Chef’s Kitchen, a soul food restaurant in Cocoa, was the first business to successfully complete Cocoa’s new Upstart Cocoa program and get approval from Cocoa City Council for a $7,500 forgivable business loan. The new program, which started in 2021, was designed as a business mentorship grant to entice new or expanding businesses to Cocoa.
Upstart Cocoa is a program designed to promote the growth of minority and/or women owned small businesses throughout the City of Cocoa. The total awarded to the selected recipients was $10,000, of which $2,500 was allotted for the business to participate in management and mentorship courses through weVENTURE that explores topics such as business management, finance and budgeting, marketing, product/service development, and human resources. In addition, weVENTURE Ignite 360® business mentors partner with the Upstart Cocoa recipients to refine a business plan appropriate for a start-up business or expanding business. Once the business has successfully completed the program, they are able to receive the remaining portion of the forgivable loan.
Other factors considered for approval of the loan include the businesses potential economic and fiscal impact on the community and how that business gives back to the community. The restaurant, which has been in business for about a year now, has established itself with a 4.6-star review on Google and with the availability of delivery options to the local community. The owners of Chef’s Kitchen, Chef Michael Blackwell and his sister Lacy Bussey, plan to give back to the community by working with local charter school, Emma Jewel Charter Academy through their teacher appreciation week and annual Blue and Gold fundraising gala as well as offer free cooking classes to youth in the Cocoa community.
“We knew we needed to do this not only for the funds that we would receive from the program but we needed to do this because neither of us knew anything about starting and running a successful business. We would like to thank the City of Cocoa for giving us this opportunity to be a part of this Upstart program and for considering us because there were so many other candidates that you could have chosen but you gave us a shot,” said Lacy Bussey as she presented to the Cocoa City Council.
The remaining funds of the loan will be used to assist with purchasing additional equipment, enlisting a bookkeeper, rental assistance, and marketing expenses. The City received 56 applications for two available Upstart Cocoa loans and is excited to see this program expand in the future.
“The development of the Upstart Cocoa Program enhances Cocoa’s efforts in being a thriving and competitive economic driver along the Space Coast. Cocoa is committed to supporting a diverse array of small businesses and helping them succeed and contribute to an enhanced quality of life for our entire community,” said Michael C. Blake, Mayor of the City of Cocoa.