The State of Small Businesses in the Food Industry

Small business owners in the food industry share their challenges and triumphs during the pandemic

For Kendall and John Antonelli, co-founders of Antonelli’s Cheese Shop, based in Austin, Texas, it’s always been about more than just cheese. It’s about a sense of community.

“We are driven by our mission, do good, eat good,” said Kendall Antonelli. 

Capital One customers since 2016, the Antonellis currently use the Capital One Spark Cash Plus card and use their cash back rewards to help fund healthcare coverage for their employees, which is especially important to them during the pandemic. 

Recently, Capital One co-hosted a virtual fireside chat with the James Beard Foundation — a nonprofit that supports businesses in the culinary industry — to learn more about how the Antonellis and other small business owners in the food industry, like restaurateur Kristen Kish and Masienda founder Jorge Gaviria, are coming out ahead in these challenging times. 

Navigating Supply Chain Issues 

For the Antonellis, one of the biggest challenges is finding ways to navigate supply chain issues. They need the flexibility to be able to purchase large amounts of materials when they become available.      

To do so, the Antonellis use their new Spark Cash Plus card, which has unlimited 2% cash back rewards on all purchases and comes with no preset spending limit.

“We have a short turnaround time between when we typically buy ingredients and when we sell them, because we want to sell it at its freshest,” said John Antonelli. “With no preset spending limit on the Spark Cash Plus card, we've been able to scale with the spending that we have, rather than having to worry about where the next loan might come from."

Staying Flexible to Deal with New Challenges

Inspired by Kendall’s aunt who recently completed chemotherapy and couldn’t celebrate with loved ones because of pandemic safety protocols, the Antonellis began hosting virtual events and cheese tastings. 

To date, over 17,000 people have participated in these virtual events. 

Similarly, Jorge Gaviria of Masienda, a Los Angeles-based heirloom masa supplier, also emphasized how introducing new revenue streams has helped his business. 

He has traditionally focused on selling to restaurants, but during the COVID-19 pandemic he needed to ramp up his direct-to-consumer sales line through his website.  

Gaviria has been a Capital One customer since 2016, and uses the 2% cash back rewards from his Spark Cash Plus card for an “innovation account” to fund his efforts to develop products and services for his direct-to-consumer business.

“To be able to rely on Capital One as a growth partner for innovation through our rewards program was huge because you know, when cash was tight, that cushion was still there," Gaviria said. 


Supporting employees       

One thing that each of the small business owners agreed on was that you need to take care of your community first. 

“I think one of the greatest moments that I have ever had in my entire career is that when we shut down, the team was coming together, they were trying to figure out what other things they are good at,” said Kristen Kish, Top Chef winner and owner of the restaurant Arlo Grey.

Many of Kish’s staff launched their own businesses to generate income on the side, something that Kish continues to support even after reopening. 

By focusing on creating a family rather than a workforce, Kish was able to reopen the restaurant when the time was right rather than having to find and train new staff.      

“Take care of your people, and they will take care of you, hands down,” Kish said. 

Capital One’s support to small business owners

Capital One takes care of its community of small business owners by creating products to help them get ahead in these challenging times.

Capital One's support comes as part of the Capital One Impact Initiative — an initial $200 million, multi-year commitment that strives to advance socioeconomic mobility. Launched in October 2020, the Capital One Impact Initiative seeks to create a world where everyone has an equal opportunity to prosper through advocating for an inclusive society, building thriving communities and creating financial tools that enrich lives.

“Running a business has always required grit and determination,” says Aparna Sarin, Managing Vice President for Small Business Card at Capital One. “At this point, entrepreneurs have shown an astonishing ability to just roll with the punches. At Capital One, we fixate on the best ways to support small businesses through differentiated products and services, day in and day out.”