What do traveling foodies do when they want to start a business? Offer something delicious that no one else has and prepare it like you’d find in the old country, in this case, Belgium – the birthplace of frites (“freetz”), known in the US as fries.
That was the inspiration behind Kim and Chris Stromberg’s business idea which became a reality after a visit to the Big Apple, and to Belgium before that, where they discovered how potatoes are prepared the Belgian way: cut thick, fried to order, and served with a range of savory sauces and beer. This memorable culinary experience, plus a job layoff, prompted the Strombergs to open the first of its kind Manneken Frites café in Colorado.
Chris, an accountant, crunched the numbers and they worked with Kim’s business plan. Their realtor found a spot in Olde Town Arvada which was growing in popularity as a destination and developing as a new light rail stop. The Stromberg’s cafe location, near the main intersection in Olde Town, also helped jump start the business along with food service sales to 70% of patrons visiting the nearby craft brewery.
When it came to financing their dream business, Kim and Chris talked to their craft beer neighbors who referred them to Colorado Enterprise Fund (CEF). The Strombergs got a loan in 2011 which helped them remodel their cafe as a fast casual-style dining option complete with outdoor seating where they can serve alcohol.
“Most of our customers sit outside,” said Chris, “which is great advertising for our place, now one of the oldest surviving restaurants in Olde Town.”
With seven employees currently, up from four when the shop opened in 2011, Chris appreciates the impact of CEF financing. “I’m not sure I could start Frites in the same location,” Chris remarks. “So many national chains dominate the area now that it’s grown.” His belief in CEF’s ability to help small business build local business that gets noticed was proven when Manneken Frites was named the 2012 Best French Fries by 5280 Magazine. The shop also got top dog honors on Denver’s A-List five years running after the couple added Vienna Beef hot dogs to their growing menu. The latest addition: a machine gun sandwich with fries atop cheesy, crusty bread. Beef and pastrami versions are also available.
“Our unique offerings keep people coming back,” Chris beamed. “We also have really good customer service and familiarity with the military folks who ate frites in Europe.” And, of course, the Belgian beer on tap is a draw.