Waffles a winning recipe for student entrepreneur

Woman's business success recognized Oct. 27 at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards

Posted: Monday, November 09, 2009

As a student, Julie Thatcher was pretty sure her business would be popular with the college set when she opened a restaurant in 2004 less than a mile from the university campus.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

She and her friends had been spending late nights making waffles and drinking caffeine in the campus dorm kitchen. If there was a place nearby and open late, "It would be packed all the time," Thatcher and her friends agreed.

Five years later, Thatcher is happy she decided to act on the idea. She's still a college student, but the Southeast Waffle Company she opened at age 19 has expanded and is doing well in Auke Bay, near the University of Alaska Southeast.

Her business success was recognized at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards on Oct. 27, when she won top honors and an invitation to the Global Finals in Kansas City, Mo., later this month.

Thatcher will compete against 30 other businesses Nov. 18-20 for $10,000 in cash, media exposure and a share in $150,000 worth of business services.

For the regional competition in Seattle, she used a Power Point presentation and written report to tell the judges in 12 minutes how she runs her 6-year-old business.

"It was super intimidating," she said.

She expects the Kansas City event to be much the same.

Thatcher worked at a drive-through coffee shop when she was 16, and decided then that she wanted to own a coffee shop.

"I fell in love with the interaction with people," she said, and decided to start saving to own her own business someday.

Knowing what she wanted helped her succeed, said Barbara Schetter, a business consultant who worked with Thatcher through the Juneau Economic Development Council and helped her prepare for the competition.

"That doesn't happen for a lot of people, that they know, this is what I want to do," Schetter said. "A real advantage Julie has it that she didn't wait. She knew what she wanted, had an opportunity, and had saved money to get it started."

Thatcher was surprised when her new restaurant immediately attracted more than the over-caffeinated college crowd.

"Families were coming in, and on the weekends we were packed," she said.

After opening in a former garage, the Southeast Waffle Company expanded in 2007 to increase the space and add menu items such as soups and sandwiches.

Since starting school, Thatcher, now 25, switched her major from business management to accounting. She also works nearly 40 hours a week in the restaurant while doing the books and payroll.

Her dedication also is evident in her plans for the prize money if she wins.

The restaurant needs a new espresso machine, she said.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or e-mail kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.

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