By Brent Engel
June 3, 2010
Bowling Green, MO — Leo Pratte is more concerned about pasta than politics.
But Pratte and his partners are taking a big leap into the volatile world of small business at a time when Washington is putting new focus upon helping a part of the economy that is responsible for more jobs than any other.
Pratte, his wife, Michelle, and his mother-in-law, Ernestine Ackmann, opened an Italian restaurant called Genovese’s Little Sicily on Tuesday in Bowling Green.
Like millions of Americans, Pratte wanted to make his dream of business ownership come true. And, through years of hard work, he put himself into a position to make it happen. He’s confident in his abilities, but he also knows the odds are stacked against him.
“I’m risking,” Pratte acknowledged after filling salt and pepper shakers before turning his attention to the eatery’s homemade sauce. “With no risk, there’s no reward.”
President Barack Obama wants to take some of the trepidation out of the equation. He has renewed a call for passage of a measure that would create a $30 billion fund for banks to lend money to small businesses.
The money would come from the Treasury Department. Participating banks would pay the government a dividend, but the interest rate would decline as lending to businesses increased.
The measure would “knock down the barriers that prevent small-business owners from getting loans or investing in the future,” Obama said last week.
“This is an issue of putting our government on the side of the small-business owners who create most of the jobs in this country,” Obama said in a statement.
Critics have voiced doubts about the plan in the wake of a government report that the Obama administration’s $700 billion financial bailout probably won’t stimulate small business growth and hasn’t led to an increase in small business loans.
The American Small Business League announced last week that its study of Obama’s record showed what it called a disparity between the president’s rhetoric and his actions on support of small businesses.
Missouri U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-9, of St. Elizabeth, is a member of the House Small Business Committee, and said in a statement that “it is clear that this administration cannot hide from the damaging impacts” of “unsustainable spending, astronomical debt and job-killing new taxes.”
“Our small business owners must lead our economic recovery, but they cannot do that until we end the disconnect between what our small businesses really need and what Washington wants,” said Luetkemeyer, who addressed business people at a chamber of commerce luncheon Tuesday in Hannibal.
Pratte learned a lot about the restaurant business not on Capitol Hill but by working at eateries on The Hill in St. Louis. He later became a chef, and also worked for the state and sold advertising. Nothing satisfied as much as cooking, however.
“I love everything about food,” Pratte said. “The problem is, I got tired of working for somebody else. I’ve gone through everything in business, so I wanted to strike out on my own.”
Taking the plunge resulted from a conversation Pratte had with his wife.
“I wanted a change,” he recalled. “I wanted a challenge.”
He’ll be getting just that.
Statistics show that while seven out of 10 new businesses survive for at least two years, only about half make it to their fifth anniversary.
Pratte drew upon his restaurant experience and did his research. He then found a niche that he felt wasn’t being served in the Bowling Green area.
“Without the prior experience, there’s no way I would have done this,” he said.
Pratte has hired another area chef, Farrell Ray, to help in the kitchen. He plans to keep customers happy with a menu that offers an extensive variety, something Pratte says is lacking in too many areas of today’s society.
“Everybody likes to have something different they haven’t had before,” Pratte said. “You have 1,000 types of water on the shelf but we only have two people running for president. You don’t really sell food. You sell an experience.”
Even before opening, Genovese’s had gotten plenty of support. Pratte said he had words of encouragement from many in the community. It’s the kind of small-town gesture for which he will reciprocate.
“In tough economic times, you can’t worry about making a buck off your best buddy,” he said. “You have to take care of each other. It can’t be I, I. It has to be team, team.”
Pratte is determined to make it, despite the odds. Besides having what he considers the recipes for success, he’s got something that no amount of government funding could ever infuse. It’s called attitude.
“Find what you want to do and pursue it, and don’t let anybody ever tell you that you can’t do it,” he said.