The evolution of a foundation
For 20 years, the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation has supported entrepreneurial efforts. As the LTFF celebrates two decades, it brings two new opportunities to Tulsa’s entrepreneurs.
Kathy Taylor, Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation co-founder and board member, and foundation CEO Elizabeth Frame Ellison inside the current Kitchen 66 space at 907 S. Detroit Ave. In its 20 years, the LTFF has committed $20 million in grants to more than 100 grantees.
The stretch of the famed Route 66 that runs from the University of Tulsa to Peoria Avenue is undergoing a rebirth. Hotels, restaurants and coffee houses dot the central Tulsa thoroughfare.
And another major addition is on the horizon.
In late July, the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation announced the development of Mother Road Market. It’s a $5.5 million project with 17 small shops, a bar, indoor/outdoor seating areas, children’s activities and a demonstration kitchen.
The shops will include tenants of Kitchen 66, a kick-start kitchen incubator program of the LTFF that helps aspiring food businesses by providing affordable commercial kitchen space, business development programs, tailored advice and sales support.
Along with Kitchen 66 tenants, the Market will include a new concept by Andolini’s and a diverse assortment of international food options. More restaurants will be announced in the months leading up to the late spring opening. The Market also will hold offices for the Kitchen 66 program as a whole and the LTFF offices.
Mother Road Market is the latest endeavor for the foundation that is celebrating 20 years of making a difference in Tulsa. To date, the LTFF has committed more than $20 million in grants to more than 100 grantees. To date, Kitchen 66 has graduated more than 60 food entrepreneurs. More than 50 percent of those are women-owned.
According to CEO Elizabeth Frame Ellison, Mother Road Market is the next evolutionary step in what began with the foundation’s development of 36 Degrees North and Kitchen 66.
“In our view, Tulsa is so lucky to have entrepreneurs who are musicians and artists and makers and chefs,” Ellison says. “We thought, ‘Can we serve all entrepreneurs in one space?’
“What I wanted to see was something that was an entrepreneurial research center like 36 Degrees North that also included commercial cooking space and a Fab-Lab type space where people could get everything done. That’s a huge project for Tulsa, so what we did is separate them.”
For nearly two years, 36 Degrees North, which also was founded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, the Tulsa Regional Chamber and Tulsa Tech, has provided entrepreneurs a workspace that offers meaningful resources and allows people to mingle and share ideas. It’s also the current home of the LTFF.
The past two and a half years have been spent in proof-of-concept/pilot testing for Mother Road Market through Kitchen 66, says Meredith Peebles, COO of the LTFF.
“We’ve learned firsthand the pain points and the biggest challenges for starting a food business in Tulsa,” Peebles says. “Really it was a great test and proof-of-concept for saying there really is a need for food businesses in Tulsa to have something like this.”
Some might question the LTFF’s investment in a major food operation like Mother Road Market. There’s the widespread belief that restaurants are a risky venture, often closing within the first few years of opening. According to a 2014 study, 17 percent of restaurants fail in the first year. The same study states the median lifespan for a restaurant startup with five or fewer employees is 3.75 years.
Ellison has seen the numbers, and the foundation has done its research, visiting similar food markets across the country. Based on its success with Kitchen 66, the LTFF is taking a risk to help more restauranteurs minimize theirs.
“Data shows that people who go through a kitchen incubator program have a drastically reduced risk of failure,” Ellison says. “We will lease the space at a shorter term and lower cost than most brick-and-mortar leases. We have the benefit to give the people a lower-risk opportunity to test their ideas. Since we’re a nonprofit, we have the ability to help the businesses with the marketing and programming side that will bring people into the space.”
Shanese Slaton, the project manager overseeing the development of Mother Road Market, is excited about the endless opportunities for dining options that will allow Tulsans to choose from a wide variety of styles, even if it’s to grab food to prepare a meal at home. It’s another thing that sets the market apart from most restaurant startups.
“Food brings people together. Food is a center point for so many families and communities,” Slaton says. “Kids can get pizza, and the parents can try pho or empanadas. It brings a lot of value to people.
“People may not have the time to stop at the farmers’ market, but they can stop by and get local produce (since it will have more accessible hours). It makes people more aware of where the food comes from and the sourcing. Farm-to-table adds another part to the formula. Bringing all that together creates a lot of magic. It will be fun to see what happens.”
It’s a natural fit for the market to open along the nation’s most famous highway. LTFF co-founder and board member Bill Lobeck spent decades working in the auto industry and continues to be a car enthusiast. “Mother Road Market marries all of our family passions: food, entrepreneurship, Route 66 and, of course, cars,” says former Tulsa mayor Kathy Taylor, LTFF co-founder and board member, who is married to Lobeck.
From a logistical standpoint, Peebles says the market will be in a prime location for consumers of all types. “The location from my perspective isn’t as much Route 66, but where it’s positioned in our community,” she says. “That intersection is bridging TU to downtown. It’s bridging Kendall Whittier to Utica.
“It’s such a melting pot in Tulsa that I think it’s going to be really interesting to see the people from the communities converging over food at this location. There will be college students and people who work at Hillcrest. Artists from Kendall Whittier or people who’ve been shopping at Utica Square.”
Slaton says she’s already looking forward to the future, when she can reminisce about opening the market and then see its lasting legacy. “Ten to 15 years from now, when we look back at what 11th Street has become, and when we are able to say we as the foundation and we as a team have been able to make a difference — that will be so rewarding,” Slaton says.
Breaking down financial barriers
Mother Road Market is not the only new venture for the LTFF. In November the foundation will launch a partnership with Kiva, an international nonprofit that lends up to $10,000 to entrepreneurs through crowfunding loans. People can lend to a business of their choice, starting at $25.
Since launching in 2005, Kiva has funded $1 billion in loans to 2.5 million borrowers. Its loans have a 97 percent repayment rate. As part of the partnership, a Kiva representative will be based in Tulsa for three years to help educate potential users on both sides.
For the past four years, the LTFF has released “The State of Entrepreneurship in Tulsa,” which indicates the strengths and the challenges facing Tulsa entrepreneurs. “What we’ve heard year after year is that equal access to capital is really challenging for people,” Peebles says. “Not everyone comes from a background where they’re creditworthy.
Banks often deem individuals with poor credit too risky for financing, but, “we don’t think that should be an obstacle for people to have an opportunity,” Peebles says. “We felt strongly we should help fill the gap, and with Kiva we’re able to do just that.”
Peebles foresees Kiva not only increasing financing opportunities for entrepreneurs, but also helping them build a strong relationship with local donors, who will likely become even more invested in their businesses.
“I think there’s something really powerful about the opportunity for someone in Owasso to learn about a business in north Tulsa and say, ‘I’m going to back you financially, even if it’s $25 or $50. Because I’ve invested in you financially on the front end, now I have a vested interest in the success of your business over the long term,’” Peebles says. “They’re more likely to become a customer or patron. They’ll likely follow you and share what you’re doing on social media. There’s more likely to be a relationship. It’s an interesting opportunity for Tulsans.”
Peebles says both Mother Road Market and Kiva will help create many opportunities for small business owners, which are vitally important to the economic success of Tulsa.
“We know 85 percent of Tulsa’s economy is actually rooted in small businesses,” she says. “It’s not the Williamses or the BOKs that are sustaining Tulsa, it’s the small businesses,” Peebles says. “I’m excited that (the partnership between the market and Kiva) will help that 85 percent sustain our economy.”
The mission of the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation has evolved and grown over the past two decades. When Taylor and Lobeck started the foundation originally, it was simply a vehicle for them to give back to their community, primarily through gifts to their alma mater, Taylor says. Then the foundation began working with entrepreneurs.
“Entrepreneurship has always been a passion of ours, and, frankly, a way of life for our family,” Taylor says. “Our business ventures have always been high-risk and entrepreneurial in nature, so we feel like we intimately understand the journey and challenges of an entrepreneur.”
Taylor later expanded the foundation to include the Mayor’s Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award, which morphed into the Tulsa StartUp Cup and later the Tulsa StartUp Series. “Seeing the success of that program was really an inspiration for Elizabeth to then take the helm and expand our mission and offerings,” Taylor says.
Ellison, who joined the LTFF eight years ago, says she had no hesitations going to work for her parents. She shares their passion for creating more opportunities for the city and its citizens, and Taylor says her daughter has helped morph the LTFF into the effective, data-driven organization it is today.
“Prior to Elizabeth’s dedicated time and leadership, we had simply been sponsoring events and providing donations, but had no clear course of action to improve the community,” Taylor says. “Elizabeth brought our board concrete data, a focused vision and plan for action. … I think it’s safe to say we would not have had the impact or scaled to this size without Elizabeth’s dedicated vision.”
The foundation has its hands full with projects, which is how they like it.
“Tulsa is such a special place, and I love our moniker as the most generous city in the United States, and I think it’s so true,” Ellison says. “One of the things I love about Tulsa is how well philanthropists and nonprofits work together.
“Now it’s about Tulsa showcasing what we have to offer to the rest of the region and the rest of the world. We’ve been humble and just stayed the course long enough. Now it’s time to talk about the great things we’re doing for entrepreneurs and community development.”
Adds Taylor, “Big ideas, ranging from food to tech, will continue to grow strong roots in our strong community. I hope our work continues to plant the seeds of a thriving and effective entrepreneurial ecosystem in Tulsa. I believe Tulsa can be and should be the Silicon Valley of the Midwest.”
The Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation will give the 2017 State of Entrepreneurship in Tulsa address from 4-6 p.m. on Nov. 9 at 36 Degrees North, 36 E. Cameron St. The event is free and open to the public.
Kitchen 66 is Tulsa’s kick-start kitchen incubator program that helps aspiring food businesses by providing affordable commercial kitchen space, business development programs, tailored advice and sales support.
More than 60 food entrepreneurs have graduated from the program, including Que Gusto’s Carla Meneses, who started her traditional South American food business to serve her passion for cooking. “I always enjoyed cooking, and that was my way to indulge my loved ones,” Meneses says. “And this is ‘que gusto’: what a pleasure.”
After hearing about Kitchen 66 through a friend, she quickly recognized it was the opportunity she was looking for. Kitchen 66 launched her brand and as a result, Que Gusto will open in its own downtown space soon.
Meneses says customers rave about her empanadas, a stuffed pastry with a variety of filling options, as well as the sweet alfajor, a cookie stuffed with dulce de leche.