“I had a great experience working with Ascendus – it was seamless and straightforward. They were super helpful, and I am very thankful.”
Erin Bashllari had worked in the restaurant business since he was fourteen, and he always had the dream of owning a diner. Growing up, he fell in love with the food and service industry. He liked that owning a small business provided autonomy and the ability to contribute to an unforgettable experience for the customer. He enjoyed diners because to him, they were the embodiment of family, something that was very important to him.
In 2017 he was working as a trauma nurse in the emergency room when he saw a diner for sale. He decided to take the leap with his father and go for his dream. They had both worked in the service industry, and his father shared his passion for the field. At first, Erin was working both as a nurse and running the diner, but he always had the hope that he would be able to make the diner his full-time career one day.
MAKING HIS VISION A REALITY
Erin had a vision of recreating the diner with a traditional feel, with big red booths, a large neon diner sign outside, and the feeling of comfort and familiarity when eating there. But he also wanted his diner to have a modern menu. He extended the donut menu in the diner to include new flavors such as French toast, cinnamon roll, and even cheeseburger donuts.
During the pandemic, Erin had to close the diner for two months to keep everyone safe. It was hard, because he didn’t know if his business would survive, or when he would be able to open again. He had taken a huge leap of faith when switching careers, and he didn’t want to see his lifelong dream fade away because of something that was out of his control.
Without knowing when the diner would open again, he decided to switch to take out and delivery, moving both in-house instead of having to use a third-party app. He turned to Ascendus for support in making the transition. He received a $50,000 loan from the Restaurant Future’s Loan Fund and used it towards creating his own centralized delivery system and towards taking another risk, opening a second location. He wanted to push forward even with the uncertainty of the pandemic. He used a part of his Ascendus loan to create a digital marketing campaign about his expansion.
PAYING IT FORWARD
As a trauma nurse, Erin knew how hard the pandemic was on healthcare workers and he wanted to make a difference. He used social media to raise $3,000 in a fundraiser to send care packages to healthcare professionals. He also visited COVID-19 testing sites to bring free lunches and created a list of testing centers to share with his community.
Erin loves working with others, and he wants to be sure that he can be the best boss. “I have 35 employees with 35 different personalities, it can get challenging, but I always want to motivate and connect with my staff over a common goal. My restaurants are only possible because of the effort of my entire staff.”
As a family-owned business, the best part is getting to work directly with his family. “No one can lie because you can just go home and see if they’re really sick.” Even though it is hard work, long hours, and he is always on the job, he appreciates that everyone always has each other’s back and they can all work together and help each other.
In 2022, Erin has been able to achieve another one of his goals. He has been able to successfully transition out of front-line nursing and is managing his two restaurants, both of which are doing very well. His new goal is to continue to expand Donut Villa Diner to more locations and to provide better benefits for his employees.
Learn more about Donut Villa Diner here: https://www.donutvilladiner.com/