Catering to the Needs of the Community￼
The most recent goBeyondProfit research report found that 76% of Georgians name small, local businesses as the most trusted institution to help solve problems. When asked how these smaller businesses should engage in the issues, Georgians named contributions of skills, expertise and service as the most effective ways for neighborhood businesses take part in the solutions.
In a recent regional CEO Forum in Athens, we spoke with three founders who have established businesses rooted in this type of generosity. A generosity that is unfaltering, listens closely to the needs of its community and responds with equal measures of expertise and kindness. An excerpt from the conversation with founder and owner of Rashe’s Cuisine, Rashe Malcolm, offers clear guidance for invested giving that ensures a healthy community and a thriving business.
As a small business, would you share your practical view of how business generosity works?
For me, the definition of going beyond profit is catering to the needs of the community. I am very community centered. I care about what my community thinks. I literally cater, I cater to my community.
Our story is a bit of a dramatic story. Originally, we had one property here in Athens on the West Side and we were relatively unknown. At the time I was still a contractor for the EPA and during an ice storm I was injured on the job. Thankfully, I didn’t break anything but instead saw it as a sign to lean in fully to our catering business. After taking our life savings and opening up our spot we saw a lot of initial success. With 10 employees we were rocking and rolling until about the 6-month mark when things started to slow down. But we held out. We were coming into our fifth year as a catering company and we were doing great when we had a gas leak, we had a fire, we had a flood, the property we operated on was sold. It was a perfect storm.
The community really ended up being there for us. We didn’t talk about the good things we were doing for the community. For me, saying anything publicly came across as bragging or that you weren’t doing it for the right reasons. But after all these disasters hit our business, all of our past good deeds sort of came to light. The people we had helped along the way remembered when I was there for them. They were the first people to be there for me and my business. The people I fed a plate, or I fed their family, or I gave them money or helped with a hotel for a night when they needed it most. The organizations that came to me with a $75 budget for an event that needed to feed 500 people. They were all there for us and helped carried us through.
In fact, the two men I’m sitting next to today were also there for us. To this day our food truck sits in the Jittery Joe’s parking lot. I was joking with Bob [Googe] earlier that I have an office at his space, because whenever I need to have meetings, I’m able to have them in Bob’s office. And Jon [Williams], let’s just say this man does not make it known all the many ways he helps in people’s lives. He has been teaching me some things and I’ve been listening. He’s given me great advice when it comes to making a profit and being able to share it with the community.
A lot of the people sitting in this room who know me have personally touched me and help me and I could literally go down the list of examples, so I want to give a huge shout out to the Athens community.
As someone who fields constant requests, what is your calculus on speaking out about issues facing your community?
Because people see me in the community doing a lot of different charitable work, they believe that I’m going to be a champion for all the causes. What I always say to people is, I know food and I champion food. If we’re talking about food, I’m all in. If you want me to have food at a march or rally, I’m there. But there are some fights that I just don’t know enough about and I don’t want to be phony. I can’t jump into every single cause just because I am asked to, it has to be true to me.
Now, that doesn’t mean there aren’t new things that I can learn, but I don’t take those causes on and pretend like I’m the expert. I’m very supportive of a lot of different issues out there because I recognize that they are important to the community and I’m not blind to that. However, I can’t lend my name and stand at the front line for every single issue. No matter what you do, it’s going to be wrong to somebody so you might as well be right to yourself.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a business owner?
The word no is powerful. It’s a universal language that I’m still trying to learn. No matter what you do, it’s going to be wrong for somebody. Focus on being right by yourself, and learn to say no.