Free student consultancy helps Farrar’s Bistro grow

WSU Vancouver Mentor & Analysis program supports Southwest Washington businesses and nonprofits

Mistie Josephson

A thriving, profitable business is the dream of any business owner. The key ingredients for this dream to become a reality? Growth and an actionable plan the owner can implement. Many small businesses turn to consultants for support during growth, but find the large fees associated with these services can be overwhelming.

For the past five years, the Business Growth Mentor & Analysis Program (MAP) at Washington State University Vancouver has provided free consulting services to local businesses and nonprofits while giving students a chance to solve real business issues. Student teams work with organizations from all industries to make recommendations for change to drive business growth.

In 2014, Debbie Belden sought out the services of the Business Growth MAP to help her analyze her growing business. With the Business Growth MAP’s support, the business tripled in size. Farrar’s Bistro, a neighborhood grill, started in 2007 as small coffee shop, and its first kitchen consisted of a smoker, electric oven and panini press. Although the food was delicious, Belden envisioned creating a larger family establishment that served the high-quality food she loved while providing her with a solid profit.

Over the course of a semester, the student team worked closely with Belden and two volunteer business mentors to conduct an in-depth analysis of the restaurant’s challenges and capabilities.

Throughout the process, Belden shared her personal concerns as students provided fresh insight into the business issues she faced. After careful analysis, the students helped Belden understand her finances, and in addition to identifying areas where she could save money, they showed her how she could adjust her menu and overall marketing to improve revenue.

Located in a friendly Vancouver neighborhood, Belden struggled with drawing attention to her restaurant and bringing customers through the door. The student team helped Belden improve signage and create promotions that captured her values.

Belden formerly referred to her cooking style as “comfort food with flair.” The team helped Belden realize she was downplaying what made her restaurant truly unique – dishes made from scratch with locally sourced ingredients.

This insight was an important takeaway from the project.

“I don’t use cans or boxes. I assumed everybody cooks that way, but they don’t,” said Belden.

Students helped her improve restaurant messaging to emphasize the quality of her house-made food, highlighting Farrar’s fresh ingredients, certified Angus beef and wild caught salmon, while emphasizing her partnerships with local vendors.

“The students were eager to help, and I appreciated working with them,” said Belden. “They brought new expertise to the table and were excited to use what they learned from my business.”

Since implementing these changes, the restaurant has seen an 18 percent growth in revenue.

“I think it’s a wonderful program, especially for anyone starting out or who needs someone to help with the areas they are struggling in,” said Belden.

Farrar’s Bistro is continuing to expand with the addition of a patio, outdoor bar and more dining space in early May.

Mistie Josephson is the Business Growth MAP manager. The program is free to participating businesses. For more information and program application, visit or call 360.546.9533.

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