The Art of Chili and Running a Small Business

Sep 27, 2012 6:00 AM ET

The delicious chili simmering in Veronica Montgomery's kitchen was always a crowd pleaser among her friends and neighbors. She'd lost count of the number of times she'd heard, "This is the best chili I've ever had!" When Montgomery relocated to Texas from California in 2006, she brought her mouth-watering recipe with her and began to consider turning her skills in the kitchen into a business.

Having retired from a 31-year career in public utilities, the new Houston resident was looking for a new, fulfilling opportunity. One day, a friend suggested that her chili was good enough to sell—and, that she’d be one of Montgomery’s first customers. That was just the motivation Montgomery needed to get started on her journey as a small business owner.

“Owning my own business has always been my dream. I began selling my chili through word-of-mouth, but when I did some market research I learned that the closest chili restaurant was in Austin. That’s when I began to put some plans down on paper to open my own restaurant. But, I knew I needed help to get a business off the ground,” Montgomery said.

One Sunday, a fellow church member suggested that she enroll in a free pilot program for current or aspiring small business owners called “Getting Down to Business.” The program was being sponsored by Capital One Bank in partnership with ACCION Texas and other local partners, including SCORE and the African-American Chamber of Commerce. 

“The ‘Getting Down to Business’ program was exactly what I needed as an aspiring small business owner. The skills and assistance I received far surpassed my expectations,” Montgomery said. “We learned everything from improving personal credit and getting a business loan to saving, writing a business plan and marketing. I soaked the information up like a sponge, dedicated myself to the process, and was able to launch my business with a loan from ACCION Texas.”

Capital One Bank created the “Getting Down to Business” training course for small business owners serving low-to-moderate-income communities in Houston, Texas.  Designed specifically for small businesses with annual revenues of less than a million dollars, the program is an intensive 14-course program conducted over seven months.

Throughout the program, participants attend 14 different classroom sessions, where they receive technical assistance in critical business management areas such as managing credit, budgeting, business planning, accounting software tools, marketing, information technology, and financing options.

During the course of the seven months, “Getting Down to Business” participants are each paired with three dedicated personal coaches:

  • a veteran small business mentor in the participant’s field
  • financial advisor
  • small business banker

Participants have access to these personal coaches as often as they need throughout the seven-month course and for up to a year after the course concludes.

Montgomery says one of the most important skills she learned from the program was how to think like a businessperson.

“Thinking like a businessperson requires a different kind of attitude. I learned that to be successful, I need to believe in myself and in my dream.  And I need to see everyone I meet as a potential customer,” said Montgomery.

After graduating from “Getting Down to Business,” Montgomery continued to sell her chili out of her home, while refining her business plan and searching for a restaurant location. On July 2, 2011, The Chili Shak restaurant officially opened its doors in Houston on Fondren Road.

“We have been very busy and the customers love our chili,” Montgomery said. “It has been a journey, and it’s going to continue to be a journey. But one I’m going to enjoy every minute of.”