How to secure and keep the space you want

Tracey Williams

A 12-year veteran of the mortgage industry, I experienced a career slowdown at the cusp of the housing bubble and realized I needed to make a change. My wife, Phetmala, and I saw an iconic restaurant close its doors near where we lived and had been patrons for many years. Having worked our way through college waiting tables, the restaurant business has always been a passion of mine. Queue Stardust Diner.

We knew something had to be done to reopen the restaurant and put its 12 employees back to work. Since November 2008, we have brought a business back from the brink and have increased the amount of employees to 38, which is more than 200 percent growth.

In partnership with Bank of America, which financed my purchase, I provide my own advice for helping other local businesses and restaurants secure the space they want and need in order to continue expanding and growing in this ever-changing Southwest Washington and Portland economy.

Be on your landlord’s good side

Develop a strong rapport with your landlord. You can have the ulterior motive of one day owning the space they rent to you now, but laying the foundation first is important. Being an upstanding tenant by paying bills on time, maintaining the property and actually reading and following lease terms can bring you one step closer to one day owning the space. Trust is important in any relationship, but this one especially.

Build a relationship with the right lender

Shop around and ask questions to find the lender that is right for you and will cater to your financial and business needs. Joe Plucinak, a vice president and small business banker at Bank of America, helped my wife and I get our business and personal financial assets in order before approaching our landlord with a proposal. This put us in the strongest position possible to get a deal done. After nearly two years of working together, I still rely on Joe and the bank for advice on future projects and to help me with my financial needs. Because I maintain an open dialogue with my bank, Joe has great knowledge about the intricacies of my business, as well as where we want to take it in the future. This enables him to be proactive and a true strategic partner in our growth. Joe and Bank of America have great local knowledge of my community as well as an understanding of the products and services that can help save me time and money. Having a trusted local partner embedded in the community was ultimately the reason I chose to do business there.

Channel The Rolling Stones

When looking for space, there is definitely a fine line in making sure returning customers are satisfied, but understanding the needs and wants of your future patrons are kept in mind. Nearly 90 percent of our customer base is returning and/or are considered “regulars,” and we can’t forget to cater to their desires. Be timeless and authentic, just like the Stones.

Invest in the community

In a close-knit community like Vancouver and neighboring cities, giving back to the community is critical to success as a business. Stardust Diner partners with other local businesses to put on the annual “Cruise-In for a Cure” charity event, drawing several thousand people, allowing for visibility and camaraderie. With the help of our neighbors, we have collectively raised $16,000 over the past six years for the American Diabetes Association. Establishing yourself and brand in the community will allow for a connection point for years to come.

This edition of Tip of the Week was written by Tracey Williams, owner of Vancouver’s Stardust Diner (1110 SE 164th Avenue). He can be reached at