me of what my sisters and I are doing. That was a beautiful introduction. Thank you for that.
[0:03:48.6] KM: You’re so welcome. Thank you. You are a sister.
[0:03:53.2] HK: Yes.
[0:03:53.5] LK: Yes.
[0:03:53.9] HK: We’re blood sisters and the other owner is our “sister-in-law”, and I’m going to put that in quotations. She dates our brother. But soon to be engaged.
[0:04:03.2] LK: Yes, they’re soon to be engaged.
[0:04:04.0] HK: They’re ring shopping. Very, very, very soon.
[0:04:06.8] KM: The brother doesn’t work there.
[0:04:08.8] LK: He used to at the beginning and he was on dish.
[0:04:08.8] KM: On what?
[0:04:12.3] LK: On dish. He would do dishes.
[0:04:13.4] HK: Yeah, he did all the dish.
[0:04:16.1] KM: That’s restaurant lingo. He was on dish. I thought it was a network, but okay.
[0:04:19.2] LK: I think he got burned out. We didn’t pay him and he has another job.
[0:04:24.4] HK: He was a volunteer, because he has a full-time job.
[0:04:28.1] KM: Yeah, he got burned out.
[0:04:29.1] HK: Yeah, just on the weekend. He would come in and help out.
[0:04:32.1] LK: Help us and save us.
[0:04:32.6] HK: Yes, but now it’s rare to see him.
[0:04:36.2] KM: Well, your mother and father worked there. Don’t they?
[0:04:37.8] HK: Yes. My mother and father on the weekend — My father is there every weekend. He also has a full-time job. Then my mama is there probably four, five days out of the week.
[0:04:47.9] LK: She’s always there.
[0:04:49.8] KM: Was it you, Leila, that was standing on the corner with your mother when you had this idea?
[0:04:56.5] LK: My sister was.
[0:04:57.0] KM: It was Helen Grace?
[0:04:57.7] LK: Yes.
[0:04:58.2] KM: Tell us the story. I read about it online, about how you were standing on the corner with your mother noticing how much traffic was right there and you had this epiphany. Tell our listeners about that.
[0:05:08.3] HK: It was actually with my mother and father. We were standing there and they actually had a moment where they looked at each other and said, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” My mom said, “I was there five minutes ago.” They loved the corner. They loved the spot. They saw so much opportunity and the energy was contagious and they wanted to make it something and make it something great for them, for the family, for their daughters. Next thing you knew, we had purchased the spot. We did all these market research about branding and who we were and what do we wanted this spot to be. Within a couple of months we opened our doors.
[0:05:48.6] KM: Months.
[0:05:49.8] HK: Yes, like two or three.
[0:05:50.9] LK: This happened very, very quickly. We flipped the space within three to four months and we opened our doors roughly in February. This all happened so, so quickly. You know what they say, like, “Wow! Sometimes a door will close, but another one opens.” Honey, we had no doors closed. All our doors were wide open, so it was a very quick, quick process.
No. My mom and my father and then my sister, they all saw the contagious potential energy of this spot. You’ve bee into the corner, to our restaurant. It’s really You see everything on that corner. There are people constantly walking by. It’s like being in a fishbowl because you’re surrounded by windows. It was just a beautiful moment for the three of them to kind of be thinking on the same wave length that, “Oh, wow! Let’s think about this. Let’s do this and let’s turn this into potentially something great.
[0:06:45.8] HK: Because it was so easy. I feel when you start a business you think that you’re going to hit this roadblock and it’s going to stop you or you’re going to have a sign from the universe saying, “Do not do this.” If something happened, by 5 p.m. that day, it was completely gone. It was one of those things we eventually started thinking maybe this if faked.
[0:07:04.9] KM: I feel like that a lot.
[0:07:06.7] LK: That was just getting it open. Now, that we’ve opened it, it’s a lot of work.
[0:07:13.0] KM: I want to hear all about getting it open and buying the spot from the —
You’re listening to Up On Your Business with Kerry McCoy and I’m speaking today with Leila King and Helen Grace from @ The Corner Restaurant in the River Market in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. Welcome, people.
Has your family always wanted to work together?
[0:07:48.6] HK: Great question. My family has always been extremely close. We are as thick as thieves. My family is everything to me. It’s everything to my sister, to my brother. We all have that symbiotic mutualistic type of relationship. That being said, having been in the restaurant industry for almost two years now, there’s no way I would ever open a restaurant, open my own business without my family. I have learned so quickly that if there’s anyone you can depend on, and thank God, my family and I are so close, it’s your family. At the end of the day, they are there for you through thick and thin. They are there for you to wipe your tears. They are there for you through the happy moments, the joyful moments.
Have we always planned on owning a business together? I wouldn’t say yes, but my sister and I have always been attached at the hip.
[0:08:41.8] LK: Yeah, we’ve always brainstormed endeavors of what we would do together.
[0:08:46.7] KM: Is this your first business venture of any kind?
[0:08:48.3] HK: Yes.
[0:08:49.0] KM: Did you all sell chocolate candy bars in high school together?
[0:08:52.6] LK: No. We rode horses competitively. We were equestrian riders. Yeah. We’ve always had this really unique —
[0:08:59.6] HK: Bond and work ethic. We have the same goals and inspirations and kind of that attitude to get it done. Just because we started — I started riding horses when I was three years old and my sister was seven. When you’re that young around these huge majestic creatures, you learn a lot, and we learned it together.
[0:09:22.0] KM: I bet you don’t have time to ride now.
[0:09:22.9] HK: Oh, we both — We ride polo.
[0:09:25.4] LK: We ride polo.
[0:09:25.4] HK: Oh, yeah. We ride. It’s part of our identity. No, we’ll never give that up.
[0:09:30.2] KM: That takes a lot of time.
[0:09:31.8] LK: And skill. Yes. No, it does. We do that probably two, three times a week in the evening. It works, because we don’t serve dinner. We’re able to leave —
[0:09:40.4] KM: That was one of my questions.
[0:09:40.9] LK: Yeah, leave the restaurant, and that’s our hobby.
[0:09:44.8] KM: Yeah. I’m glad you didn’t give up your hobby.
[0:09:46.4] LK: No.
[0:09:47.4] KM: Does your brother ride?
[0:09:49.4] LK: No.
[0:09:50.8] HK: No. He was bucked off a horse at a young age, and it’s kind of afraid of them.
[0:09:54.0] LK: He’s not a horse lover. He love the races, Oaklawn, and he’s very great at that, but he does not want to ride a horse. No.
[0:10:00.9] KM: Has your family been in the restaurant business before?
[0:10:03.7] LK: No.
[0:10:04.5] KM: What was your dad doing when he and your mother and you, Helen, were standing on the corner?
[0:10:12.3] HK: They were moving you in, right, to a place that’s located close? I think they were moving her in and my father at the time was an elected official. He also owns his own business, but they were just up in Little Rock helping my sister.
[0:10:26.1] LK: Visiting me.
[0:10:26.6] KM: They’re not from Little Rock.
[0:10:28.4] HK: No. We’re from Pine Bluff. They’re from Pine Bluff.
[0:10:30.2] LK: We’re all from Pine Bluff, but we live here. We live here now.
[0:10:33.5] KM: What kind of a business did you father have before that would make him be — I guess if you own any small business, you are — I feel like I could go and run any business.
[0:10:42.4] LK: Right. My father is not one of the owners. It’s my restaurant, my sisters, and my sister-in-law.
[0:10:48.7] KM: Oh! I didn’t know that. I thought your parents were in there too.
[0:10:51.4] LK: No. They help us out, but it is our — Are the three young female entrepreneurs who were the owners of the restaurant.
[0:10:59.1] KM: Your dad still has day job.
[0:11:00.9] HK: He works seven days a week. He’ll come up on Saturday and Sunday and help us out, but he works Monday through Friday in the state job which used to be an elected official and a small business owner in Pine Bluff. He would commute.
[0:11:15.3] KM: Your mother and father decided to put y’all in the restaurant business.
[0:11:19.4] LK: Yeah. They saw so much opportunity and they believed in us and they wanted to do it with and for us. They are there with us and still are every single part of the way.
[0:11:27.4] KM: Yeah, because I see your mother down there all the time.
[0:11:29.4] LK: Exactly. I consider it theirs as much as ours in its own way just because they love it so much and they’re so passionate and proud of it and they love seeing their children work so hard to make something great and to be successful.
[0:11:46.4] KM: I think when you’re a parent, you want your kids to grow up and have something to do, and it’s hard right now to know what you want to do and where you want to go. We have a lot of choices that we didn’t have before and sometimes the choices are overwhelming. It was nice that they gave you kind of a direction. Did you do traditional funding or did you use family money or did you finance?
[0:12:10.8] HK: Traditional funding, but we were very savvy when it comes to flipping a restaurant. Going into a restaurant, you have to be very savvy when it comes to spending money.
[0:12:24.3] KM: Yeah, I’ve never bought a business before.
[0:12:25.6] HK: Yeah, we have to flip the — We had to flip the interior. We had to upgrade the kitchen.
[0:12:30.8] KM: What’s flip the interior mean? Redecorate?
[0:12:33.4] LK: Yeah, pretty much redecorate. We put our new floor in in some areas. We had to add new tables. Yeah, we had to do —
[0:12:40.4] KM: Did the Hop want to sell? They have it on the market?
[0:12:43.7] LK: I think, no. They didn’t necessarily have it on the market. I think they were at a point where they had been in the industry, I want to say, seven to eight years, and I think they were just at a point where they were ready to kind of see what their next chapter had in store for them. I really do.
[0:13:02.2] KM: The Hop was not a franchise.
[0:13:03.5] LK: No. It was family owned and operated.
[0:13:03.5] KM: For our listeners, you’re standing on the corner to catch them up. Your mom and dad have an epiphany about putting you ladies in business.
[0:13:14.5] HK: Starting a restaurant.
[0:13:17.6] KM: And they just felt the energy. I am totally in on that. I totally feel energy. I bought the Taborian Hall based on energy off the building. I get it.
They had this epiphany and did this, and you went in and just — But there was already a restaurant there, the Hop, and you went in and said, “You want to sell?”
[0:13:36.5] LK: Yes, we asked.
[0:13:37.3] HK: Yeah, we pretty much asked, “Hey, would you ever be willing to sell?” and they said, “Yes,” and —
[0:13:45.0] LK: It was ours within three weeks or so.
[0:13:46.5] HK: Yeah, we went from there.
[0:13:46.9] KM: Wow! They were really ready to sell.
[0:13:50.6] HK: Yeah, I think they were just at the point of maybe wanting to explore different options. I think they had been in the business, like I said, they had moved a couple of times and I know that Chris, they were expecting a first child. I think just the timing was perfect on both ends. I really firmly believe that.
[0:14:07.9] KM: That’s beautiful. I’ve read also that you have partnerships with local suppliers for food.
[0:14:14.9] LK: Yes.
[0:14:16.3] KM: There was a lot of chatter on the website about your hotdogs. What’s the deal with that?
[0:14:21.9] HK: Our hotdogs? We started off on our menu our hotdogs. We used a local product, a butcher, that was a artisanal butcher. He actually ended up moving to Fayetteville, and Travis McConnell, and so he’s moved to Fayetteville. Now, they’re not on our menu at the moment, but when we bring them back — We kind of bring them back. It’s a spring-summer thing. We are constantly changing our menu.
We’re thinking about doing maybe kind of like a bratwurst or something like that that we can smoke in-house that we can make ourselves, because we are not seasonally driven from what the local farmers can provide to us, but we’re also so hands-on. Our executive chef, which is Kamiya, our soon to be sister-in-law and our sous-chef, Christopher Busick. They are so hands-on and wanting to make their own meats and wanting to make their own sausages and wanting to bring a whole pig in to butcher it themselves.
That’s how you get the finest quality, the freshest ingredients. The pig is from Brown Chicken, Brown Sow, so it’s so fresh. It’s so local. Not only is it benefitting our business, but it’s benefiting another local farmer, which is a beautiful relationship. We’re thinking about doing maybe like a house bratwurst when the summer rolls around.
[0:15:40.4] KM: What’s your favorite food you’ve made? You have one of your chefs from Canada.
[0:15:44.8] HK: Yes.
[0:15:45.4] KM: I read too. You’ve got something odd, you make poutine.
[0:15:48.9] HK: Poutine.
[0:15:50.0] KM: Poutine. What is that? I didn’t know what that was.
[0:15:52.7] LK: It’s a Canadian specialty dish. It’s fries, cheese, curds and a brown gravy.
[0:15:58.3] KM: Really?
[0:15:58.8] LK: Yes. Kamiya is from Canada, and that’s why we have this on our menu. That’s why at least we brought it, but we thought that this is such a dish that Arkansans and southerners would absolutely lovely, and they do.
For me, I feel like it’s an acquired taste. I feel like you have to have it once and you’ll have a few bites and you’re like, “Oh, this is okay,” and then you’ll wake up the next morning craving it and you’re completely hooked.
[0:16:20.9] HK: It’s extremely savory. The Quebec kwa, it’s a traditional French-Canadian dish. I went to school at McGill in Montreal, Quebec, so I was heavily influenced by poutine as well, and they have it at almost every meal; breakfast, lunch, dinner.
[0:16:33.5] KM: Gluten-free?
[0:16:34.8] HK: No, because the gravy has —
[0:16:39.1] KM: A little bit of flour.
[0:16:39.7] HK: Yeah, has a little bit. For the rou, yeah, they get that gravy going. It’s so savory. It’s so decadent. It’s so wonderful and it’s actually a communal dish. In Canada, they would never bring share plates because they just want you to dig in and be very communal with your dining guest.
[0:16:55.8] KM: Is it served like an appetizer and everybody eats it at the same time?
[0:16:58.0] HK: Yeah, it’s served like an appetizer. It’s served as a side. In Montreal they serve it as a main dish.
[0:17:03.7] KM: You have it all the time, so I can come down there and try it.
[0:17:05.7] HK: Yes, it’s consistent.
[0:17:07.0] KM: Break my gluten-free diet and come down there and get a little bit.
[0:17:10.0] LK: Yes. We’ve added a unique flair. We do it as a poutine burger ball as well. Sometimes it depends on the menu. We’ll do a burger patty underneath it. We’ve also done it as burger. We’re always seeing what we can do. We had a poutine hotdog on our menu when we had hotdogs.
[0:17:25.7] KM: You have a bacon jam, jelly jam.
[0:17:28.5] HK: Yes. We have a bacon jam. It’s actually just what it sounds like. It’s jam that we construct from bacon and it is something that Kamiya created. I can cool. I’ll say I can cook, but I will never be a chef.
My sister-in-law, Kamiya, is the most gifted. She reminds me of my grandmother so much. She is naturally gifted as a chef. I feel like she was blessed with that. She can taste foods in her brain, in her mind and can come up with the most elaborate, the most creative dishes. She created this bacon ham, and it’s extremely savory. It’s just what it sounds like. It’s got some onions and some of her other spices in it and we serve it on multiple things. Like we do this bacon jam and peanut butter burger when the summer times comes around. We do it in our grit bowl on brunch sometimes with fried chicken.
[0:18:24.2] KM: Who doesn’t like bacon? You can put bacon on ice cream.
[0:18:27.6] LK: You can put this bacon jam on vanilla ice cream and it is amazing.
[0:18:31.5] KM: I bet.
[0:18:31.9] LK: It is absolutely —
[0:18:32.8] KM: I don’t even think Kevin Bacon would be popular if his name wasn’t Bacon. I stole that joke.
All right, do you have a mission statement?
[0:18:41.0] HK: A mission statement.
[0:18:42.0] KM: What would you say it was? I’m sure restaurants don’t usually have mission statements. Your mission statement would be what if you were going to have one? What do you think your claim to fame is?
[0:18:51.5] HK: Our mission statement? We are constantly seasonally driven. We want to support local farmers as much as possible. I know my goal, my sister’s goal, my sister-in-law Kamiya’s goal is to be 100% farm to table one day. We want to take advantage of food trends. We want to take advantage of what the east coast is doing, the west coast is doing. We’re constantly inspired by events. We’re constantly inspired by holidays.
I think the three sisters, we’re so extremely close and we’re very strong and dependent empowering women. I truly believe that. I would say my mission statement for the restaurant would be to empower younger female entrepreneurs. I really do.
We have a very heavy female staff, not by choice. My goal, whether you are a male, female, transgender, lesbian, gay, whatever, I want to inspire you. I want you to see the relationship that my sisters and I have. I want you to know that you can do whatever you want to do.
[0:19:59.3] KM: You’re instilling family values.
[0:20:00.9] HK: Oh, yeah. 100%. Love.
[0:20:03.5] KM: Yes. I think that’s important. I think we try to do that at Arkansas Flag & Banner. Don’t you, Tim?
[0:20:08.3] TB: Absolutely.
[0:20:09.1] KM: We try to kind of fill like who comes to work there. We train them and try to help them, because not everybody is as lucky as you are to have a family like you had.
[0:20:18.5] LK: I always want our employees to feel like family. If they ever need anything, we’re always there for them.
[0:20:25.8] KM: We’re heavy in women also, and it’s not by choice. I don’t know why it’s worked out that way, but we have a lot of women who work at Arkansas Flag & Banner and I have no idea why that works out. It kind of swings sometimes back and forth, and right now I noticed the other day at our Monday morning meeting we had a lot of women working there, although the sales floor is all men for the first time ever. Maybe I’ll take that back. Maybe I’ll take that back actually.
[0:20:50.1] LK: For all the young — The little girls that come into the restaurant, I want them to see how hard we’re working and I want them. I’ve had several fathers which I think they’re beautiful moments to me and they’ll pull us over to the table an they’ll ask in front of their young daughter, “Hey, is this your restaurant?” We’re like, “Of course!” They will point out their daughters — This is critical. This is so important in today’s society, “Do you see these young girls? Thus is their restaurant. Do you see how hard they’re working? This is what you can do.”
These young women, little girls are 8, 9, 10, 11 years old and in that moment I feel like, “Well, we are doing something.” If just to serve as a great example in a specific moment for young a woman to know that she, one day, can do this. It’s going to take a lot of blood, sweat and tears. It’s going to take a lot of love, because we’ve always said that we fight hard, but we love harder. For our fights, it’s made up by our love, and I’m not joking when I say we fight, especially me and Kamaya. We have a very beautiful, rare relationship.
[0:21:55.7] KM: It’s just because you’re passionate probably.
[0:21:57.2] HK: Yeah.
[0:21:57.0] LK: Extremely passionate.
[0:21:58.7] KM: I love that you are leading by example.
We’re back, and you’re listening to Up In Your Business with Kerry McCoy. I’m speaking today with Leila King and Helen Grace King, sisters who own @ The Corner Restaurant in the River Market in downtown, Little Rock. It’s a family business. It’s genuine. These ladies are so genuine. I love it.
Where was that question I had for you? What’s the biggest obstacle that you’ve had to overcome that you didn’t expect? I know that’s a big one.
[0:22:46.7] HK: Biggest obstacle. God!
[0:22:51.2] KM: Something you didn’t expect. I’ll tell you what mine is. Sometimes feeling really alone in a problem. You know, I feel like if the problem is like right there, the answer, and I’m so close to it and I feel really alone for a moment, but then I get it, and I didn’t really ever know that I had that I’ll get it moment, but I think when I get pushed up against the wall like that, I’m one of those people that sees really, really clear when I’m in the trenches. Owning a small business, you are in the trenches. You think on your feet.
I want to tell our listeners today, that if they listened last week, Thoma Thoma was supposed to be here today, and Martin Thoma and his wife called yesterday and said, “Oh, we are so sick.” They were. They couldn’t even talk, and so we need to reschedule.
I called up @ The Corner Restaurant and talk to these ladies. I think was it your mother or was it — Yeah. Told them that we were in a bind and asked if they could come in today and move to their date up from June to today, and this is so entrepreneurial. They said, “Why? Sure. We’ll be there. We’ll figure it out. Don’t worry about it.” I thought, “That’s the sign of a true entrepreneur. Thinking on your feet, ready to go at any time. Nothing is too big. Nothing is too small. Helping each other. Paying it forward. Doing a public service.” Y’all have got the spirit, for sure.
[0:24:13.0] LK: Thank. I think, to me, and I’m going to let you answer this as well, Grace, the biggest obstacle in my opinion would be having people trust three young entrepreneurs who did not have much experience in the food industry to trust us and not only designing our menus, but we are an extremely creative group of individuals. We do not believe in a static menu. I love change.
One constant in life is change, so we are constantly changing our menu. You know, a lot of people don’t like that, but this allows the chefs create a freedom. A chef has to have creative freedom. They’re artists. So you might walk in and see that our menu is completely different that day, because we’re taking advantage of what the farmers have at the local market or because there is a holiday. We did a special valentines breakfast because we were inspired by the holiday.
I think the biggest obstacle is believing in our capability of pushing the envelope. Doing things people are not expecting. Doing things 100% different than the majority of the restaurants are doing in Little Rock and the greater Little Rock area.
I think the biggest obstacle was instilling faith and trust into our diners. Now, they dig it. Now, they love it. If they come in — We have a repeating special, which we never do, but they’re like, “Hey! What’s going on?” No, we are constantly changing. We have a Chef’s Creative Corner on our brunch menu because we do brunch, Saturday, 8:30 to 2, and then Sunday, 10 to 2, that menu changes like no other.
I feel like that has been our biggest obstacle, instilling faith into people that, “Hey, yeah. We might be new to the game but we totally know what we’re doing.” Kamiya, 100%
[0:26:07.6] KM: There is age discrimination for young and old.
[0:26:11.4] HK: Yeah, I would agree with that. I would agree.
[0:26:13.2] LK: Yeah. But Kamaya and Christopher and Thomas, they have it. They truly have it.
[0:26:21.6] KM: You’re packed all the time. What’s the best time to come in there and get a seat?
[0:26:25.4] HK: It depends on the day.
[0:26:26.1] KM: Are you open seven days a week?
[0:26:28.0] HK: Close Monday.
[0:26:28.8] LK: Yeah, we’re close Monday.
[0:26:30.3] KM: What time is breakfast open?
[0:26:32.6] LK: 7. Tuesday through Friday, 7 a.m. and we close at 2. We do breakfast and lunch.
[0:26:37.4] KM: Oh, you close 2.
[0:26:38.4] LK: Yeah, we close at 2.
[0:26:40.0] KM: Oh, that’s why you can ride horses in the afternoon. I get you. Life-work balance.
[0:26:45.0] HK: Yes, and we do a lot of private catering. I love private parties and private catered events.
[0:26:50.8] KM: Do they come to your restaurant or do you go to theirs when you do private parties? Do you bring food to their party, to their house, or do they come to your restaurant for a private party?
[0:26:59.4] HK: Either or. People can rent out the restaurant or we can go to people’s homes, which we are happy to do both, and we do that very, very well. It’s usually just the three girls. We’ll cook at people’s homes. We’ll serve dinner. We’ll bartend. We’ll do all of that.
[0:27:14.4] KM: That’s a lot of work. Going to cook at someone else’s place and taking all your food and stuff and going over there.
[0:27:14.4] LK: We don’t cook. There. We cook in our kitchen and go and finish the preparation.
[0:27:24.0] KM: I know, but that’s a lot of work, taking everything over there and then finishing it off.
[0:27:28.3] LK: It is, but it’s part of it, and it’s what makes us unique, I think, because we’re going to do it. We’re going to make it happen and your party will be successful.
[0:27:36.5] KM: I’ve heard a lot of entrepreneurs talk about change. I can’t believe you said that. It is absolutely what I think drives entrepreneurs and why they end up not doing the same job. What’s your — Just why they’ve got the strength the go out and try something new because they dig the change.
Helen Grace, did you go to school?
[0:27:52.7] HK: Yes. I went to undergrad at Ole Miss and then graduate school at the Clinton School of Public Service.
[0:27:58.1] KM: You did?
[0:27:58.4] HK: I did. I actually started grad school and the restaurant at the same time.
[0:28:01.4] KM: You’re in a service industry.
[0:28:04.0] HK: Yeah.
[0:28:04.1] KM: What about you, Leila? Did you go to school?
[0:28:06.8] LK: Yes, I did. I went to undergrad at McGill and did not pursue graduate school. No. I do have a college degree.
[0:28:17.4] HK: I have a background in psychology, and so we love human beings. We love talking with getting to know, building that relationship. Figuring it out.
[0:28:24.4] KM: You’ll get over that.
[0:28:24.4] HK: People say and I feel like that happens in the restaurant industry.
[0:28:31.1] KM: They do?
[0:28:31.8] HK: No, but in the restaurant industry I feel like that happens.
[0:28:34.3] KM: Yeah. You guys stay young and fresh.
[0:28:34.3] HK: For us though, it’s a unique thing, because people come in the restaurant and I feel like sometimes they’re not happy to be there because it is a restaurant. They’re going to spend money. I feel like we have a little personal challenge for them to come in, and they’re stand-offish, they’re guarded. They’re not going to be friendly. They’re not going to open up. They’re there to eat and leave, but it’s our own little mission, our goal to make certain that that changes by the time they leave, and so we love having conversations. We love changing that mentality. Like, say, they’ve had a bad day, or we’ll have cancer patients come in, or their child is having an operation in Arkansas Children Hospital and they’re in and they bring the child in. They come in and it’s not just for food. They’re seriously going to connect with one of us because that’s that nature in us. That’s the psychology in us, get to know the human being. My personal philosophy is —
[0:29:28.5] LK: I think we’re good at reading people. We can feel if someone is not in a great mood. I’m curious, what would you say our mission statement is. As your sister, I’m curious.
[0:29:39.7] HK: Yeah. I love your mission statement. For me, it kind of goes back to the Clinton school. My mission there was to figure out how to rehumanize the world.
[0:29:50.2] KM: What does that mean?
[0:29:51.1] HK: What does that mean? What does it not mean? I feel like a lot of times the interaction between people, they forget that we’re all human beings, and so the conversation is not substantial. It is not digging deep. It is not getting to know that soul, that person of who makes us human beings. We’re all human beings. We just forget that.
When people come into the restaurant, I personally sometimes — I take advantage of it. I want to know. I want you to come in and leave feeling kind of more human. I know that sounds really simple and silly, but I think we go throughout the day. Waking up, going to work, going home, going to sleep. We get in this routine, this pattern, and we just forget to connect.
[0:30:34.7] KM: We quit listening.
[0:30:35.7] HK: We quit listening. We quit asking the tough questions. We look at someone as flesh and bones and we’re all human beings. I feel like a lot of times that’s why the hate just spreads. My sister mentioned earlier about love, love, love, and that’s just part of it. That’s part of our culture. That’s part of the food. That’s part of our work environment for our team and it’s part of strangers coming in and feeling that L-O-V-E, love.
[0:31:03.5] LK: I do think they feel the energy.
[0:31:05.4] HK: Yeah. They do. We actually had someone come in yesterday and he’s like — This is after he was about to leave. He told me, “I walked in and I knew that this place was different. I felt something unique,” and we’ve been getting that a lot lately from our customers and people are like — I feel like the more we grow and the more that people come in, people will stop us from a very, very busy time sometimes and ask —
[0:31:31.2] LK: Like this morning, that man came up when we’re busy and was like, “So, I just have to know your story.”
[0:31:35.8] HK: I have to know your story. We’re like, “Oh, absolutely.” Usually, like either I’ll tell and my sister will keep working or she’ll tell and then I’ll keep working. It’s a good story and it’s one that I hope is contagious and inspiring, like my sister said.
[0:31:52.1] KM: I like the way it talks about family and that families really do need to support each other and build off each other and each generation should build off the generation before.
[0:32:01.0] LK: Absolutely. Sometimes we’re not gifted with a family like ours that can work together. Our job, I feel like our responsibility as being a close family is to create a new family, and we call it that team, and that’s our @ The Corner family. We want our employees and our teammates to feel that way. I think sometimes they love that, being a sister or brother and I think sometimes they absolutely hate it because they hear too much and they see too much and they know too much about us and we try to know too much about them, which they get annoyed.
[0:32:34.3] KM: Yes. That can be a hindrance and it can also be a wonderful thing, exactly like you said. Sometimes I think it’d get way too involved in what my employees’ personal life is about.
[0:32:45.2] LK: I think that just happens when you care.
[0:32:47.6] KM: Maybe it’s a female thing. I don’t know. Who’s doing the bookkeeping?
[0:32:52.3] LK: You’re looking at her, my sister.
[0:32:54.7] KM: You like it?
[0:32:55.2] HK: I do like it. I think it’s overwhelming. I get nervous that I’m going to hit the deadlines.
[0:33:00.4] KM: On taxes?
[0:33:01.4] HK: On taxes. I’ve gotten really good at it though. I make phone calls a lot and I’m so lucky that the people on the other end of the phone — I have to ask for a patient person, but they’ve helped me out a long way. I love creating my own formulas, and so I’ve actually created my own formulas on how to do the taxes.
[0:33:18.6] KM: You mean in Excel? What do you mean formulas?
[0:33:21.1] HK: No. It kind of goes back to the calculus days, where an X means this and X=25 —
[0:33:27.5] KM: I’ve heard a lot of small business people say that there’s a lot of help down at this stage. Is that where you’re saying you’re getting help from?
[0:33:34.1] HK: I made a few phone calls. Now I do it myself now, because they are so patient on the phone with me, I was able to —
[0:33:41.2] KM: The Small Business Administration that was on last week at UALR is a wealth of information and it’s free.
[0:33:49.9] HK: They helped us out a lot at the beginning.
[0:33:52.3] KM: Me too, 30 years ago.
[0:33:54.1] HK: Yeah. We hired someone to help us with the taxes and stuff at the beginning, but then I started taking over because I wanted —
[0:34:00.3] KM: That’s a scary thing to do.
[0:34:01.4] HK: It is, but I want to learn. I feel like that’s part of owning your business and I feel like the most you can do and not pay someone to do it, I feel like that’s where you have a little bit profit.
[0:34:28.6] KM: Let me tell everybody, you’re listening to Up In Your Business with Kerry McCoy and I’m speaking today with Leila King and her sister, Helen Grace from @ The Corner Restaurant, which is in the River Market in downtown Little Rock. Ladies, what’s next?
[0:34:43.7] HK: What’s not next?
[0:34:45.1] LK: Yeah. We’re installing our espresso machine. My sister and I are actually going to go to barista training, become baristas.
[0:34:51.5] KM: You can make your own espresso.
[0:34:52.6] LK: Yeah. We’ll be doing specialty coffees, like lattes, cappuccinos.
[0:34:55.3] KM: I thought you already did.
[0:34:58.0] LK: No.
[0:34:57.6] KM: It’s just straight up coffee over there?
[0:34:59.0] LK: It’s just straight up coffee, but now we’re adding that. That’s kind of our second phase right now. That’s what we have in store, in the plans, and then we’re also moving into kind of like a super club so that once a month we’re going to have specialty dinners where we take advantage of — Either partnering with Lost Forty, which we’re doing a dinner with, February 28th. We’re doing a beer dinner, and then come spring we’ll do some wine dinners.
[0:35:25.7] HK: Yeah. We have a lot. We have a lot in store.
[0:35:27.8] KM: Do y’all have it online? Do you have a calendar online that tells all that?
[0:35:31.1] LK: No.
[0:35:32.1] KM: Do y’all even have a website online?
[0:35:33.7] LK: Yeah, we have a website.
[0:35:34.6] KM: You know, I should have gone there. I don’t think I went there. I think I read all these articles about y’all but I didn’t actually go to your website.
[0:35:39.8] LK: My sister handles all of our social.
[0:35:41.9] KM: Is it the Corner —
[0:35:42.8] HK: It’s at thecornerlr.com
[0:35:44.2] KM: Or is at thecorner.com? That’s a good URL.
[0:35:47.4] HK: Yeah, and it’s good, and we’re actually revamping it. We’re working on that. Right now it’s just kind of basic, but we have a lot. That’s about to go live.
[0:35:57.7] KM: Oh! That’s expensive.
[0:36:00.0] HK: Well. No, I have good friends.
[0:36:01.1] KM: Oh, that’s good. I don’t know that a restaurant needs a lot, how to get there. What’s kind of your about you. I don’t know if you change your menu as much as you change your food. I’m not sure you can put a menu online.
[0:36:16.0] LK: Yeah, you just have to update it.
[0:36:17.3] KM: Constantly. Then you can have your upcoming events if you’re going to start doing those.
[0:36:23.0] LK: Yeah. Because like she said, we’re completely redoing our website here soon and it’s going to be amazing. I can’t wait for it to debut.
[0:36:29.8] KM: You’ll have to do a press release.
[0:36:30.7] HK: We should.
[0:36:31.5] LK: Because it’s going to be super rad. I’m excited.
[0:36:35.5] KM: Just slap something together, send it out. At The Corner, launched a new website, to show their specialty dinners. Okay, here’s the most important question of all for these two lovely ladies. Are either one of you all married?
[0:36:46.8] LK: No. We’re both — The best question of the day.
[0:36:51.2] KM: Oh! I know where the single men could go! @ The Corner.
[0:36:54.0] HK: We are very single.
[0:36:54.5] LK: We’re both single and we really don’t know why.
[0:36:56.8] KM: Because you work all the time.
[0:36:59.1] LK: No. We can’t figure it out. No. We are. We are both very single. Yes, we work all the time.
[0:37:04.7] KM: I bet I know why, because the poor guy has to be approved by both of you.
[0:37:10.4] HK: The poor guy is not even asking us on a date or for our phone number.
[0:37:14.9] KM: That’s crazy. I’m going to Snapchat a picture of y’all. No, I’m not. You’ll get stalked.
[0:37:21.8] LK: No. I think when the timing is right, the perfect prince charming for the both of us.
[0:37:26.8] HK: We want champions.
[0:37:27.7] KM: You can champion horses.
[0:37:29.8] HK: No. We want champions. We want warriors. We want someone to fight for us.
[0:37:33.4] KM: There you go. I like that. I think we kind of — What’s it called when you — Geld most of the men that live in the city these days? Is that the right word?
[0:37:43.2] HK: I should not comment on that.
[0:37:44.5] KM: Am I talking horse talk when I say gelded? Is that right?
[0:37:46.2] HK: Yeah, you did wonderful.
[0:37:47.3] KM: Thank you very much. I can’t even think right.
[0:37:52.1] LK: We’ve neutered. Is that the right word? Yeah, gelded.
[0:37:57.5] KM: Gelded is boys, I thought, and neuters, females.
[0:38:00.6] LK: No. A spade.
[0:38:02.1] KM: Oh. I don’t remember. Those are technical terms.
[0:38:03.7] HK: Gelded is a horse term, so you did right.
[0:38:06.2] KM: Okay. What time is breakfast start?
[0:38:07.7] HK: 7 a.m.
[0:38:08.5] KM: What time do you close?
[0:38:09.7] HK: 2. Yes. But Tuesday through Friday, we serve breakfast 7 to 10:30. Lunch, 11 to 2, and then we do a weekend brunch —
[0:38:16.7] KM: You close for 30 minutes?
[0:38:18.1] HK: No. We’re still open and we accommodate our guest as much as possible. So we can offer a few breakfast items or they might be in the mood for lunch and we’ll start lunch as soon as possible, and then we do a weekend brunch, Saturday and Sunday. Saturday, 8:30 to 2. Sunday, 10 to 2.
[0:38:33.4] KM: Are you all making money?
[0:38:33.6] LK: You know, I’m very proud of us. Like you know, when you open your own business, your job is to keep your head above water, to constantly tread water. To do everything in your power to keep your head above water. Are we paying the bills? Yes.
I think from a two year standpoint —
[0:38:53.6] KM: You’re doing good.
[0:38:53.7] HK: Yeah. I think we’re doing really well from a restaurant standpoint. So we’ve been told.
[0:39:00.1] KM: Good. Because I mean I worked Arkansas Flag & Banner 9 years before I ever could live off of Arkansas Flag & Banner. I had to work a part-time job. If you’re not working a part-time job and you’ve opened a restaurant, I think you’re doing good.
[0:39:11.4] HK: Thank you. We have that old school mentality where we pay our team before we pay us.
[0:39:17.6] KM: Always.
[0:39:18.9] HK: We still have some times where we can’t cash that paycheck still, but so they can.
[0:39:22.9] KM: I think every small business has to do that or you’ll lose your employees. Aren’t your employees the most — What make your company run. Your food is important, but without your employees you can’t open the door.
[0:39:33.2] HK: Yeah, no. We’re so lucky that four of them, and we have a small staff for a family.
[0:39:37.6] KM: How many people are at your company at the restaurant.
[0:39:40.6] HK: Less than 10.
[0:39:41.7] LK: Yeah, less than 10.
[0:39:43.4] HK: At the front of the house we used to have an extra person.
[0:39:47.6] KM: There are a lot of restaurants in the world. I mean a lot, and it’s risky, but I think it’s sexy and I think everybody in the back of their mind wants to own a restaurant. I still kind of want to own a restaurant even though I know —
[0:40:00.3] HK: Do it.
[0:40:01.3] KM: No. No. Even though I know how much hard work it is and it’s not as glamorous as it seems, but it’s still a sexy business that I think every entrepreneur kind of puts in the back of their minds [inaudible 0:40:01.3].
[0:40:14.0] LK: At least when it gets going. For the first, I think, eight months, it was just us four girls doing everything; cooking, cleaning, taking out the trash. You could be driving down Cumberland and see my sister and I swinging those extremely heavy trash bags just to get it into the dumpster. You see that blonde ponytails, we’re not that. We’re not like built, and so I mean you could see us. I would agree that’s very sexy. Blood, sweat and tears.
[0:40:44.7] KM: You see movie stars who make it big and then what do they do? They go and open a restaurant, because they still have that burning desire to serve up food.
[0:40:53.7] HK: Serve food and be creative, and you can constantly create in a restaurant.
[0:40:56.6] KM: It’s so communal.
[0:40:57.6] HK: Yeah, and you build a community. You get to know people. People come and see you and they’re coming for the food and they’re coming for the experience. I think there’s just never a dull moment. Your life is not on repeat. It changes every single day, and I think a lot of that is appealing.
[0:41:15.5] KM: No matter how much we try to disconnect from everybody and stay in our homes and social media, we’re still social animals.
[0:41:23.7] LK: Yeah. 100%
[0:41:24.9] KM: We really are.
[0:41:26.3] LK: We are.
[0:41:27.5] KM: Anything you do different?
[0:41:28.9] LK: Anything I would do different? If I in this moment, right now, if everything that I’ve done would lead me to this moment, I wouldn’t change a damn thing. Sorry. I really wouldn’t. I wouldn’t change anything. This keeps me with the people I love most in this world on a daily basis, and that might be different for my sister and my other sister, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
[0:41:55.7] KM: Helen Grace. She’s thinking about it.
[0:42:00.0] HK: Yeah. I’m that sister. I wholeheartedly believe or at least want to believe that you end up on the path you’re meant to be on. This was not my original path. I was the one that said no. I voted no to the restaurant.
[0:42:19.5] KM: I was going to ask if anybody had any trepidation about the idea.
[0:42:22.4] HK: Yes. I was the one that voted no, and I think actually for the first, I would say, eight months I kind of struggled. I was in grad school and I was in the restaurant and I was one foot in, one foot out, and I think I realized one night when I was going to bed that that was killing me because I wasn’t staying true to who I was, because I’m an all-in or nothing individual. I live wholeheartedly and do wholeheartedly.
I realized that that’s what was going on. That’s why I wasn’t happy, because I wasn’t giving it my all. I was still trying to, I guess, maybe live a different life. I remember to this day, I woke up, kind of like clapped my hands and said I’m going to do it and do it well. For the next couple of months I just had that, I’m going to do it, do it well. Do it, do it well. Do it, do it well. That’s led me to where I am and I believe we are as a restaurant.
[0:43:15.9] KM: When you opened the restaurant you were still in grad school?
[0:43:18.2] HK: Yes. I just started. Yeah.
[0:43:21.1] KM: You just opened in 2015.
[0:43:23.2] HK: The Clinton school is a two-year program.
[0:43:25.1] KM: Do you just get out?
[0:43:26.4] HK: Yes, I did.
[0:43:30.0] KM: Wow! No wonder you weren’t all in and didn’t want to do it. That’s a lot to do. I know why you don’t have a boyfriend now. You’re too busy.
[0:43:37.6] HK: Well, no comment there.
[0:43:39.0] KM: All right. We’ve got to close. Anything you want to say to our listeners? Come on down @ The Corner in the River Market. Tell everybody where you are.
[0:43:45.6] LK: Come see us. We’re at the corner of Scott and Markham right across the street from the Chamber of Commerce, the Convention Center, Block 2 Lofts. My sister said this earlier, we constantly create and recreate. We’re not going to do the same thing, and so, yes, that took a very, very long time to develop that foundation of trust, but we think we have it and we’re not going to lose it. We are going to do anything and everything to keep that and keep building our brand, who we are as female entrepreneurs. Who we are in the Little Rock community and who we are as a family.
[0:44:17.3] KM: I love your name, @ The Corner, and it’s a great place to people watch and it’s a great place to come by yourself and eat alone, which is a big deal.
[0:44:25.2] LK: Yeah, and we love that, because we do that. We go to restaurants. That’s my hobby is going to restaurants and eating by myself.
[0:44:33.2] KM: I love that too. People watching, it’s a great place to do that @ The Corner Restaurant. I love it. Thank you ladies.
[0:44:39.4] HK: Yes, and if you want to talk, just ask my mom to come sit with you and she will sit and y’all will become best friends.
[0:44:47.1] KM: That’s true. I’ve only met her twice but —
[0:44:47.6] LK: Yeah. You are always be made to feel at home.
[0:44:50.7] KM: I love that. Thank you Helen Grace.
[0:44:52.1] HK: Thank you so much.
[0:44:53.0] KM: Sister Helen Grace, and she really is a sister to Leila King. Thank you, Leila King.
[0:44:56.9] LK: Yes. Thank you so much for hosting us.
[0:44:59.3] KM: Oh, you’re so welcome. Thanks for being such an entrepreneur and just jumping on the train and coming right on in. Shout out to Thoma Thoma. Hope you all get to feeling better. Helen Grace and Leila King from @ The Corner Restaurant, I hope all our listeners will go down and patronize them.
[0:45:12.4] LK: Yes. Come see us.
[0:45:13.8] KM: Here, for your whole family. Girls get to smoke cigars. That’s for birthing a restaurant.
[0:45:19.3] LK: Heck, yes!
[0:45:20.2] HK: I love a cigar. I’m obsessed. Thank you so much.
[0:45:21.9] KM: They’re pretty, aren’t they?
[0:45:22.9] HK: These are gorgeous.
[0:45:23.6] KM: Give that your sister-in-law.
[0:45:25.1] HK: Oh, we will.
[0:45:26.6] KM: Those came from the Humidor Room at the Colonial Wine & Spirits on Markham Street in Little Rock, Arkansas.
[0:45:30.6] HK: Thank you. This is awesome.
[0:45:31.5] KM: You’re very welcome. My guest next week — Who’s the guest, Tim?
[0:45:36.2] TB: Denise.
[0:45:37.1] KM: She’s a compounding pharmacist.
[0:45:38.7] TB: Okay. That’s right. That’s right. Okay. Yeah.
[0:45:40.7] KM: She’s going to talk to us about she’s opened up a compounding pharmacy and she’s going to talk —
[0:45:45.3] TB: It’s an all-natural pharmacy?
[0:45:46.2] KM: I believe it is.
[0:45:46.6] KM: Okay. Okay. Yes.
[0:45:47.7] KM: I think there’s two of them, Mustang Sally. I don’t know for sure what Mustang Sally does. She’s coming with her. Stay tuned. It’s going to be a good show.
[0:45:54.9] TB: There’s a song we could play.
[0:45:56.4] KM: There’s the song for her, Mustang Sally. Alright, Tim. Good thinking. To our listeners, if you have a great entrepreneurial story that you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. Send a brief bio and your contact info to firstname.lastname@example.org and someone will be in touch.
Finally, to our listeners, thank you for spending time with me. If you think this program has been about you, you’re right, but it’s also been about me. Thank you for letting me fulfill my destiny. My hope today is that you’ve heard or learned something that’s been inspiring or enlightening and that it, whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence, or your life. I’m Kerry McCoy, and I’ll see you next Friday at 2 p.m. on KABF Radio in Little Rock, Arkansas. Until then, be brave and keep it up.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:46:43.5] TB: You’ve been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Want to hear today’s program again or want someone else to benefit from it? Jot this down. Next week a podcast will be available at flagandbanner.com. Click the tab labeled “Radio Show”, there you’ll find today’s segments with links to resources you heard discussed on this program. Kerry’s goal: to help you live the American Dream.