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Tina Ferguson-Riffe, Smoke Berkeley

Thanks to Opportunity Fund for this story.

Born and raised in Texas, Chef Tina Ferguson-Riffe tapped a unique source of “start-up” funding to get her BBQ restaurant—Smoke Berkeley—off the ground.

OppFund Tina“I got a call out of the blue. It turned out my father had owned some water rights in Texas, and twenty years after he passed away they tracked me down. I sold them and used the money to help start this business. So it’s almost like this restaurant is a gift from my daddy, twenty years in the making,” said Tina.

Tina had been out of work for three years before opening Smoke Berkeley. Previously employed as a head chef, in 2008 she was laid off when the recession hit.

“I started this business because I wanted a job. I’m 62 years old. It’s hard to get work at my age. I was making really good money and then the market crashed. I couldn’t get anyone to give me a chance,” said Tina.

Tina opened Smoke Berkeley’s doors in October 2011 with the goal of cooking the kind of food she grew up eating, made with fresh, local ingredients. She’s also committed to hiring staff from employment training programs, like The Bread Project. But despite garnering rave reviews, the restaurant needed additional financing to become more profitable.

Opportunity Fund gave Smoke Berkeley a $20,000 loan.

“We used the loan to buy equipment for the restaurant. We wanted to make it run better and cook more food, just to increase the volume of our revenue. And oh yeah, we have definitely seen an increase!” said Tina.

Now that the summer months are coming, Tina and her staff of seven employees are looking forward to watching Smoke Berkeley grow. Barbecue cuisine is a seasonal business. As Tina explains, “We thrive in sunshine and wither in the rain.” Fortunately for her, Opportunity Fund has a one-of-a-kind loan for small businesses just like Smoke, unique in the U.S. microlending industry. Tina received Opportunity Fund’s EasyPay loan, which is repaid when her credit card processor takes a small percentage of daily credit card transactions as repayment. With EasyPay, she pays back the loan bit by bit every day as sales ebb and flow, rather than in a fixed monthly payment that can be too big in the lean months.

“My business has grown so much. I don’t know what my options would have been without Opportunity Fund.”