On a whim in August 2019, Ciliana Pluviose and Gladys Jean started making chicken sandwiches on their mom’s patio at home in Bradenton for anyone they could reach on Facebook.
Using $75 out of their pocket, the sisters went on a grocery run. Buying enough to support a two-chicken sandwiches and one-drink menu, they sold out the first day. They took the profit, bought more groceries and did it all again. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months and now the sisters have been in business for over two years and are expecting to hit between $800,000 to $1 million in revenue next year.
The business, now called The Barnyard, is built on the back of a chicken sandwich. But getting there was a process.
The flavor profile of the chicken brings in a taste of the Caribbean Islands. But traditionally, the chicken is stewed — not fried. So, the sisters were tasked with learning how to fry chicken and keep the batter on during the process. But the reason they went with a chicken sandwich was really based on natural competition.
“It was honestly because there was a war going on between Popeyes and Chick-fil-A,” Jean says. “We tasted it and decided we could make a better one. And we did.”
Starting out, the duo was backed up against the wall, literally. Space was limited with it being out of the home. “We would sell out really quick because in order to keep food safe, we only were able to make a limited quantity of food,” Jean says. So even though their hours were noon to 9 p.m., they wouldn’t make it that far — generally selling out around 5 p.m.
“It taught us to be organized,” Pluviose says of the challenge.
For a while, the business operated on Facebook messaging to collect orders. Most of their customers are local to the Bradenton area, but would occasionally bring in people from Sarasota, Lakewood Ranch, Tampa and St. Petersburg. Even as far away as Ocala.
Now in a space at the Oneco Farmers’ Market in Bradenton, their process hasn’t changed all that much, though customers — or cousins as the sisters call customers because they’re all considered family — can now also order at the register.
Today, the sisters can welcome about 70 orders a day. While they didn’t keep track of how many orders were being fulfilled while at their mom’s house, Pluviose says, “It felt like 70 because everything was so small.”
As for traditional business models, The Barnyard is anything but. “We didn't have a business model. Our business model was a prayer,” Pluviose says.
“It’s so controversial, but you really don’t need a business plan starting off,” Pluviose says. “You can sit there and create a five-year business plan, but we all saw what COVID-19 did. COVID-19 wrecked anybody’s plan. Whatever your plan was as a business owner, COVID-19 came in and basically said, ‘this is not going to be what it is.’
“We were pre-COVID-19, but what I learned was that sometimes you don’t need a business plan first. Sometimes you need a proof of concept first. Let’s just find out if this is what the people want. Because you might sit there and do a five-year business plan and then you realize your customers aren’t even relating to what you’re selling. So maybe you have to pivot. Then when you see what your customers want, maybe that takes you six months to recognize.”
The Barnyard is just now in the stage of creating a business plan. Now that they have a product that works, they’re looking down the road through the next five years, and the question they’re mulling over now is “what’s our next step?” Pluviose says.
The sisters have 30 years of combined experience in the industry having worked various roles in restaurants and bars. Looking back now, they suddenly realize why their bosses did certain things a certain way. “Remember when they told us to do this? I guess this is why,” Jean says.
“All that stuff they used to make us do, you understood why,” Pluviose says. “It’s always for the customer’s benefit. The more organized and the more your business has processes in place, the smoother the process is when a customer comes to you.”
The Oneco Farmers’ Market came to be on their radar through a connection Pluviose made through CareerSource Suncoast in Bradenton. Last year, the restaurant did $400,000 in revenue, continuing a pattern of doubling revenue annually. Next year they’re planning to add a food truck. They speculate they’d need between $20,000 and $50,000 to dedicate to purchasing the truck depending on the size.
They’ll continue to keep the farmers’ market location open when they start on that new adventure.
“This year’s been a tough year,” Pluviose says. “Small businesses everywhere have had a tough time. From labor going up and being scarce, product going up and being scarce, there’s been so many things that have happened.
Amanda Postma is a business reporter covering Sarasota and Manatee counties. After graduating from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 2018, Amanda was a reporter for a small-town newspaper in Missouri before becoming a marketing associate for a career resource startup in St. Louis.