By LYNN LOFTON
Having a good meal in an unusual setting is an enjoyable experience. When that pleasure also means the money paid to have the experience goes toward grants to help small businesses, it’s even better. The Magnolia Business Alliance created the Social Supper to help fund its grant programs, and they’re spreading some cheer and good eats while doing so.
In the words of Natalie Guess, who spearheads the event, “Social Supper is designed to create a unique experience for your taste buds in a place where you’ve never dined and with people you may have never met. Each quarter, the scenery, chef, food and beverages may change but the experience will remain one of a kind. We want to have it each time in a place where people can’t normally eat.”
The Magnolia Business Alliance, located in Long Beach, is a 501(c) 6 not-for-profit corporation that acts as a support organization and forum for the advancement of small and medium-size businesses in the Southeastern U.S. The organization provides mentorship, training, logistics and other support.
Guess, director of Magnolia Business Alliance, attended some events similar to Social Supper in New Orleans. “We didn’t have anything like it here and I wanted to get local people and products involved. We’re keeping everything Mississippi focused,” she said. “It was a lot of work but all who were involved and attended were excited to be part of it and liked knowing that the money is going back into small businesses.”
The first social supper was held at the Lazy Magnolia Brewery in Kiln with seafood provided by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources and the chef from the Blind Tiger in Bay St. Louis. The plan is to have the event each quarter — the next one will be on Dec. 3 — with different businesses providing the venue, chef and beverages. The DMR will be an ongoing partner to provide seafood.
DMR spokeswoman Melissa Scalan said, “We will do a sponsorship each time by providing the seafood. We see it as a good opportunity to let people know about Mississippi wild-caught seafood. We’re tasked with marketing seafood all over the country and this is a way of letting local people know about it, too.”
Forty-eight people attended the first Social Supper and $800 was netted for the small business grant programs. Guess points out that there was more expense involved with the first event because some items — including bamboo and corn-derived green products — were purchased and will be re-used.
“I hope to grow it to 100 attendees, and I will try to keep the cost between $50 and $60 per person,” she said. “You have to remember that an $800 grant can do a lot to help a small business.”
Karen Sites bears witness to the value of these grants. She started her business, MS Engineering and Development Company, in her Diamondhead home one year ago. “We got a $500 grant and later got a $1,000 grant and are very excited,” she said. “As a startup company and financing this business personally, the grants have been a lifesaver.”
Sites, a civil engineer, used some of the funds to purchase payroll software to use in paying her two part-time employees, and plans to use some for marketing and continuing education. Her company does engineering design, construction management and inspections. Her partner and husband Chuck Sites is a certified economic development professional.
“We have a simple, one-page grant application process,” Guess said. “Some recent examples of recipients include a restaurant that used the funds to buy tables and chairs and a boat owner who used solar panels to convert his boat so he can do tours. It’s important to support local businesses and communities; the Social Suppers are a way to get more people involved.”
For more information go to www.thesocialsupper.com.