The business coach.
How Harris Brown expanded his Gulf-style fish fry in the Valley by way of VSEDC, and survived the pandemic.
Harris Brown, a Black and Native American disabled veteran, grew up in Louisiana. When he settled in Los Angeles he opened My Fish Stop , a Gulf-style fish fry soul food restaurant in Sherman Oaks, to bring his family’s food to his new home.
Harris’ business style was initially abrasive. His first phone calls to Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation’s South LA BusinessSource Center were tough conversations. “He was a bit of a hothead,” says BusinessSource Manager, Adrian Veliz.
The Business Coach
Adrian could see Harris was a smart guy with an MBA, but that he operated emotionally as opposed to strategically. So Adrian initially referred him to LevelUp, a free series of monthly classes VSEDC offers twice a year designed for small business owners by Dr. Karen Semien-McBride from MKCircle and The CEO Institute. One of the first things business owners do in the program is take an Operational Style Assessment, which gives you an unvarnished look at your personal operational style. The results allow you to see what specifically you need to work on. “It’s straight up, candid feedback,” Adrian explains.
The results of the assessment resonated with Harris. Dr. Karen and VSEDC’s Director of Programs, Renee Moncito, worked one-on-one with him, to help identify why he experienced strong knee jerk reactions in certain transactions. As a result, Harris was able to be more self-aware in those situations, which led to him being more approachable and created space for him to move his business forward.
“Both Adrian Veliz and Renee Moncito were the best things from VSEDC to happen to my business,” says Harris Brown. In fact, the LevelUp training and one-on-one BusinessSource assistance led him to three events that positively changed the course of his business.
First, he began thinking more strategically and applied for a small business loan from VSEDC’s CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution), which is in part funded by City National Bank. His business coach, Adrian, showed him how to present his financials in a way that would be understood by a loan underwriter. Harris ended up receiving an affordable $45k business loan for working business capital, and initiating a beer and wine license process.
Second, the LevelUp course series helped him shift his mindset in regard to his business. He took his BusinessSource coach’s suggestion of certifying his business as a Disabled Veteran Business Owner, which made his business more favorable to municipal contract opportunities.
Third, as a result of the LevelUp program and his one-on-one coaching with Adrian, Harris began applying for Los Angeles County contracts to help support his fledgling restaurant in the early years. He ended up winning a substantial contract supplying Los Angeles County facilities with prepped vegetables.
Again, Harris came to the BusinessSource Center for help. Harris’ first thought was to figure out how to accomplish the contract’s scope of work on his own, but his facility was not set up for it. Adrian reminded him of the skills and mindset LevelUp taught that one must make to scale up. It was time for Harris to find a partner.
Adrian connected him to another VSEDC client who had the capacity and facility to fulfill the food prep. With Harris as the prime contract holder, he subcontracted to his new partner, who continues to partner with him today.
With the new county contract, Harris was bringing in enough money per month to keep his Shermon Oaks restaurant afloat and accrue some savings. By now, My Fish Stop had been open for three years. Harris decided, against his business coach’s advice, it was time to open another location in NoHo on Magnolia Avenue. As Adrian put it, “entrepreneurs can be impulsive at times, this behavior ends up with high rewards or huge lessons. In Harris’ case, it usually ends in big rewards.”
This means Harris’ revenue is stretched thin again, but his accomplishments are inspiring. He has two restaurant locations, a steady contract with the county, a strong relationship with his sub-contractor, and has created six part-time jobs in Los Angeles with potential for more job creation.
“He’s unstoppable,” says Adrian. “I’m expecting a call any day now for the next crisis, but I know he’s going to make it. He’s intelligent and creative, and he learned how pivot and expand his business vision at LevelUP. He’s a success story even at this early stage. I can’t wait to see what’s to come.”
“Adrian was amazing in making sure I had access to the proper resources I needed to succeed,” says Harris. “My business wouldn’t have made it through the pandemic without his help.”
This story was written by Corey Carleton and Adrian Veliz.