While Trinidadian Colette Burnett was a bank branch manager, she had an urge to do something different.
She was working in the finance world for seven years when she applied to the FastTrac New Venture Program run by the New York Department of Small Business; part of a program called New York Business Solutions.
“I wanted to do something related to food,” she said.
Accepted in 2009, she left her bank job to take the six-week part-time training program. In the program, she clarified and finessed her ideas for her business and developed a business plan figuring out the finances under the expert eyes of her instructors.
“I did a lot of research,” she said, of looking at the demographics and talking to a lot of restaurateurs to learn restaurant ownership pitfalls. She planned to launch her restaurant in December 2009 but, “I opened three months ahead of time because I had orders from the Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and the Children’s Museum,” Colette explains.
Colette’s idea was to focus on authenticity of flavors and serve chicken with a choice of sauces from different Caribbean islands. She started with her mother’s recipe from Trinidad and opened with 10 different — now expanded to 12 islands-inspired sauces. They range from mild “spice island rubbed (Grenada)” to medium, “ginger buff” to her her spicier signature sauce, “Trini Tamarind” (Trinidad), or to even hotter “pineapple jerk (Jamaica).”
Colette knew where she wanted the business to be — Crown Heights. With her fiancé, in September 2009, she opened Super Wings on Union and Nostrand at a site that had seen nine other restaurants — the kitchen was already in place. The community took to her and she is doing well.
The menu also has fish, shrimp and tofu that appeals to varied tastes, ethnicities and races. “Our customers are like the United Nations,” she muses. And why are there two other chicken joints across the street? Her reply, “They came after me.”
Super Wings won the Best Wings in Brooklyn in 2010 and seven months later, Bobby Flay walked into Super Wings for a Caribbean Spicy Wings Challenge. Colette won with her Trini Tamarind.
In terms of professional help, in addition to the invaluable FastTrac program, the Caribbean Chamber of Commerce and Industry assisted in licensing, getting the M/WBE certification.
“Our biggest challenge was financing, “Colette reveals, we couldn’t’ get a bank loan. “I cashed in my 401k,” financing it herself.
Colette not only overcame the statistic that 60 percent restaurants die within the first year but she was ahead of time in her business plan. Three years out of the gate, she opened a second restaurant in March 2012, this one on Utica, and is a sit-down.
NYC Business Solutions offers several free mini-courses for those wanting to start their own business.
The more intense and also free FastTrac New Venture program is seven sessions, approximately 50 classroom hours, and requires 15-20 hours of prep per week. It accepts applications on a rolling basis and applicants are encouraged to apply early with a thoughtful and complete application to this competitive program.
As for advice from Colette: do your research, know your market, be authentic and most importantly, get past your fear.