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Spotlight on small business: A taste of the Big Apple in the Big Easy

When youre moving far from home, dont forget to pack a little bit of it with you when you go.

Thats exactly what former New Yorker Paul Tufaro did. He is the successful owner of New Orleans Empire State Deli, a slice of the Big Apple all the way down in The Big Easy. Set as a traditional New York style deli, it specializes in classics such as the Brooklyn Dodger, a Reuben-corned beef, the New York Giant, a triple-decker turkey BLT, and Tufaros big hit, the Cooperstown Burger. Admittedly, Tufaro had never taken a single business course, but with a lot of hard work and heart, what was once a late night barstool dream became a reality, and his Empire State deli was born.

Tufaro left Long Island at the end of the 90s to pursue a degree in Jazz Performance at the University of New Orleans. But he always felt that a part of his old home was missing on the historic streets of his new home a real deli.

For the most part, the only sandwiches you can get in New Orleans are po-boys, Tufaro said. There is a wide diversity of people here in town; New York, Chicago, Boston businessmen implants and a large percentage of northern students. With [Empire Deli], I knew I had a successful idea if the sandwiches came out right.

 He also found that the laid back style of New Orleans conflicted with his New York hustle-and-bustle drive. After graduation, he started thinking and discovered a perfect niche for the sleepless ambition instilled in him by the City that Never Sleeps.

Noting the cultural differences, Tufaro said, The H&H bagels sell well, and people love the Boars Head cold cuts, but I have to say, I cant sell a knish or bagels and lox for the life of me. People here just dont know what to do with it.

While working for five years in Long Islands Robbins Lane Deli during what he terms his wonder years, Tufaro developed a world of experience in a business setting similar to the one he would someday own. But it took more than just a dream and a plan, and his tireless desire, to get him started.

Being prepared, doing thorough research and painstakingly mapping your strategy are just some of the tidbits Tufaro offered when asked how he got the business ball rolling. But Tufaro acknowledged that he wasnt initially aware of all the minor hurdles associated with owning a small business. He advises small business owners to visit the local Small Business Development Centers, weigh options with bank loaners and find a loan officer who can help with these minor hurdles.

Tufaro has had his share of challenges, both big and small. With the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans residents and businesses took a big hit.

I have never seen a town in such disarray and disrepair, he said. My wife, Serah Fatih, who I was only dating at the time, was left standing on her roof with her family for 3 days, while their house remained under 12 feet of water.

 The Central Business District had become a virtual ghost town, Tufaro added. Unfortunately, my restaurant had to remain closed.

Even with the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina which kept the Empire Deli closed for nearly two years Tufaro said that if given the opportunity, he would not change anything.

 In hindsight, I have made all the right decisions and choices and any variance from what I have done could result in a totally different outcome that is unknown, Tufaro said.

Its that bright optimism and his labor of love that have kept him going ever since.

Pauls Empire tips for success:

  • Hire hard working employees. Employees that care about you and your business will save you a lot of worrying.

  • Wake up early.

  • Make every sandwich as if it were your own.

  • Put in the extra hours. It will shine through to your customers.

  • Shop for your own product. It will save money and keep you in tune with your product.

  • Pay your loans off quickly and efficiently. Paying interest is wasted money.

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Spotlight on small business: A taste of the Big Apple in the Big Easy