Summer is a great time to take to the beach, the park, or even your local streets for the flavors of the season.
And what better time for us to highlight how these Clover merchants — from our Meet the Merchant series — are taking their businesses to the streets and anywhere their customers are enjoying the outdoors.
You’ve heard of food trucks, but how about food truck pods? This Clover merchant has taken the art of food truckin’ it to the next level by creating a food truck pod curated especially from local mom-and-pop businesses.
After enjoying the local craft beer scene of central Oregon, April Williams and her husband Dustin decided to offer a swig of Oregon culture to their hometown of Orlando, Florida. So, in November of 2018, they opened À La Cart Orlando in Orlando’s Milk District. Since then, April and Dustin have focused on bringing craft beers and a unique mix of food (and food trucks) to their local community. Although they’re technically landlords to their food truck vendors, April and Dustin view their vendors and their pod as a collaborative team effort.
A strong community has helped A La Cart Orlando weather the pandemic. Through outdoor community-building activities, like Tuesday trivia nights, they’ve created a special place for locals and visitors alike. After all, as April says: “That’s really what we feel that we are — a place for the community to come together.” Read the interview.
For this Clover merchant taking business to the street has meant opening up their business to adventure-bound RV’ers.
Vesco Ridge Vineyards, located in West Chazy, New York, is a post-retirement venture for Nancy Vesco and her husband, Dan. And it all started with a wine kit they received for Christmas from Nancy’s sister. After retiring, Dan began to make wine as a hobby, starting with about 75 wines. Not long after, the Vescos acquired a business license, built a tasting room and gift shop, and then added a deck. They even constructed a house for themselves on the same parcel of land and moved in. Not long after, Nancy retired to join Dan full-time in running the business.
Thankfully, they never had to completely close the vineyard during the pandemic, but business did slow as they had to close the outdoor deck and pause events. Selling flavored slushies to-go helped them boost business until they could reopen the deck and jump start events last July. And business boomed — for last summer, anyway. Then, as temps fell, so did traffic.
To bring in more foot traffic, the Vescos signed up with Harvest Hosts, a program that lets people with RVs or campers stay on a business property for one night. The setup is easy for hosts and guests. Hosts like the Vescos provide nothing but a place to park — not even utilities And all guests have to do to park free for the night is buy one item form the host business.
Thanks to that program, the Vescos saw about 75% more visitors.
It’s been a pandemic win-win for the Vescos and their guests, as Nancy explains: “They’ve canceled their vacations, they bought or rented an RV, and they’re just traveling locally. We’ve met the most interesting people.” Peruse the Vescos’ story.
This Clover merchant founded her business on hospitality, a piece of financial advice, and good cake.
“I heard a financial guru on the radio telling people they could get out of debt by having a bake sale or a garage sale. So, I decided to have a bake sale every single day,” shares owner Mignon Francois.
When new neighbors moved to town, Mignon and her family would knock on their doors and welcome them to the neighborhood — cupcakes in hand. In turn, Mignon’s new neighbors would come to her house for more. And so grew the business — rooted in hospitality and the local community. What started as an idea to make extra cash and make ends meet quickly evolved into The Cupcake Collection located in Nashville, Tennessee.
Now situated close to a popular destination restaurant where bus loads of people come to eat family style, The Cupcake Collection serves cupcakes to hungry diners. And her community is expanding.
“New Orleans raised, but Nashville made,” Mignon decided she wanted to help rebuild the city that made her who she is. “I wanted to write a love letter to the city that had raised me.”
So she partnered with her sister and a best friend to teach them what she knows about the business. Now, they’re operating the first franchise location in New Orleans. And they’re “learning the ins and outs of what it means to communicate between the two stores so that [they] can continue to expand into other markets.”
What’s the secret ingredient for Mignon’s success? Joy. Mignon explains: “At The Cupcake Collection we believe that good cake is connected to great memories, and our cupcakes take you back to a nostalgic time or place when you experienced something that was made with love. The product we sell is not just the one you carry out with you. What we offer people is joy, and that’s the secret ingredient baked strategically into every single cupcake. Whatever you’re looking to celebrate, there’s a cake for that!”
Although the pandemic hit everyone hard, Mignon says it’s been rewarding “to watch how people find a new voice or a new way.… I love how we stopped and spent time with our families.” To offer her community a little joy on-the-go during the pandemic, Mignon set up cupcake stations outside of her store.
What better ingredient to offer today’s customers than a bit of joy wrapped in a cupcake. Check out the interview with Mignon Francois.
Read more of our Meet the Merchant stories for real-life stories of small businesses in action all over the country. Want to be featured in this series? Fill out our questionnaire, and if we can include you in a future interview cycle, we’ll send you an invitation!