I am very often asked about the many unique aspect of the Delta Diner. Why Delta? Really, you restored an East Coast Diner and shipped it here? Where do you come up with the unique flavor combinations? How do you find the staff you have? And, often first timers will ask about our ownership. Are we a chain or independent? What type of ownership is it?
Well, up until five years ago the ownership question had a simple answer. My wife Nina and I owned nearly all interest in Delta Diner with a few important family members and friends also involved. This remained true for the first eight years of our venture. And, both fortunately and unfortunately, we had a significant challenge. The growth opportunities in front of us were greater than our ability to fund them traditionally. We needed an alternative way to find funding that matched the core values and passion of our business model.
I spent much of 2009 researching our options. Discussion with respected business people, customers, economic development professionals, anyone who might share a nugget of creative thinking. The collaborative result was “Customer 40” which opened the door for 22 new Members to join our LLC in 2010/11.
The impact on our business has been substantial in many ways. First, we were able to expand our capacity to serve customers without having to compromise our core principles just to service the associated debt. We were able to pay with cash and even though the original ownership owned less, we gained significant financial upside. But more importantly, the Diner gained 22 additional equity holders with a passion for being part of building something special and sustainable. And, these new equity holder came from the ranks of our customer base.
In short, 40% of Delta Diner’s equity interests are owned by the good folks that we share our booth and counter space with on a daily basis. It is kind of poetic that in the context of a culture where we strive for uniqueness and creativity every day, our most unique and creative attribute is the structure of our ownership. This in turn allows us to continue to grow without compromise in a sustainable way.
And, rest assured, we do appreciate just how cool this is every day!