Vauxhall BBQ guru named SBA’s N.J. Small Business Person of the Year

The owner of a Vauxhall barbecue restaurant is the U.S. Small Business Administration’s New Jersey Small Business Person of the Year for 2020, the SBA announced Tuesday.

Chris Finnick, owner and CEO of Mama’s Southern Style BBQ 2, was honored as part of this year’s National Small Business Week celebration. Fourteen years ago, Finnick shifted gears from driving a Staples delivery truck to working the grill at his uncle’s Southern-style barbecue takeout restaurant.

“This is a story about having passion, tenacity and vision,” SBA New Jersey District Director Al Titone said in a prepared statement. “Chris Finnick possesses these necessary characteristics that all small business owners need to achieve a certain level of success. This is what the American dream is all about. As we celebrate National Small Business Week, during these unprecedented times, SBA is proud of the role we have in fostering business growth across the country and here in New Jersey.

“We honor entrepreneurs like Chris Finnick whose achievements over the past year stand out and have faced the challenges that COVID-19 has presented to them and their ability to pivot, retool, recover and triumph in light of the pandemic.”

Finnick was nominated by David Margulies, regional director of the New Jersey Small Business Development Center at Kean University, the SBA said, and chosen based on criteria including staying power, employee growth, sales growth and more.

“I have to let the news of being named SBA’s New Jersey 2020 Small Business Person of the Year to sink in,” Finnick said in a statement. “It is an honor for me to be standing here today as the recipient of this prestigious award. … We have a great team here at Mama’s Southern Style BBQ 2. My vision is to continue to build on our success and to eventually expand to a nice sit-down restaurant and possibly franchising the takeout concept down the road.”

Finnick, who was mentored by his uncle for a year before taking the reins of Mama’s, had to learn on the fly and adapt to meeting diners’ demands, as well as mastering the kitchen and day-to-day restaurant operations.

After a decade in a 750-square-foot space, Finnick was able to get help from the SBDC at Kean University and revise his business plan. As a result, he was able to secure an SBA Community Advantage Loan for $75,000 and a Regional Business Assistance Corp. Microloan of $15,000 — allowing him to purchase new equipment and move into a 2,200-square-foot site.

Mama’s increased capacity and added the ability to offer catering — increasing annual sales 61% and employees 66% along the way.

COVID-19 presented a challenge for Finnick, as it did for so many restaurateurs, but he was able to secure a Paycheck Protection Loan from the SBA, helping him overcome them.

“In the beginning of the pandemic, we were struggling,” he said. “However, with the Paycheck Protection Program loan from the SBA, we were able to retain our 10 employees. We put a lot of safety measures in place, including Plexiglas across our pick-up counter and a sliding barnyard door in front of the grill to ensure that our food preparation area is safe, as well.

“Because we are primarily a takeout barbecue restaurant, we saw our sales increase by 40%.”