Cynthia Stewart’s entrepreneurial story is one that brought her around full circle. The values instilled in her childhood were reinforced and focused on the establishment of the James Ranch Grill. Cynthia is the daughter of Kay and David James, the founders of James Ranch, and one of five siblings. The ranch was established in 1961 in the Animas Valley north of Durango. As a child, she was taught how to care for animals, as well as weed and harvest in the garden. Unlike other children at that age who got to stay inside and watch television, Cynthia and her siblings spent their time doing chores and given responsibility. Life beyond the ranch looked more appealing. When each sibling turned eighteen, they left the ranch to seek a life unrelated to agriculture. As years went by and their experiences broadened, they all eventually returned to the ranch. Cynthia was appreciative for her work ethic and believes that is a foundational characteristic of who she is as a person today.
Cynthia bought a small food wagon and sold meals from it at the ranch one year after returning. In addition to her parents raising grass-fed only beef, her brother made raw milk cheese and her sister sold produce raised from the ranch garden. Cynthia liked the farm to table concept and incorporated family products into meals for customers. She had served up to three to four hundred meals on busy days out of that eighty-square foot wagon, five months each year, for six years. The production was more than the business infrastructure could handle. On top of that was the stress of hiring seasonal employees every year. Cynthia had concluded that the business would need to expand into a larger facility or shut down. The family always shared their plans and concerns while also providing support for each other, as each business was as an extension of James Ranch. This was another value she grew up with. They decided the best option was to expand into a building large enough to market and sell all products produced on the ranch.
In 2018, Cynthia’s sister, Julie, received an email from family friend and Small Business Development Center (SBDC) advisor Cindy Dvergsten. The email came from a SBDC newsletter that informed readers about a holistic management class that was to begin that November, and taught by Cindy. Cynthia was interested and signed up. The approach required the students to identify their personal core values and answer how those values align with their business. Another key component is to build a business around like minded people. Cynthia said, “The business is like a plant. A plant will rise or fall depending upon it’s root strength. The focus is on people. People represent the root system. They need to recognize what their core values and goals are.” Cynthia had studied business before but appreciated the lessons to look within oneself. “The class was told we are the roots of what people will see on the surface. I was expanding, starting over from one business model to another. I was to move from an eighty-square foot kitchen into a two hundred sixty square foot kitchen, within a four thousand square foot building that offered indoor seating.”
The class and Cindy’s guidance assisted Cynthia’s transition. One change Cynthia would implement would have the James Ranch Grill open year-round. Cindy taught Cynthia how to financially project how much business would drop over the winter months by researching restaurants in town, and strategically apply her summer financial numbers towards potential winter numbers. The final business plan that came from the SBDC class demonstrated to her family that opening the grill would be worthwhile venture, and to her investors, that the business would earn money and be deserving of a loan.
Cynthia summarized her holistic management class as the best practice to operate her business. “It was so much deeper than selling food. This is about stewarding the land and acknowledging that the decisions we make will have an effect on the community and future generations. This must be kept in mind.” Cynthia also applied the lessons of identifying core values in her search for hiring employees. She required job applicants to fill out a work sheet to identify their core values for eventual hire. Having employees with matching values brought great results. Cynthia said her staff is fabulous. She is so happy.
Cynthia concluded, ‘Entrepreneurs would benefit to see the different classes SBDC offers. This class was diversified and was not a standard business approach. For SBDC to provide that for a community is great.”