In this installment of Meet the Merchant, we speak with Mimi Leonard of Frozen Rooster in Leeds, Alabama. Mimi discusses how she was able to build her brand from scratch after opening in 2019, the challenges of operating a restaurant in a mall during the pandemic, and what makes her chicken wings the best in the area.
Clover: How did you come to run Frozen Rooster? What made you think it was the right time?
Mimi Leonard: Well, I have worked in this mall [The Outlet Shops of Grand River] for the past eight years, I was previously a sales manager at Coach. While working here we noticed that there were not any wings or ice cream available in the area. Wings are also my boy’s favorite food, so we knew that’s what the mall needed. My oldest son came up with the name of the restaurant since we have ice cream (Frozen) and wings (Rooster) and that’s how it was born. We’ve been open for 2 years. We’ve expanded our menu with fish, but chicken and ice cream are still in the forefront.
The timing was just all of the stars aligning. I was at a crossroads in my life where I knew there was more for me. My grandfather owned a restaurant in Macon, Ga when I was young. People still tell me stories about how good his food was and how his establishment impacted the community. I wanted to follow my grandfather’s legacy and stepped out on faith. Opportunities were coming my way and taking me down this path and I had to follow them.
Clover: What did you do to prepare for your opening in July 2019, and what were some of the challenges of establishing a new brand in the market?
Leonard: To prepare for opening I had a team of family and friends that met once a week and did my business plan and research. During these meetings we tried to lay out every detail. The business started off slowly, just because of the unfamiliarity of it. People hadn’t heard of Frozen Rooster, they didn’t know what was and competing with national brands presented a major challenge.
Once the name got out, we were featured in some of the local food segments and TV shows, and radio broadcasts and that helped us thrive.
Clover: How did the pandemic affect your progress and how did you bounce back from it?
Leonard: The pandemic was tough initially, we actually had to close in March 2020. We were considered a necessity, but the mall closed, which forced us to close as well. I knew that restaurants were extremely busy during this time. I felt like it could have been a great opportunity for us to capitalize on, but there was no way for us to operate with the mall being closed. We were closed in March and April, and were finally able to reopen in May.
Once we were finally able to reopen, we were busier than ever. Everybody was ready to get out of the houses and so the mall was very busy. The community came out and supported us.
Clover: What made you choose Clover for your payment processing?
Leonard: I stopped by the Essence Festival in New Orleans prior to our opening in July 2019. [Clover] had a big presence there, and I spoke to a person that went through the process with me. I liked the modern look of Clover and that it integrated Apple Pay and Google Pay. The POS screens had a nice and user-friendly layout.
Clover talked to me about my ticket printers working in conjunction with my POS, which was important to me. At that point I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage those types of things, so the streamlined operations, where my tickets can print in the kitchen was a major. It also saved me some money.
Clover: What other Clover products do you use in your business? How do they help you?
Leonard: I have thoroughly use the Homebase and Gusto apps I absolutely love them! I feel like my company is operationally a lot stronger because of programs that I’ve found on Clover. I like that I can post my schedule and know when my employees have seen it. It sends them a text message an hour before their shift, which helps eliminate a lot of excuses for not showing up to work on time. Gusto has really helped me with my hiring and payroll. Homebase and Gusto work together [on Clover] and have made running my business so much easier.
I use DAVO too. That helps me file my monthly taxes every month with the state. So that’s something that I don’t have to worry about [myself]. They file it, they pay for everything, and so all I do is pay them $39.99 / month. These are definitely three apps I couldn’t live without – Homebase, Gusto, and DAVO.
Clover: As a Black woman running your own business, how have the recent events and discussion surrounding race and equality changed anything for you and the way you approach your business?
Leonard: As we reopen, the community, and I will say especially other Black women have really been supportive. They have pulled me aside and said they are going to pray for me, they are going to send me business, and just really want to support my minority women-owned business. I am very thankful for that.
I will say all races, all ages have been supportive. I really feel like the country itself has a sense of the challenges that we face. There were a lot of articles about how hard it is for us to get loans compared to our counterparts. So, the community has really tried to wrap their arms around us and embrace us, as much as possible. I definitely feel a lot more supported coming out of it than I did going into it.
Clover: We want to hear more about these chicken wings! Why do you think people love them?
Leonard: Our regulars say we have the best wings in town. We hear that all the time and really take pride in that. One thing about our food is that it is always fresh and cooked to order. It never sits under warming lamps. We have a larger variety of sauces and can customize your food in very creative ways.
Clover: What’s next for Frozen Rooster?
Leonard: My next step is expansion. I’ve been looking into a few different things. I don’t have anything locked in solid, but it’s a work in progress. Another primary focus right now is continuing to get our name out there, creating more brand awareness and making progress.
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