Small business heroes: Steph Vitori stays strong to keep business cooking
Miami’s legendary Cheeseburger Baby embraces creativity and community in the face of COVID-19
Her business may be cheeseburgers, but her passion lies in entrepreneurship. Nearly 20 years ago Stephanie Vitori bought the restaurant where she first worked as a driver, and she’s never looked back. Two food trucks, countless customers and dozens of celebrity endorsements later, Cheeseburger Baby has become a South Florida staple for tourists and locals alike.
Like all businesses, the onslaught of COVID-19 has been extremely difficult. Vitori estimates daily orders decreased from 500 to 50 in a matter of weeks. But her resolve remains strong. She’s filling hundreds of orders for school kids, police and first responders. She’s finding creative ways to reach customers and working with other businesses to do it. She even convinced the city to lift a curfew so restaurants can make late-night deliveries to feed shift workers. The Visa team recently caught up with Stephanie to learn more, part of our ongoing series recognizing the importance, diligence and leadership of the small business community. Here’s what she had to say.
First, how are you doing?
Work is a challenge every day regardless, especially in this industry. But you have to adapt to survive. If you’re willing to fight for it, you will get through it.
Have you run into challenges to remain open and stay staffed?
We are doing what we can to stay open. I added a food truck, which helps keep the business going seven days a week, 10 hours a day. The store is open 20 hours a day, which is normal for us typically. Originally the city didn’t allow us to stay open past the curfew. [On March 12, Miami Beach has issued a general curfew across the city from midnight-to-5-a.m.] We were getting so many orders after midnight and I was unable to fulfill them because of the curfew. I was turning away business while also losing 60 to 80 percent of our income. I lobbied city officials and they changed the rules. And it wasn’t just about Cheeseburger Baby, it was about everyone in the industry: my employees, my bread company, my suppliers. We are doing this for everyone in the industry.
How are you getting creative to keep going?
I put my food truck on an empty parking lot. It’s owned by a friend who has a bar that he can’t operate because alcohol licenses have been suspended. I was able to do that and set up tablets for online orders. We have a cell phone on the truck that allows us to take orders. We are also doing curbside takeout and order delivery. We are allowed to offer food pick-up until midnight. We are not allowing customers inside. We are wearing masks and gloves, we sanitize the counters every hour and we serve through a window in the front. You need to do everything you can do under your license to survive.
How are you using technology to get the word out?
We work with our website company. For our social media I am constantly in there filming food that I am cooking, just trying to make people hungry!
How does the seasonal nature of your business impact your planning?
Every business in Miami Beach relies on our season – we are a seasonal town. This is our prime season, and we lost our whole entire season, which will affect us to the rest of the year. The challenge isn’t right now, it’s how are we going to get through the “down” season without our pocket. That’s why I’m doing everything I can now to protect myself for later.
How are you helping in the community?
We are feeding first responders. Family friends of ours donated to feed the Miami Beach police department. I have another family member that wants to donate to feed hospital workers. We offer discounts to feed large numbers of people, and that helps everybody. The restaurant gets funded, the hospital workers get fed, the delivery drivers and employees are able to stay employed. It’s a win-win for everyone.
What is your advice for fellow entrepreneurs facing these same challenges?
Keep pushing, this is not a vacation. In this industry we need to be full on, working non-stop, that’s the way my wife and I are approaching it. There’s not going to be a break until next year. We lost our season. Now you have to work your tail off to get back to where you were.
I’ve been through hurricanes, I’ve been through recessions, I’ve been through multiple big burger franchises across the street from me, on the same block as me. I am proud to still be in a growing successful business and be able to open my doors and keep my food trucks on the road. That’s my proudest moment, every day.
You can support small businesses in five states facing COVID-19 by visiting the Visa Back to Business Project on Visa.com. Got a small business of your own? Check out these small business resources on the Visa Blog and learn about recent initiatives supporting women businesses and more ways Visa is helping support the COVID-19 response.