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Customer Spotlight: STATE – A modern Chicago sports establishment

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The story behind STATE began all the way back in 2003. Kosta Giannoulias was looking for a place to get a bite to eat and watch the Chicago Bears kick off the season. He found a local bar but was crammed into a seat in the back corner with a poor view of the few televisions playing the game. He was also frustrated by the limited menu options that all fell into the “greasy bar food” category. From this disappointing experience, the concept of STATE was born – a modern public house with a large open floor plan, comfortable seating, and high-quality cuisine to appeal to even the pickiest of patrons.

In the initial years after the restaurant launched people kept asking Kosta “Is this a restaurant or a bar?” People couldn’t grasp the idea that you could combine both; that you could watch a sports game in a clean, family friendly establishment and order first-rate food. However, in subsequent years the concept exploded. So much so that in 2012, STATE was voted the 4th best sports establishment in the country by Huffington Post, ESPN magazine, and Yahoo! Sports. The sport bar/restaurant concept that Kosta had the vision to forsee had taken off.

STATE has become a staple in the Chicago food scene, growing from a small, 16-person operation to having 84 full-time employees. And this number can top 100 if it includes part-time employees hired during peak periods. Kosta has been happy with his success but he’s also thrilled to be able to provide these jobs to the local Chicago community. Dedicated to giving back, STATE helps to raise $100,000 for local charities every year.

The customer is the focus of everything STATE does, and Kosta is constantly working to improve his restaurant’s ambiance and experience. He’s installed over 130 flat-screen TVs and placed them strategically throughout the space to ensure his patrons never miss a moment watching their favorite Chicago sports team play. He also realized that while people love the food at STATE, they may not always be able to come in-person to eat. So, about a year ago STATE delved into online ordering and partnered with DoorDash. This was a huge boost to the business and online orders now make up almost a third of their sales. However, they realized they needed to expand their kitchen to keep up with the new demand. Kosta begin searching online for business financing options and found LendingClub.

The business loan offered through LendingClub provided a competitive rate with one, low monthly payment so as not to constrict cash flow. There is no prepayment penalty so borrowers have the option to pay the loan off early to save on interest expense. Kosta also found the process of applying for the loan simple and straightforward. He was assigned a dedicated Client Advisor who he would correspond with every time he called or emailed about his loan application. Within days of completing the online application, Kosta was approved for a business loan. He used the funds to expand STATE’s kitchen capacity and was able to fulfill all the new online orders.

Never one to be complacent, Kosta plans to keep moving STATE forward and has ambitious goals for the next five years. A savvy business owner, he plans to devote a large portion of the company’s budget to building the brand. In the next three years he plans to purchase the building his restaurant is situated in. Finally, with these milestones checked off, he’d like to open a similar restaurant and expand his business even further.

Kosta didn’t get to where he is without overcoming some bumps in the road. As we saw, one of his first challenges was getting financing. This seems to be a common pain point for many new businesses. Don’t be discouraged! LendingClub provides access to business loans for companies that have been in operation for at least a year. And if you’re working on a startup, we encourage you to apply for a personal loan through LendingClub for a business purpose.

Another major challenge for Kosta is keeping up with trends in marketing, especially social media. It’s a challenge he looks forward to overcoming and has a few tips to keep up with the ever-fluctuating social media landscape: be able to adapt quickly, be open to new ideas, and keep an ear to the ground. In today’s world, you can never afford to be out of the loop.

Kosta also has some advice for up and coming business owners. Don’t be afraid to seek guidance from others. Talk with as many people as you can; you don’t necessarily have to follow what they say but you owe it to yourself and your business to do the research. And you are going to face obstacles that you can’t plan for. For example, when a water heater unexpectedly broke down at STATE, Kosta had to act quickly to resolve the issue. Since he had his finances in order he was able to overcome this sudden hit to his cash flow.

As you’re just starting out, take the time to build your business right from the ground up. Think through your business plan, your growth strategy, and hire the right team. Building a strong foundation for your company from the start will help maximize your chance of success in the future. Finally, no matter how successful your company is always strive to do better for your customers. This type of thinking will help keep your company competitive and ensure long-term success.

If you’re a business owner looking for financing and would like to work with your own dedicated client advisor, see how LendingClub can help.

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