The town of Casper, Wyoming is treated to a taste of the Middle East at Sweet Zoey’s Mediterranean Cafe, which will be expanding this Fall to a new, larger location thanks to a loan from First State Bank supported by the Wyoming Smart Capital Network (WSCN). The restaurant represents a step on a journey that has brought its owners and their new neighbors closer together, building relationships around good food.
An architectural engineer by profession and a cook by passion, Zahraa Al-Dahash, known as Zoey, decided one days to share her homemade baklava with friends via Facebook. She was quickly overwhelmed with requests. Everyone loved the dessert and asked for more. Soon Zoey was busy every weekend making baklava, selling at festivals as well online. She decided to share other recipes from her native Iraq such as hummus chickpea dip and fatira bread stuffed with beef, chicken or cheese. These sold out as quickly as the baklava. When a local restaurant asked if they could sell her products, Zoey realized she needed to move production outside of her home kitchen to keep up with demand. She rented space in a strip mall with an industrial kitchen and began serving meals there as well.
Everyone loved the dessert and asked for more. Soon Zoey was busy every weekend making baklava. … She decided to share other recipes from her native Iraq …and .. these sold out as quickly as the baklava.
Word quickly spread and Sweet Zoey’s consistently ranked 5 stars on Facebook and Google. The restaurant outgrew its location and Zoey put her sights on owning her own place where she could design a great dining experience and reach more clients.
“When Zoey approached First State Bank for a loan, I was impressed by her incredible understanding of the business as well the quality of her character,” says Brettnee Tromble, Vice President for Commercial Loans. Brettnee’s banker instincts told her this was a good deal, but collateral was an issue with the purchase of a building that needed renovations. At the same time, Sweet Zoey’s business plan was one of the most well-written Brettnee had seen. Thanks to the bank’s partnership with WSCN, which took a participation on the loan thus lowering the bank’s risk, Zoey was able to get the credit she needed and is underway preparing for her grand opening.
“Some banks just pass on riskier deals, but First State Bank likes to think outside the box and help small businesses get where they need to be. Entrepreneurs like Zoey are likely to continue building businesses in their communities. That’s the kind of client we want.”
Brettnee Tromble, First State Bank
Like chefs the world over, Zoey is trying to add spice to life and be a part of the community: “I love this business. It allows me to share a bit of my culture, make friends, and feel at home. I don’t want to lose that, so I keep going.”
What’s the secret to Zoey’s success? She says it’s hard work and perseverance. “There will be good times and bad, and you just have to keep working through both.” During the pandemic, Sweet Zoey’s tried not to close but instead shifted the focus to delivery. Quality is also key. No matter how much they grow, Sweet Zoey’s will always offer great tasting and authentic Middle Eastern food, made from scratch using high-quality and traditional ingredients.
“I love this business. It allows me to share a bit of my culture, make friends, and feel at home. I don’t want to lose that, so I keep going.”
The Wyoming Smart Capital Network (WSCN) creates jobs by helping small business access capital. The fund was initially created with funding from the U.S. Department of Treasury as a part of the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) program and is now an evergreen fund. The WSCN is a coalition of 16 municipalities who joined together to bring this capital resource to their communities. Development Capital Networks manages and administer WSCN on behalf of the consortium to foster small business growth and enhance job creation throughout the state of Wyoming. First State Bank is a participating lending partner.