Small Business Spotlight: Meet Guenievre Milliner of Little Gourmand
“My name is Guenievre Milliner and I co-own Little Gourmand with my husband, Eric Summer. We are French and both of our families are from Brittany, where we met. We have been married almost 33 years (been together for 43 years!) and share three amazing children, a son, Robin, 32, and two daughters, Beverly, 30, and Tennessee, 17. Add two rescue dogs, Lafayette and Betty, and you have the whole family portrait. We live in Oak Hill, not far from Radnor Lake, and our youngest is a Senior at Hillsboro High School.
My background is in marketing- I worked over 15 years for Warner Bros. in France, and absolutely loved it. Eric is a writer, screenwriter, and director. He directed hundreds of hours of TV series in France, wrote several comic books, and if you have kids, you might have seen or heard about “Leap”, the animated movie he wrote and directed.
Working full-time jobs and raising a family in Paris can be quite stressful, so we decided to move to Montreal, Canada in 2001. We spent 13 wonderful years in Canada- our two older children still live in Montreal and our youngest was born there- until we decided we were ready for a new challenge. Eric came to me one morning with the idea of moving to Nashville. He knew it was a dream of mine to open my own business, and that it had to be something relating to food. We fell in love with Nashville the first time we came, in March 2005, and the city had been on our radar ever since.
The move and launching of Little Gourmand was quite a challenge, however, since we are not Americans and did not have a corporate company helping us secure a Visa. It took us two years to build a solid business plan, secure a location, start the store construction, find all the needed suppliers, and get our first Visas approved. We landed in Nashville in October 2012, and opened Little Gourmand on November 16, 2014.
Success doesn’t happen overnight, and the first few years were very challenging. I opened our Green Hills store without knowing one single soul in Nashville. We had no friends and no family around to help. I remember spending long hours in the store, waiting for customers. Instagram was barely a thing at the time, and you couldn’t rely on social media to build the hype like you do now. It was mainly advertising in local newspapers, distributing flyers in the neighborhood and local stores, and relying on word of mouth.
If I have to speak the truth, I wouldn’t do it again! But I am happy we did, of course, and survived the challenges in our first years. I am forever grateful to our first customers from 2014, some of whom have become friends, and who are still shopping with us almost 10 years later. You know who you are…
Long story short, word of mouth did happen and we started seeing more and more customers walk through our doors. It didn’t take long until they started asking for more… We added a few tables and bought a coffee machine.. I did private cooking for some clients, then met with Java Hemmat from Hummus Chick at a Farmer’s Market and she introduced me to Mesa Komal, the commissary kitchen at Conexion Americas. I started going to the kitchen every day in the early morning to prepare our first baguette sandwiches, then a few months later to bake croissants on Saturdays. I remember baking a dozen the first time and giving leftovers around at the end of the day because we had not sold many. And then we met with Denis Savouray, a super talented French baker and pastry chef, who had just moved to Nashville. A friendship was born, and with Denis on board, we knew we could take the next step: opening our own patisserie. Something I had never thought about when writing my business plan back in 2012.
By this time, Nashville had started to really grow (and rents increased!) so it took us another two years to find the perfect location, on Craighead Street. Close enough to Green Hills for our daily deliveries, with a pre-existing kitchen (because our visa didn’t allow us to secure a business loan and splurge on construction), with ample parking spaces, and in a growing neighborhood. I visited the space and knew it checked all my requirements. We signed the lease, ordered, and paid for all the equipment right before Covid hit.
We were able to make it through Covid by offering weekly family meals. We visited a different region of France each week with our meals, and the customer support was overwhelming. We wouldn’t have made it through without them ordering meals week after week. I will never forget it. I am so grateful. I spent my Sundays preparing the menu and weekly email, I ran errands on Mondays, and spent the rest of the week cooking, while Denis was baking and Eric made deliveries all over town every single day. We made it through and were finally able to open the pastry shop on June 16, 2020.
It has been 3.5 years now, and we have grown tremendously. That being said, we are still a small business. The world has changed a lot since Covid. Staffing had become a major issue, prices have increased on freight, costs have gone through the roof for imported products like ours. We want to stay small. We want to give our customers the same experience they have had for the last 10 years. We want to deliver the same quality, every day, all year round.
Running a small business in 2023 is both exciting and rewarding, but not for the faint of heart. All through the day, I am a buyer (my favorite job is personally selecting every item for our Green Hills store), a cook, kitchen manager, human resources manager (and therapist sometimes!), marketing manager, bookkeeper, and a boss who has to make 100 decisions a day. I am also a mom and a wife. Not to forget that we must also renew our Visas regularly at a high cost, and show proof that our business is growing and we are creating jobs for Americans. This is who we are, and this is what we do. We love being part of this community. We love selecting products that bring joy to your home, we love cooking and baking for you. Thank you for being part of our small business adventure!”
Step into Little Gourmand and be transported to a French market and patisserie. Visit Little Gourmand at their Market and Café location in Green Hills, or indulge in their Patisserie Française in Melrose. Find more information and location addresses at https://littlegourmand.us/.