Originally published in Rutgers-Camden School of Business's newspaper, Minding Your Busine$$ Spring 2011 Issue 2.
Behind the Register - Friends Cafe
Ever wonder about the people behind the local businesses you pass by every day? Many of us patronize these businesses without ever knowing anything about their history or owners. I had the pleasure of speaking with two such businesses that are located in our campus neighborhood, Friends Café.
About the owner
Kelly Chang is a Rutgers-Camden Alumni, Class of 1998. He worked as a human resources manager before opening his own business. “For me, cooking is an art. It's my passion. I credit my mother for teaching me how to cook. When I was growing up she would tell me about the plants, herbs, and spices – where they came from, what they were used in. She made me into the chef I am today.”
When did you open your business?
How did Friends Café come to be?
Honestly, it was purely good timing. I had wanted to start my own business for some time and I happened to run into the owner of Campus Deli one day at Adventure Aquarium. Campus Deli was the previous company that occupied the site where Friends Café is now. I had worked for the deli back in college and just by luck I ran into the owner years later. He told me he wanted to sell his business and I jumped at the opportunity.
How did you decide on a fusion of Asian and American dishes?
Back when I was a student here, I wanted variety. Now, I have brought that diverse selection of good quality food to the community. My goal is to be a one-stop-shop for food. If I have the ingredients, I'll make whatever you want.
What are your most popular dishes?
The Seoul burger, chicken teriyaki salads, honey dip wraps, and chicken bacon ranch wraps.
When you first opened, how did you market your business?
Word-of-mouth referrals brought me the most customers and still continues to do so. I also used flyers but it paled in comparison. As word spread, more people showed up. People wanted to know where this exotic food was coming from. We have a Facebook fan page but most of the people who walk in the door are groups of friends.
What are your biggest challenges?
Because I cater to students, my business is very seasonal. I lose traffic from just before Christmas and most of January and then in the summer months. Additionally, I do get complaints about my prices being too high. What a lot of people unfortunately don't understand is that there are a lot of behind-the-scenes costs. I have to calculate my costs with microscopic precision. Literally everything in my café has an expense associated with it.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
Yes, I would have taken another month to talk to the local businesses. I found out so much about the city almost a year after opening. Taxes, zoning laws, inspection requirements; you name it and I needed to comply with it. That took a lot of time.
What advice would you give to students looking to start their own business?
First, entrepreneurship is an entirely different animal than corporate life. Education is a great start but there are a lot of aspects to running your own business that you can only learn when you experience it. You have to be open-minded. The owner has to be at the shop at all times and take responsibility of the business.
Second, being a good cook isn't enough. You have to be willing to commit 18 to 20 hours of work a day. To prepare, I worked in my friend's deli for three months without pay. I wanted to see if I had what it takes to survive.
Third, research is absolutely critical. The more you know going in, the better off you will be. You should be especially aware of how laws apply to you – federal, state, and local. There are all kinds of requirements for inspections, tax breaks for start-up businesses and countless more things I didn't know about until it was too late.
Last, every small business needs a good product and a lot of money.
What do you like most about owning your own business?
I love coming to work. I like being my own boss. It's such a great enjoyment seeing the fruits of my labor.
Friends Cafe is located 319 Friends St Camden, NJ 08102. (856) 203-7380. Try the Seoul Burger! I also enjoyed the chicken cheesesteak with Sriracha sauce.