For years, Michaela Grob wished for a place she could find a decent selection of vegan cheeses.
“I’ve always loved cheese and when I became vegan, I still wanted cheese,” says Grob.
And who could blame her? Cheese is one of the best foods out there (in my humble opinion).
To curb her cravings, Grob started making her own cheese at home… It wasn’t long before a lightbulb went off and she realized she could—and should—be doing the same thing for everyone else.
Riverdel Cheese is Born
Grob started her career in hotel and restaurant management before transitioning to a sales organization. In no time, she was managing hundreds of employees, stepping into a Sales Director role.
Needless to say, she was and is no stranger to hard work and tough obstacles.
When she realized that many vegans were most likely in her same shoes, starting a business just made sense for Grob. She had the business background to make it happen, and she knew her product was solid.
So in January 2015, Grob started Riverdel Fine Foods, Dairy Free.
It took her a few months to perfect her business plan, but by the end of spring, she was full force ahead, planning to open the doors to her first shop in November of 2015.
Foot Traffic vs. Fixed Costs
To get there, Grob had a lot to think through.
She explains, “The biggest challenge was finding the right location with the budget I had. There are so many great locations to choose from in New York, but I had to think about dollars. I couldn’t afford Manhattan.”
As most business owners know, a better location comes with more foot traffic—but also higher fixed costs.
Grob liked the idea of opening her shop close to home in Brooklyn but she says “there are lots of neighborhoods near me. 2 blocks can make an incremental difference in terms of foot traffic, but it can also make a big difference in real estate price. I decided to opt for ‘off the beaten track’ to save money.”
After much deliberation, Grob settled on a site in Brooklyn between Prospect Park and Crown Heights. “You just have to make the decision and hope it is the right one.”
With location secured and business plan down, Grob proudly opened her doors right on time in November 2015.
Financing Her Start With Credit Cards
Of course, Grob didn’t just magically open her doors. She needed financing to make it happen.
“I’m my own investor, so the less I have to touch my own cash, the better,” says Grob.
But getting capital for a startup is never easy.
Grob’s business model wasn’t necessarily right for equity financing or crowdfunding, so her best option was try for a startup loan. But startup loans are naturally hard to come by, since startup businesses have no or limited financial history, so the lenders are essentially making the loan to the business owner.
Luckily, Grob found Fundera through her local SCORE and decided to see if there were any startup loans she could qualify for.
“It was very seamless. I ended up getting the credit line builder through one of Fundera’s partners and got access to a few credit cards with 0% introductory APRs.”
You might be wondering—what the heck is a credit line builder?
Well, it’s a product some startup lenders offer where they apply you to a few credit cards that have a 0% APR intro period. It’s a good way to get low cost capital for a short period of time—but keep in mind that the introductory period does expire, so the product is best if you have a clear plan on how you’ll pay the balances down before that period ends.
Grob did the right thing and put her credit line to good use. She used the cards to buy the equipment she needed, purchase inventory, and get the word out.
In short, Grob’s credit line was used to “pretty much run the whole business.”
Using business credit cards to finance a business is a sensitive subject, but Grob approached it wisely. She used those cards while the introductory offer was active, and she plans on paying down her balances when it expires.
Grob proves it’s not about whether using credit cards to get your business off the ground is a wise decision—it really is about how wise you are while using them.
Vegan Cheese for All
Riverdel’s doors have only been open for 8 months, but business is booming—and they’re already feeling the growing pains.
From finding the right team members to scaling their own cheese line, it never stops from Grob and company.
Top of mind for the team right now is increasing foot traffic to the store during the week:
“Weekend business is great, but it slows down during the week. We’re focusing on how to grow on social media, through events—vegan or non-vegan. After all, everyone has a friend who’s vegan or lactose intolerant,” says Grob.
Outside of increasing weekday traffic, Grob’s sights are set on new spaces for wholesale. “I want to find one or two more strategic locations. For example, the Upper West Side. It’s tough to get to Brooklyn from there.”
But for Grob, it all comes down to the cheese.
“There’s no other vegan cheese shop with this selection in the United States. What would make me the happiest is just continuing to run a nice, curated shop that’s doing well and that people love going to.”