Owners Harry and Judy Kilmer

Lessons from Harry’s “Old Kettle” that can help grow your Minnesota business

Part 2 of the Small Business Revolution series

By Amanda Brinkman – Guest Writer
Thursday, November 10, 2016

[This is the second in a series of articles from Amanda Brinkman, chief brand and communications officer at Shoreview-based Deluxe Corp., who is sharing lessons learned in each episode of the “Small Business Revolution – Main Street series. Click here to read the last post.]

Harry Kilmer bought “The Old Kettle,” a shot and beer landmark bar in Wabash, Indiana, more than four years ago, with the dream of turning it into a restaurant. Yet when Wabash was selected winner of the $500,000 “Small Business Revolution” revitalization and my team from Deluxe rolled into town to work with his business, Harry was no closer to fulfilling that dream than the day he bought the joint.

What was Harry’s quintessential business problem — one that so many small businesses have encountered firsthand? Biting off more than he could chew. We tackled that problem head-on in the second episode of the Small Business Revolution — Main Street series, learning applicable lessons for Minnesota’s small business owners along the way.

1. Before buying into a business, put together a business plan.

Simple, right? But it’s crucial for your initial years in operation, and it’s crucial for ensuring you’re positioned to achieve major goals, such as Harry’s plan to transform the bar into Harry’s Old Kettle Pub & Grill. Put simply, owners Harry and Judy Kilmer lacked the dollars to finish the kitchen and open the grill part of their place. A solid business plan would’ve helped them position the business for success out of the gate.

2. Know your numbers.

Equally as important in our conversations with the Kilmers was their lack of understanding of the bottom line on their income. In the second Small Business Revolution episode, Shark Tank’s Robert Herjavec urges the Kilmers to understand where their money was coming in, and where it was going out. With a handle on their revenue, but not their expenses, they were potentially leaving money on the table, and their dream of the restaurant would continue to be out of reach without better management of their financial operations.

3. Make sure you’re findable online — and in all the places where your customers are looking.

One thing that surprised me: while Harry, a trained chef, had big dreams, he was still thinking small. He hadn’t realized a critical component of launching a restaurant would include a website with his menu online, or reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp and other social media sites. He looked at the local footprint of Wabash and didn’t realize that people would travel from outside of his community to eat his food — if only they could find him online.

For any restaurant, online reviews are critical. Sure, the locals who know Harry will continue to come through his doors, but he was missing a crucial audience in surrounding communities that want a place where they can get a great burger or sandwich. Deluxe helped build a great website and a social media following on Facebook where Harry can instantly update this followers with new additions to his food and beer choices.

4. Take a step back and find some simple steps that will pay huge dividends.

Small business owners get enmeshed in minutia of running their business — trying to make payroll, or scheduling servers, or interacting with customers. They forget that seemingly simple things like quality printed menus, vibrant websites and online reviews can increase the bottom line tremendously. Giving Harry and Judy a helping hand gave them the tools they need to build a bigger following, outside of their traditional borders.

Consider these tangible effects and what a similar impact it could have on your business: Roughly a week after opening, Harry was visited by a family from Chicago, nearly three hours away. They saw the Small Business Revolution episode featuring Harry on Hulu and loved his story. They found the menu on his website and trekked to find him, satisfied customers who will share their love of his food online.

To learn more and watch the Small Business Revolution – Main Street series, go to


Amanda Brinkman is Chief Brand and Communications Officer at Deluxe Corporation, which provides marketing and business services to millions of small businesses and financial institutions. Amanda helped create the “Small Business Revolution,” a movement to highlight the importance of small businesses, while awarding a $500,000 revitalization to deserving small towns.