Despite opening a business during a deep recession, Ray Stanjevich and business partner Suzanne Cartwright have managed to succeed at a time when other local businesses have failed.
In 2009, when Stanjevich was making plans to open , 552,600 small businesses opened in the United States, according to Small Business Association data. More remarkable, though, was the fact that 660,900 small businesses closed that year.
Stanjevich, however, was undeterred.
“My dream was to be self-employed,” he said.
Having worked for other companies his entire adult life, Stanjevich believed he could achieve more as an independent business owner.
“Living the American dream to me is trying to make my own way, trying to make my own business, and I think that’s what everyone longs for.”
Though fully aware of the impact the recession was having on small businesses in general and on the restaurant business in particular, Stanjevich felt that even though the economy was bad, it was not necessarily a bad time to start a business.
“I think you just have to be a little more on top of it to survive,” he explained.
However, being “on top of it” did not keep Stanjevich from questioning his decision.
“You always have second thoughts, especially during a bad economy, but I still believe if you do your homework and you believe in yourself and you’ve got the experience and you’ve got the knowledge … then you have a pretty decent chance of succeeding,” he said.
And succeed he has, in spite of a still-faltering economy.
Stanjevich said economic conditions have not noticeably improved since he first began planning to open his business. He believes the economy has affected his bottom line, but he has managed to weather the recession by adapting quickly and being a hands-on owner.
“We pretty much try to keep a very close eye on the business and how things are going,” he said.
By monitoring the business closely, Stanjevich and co-owner Cartwright have been able to fine-tune the restaurant's offerings to better serve their clientele and come up with additional ways to draw in and retain customers.
“As a neighborhood grill and bar, we always look at our opportunities,” he said. “Can we put something new on the menu, something interesting, to give folks another reason to come into Friends? Things like that.”
Stanjevich said he and Cartwright have been fairly aggressive in seeking out those opportunities, including not only new menu offerings, but also live entertainment, games and other special events.
“I would say that for businesses to survive in this economy, adaptation is key,” Stanjevich said. “If you react too slowly or stick with the old business plan, without considering the circumstances, you may find yourself out of business fairly quickly.”
Stanjevich is determined to keep Friends from being added to the . For him, it is more than a matter of business success or failure -- it is his American dream.
“Living the American dream to me is trying to make my own way, trying to make my own business and I think that’s what everyone longs for,” he said.