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What’s it like to open a business in 2020?

No matter when you start a business, it is always a challenge, but what is it like to start a business in this economy? To find out, we talked with three businesses that have recently held a grand opening here in Gwinnett. Fireside Nutrition in Dacula, D’Floridian and Ironside Brewing in Lawrenceville.

First off, it takes some bravery to open a business in the middle of a pandemic, something Fireside Nutrition owner, J.T. Wood has a lot of experience in from his years with the Gwinnett Fire Department.

“I’ve been a fireman coming up on 31 years, getting ready to retire September of this year. Spent about 25 years with Gwinnett,” J.T. shares his experience before pivoting into this new business. When asked why he wanted to start the shop that serves loaded teas and meal replacement shakes, he shares that it was other first responder friends that had got him interested in the business model. “Buddies of mine from the PD side, they got tired of working on the road, and some friends of theirs gave them the information about the nutrition stores. And he’s actually the one that got me started in this.”

Getting customers into a physical store location this year is tougher than it’s ever been. Adjusting to digital promotion and social media is a challenge if you’ve never done it, and for JT, this is a little… “Different. Very different. We’re still getting the word out there. We’re getting very good responses from the community. Our customers are spreading the word for us on social media, which is something new for me, they say you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, but I’m learning,” J.T. jokes.

We’ve been known to call 2020 “The Unexpected Teacher” around here and it’s true! 

D’Floridian grand opened their new Cuban restaurant on the Lawrenceville square in May, and they’ve actually used 2020 to show some extra love to their first customers. One of the owners, Jamie Ochoa, explains it like this, “Since the day we opened, people love the place. We have a lot of really good loyal customers. We opened the doors and people started coming and they love us. We’re trying to learn how to show love to customers because a lot of people don’t want to get out of their homes.”

Many restaurants are struggling to attract customers but face unprecedented challenges. Not only are the numbers of tables restricted inside restaurants, but the customer behaviors have also changed so much. It used to be that restaurants could market to specific demographics and menu preferences. Now customer groups fall into two categories: people that want to go out to eat and the people who aren’t going to go out at all. Jamie knows this and has decided to double down on customer service. “We realize that the people who want to come out are deciding to come to a new business.  We’ve got to give them all the love. We got to do the extra. We got to give everything we can. (In this season) we’re learning how to love the customers and how to appreciate customers a little bit more than the usual.”

One of the more interesting stats discussed during the pandemic has been about beer sales. Somehow even with the restaurants and bars operating at lower capacity beer sales haven’t dropped one bit. We decided to drop in on Ironshield Brewing to  see what it’s been like for them to grand open for them during pandemic.

“The challenges we ran into to get open started with, well, we’re an alcohol business and so it’s highly regulated. We had a lot of dependency on a lot of different approvals from a lot of different agencies. They were shut down. They were all scrambling, trying to figure out what to do, so we worked through that. Lots of phone calls, just chasing it down to get each thing that we needed done.” CEO, David Rice shares. “Pushing through that, it certainly delayed us, but we got everything up and running and open.” 

Ironshield Brewing grand opened in the building that used to house Gwinnett News back in the day on July 11th and they’ve been going strong ever since. 

One of the founders Edi Sprouse shared that not all of the grand opening issues were bad ones, “We had a fantastic grand opening. We had no idea how to anticipate the numbers of people that would come out, and unfortunately we couldn’t pour the beer fast enough. Bless their hearts, we had people standing in line up to 45 minutes to get a beer, so we knew we had to do something. As you can see on the bar here, we’re building a new draft station so that will never be a problem again. It was a good problem to have. It was a fantastic problem to have.”

Ironshield Brewing is also well equipped with a large outdoor seating area allowing everyone to social distance and still enjoy a brew and maybe a band. Personally, I think it’s where we should all gather when this pandemic is over.

We want to thank all the businesses for sharing their stories with us. They were super cool. If you guys know another business that’s opening during 2020, why don’t you send us an email and let us tell that story? We’d like nothing more than to do just that.