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ZACH WOOTEN : The Loft Café

story by Kelly Harley     photos by Miranda Osborn
Many people don’t find success until later in life. They work hard, put in countless hours, overcome setbacks and make it out on top. For one Effingham County business owner, he’s been through his fair share of setbacks and understands hard work is the only way to get to where you want to be. He is proving that determination does pay off and has managed to find huge success before celebrating his 30th birthday.
Zach Wooten is only 28 years old. The millennial is a self-made entrepreneur who isn’t afraid to take risks. Zach is the owner and operator of The Loft Café. He smiles as he talks about what his restaurant has become and how he tries to be different when being trendy is the new thing. The Loft Café is only open for lunch and serves what Zach calls the traditional side of the sandwich world. “Nowadays, you can’t always get traditional and that’s what we try to stick to. We serve sandwiches and salads and our salads are some of our best sellers. We’ve been voted Best Salad in Effingham County every year since we opened,” says Zach. He also offers homemade dressings, homemade dips and ensures that the restaurant only uses fresh ingredients. That’s a commitment Zach takes very seriously. He is very particular about quality service and authentic food.
When you experience what Zach has created, it’s hard to believe that the first The Loft Café didn’t make it. In 2010, Zach and his business partner opened the doors at their original location. Zach can now laugh when he says it crashed and burned, and credits the closure to location. When it closed down, Zach could have given up and moved on; however, he didn’t lock the doors for good. He kept fighting for what he wanted. In 2011, at 21 years old, he moved the restaurant to its current location and immediately saw a 300 percent increase in sales. “It was amazing. The first day of opening the doors, I was shocked at the number of people who actually showed up,” says Zach. “I took pride in seeing my idea and creation come to life. It made me want to continue doing what I love.”
It’s safe to say that many 21-year-olds aren’t thinking about opening a business. Zach tried college, but it just wasn’t for him. Neither was a party inspired lifestyle. He jumped right into the workforce. “I had nothing to lose and it was worth the risk. I had the support of my parents and I knew I could always go back to college if this didn’t work out,” says Zach.
So far, it seems to be working out. Zach has always had a love for cooking and grew up around a family who owned kitchens. At the start of his working life, he found himself in various restaurant kitchens. In fact, before opening The Loft Café he worked at a local sub shop. Zach then realized he wanted something of his own. “Why do it for someone else when you can do it for yourself,” says Zach.
Doing it for himself hasn’t always been easy. One of the biggest challenges for Zach was being so young and not having a credit history. At 20 years old, it was hard for him to get loans. Another challenge was figuring out all of the “legal stuff” that comes with running a restaurant. “I was slightly ignorant to certain laws and it was a struggle learning how to do taxes and which forms I needed. I made lots of mistakes and I paid for them,” says Zach. He admits his business partner handles the financial side of things for him, which allows him to do what he does best – serve up great food, great customer service and a great atmosphere for his employees.
Zach, who has four employees, is proud that he sees very low staff turnover. Most employees stay there for years. Brittany Safranek is the head server and has been with Zach since day one. The two went to South Effingham County High School together and have been best friends for years. “Zach is a good person and a sweet man. He’s caring and he puts good into the world,” says Brittany. “That’s what you want in a boss.”
Brittany also likes the fact that Zach values input from his employees. From creating new menu items to suggesting a complete remodel, which happened in July 2018, Zach takes what his employees say to heart. “They have the most interaction with customers and their feedback is very important in continuing our success,” says Zach.
Another quality that Zach processes is his humility; he isn’t above any of his employees. He says he won’t make an employee do something he isn’t willing to do himself. “I’ve done everything, all the way down to cleaning the toilets. I’ve served, I’ve painted, I’ve done every role in this business,” says Zach.
It’s that mindset that has helped lead Zach to success. When asked about his other qualities that make him the kind of business owner he is, he says he likes seeing people happy. From his customers to his employees, happiness drives him. “I give my customers the service they deserve. They don’t eat out to get crappy food or service. We try to be different and really focus on the personal service side of things,” says Zach. He’s also been known to close the restaurant down for a week and take all of his employees on a well-deserved vacation.
Another quality Zach has is that he is forever creative and has big goals. He would love to open a second location one day and has even thought about creating a franchise. “It’s crazy to me, thinking back on this and knowing that I did make it. I have so much pride in seeing my creation work,” says Zach. While he admits he’s long overdue for a vacation, he wouldn’t trade it for the world.
When asked if he has any advice for others looking at owning a business one day, he doesn’t hesitate. “It takes hard work and dedication. If you work towards it, you’ll own it,” says Zach. “It’s not a walk in the park and some days are great and others are tough. As long as you’re hardworking and your mind is where it needs to be, you can do anything.”
The Loft Café is located at 135 Goshen Road in Rincon. It’s open from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. every day of the week except Sunday.
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