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We Dat’s owner Greg Tillery with Rianne Egana, Chase Business Relationship Manager and Greg’s banker; and Diana Holmes, Chase Community Manager at the Black Entrepreneur’s Day educational seminar hosted by Chase and GNO Inc., in late 2021.

The path to success is never easy. But for Greg Tillery, owner of We Dat’s Chicken and Shrimp, the breakdowns along the way were both figurative and literal.

“People have asked me if I have ever wanted to give up,” Tillery recounted in a conversation with JPMorgan Chase. “Of course. When the engine on your food truck gives out and you’re stuck on the side of the road, of course that crosses your mind.”

But Tillery stuck with his dream and now has moved well past his food-truck beginnings. After starting out in 2013 with a single food truck working in the Tulane area, he now has multiple restaurants – seven and counting – plus a line of food products sold in supermarkets. As more New Orleanians pursue entrepreneurship and the goal of owning their own thriving business- including food trucks and pop-up businesses – Tillery sat down with Chase to discuss his journey and what he’s learned.

He shared his thoughts with Diana Holmes, manager of the Chase Community Branch. In New Orleans  Diana’s job is to work with the community to increase the public’s awareness of – and access to – resources and tools that will help them reach their financial goals and achieve true financial health.  

Diana: Greg, if you could give advice to someone dreaming of starting a business or an existing small business owner, what would it be?

Greg: I would tell myself to be patient. It takes time. There are definitely going to be obstacles along the way. Don’t give up. You have to be resilient. If you aren’t mentally strong and your belief in yourself is not strong, it’s going to be even harder for you.

I remember driving to a festival event, my truck packed OUT with food, and my tire blew out on the way. I remember my clutch giving out and leaving me stranded on the freeway. During the Pandemic, I had to close my restaurants for 8 months. That was NOT a vacation. I worked harder than I ever have in my life, getting organized and getting prepared for the day we could reopen. But a lot of great things came out of those hard lessons.

For me, some of my challenges came from the fact I never worked in a restaurant. I didn’t have a culinary degree. I had worked in corporate America, and my degree is in sales and marketing. That meant I had a lot to learn on the fly. I had to learn through trials and tribulations.

But I think that’s true for most everyone. There are skills and knowledge you are going to have to develop as you go, so you have to seek out the right people to help you.

Diana: How did you learn the financial side of the business? Who did you reach out to so you could handle that challenge, and what did you learn?

Greg: There are excellent software tools available today- point-of-sale tools that can help you see your labor costs, food costs, profit margins. Those can be very helpful.

One thing I learned is to be honest with the money that’s coming into your business. Run all of it through your cash register- cash or credit – and report it. When you need funding to grow your brand to the next level, banks want to see those receipts. They want to know if you’re successful and doing things the right way.

You know, every day I would get calls and emails from people telling me what they could do for me. And not every one of them did the things they said they would do. It’s a hard lesson, and you have to be very careful.

I would recommend getting to know a bank and start developing that relationship early, before you are ever thinking about asking for a loan. For me, I would definitely recommend dealing with Chase. When the pandemic hit, my banker Rianne Egana called me. She said, “We don’t know what is going to happen, but we have your back.”  She worked closely with me through a very tough time. Having that kind of support is critical.

Diana: What changes do you see ahead for food trucks and for food pop-ups in New Orleans? What is your advice for coping – and thriving?

Greg: Back when I started out in 2013, food trucks weren’t all that popular in New Orleans yet. Since then, they are popping up everywhere. I love to see it. It’s amazing. This country was built by small businesses.

I am hopeful this growth continues – for all start-up businesses in New Orleans. But my advice is to make sure you have ALL your permits, all your inspections, all your tax payments in order. Make sure you are legal and ethical in everything you do.

That will keep you out of problems. That will keep you on top of your game. No one can mess with you.

The only other bit of advice I have is to find your purpose. It’s not all about money. It’s about finding out what you love to do. Will you get tired? Will you sometimes be exhausted? Yes. But it’s worth it because you will thrive in your purpose. 

2022 is going to be very exciting. I am trying to be the best I can be. I am trying to be a better man every day. There is so much to look forward to.

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