Environment and Small Business

SMALL BUSINESS PROFILE: RIPPLE BAGEL & DELI LLC: Now for something completely different Retirees sell medical-supply firm, try deli business

December 31, 2007

SMALL BUSINESS PROFILE

RIPPLE BAGEL & DELI LLC Now for something completely different Retirees sell medical-supply firm, try deli business Often, when retirees aren't ready to really retire, they line up consulting gigs or take a part-time job in their industry.

When Ken and Susan Richman sold their locally based medical-supply distribution business, Fulfillment Plus, to employees in 2002, they decided to start a business in an entirely new industry-one known for a high failure rate.

The Richmans had no experience in the restaurant business when they opened Ripple Bagel & Deli in 2003 using personal savings and a bank line of credit.

On the suggestion of their daughter, then a student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, they opened a steamed-bagel sandwich shop patterned after Oxford's Bagel & Deli, an institution in that college town.

"We like people," answered Ken, 63, when asked why he and his wife, 59, chose the restaurant business. With his always-ready smile, he added, "We didn't realize it would be this much work."

The Richmans started by thoroughly researching the business, reading books to learn why some restaurants fail and others succeed. They visited numerous restaurants and consulted with the owner of the Ohio shop.

They scouted locations throughout the area, including downtown and in Carmel, before settling on a 1,100-square-foot former curiosity shop on the main drag in Broad Ripple, next door to Starbucks.

The space had to be totally gutted and remodeled for the restaurant, but in keeping with the feel of Broad Ripple's small shops, the Richmans purposefully chose furnishings that give Ripple Bagel & Deli a wellworn feel-used wood for the plank flooring, chunks of bowling lanes for tabletops, an old screen door on the front entrance.

Despite the lack of experience, Ken said the transition from corporate executive to restaurant owner went fairly well. The biggest challenge, he said, was learning to accommodate the ever-changing schedules and priorities of the restaurant's employees, most of whom are college or graduate-school students.

To maintain a positive work environment, the Richmans offer incentives such as holding a student's job while he or she studies abroad for a semester.

Once it opened, Ripple Bagel & Deli quickly began drawing customers from a cross-section of Broad Ripple-area denizens. The restaurant is open until 4 a.m. on weekends to cater to the village's barhoppers, but it also draws a steady breakfast and lunch crowd of businesspeople.

The latter group convinced the Richmans to start a catering business, offering box lunches, sandwich trays and their popular homemade soups and treats. Ken admits being skeptical at first, but he said catering now makes up 30 percent of Ripple Bagel & Deli's $650,000 in annual revenue and is growing rapidly.

"I think they're marvelous," said Pam Trimble, conference room coordinator for local law firm Baker & Daniels LLP. Ripple Bagel & Deli is one of a dozen vendors she uses for meetings at the firm's downtown and north-side offices.

"They're great to work with, and they always have [the order] here on time," Trimble said, adding that people appreciate the uniqueness of Ripple's menu offerings.

That menu is constantly evolving. While the official menu board boasts about 90 variations of a steamed sandwich-available on a bagel or as a submarine-dozens of hand-drawn illustrations tacked on the walls offer a dizzying array of additional topping combinations.

Those come from customers, who invent sandwiches and draw the accompanying poster for them. Ripple employees price and post them, and if the sandwich sells well, it gets added to the menu board, Ken said.

About half the Ripple's bagels come from a supplier in Cincinnati. The rest come from Bagel Fair, a Nora shop known for its all-natural bagels. Owner Reyna Pauker said she sells only to a few select resellers whom she knows will store and serve her bagels properly.

"I'm very particular about who I will sell to," Pauker said. "If I didn't feel [Ripple] was an upstanding company, I wouldn't sell them my bagels."

While the Richmans have no desire to franchise, Ken said their recipe has proven so successful that they are looking to open a second location. The couple is scouting sites downtown and in Carmel, as well as in Bloomington, Muncie and Louisville.

"They have a great business and a fun environment," said Tynetta Shakir. As branch manager of the Fifth Third Bank Broad Ripple location is a Ripple customer as well as the company's banker. "I really like working with [Ken and Susan.]"
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