Richard Darren Upton first learned about J. Gumbo’s when his wife, familiar with the chain, suggested they share a meal there. “Not only did I love the meal, I also had a conversation about the concept with the manager on duty,” Upton recalls. The brand’s Creole and Cajun cuisine would provide something beyond burgers and pizza in his Ohio town, and Upton also saw an opportunity to train and employ people with developmental disabilities.
He set up business as D.C. Rajun Cajun and prepared to launch a J. Gumbo’s franchise in Delaware, Ohio. But money has always been a struggle. Upton started with little funds of his own, but while he had great credit, he couldn’t get traditional financing. “Five years in, with steady growth year after year, paying down debt and achieving scores of awards and accolades, we still cannot find traditional financing for growth,” Upton says.
Upton participated in the SBA and SCORE’s ScaleUp program in 2015, where he learned from business owners who had been in his shoes before.
“Susan Sommerfeld, my current SCORE mentor, is just getting to know me and my business,” he says. “I am looking to expand into another community, hopefully during 2017. She and SCORE will be with me every step of the way.”
Upton has persevered in offering the Business Education Learning Liaison (BELL) program that trains and employs individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The restaurant also offers FUNraisers for nonprofit and student organizations to raise awareness for community projects.
J. Gumbo’s Delaware was selected as one of 102 state winners in the 2017 American Small Business Championship.