What makes new businesses work?

Published 10:30 pm Thursday, December 9, 2010

Steve Henley, owner of Pasofino's in Niles, is still serving up his signature "fusion" sandwiches, hoagies, pastries and more at his cafe in Niles, despite a struggling economy. (Daily Star photo/JESSICA SIEFF)

Linda Thomas stops in for lunch at Pasofino’s in Niles two to three times a week.

It’s hard for her to pick a favorite when it comes to the sandwiches served up by owner Steve Henley.

“Right now, my favorite is the reuben,” she said. “The bourbon chicken is really good too.”

Thomas would consider herself a loyal customer to the eatery Henley opened up in January of this year.

At the time, there were two of the restaurants serving “fusion” sandwiches, classic American flavors such as pot roast or smokehouse chicken stuffed into an Asian-style steamed bread. The menu also features hoagies, other specialty sandwiches as well as fresh pastries, espresso based drinks and more.

Henley makes everything from scratch, the pot roast in one of his featured sandwiches cooks slowly for days and the corned beef used in Thomas’ reuben he brined himself.

Businesses like Pasofino’s are doing whatever they can to bring in customers as they continue to struggle against a recovering economy and consumers who are keeping a watchful eye on their ever-stretched dollar.

When the restaurant first opened up in Niles, Henley said business was good.

“It was going up in sales about 10 percent every week,” he said. He was prepared to hire four more employees.

But by May and June, business slowed.

“Sales decreased by about 80 percent,” he said. “I have no clue (why) other than the economy and the recession.

“It’s tough,” Henley said.

The Cassopolis restaurant closed in July.

“I had a really good summer last year, I was actually making money,” he said.

December and January are slower months, he said.

“It’s winter and people are spending money on Christmas gifts, not eating out,” he said.

Ron Sather, executive director of the Four Flags Area Chamber of Commerce, said starting up a business can be a challenge for entrepreneurs.

Still, he added, there are plenty of opportunities for businesses to help bring customers in and even help each other.

The chamber, he said encourages members to develop the Web pages offered through the chamber’s website and to fuel a Facebook account.

“The chamber is very much doing that themselves,” Sather said. “It’s another low cost or no cost way to promote yourself.”

Another way for businesses like Henley’s to survive, Sather said, “is to work internally, with one business fellow and another.”

Business owners and fellow members, he said, “kind of have a common bond.”

Holding special events is another way to bring customers in, Sather said.

And knowledge of the field and industry is another important aspect to running a successful business. Sather added, “(some business owners) they’re not quite sure, maybe have no experience about he particular business they go into,” he said.

Getting to know the demand and competition is important.

“Not that you can’t survive,” Sather said. “But you have to do a tremendous job of setting yourself apart from other people.”

Thomas, who has been living in Niles for 10 years and has seen plenty of local shops come and go, thinks it’s the loyalty of local customers that can make a big difference to a small business.

“Unfortunately,” she said. “Customers being loyal and coming in … maybe (with Pasofino’s) the newness has worn off just a little bit. But that’s when loyal customers need to show their loyalty.”

In the meantime, Henley is working hard at new ideas. All of the food in his restaurant is made from scratch.

“We have a couple of philosophies,” he said. “One of them is everything in here except the pickle we make. Even the chips.”

His fusion sandwiches are even available frozen to be taken home and warmed up.

“He’s not typical fast food,” Thomas said, who added she hopes to see business pick up. “I think he offers a few things that are a little bit different than any place else in town.”

Pasofino’s is located on Main Street near South 11th Street, in the old Subway restaurant location. For more information or to hear what’s on the menu, call (269) 815-4574. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday, closing on Mondays starting Monday, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.