Leelanau Bakery and Farm, 9 Bean Rows, Launches Expansion with Help from Venture North and MDARD
*Scroll to the end for "What to Know"*
9 Bean Rows is a bakery, farm, and–most recently–outdoor restaurant located about two miles west of downtown Suttons Bay. Owners Nic and Jen Welty dreamed of a restaurant-based expansion for several years, and it finally came to fruition in the Spring of 2020 with the help of Venture North Funding & Development and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD).
The Welties started their business in the wake of the 2008 recession after they both lost their jobs. They rented out a kitchen at Black Star Farms until 2014, when they moved to their current location. Over the years, they’ve expanded both their property and products. They are continually working to grow and refine their process. At the beginning of 2019, they began one of their biggest projects yet.
MDARD Economic & Community Development Specialist Jodi Gruner met with 9 Bean Rows in mid-2019. MDARD consistently approaches and keeps in touch with businesses in order to determine their needs and find ways to help. “I meet with companies on a regular basis,” says Gruner. “They may or may not have a project at the time, but they know that we have programs that can help support new projects. We met with Nic...and talked about what he was trying to do.”
One of MDARD’s main initiatives is finding and developing opportunities for Michigan’s agricultural businesses. The goal is always to build the ripple effects amongst the community–businesses supporting businesses. Gruner has been working with 9 Bean Rows for close to a decade, and she introduced them to MDARD’s Food and Agriculture Investment Fund Grant.
Once the idea for expansion was in the air, both MDARD and 9 Bean Rows did their due diligence before going forward with the grant application. They gathered information and resources such as the property and pricing. In total, they estimated that the project would cost about $515,000. The Food and Agriculture Investment Fund Grant does not pay out until the completion of the project, so they could not apply for the grant without help. That’s when Venture North came in.
Executive Director Laura Galbraith met with 9 Bean Rows to discuss exactly how to build a supportive financial infrastructure so that 9 Bean Rows could have the flexibility to both maintain and grow their business. They found a solution: Venture North was able to offer its Small Business Loan for the initial $50k investment by way of using the MDARD grant as collateral. They agreed to structure the loan as interest-only until 9 Bean Rows completed MDARD’s milestones. The project was a perfect fit for Venture North's loan products:
9 Bean Rows is a family-owned farm located within a rural community
This investment would result in eight new jobs for the local community
9 Bean Rows would have a positive economic impact on agri-tourism in Leelanau County
The 9 Bean Rows expansion was a beneficial opportunity for both them and MDARD’s other local clients. It’s a hub for both agricultural, retail, and restaurant businesses in Northwest Michigan. They provide fine baked goods for smaller restaurants that don’t have the space for their own kitchen, they have a CSA program, and both use and sell a multitude of local ingredients sourced from other farms. “We like to see that value add. We like to see how communities are thriving and growing,” says Gruner.
As you drive past the farm, you can see the vegetable fields and greenhouse right next to the small building that houses the kitchen, bakery, and public-facing shop. For most of 2019, the parking lot was a construction site. Now, it’s a beautiful pavilion for fresh wood fire cookery with the potential for farming workshops and cooking courses. Nic did all the construction himself. In addition to the public pavilion, he also greatly expanded the interior workspaces for the bakery and a gourmet delicatessen.
He recommends that passionate entrepreneurs in need of funding shouldn’t give up. It’s there. All you need is for one person to say yes. “There are always a lot of opportunities. You always have to keep looking. You can’t rely on one thing. You have to have multiple pieces come together. Keep searching and fundraising so you have different partners come together and make things happen.” Venture North is that first “yes” for a lot of businesses. “Having Venture North take the first step was about more than just the money. It was the first part of the whole snowball effect.”
“Farmers are the original entrepreneur,” says Gruner. MDARD is a huge organization that works not only with farms but also with processors. They have an international marketing team that connects Michigan agriculture and products to other markets. “We are working to help agricultural companies get their products to all four corners of the globe,” says Gruner. There are many opportunities for businesses looking to expand or even just get started.
The 9 Bean Rows expansion is only one example of a collaboration between Venture North Funding and MDARD. Venture North serves as a local liaison to help connect agricultural businesses with MDARD’s incentive programs. They are always trying to find that next project that will spark economic activity within our region.
It can be challenging for small businesses to keep track of all the potential opportunities and programs available to them. Any Northern MI business that is starting up or planning an expansion should connect with Venture North to learn more about the many creative financing or grant opportunities available.
Find out if your business is qualified for a grant or loan with Venture North.
*What to Know*
The opportunity: MDARD’s Food and Agriculture Investment Fund Grant.
Why did 9 Bean Rows receive this grant and bridge loan? -9 Bean Rows is a family-owned farm located within a rural community -This investment would result in eight new jobs for the local community -9 Bean Rows would have a positive economic impact on agri-tourism in Leelanau County
How to reap the benefits: If you are a local business (in operation for at least 2-3 years) looking to grow, then please contact us to see if you are eligible for innovative financing and/or grant funds.