Sarah Callaway knows running a small business is no easy task. It is something she and her husband, Justin, do daily at their own establishment, Sandy Bottom Bagels in Retreat Plaza on St. Simons Island. Even after two years of success, the couple is still trying to find ways to grow.
“We are still trying to grow and trying to think of things to expand,” Callaway said.
It has been a similar issue for Callaway’s fellow business owner, Tanya Sergey. She owns A Moveable Feast, a health-conscience eatery near the Brunswick airport. Sergey developed a strong following for lunch over her and decided to expand into the dinner sphere with an array of options for patrons. The results, however, weren’t what she had expected. Instead of diners flocking to her restaurant, she only got a handful of tables on Friday and Saturday nights. And Sergey could not help but attribute to her location.
“I lived on the island for 12 years and honestly, my friends and I rarely crossed the causeway for dinner,” she said.
“And the most common thing I hear from my diners is that I really need to ‘move the restaurant to the island.’ As anyone who has poured their soul and savings into a small business, once established, you just can’t pack up and move to another location.”
So after a solid effort, Sergey took to Facebook to post a heartfelt message, saying that she had to discontinue her dinner service.
“It took me a while to face up to the fact that dinners weren’t working. I was sad and frustrated, especially given the positive feedback I get during my lunch service,” Sergey said.
Callaway, who had yet to meet Sergey but followed her page, saw the post.
“It just struck a chord with me. It was heartbreaking ... I would be devastated if we had to scale back,” Callaway said.
So she decided she’d stop in at Sergey’s restaurant to see if she could help. The women connected and came up with a plan designed to help both businesses. Callaway would allow Sergey to use their island space on weekends once a month for her dinners. In return, Sergey would offer a pick up location in Brunswick for Callaway’s online bagel orders.
“We’ve been thinking of ways to get across the causeway,” Callaway said, noting similar arrangements with Dot and Army downtown.
“We are going to start once a week ... for the bagels it will be all online ordering — a half dozen or dozen. You even pay online, then Tanya will open early for us to deliver and have pick up at 8:30 a.m.”
The dinners will start next Saturday evening at Sandy Bottom Bagels.
For her part, Sergey was thrilled by the support and the chance to give the dinners another go.
“As a small business owner, often times you just feel like you are one, alone, sailing against the storm. It is nice to have someone willing to take some action to help you take your business further,” Sergey said.
For both women, the experiment is more than just a benefit to their respective bottom lines. Instead it is a chance to show the community that businesses can work together for the common good.
“We live in a world where you have to keep changing with the times and trying unconventional strategies to reach new markets,” Sergey said.
“Small businesses partnering together makes sense: Sandy Bottom wants to establish a market on the mainland for its bagels, A Moveable Feast wants to showcase its ability to provide a top notch fine dining experience to island residents, and grow its lunch and catering business.”
Callaway agrees. “It could be every man for himself but why not show our customers that we are part of a community,” she said.
“We both stand to benefit from this experiment. The question of ‘why’ is perhaps better framed, ‘why not?,” Sergey added.