Originally from New York, Nora Brooker, Owner of Nora’s Sugar Shack, affectionately jokes that she opened her bar “to go home”. The real reason is that her former employer, a beer distributor and importer, was bought out by a much larger company. Eight years after the acquisition, they changed directions and switched Brooker’s position. She wasn’t happy with her new corporate accounts. After 15 years in the business, Brooker was faced with a decision and, in her eyes, a great opportunity.
“I loved what I did and didn’t want to leave that space,” she said. “So I decided to follow my passion for beer, wine and cigars. In 2004, I opened Nora’s Sugar Shack, a bar/lounge package store. I knew that, in order for me to be successful, I had to do what I loved. That’s the only reason I’ve been in business for 16 years.”
Brooker had money saved to help launch her new bar. However, from the get go, she was very creative and conscious when it came to advertising her new business.
“Early on, it was a challenge to stay afloat,” she said. “I had to be very cautious to not overspend and to watch what all went out. I’d look for opportunities to advertise for free in local papers and have vendors add my business as a location to get their products. I’d also do fun weekly events to generate business.”
Today, Nora’s Sugar Shack is a staple of the Ivanhoe Village neighborhood, just north of downtown Orlando. Take one look at all the reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor and Google and you’ll see why Nora’s is so popular. According to Brooker, most of that growth happened organically. However, as she shared, it’s important to keep your foot on the gas pedal and to continue providing great service each and every day.
“I post daily on social media,” she said. “It’s important to keeping vibing and smiling even when you’re having a rough day. It’s no fun to walk into a bar or store where the employees are unhappy. I hug everyone and say thanks and show them lots of appreciation. I make them feel special and they tell their friends about their experience.”
Looking ahead, Brooker plans to sell the business within the next four years. She’d like to pass the reins to a younger owner who’s ready to take Nora’s Sugar Shack to the next level.
Brooker offers some great advice and lessons learned for new entrepreneurs. “Word of mouth is the best way to grow your business,” she said. “I tried paid advertising and it did nothing for me. Save your money and don’t over-spend and go into debt just to stay in business. It’s not worth losing everything. Stay focused and have obtainable long and short term goals, but don’t over-extend yourself. Most importantly, enjoy what you do and take time for yourself.