Florida SBDC at FIU Client Receives National Recognition for Her Recovery from Hurricane Irma

Florida SBDC client, Stephanie Vitori, owner of Cheeseburger Baby in Miami Beach accepts the 2019 National Phoenix Award for Small Business Disaster Recovery at the Small Business Week Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C.

As one of the oldest burger joints on Miami Beach, Cheeseburger Baby has a fitting motto: “Keeping it Classic.”

However, it’s an ideal that the company struggled to keep after Hurricane Irma struck in 2017, nearly wiping out the restaurant business.

Not only did Cheeseburger Baby endure the storm, it now is a model for other small businesses hit with disasters. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) recently recognized the company with the 2019 Phoenix Award for Small Business Disaster Recovery. The award was given for the company’s successful hurricane recovery efforts and was presented in Washington, D.C. as part of SBA’s 2019 National Small Business Week ceremony.

“Keeping It Classic”

Known to many locals as “CBB,” the restaurant is a favorite of celebrities, such as Beyoncé and Dwayne Wade. Cheeseburger Baby is also mobile with a food truck that is a constant presence at local festivals and catering events around South Florida.

Cheeseburger Baby owner Stephanie Vitori originally started with the business as a delivery driver and worked her way up, learning about all aspects of the business along the way. In February 2004, she took over ownership of the business. Since then, the business has increased from six employees to almost 20.

“The success of Cheeseburger Baby comes from the fact that I am passionate about the business and my community,” said Vitori. “Our loyal customer base grew up literally by door-to-door marketing and by word of mouth. With that in mind, we treat them and our employees like family.”

Despite the restaurant’s success, Hurricane Irma was by far the biggest challenge the business faced in the last 19 years.

Hurricane impact and recovery

Hurricane Irma’s fury overwhelmed Stephanie’s diligent preparations to protect her business, damaging essential equipment and knocking out power. Water backed up into her restaurant, damaging food and equipment. There was also major damage to the air conditioning unit, freezer, and hood ventilation system. Power was out for the restaurant for two weeks but Stephanie was quick to plug into her food truck to re-open on a limited scale as soon as Miami Beach’s curfew lifted. Despite her efforts to serve the community as they recovered, customer traffic was slow heading into 2018.

To assist with her recovery, Stephanie was referred by the SBA to the Florida SBDC at FIU in November 2017. Florida SBDC at FIU, the small business development center at Florida International University’s College of Business, provides no-cost consulting to entrepreneurs and small-business owners.

Cheeseburger Baby was one of 187 businesses that the center worked with following Hurricane Irma. The Florida SBDC at FIU was able to assist Stephanie to secure additional funding to make repairs, return to pre-storm staffing levels, and ramp back up her catering operations.

“It has been extremely worthwhile for our center to work with Cheeseburger Baby and other businesses in her community as they are beacons for both tourists and locals alike,” said Brian Van Hook, associate director of the Florida SBDC at FIU. Having Cheeseburger Baby re-opened and continuing its pre-storm growth is a great bellwether on the progress of our recovery from the storm.”

GrubHub featured Stephanie and Cheeseburger Baby last year in a national campaign focused on promoting successful female chefs. She was one of only two Miami-based businesses to be featured in the campaign. The national recognition from GrubHub and SBA has only re-affirmed Stephanie’s passion for the business and her community in South Beach.

“We have survived hurricanes, recessions, big corporate burger franchises moving in across the street, and so much more,” Stephanie shared. “But when you do what you love, you don’t let anything get in the way of your success. Being able to open back up and serve burgers until sunrise again was the gift of a lifetime. That is why the SBA Phoenix Award means so much to us!”

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The Florida SBDC was amazing. They helped us navigate the bridge loan and SBA programs. Look forward to working together.”

Stephanie Vitori, Owner — Cheeseburger Baby