Cherokee Office of Economic Development · Cherokee by Choice.

Coronavirus: Stories of How Entrepreneurs in Cherokee County, Georgia are Adapting, Part 8

March 22, 2020

Eric Velji is the founder of Forerunner Foods and Flux Ice Cream. | Forerunner Foods began exclusively to source local produce from small family-owned farms directly for chefs and has grown into a full-service restaurant supplier, specialty purveyor, importer of exotics, and coming soon the logistics behind a farm to table home produce subscription. | Flux Ice Cream is seasonal, local and chef-inspired ice cream and sorbet.
  1. How has the COVID-19 situation impacted your business recently?

The food industry is currently being decimated by this pandemic. A majority of our work is supplying restaurants, and because they are struggling, we are as well. Many of our customers are closing up shop to wait this out. Some may go out of business altogether. The ones open are scraping by. It is a hard-hit industry right now. We are lucky if we are operating at about 10% of our gross revenue now.

  1. How have you and your business adapted/ing to the situation?

We have had to pivot quickly to stay open. Since traditional dining is out, we have adapted and are continuing to adapt to generate revenue and support our customers to do the same. Our ice cream shop for Flux Ice Cream is not able to open at this time, so in a matter of 24 hours, we implemented a home delivery service. Additionally, some restaurants have shifted to a more grocery or market-based approach, and we have assisted along the way. We can source bulk produce goods that people need but may not want to have to navigate the big box grocery stores. We are now providing those items to restaurants for their guests to enjoy in the form of grocery baskets, market-style pickups, and prepared meals.

  1. How have you prepared and led your team/employees?

It changes day-to-day. These are uncharted waters. And although I want my employees to feel safe and confident in my leadership, I really don’t know the right approach any more than anyone else. Our team has been told to be flexible, expect changes often, and to be quick. We must adapt to survive.

  1. What new things/perspectives (or old ones reinforced) have you learned about yourself, your business, and/or your community?

Community is easy. I live around some of the most amazing, hard-working, selfless people you will ever find. The way they have supported me and my fellow small business owners is nothing short of life-changing. This, however, I have known for a long time.

I live around some of the most amazing, hard-working, selfless people you will ever find. The way they have supported me and my fellow small business owners is nothing short of life-changing.

For myself and my business, it has been newer revelations. I knew we were agile and lean, but I never thought we could strategically shift our operations this fast. Tough times show you who you are. If you are adaptive, you will adapt faster. If you are creative, you will create faster. If your business doesn’t work, it will fail faster. These times do not change who we are; they show you who you are faster.

These times do not change who we are; they show you who you are faster.

  1. How have you stayed focused and positive?

Work (creation), Family, and Faith. Those three get me through everything. That is nothing new. The way I rely on them has changed some, but the principle remains the same. My mind is always racing and always wandering. It is a blessing and a curse. In tough times, distraction is key. If I can throw myself into creating something new, physically staying busy, creating memorable times with my wife and kids or building my faith life in God, then I can survive any mentally taxing hardship that comes with these times.

  1. What are some encouraging thoughts or stories you have heard that have kept you grounded?

It is too early for us to know many of the inspiring, motivating, and thought-provoking stories to come out of COVID-19, so I reflect back often on stories that are near my heart. Most of them revolve around my father and how he came to be who he is. My dad immigrated to the US from Tanzania after high school. I don’t trace my American roots back many, many generations. I am a first-generation American because of my dad. And as cliché as it sounds, he is the stereotypical “American Dream” story. He came here with nothing, worked his ass off, and now has a lot to show for it. What is most amazing to me is my memory/perspective of it as a child. He never complained; he just did what needed to be done. He worked hard and a lot, but I don’t ever remember him not being around. Soccer games, school events, holidays; he was always there for us. Although for a while we did not have much growing up, I never knew. It wasn’t till I was an adult that I looked back at where we lived, how we lived, etc. and realized my life experience should have been way worse. I always had what I needed, and my dad worked hard to provide a great life for us.

My hope is that my kids are proud of me, my work ethic, my accomplishments. I want nothing more than to be the best role model I can be. It gets me out of bed. It helps me work late. Recently, with the global struggle we are facing, it is the only thing that pushes me forward.

  1. How can we as a community best support you during this tough time?

Forerunner Foods is a support system for a lot of community partners. During these times it is more important than ever to shop small, shop local. Getting food from a local area restaurant safely is far more valuable than buying from corporate-owned mega-chains. If you need a little pick me up, Flux Ice Cream will be offering home delivery in the area for as long as we can.

More important than buying from me though, is to take care of yourself and your fellow man. Make healthy choices, help those in need, be nice to people. We are all in a world of hurt, and we only survive with each other. Finally (and this one makes me quite the hypocrite right now, but it bears repeating), take care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup. If you need rest, take rest. If you need help, there are cities across the world filled with people who want nothing more than to give you a hand. Take care of your body. Take care of your mind. Take care of your soul.

Finally, take care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

To learn more about Eric Velji and Forerunner Foods or Flux Ice Cream, visit https://forerunnerfoods.com/ or https://fluxicecream.com/ online or follow them on social media.

Today marks a full week of daily stories. Stay tuned for future stories as we continue to shed a light on local entrepreneurs. We hope you are inspired by these stories and motivated to stay in the game to support them together.

Have ideas, questions or stories? Reach out to us at cherokeega.org or emailing us directly at info@cherokeega.org.