Millennials. Tech-obsessed, tattooed, trapped in an endless cycle of internships. Plenty of things have been written about the generation born between 1980 and 2005, but not much has been said about the skills and perspective millennials bring to entrepreneurship.
Madison is home to several startups with millennials at the helm. PerBlue, a mobile gaming company, CapSquare Apps, an app development startup, and MobCraft, a crowdsourcing craft brewery are among them.
Taylor Beebe, a 23-year-old Madison native, has just joined their ranks. Beebe opened Mad City Frites, a Belgian frite shop, on State Street in December.
The small shop with big windows and a bright red awning exclusively sells frites in paper cones, with 10 different options for dipping sauce. (This singular culinary focus is a growing trend in Madison.)
Beebe says people ask her if she’s “insane” for starting a business so soon out of college.
“Yes, I’m 23, and I’m doing this, and I might be slightly insane. …and I love every minute of it.”
How did you get the idea for the restaurant?
I went to New York City with my mom four years ago and we sought out Pommes Frites. I had heard about it from multiple sources and wanted to check it out. We navigated our way through the subway system and found this place (and) fell in love with it. We had a cone of frites and it immediately clicked: “This would do so great in Madison.” Specifically on State Street.
Why did you think it’d be a good fit for Madison and State Street?
It was just the mobility of the food. I feel like there’s a flow to State Street, you’re up and down, you’re kind of bouncing around, doing this and that. And the frites were just amazing. I mean, who doesn’t like french fries? So I knew right then that something like that would do really well in Madison.
So, through school, I started writing a business plan, chipping away at it here and there.
So you were in school?
I was a freshman or sophomore (in college).
So, aside from your experience working retail in undergrad, and taking a course or two, what kind of training did you have to launch a business?
Very little. Really very little. I took what resources I had. There are so many people who have helped me out with this project, just from a training perspective. There’s so much to learn as far as health codes are concerned, and building. It was just something I taught myself and learned as I went.
How accommodating do you feel Madison is to young entrepreneurs?
There are a lot of resources out there. The city’s website is great. I learned a lot through that. I felt it was pretty easy.
Do you think anyone has treated you differently because you’re a young business owner?
Age is something that’s brought up continuously because it’s very rare, but I don’t think anyone has treated me any differently. I think right away people are a little awestruck by the fact that I’m 23 and doing this and it’s kind of crazy, but everyone has been fantastic.
What do people say to you about that?
“I can’t believe you’re 23.” A lot. I’ve always been super mature for my age, so it’s not something that I’m not used to hearing. But that’s it: “I can’t believe you’re 23 and doing this” and “Are you insane?”
How do you respond?
“Yes, I’m 23, and I’m doing this, and I might be slightly insane.” And I love every minute of it.
You’re also a young woman entrepreneur. Do people ever comment on that?
Not really. There have been some times late at night at the restaurant where I’ve had to take on more of a bouncer role, y’know … it’s interesting, it’s never what I thought I’d be doing at 2 a.m., kicking people out. I spent my New Year cleaning up vomit, so that was fun for me.
A lot of the time, it’s very innocent. Just college students. And I’ve been there before. I understand. Knock on wood, we haven’t had any real problems. But the late night crowd is a little rowdy and sometimes you have to be more of an enforcer.
What sort of unique perspective do you think you bring to running a business because of your age?
One of the biggest things I hear from the college students, if something isn’t up to par (is), “No, you don’t have to (reimburse us), we’re just college students, that’s no big deal.”
They have a mentality that they don’t matter because they’re just college students. And that shouldn’t be that way. Every person, every customer that walks through that door matters. It doesn’t matter if it’s a young family, it doesn’t matter if it’s a hungover college student, you guys all matter.
I guess being young, I identify more with that crowd a little bit and can understand their concern. Them thinking, “Oh, I’m just a college student, you don’t care.” No, I very much care.
What was opening like? Describe that first day.
It was kind of a blur. It was me and my mom working and we were surprisingly very busy. I didn’t know what to expect. I was back there frying French fries.
So it was just you and your mom?
Yep. For that full first day.
So you were in the back and she was at the register?
Yep. Bless her heart.
What’s your primary goal for this year?
I’d like get a liquor license and start serving some nice Belgian beer and wine.
Do you know who you’d like to get that beer and wine from? Local craft breweries or something?
I’d like to keep it as local as I can. It’s tough, I want to offer something a little bit different. Not just a Miller Lite or Bud Light, I want to be a little more unique.
Survive the summer. It’s so tough, we have our crazy Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights. But I don’t know what a game day is going to look like. I don’t know what Halloween is going to look like, a Farmers Market Saturday. Just making it through those days.
I’d love to know what those days are going to look like… it’s just a learning process.
But I’ll figure it out.