Busy Bee Owner is Making a Buzz on the West Side

Clutch MOV is proud to sponsor this year’s Mid-Ohio Valley Entrepreneur of the Year. We envision a community where citizens can take risks on the promise that success would uplift the residents of our valley. Artists, creators, makers, and small business owners strive to build something anew, something worth putting their stamp on – to promote and share with each other – and entrepreneurs are on the edge, finding ways to build in a way that hasn’t been done before. This year we received dozens of nominations for innovative, forward-thinking, community-building entrepreneurs from the Mid-Ohio Valley. The panel believed six individuals stood out for the impact they are making through their work. We are sharing their stories in this series.

In the quiet neighborhood of historic Harmar Village, the Busy Bee restaurant has been serving satisfied customers since 1944. When Larry Sloter bought the business in 2016 the popular breakfast spot hadn’t seen many changes over the decades. But Larry had a vision and a plan to update the Busy Bee and make it one of the area’s favorite restaurants. This year, as the Busy Bee marked its 75th year in business, the celebration was not only for the newly improved restaurant but also for Larry’s determination and perseverance during a year that saw too many restaurants fall victim to a virus and its economic impact.

When Larry decided to enter the restaurant industry he chose an existing business that was doing well but could be even better. One of his first goals was to utilize the many farmers and food producers in the Mid-Ohio Valley to develop Scratch, Farm to Table cooking that wasn’t currently being offered in the area. “While it is a constant process I do feel we have accomplished this as we make roughly 95% of our items from completely scratch base ingredients including our own bread, roughly 30 sauces and dressings and all of our own dry mixes for pancakes and such,” he said. “We also partner with roughly 15 different farmers and producers including sausages, pickles, jams and jellies, honey, dairy products, and many fruits and vegetables when in season.”

Larry left the world of corporations for the opportunity to own his own business and be measured on his abilities, and the numerous awards and steady flow of positive reviews are validation that he made the right move. That entrepreneurial spirit not only accomplishes Larry’s own goal for his business but supports so many other entrepreneurs and small businesses pursuing their own dreams in the MOV. “The regular conversations with our local producers and farmers is an exciting endeavor as we work together to create new opportunities for us to share in growth. Knowing that we are all working together for the betterment of the area economy is the most rewarding aspect.”

When asked about his biggest challenges, Larry explained that staff development and retainment are the most difficult aspects of owning the business. Customer service is an integral part of a restaurant’s success and a positive dining experience depends on high quality and dedicated staff. Because the food industry is one of high turnover, Larry is working hard to make the Busy Bee an employer that keeps its employees happy and dedicated by offering improved pay and a positive work environment.

Larry is a huge proponent of entrepreneurship and believes that society would be improved if more people were their own boss. But he admits that entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. “It does take a particular mindset, as an individual must be very tolerant to high risk as typically there is no safety net for failure. I advise anyone interested in starting their own business to do extensive market research to ensure success. One must understand their competitors’ strengths and weaknesses and be capable of analyzing the data to take advantage of market weaknesses or to come up with new strategies to operate more efficiently.”

It was that research and understanding of the industry that helped Larry create his vision and make it a reality. A quick trip to the farmers’ market helped him realize the abundance of local ingredients and he was able to immediately start making changes toward becoming a scratch and farm to table kitchen. Those changes won him some loyal fans and enabled him to help a growing number of local small businesses. His own business’ impact on the local economy is illustrated by one example.

When I first started, I reached out to a local farmer that I had known for several years. At that time, I coached one of their kids in the youth soccer program. It is a very short line from the check I write them for cabbage to helping buy soccer cleats for a kid on my team,” he said. “That impact is shown time and time again as the money going out of my business to other local businesses is instantly rolled back into other areas of our local community. 60% of funds spent when buying local stay within the community and it’s always my attempt to drive that number even higher when possible.” To his credit, Larry sincerely wants others to patronize his suppliers and he displays their signage and information throughout the restaurant.

When Larry Sloter was nominated for Entrepreneur of the Year, the writer not only praised his improvements to the Busy Bee and impact on local growers and other small businesses but also his ability to adapt during a very difficult year.  Larry revised his offerings and changed the business model to provide family-style carry-out meals and grocery boxes during the forced shut-down. He also used the downtime to invest in his business, completing a long-planned kitchen and dining room renovation and adding an outdoor dining space. Not only did he survive the pandemic shut down, but when the Busy Bee re-opened to the public it was bigger and offered an improved dining experience.

The Busy Bee is thriving today because Larry Sloter had a vision and worked tirelessly to make that vision a reality. His restaurant continues to serve loyal customers and gain new fans with his innovative methods and locally sourced ingredients.  Larry’s perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit enabled him to celebrate a milestone anniversary while looking toward a bright future.