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@Work: Bernie's Restaurant

Dec. 18, 2006 For as long as she could remember, Bernadine Gumbs always dreamed of being her own boss.
The dream became a reality in 1999, after years of working as a chef and managing Zekes, a restaurant inside the Beeston Hill fitness center. That year, she says, the gym owners gave her the opportunity to sublease the restaurant. She changed the name to Bernies Restaurant and then added new menu offerings, like her fresh-fruit smoothies and "frappachino," a coffee-flavored shake.
Before long, the restaurant had doubled its customer base because non-gym members, hearing of the vegetarian-style offerings, found their way to the restaurant.
Gumbs said that the business, which was an instant hit, prospered for five years. Alas, her worst fears came true in 2004 when she had to make a tough choice.
"The sublease arrangement didnt work out," says Gumbs, who explained that she was given the option to go back to managing the restaurant instead of owning it outright.
Her children and her growing list of customers encouraged her to move on and set up shop elsewhere. She opened Bernies in the Peters Rest Shopping Center in 2005.
"Thats the first lesson you learn in business — theres no turning back," she says of finally deciding to venture out on her own.
Gumbs says she sought help with the Small Business Administration, which assisted her with writing a business plan and securing a short-term small business loan.
"They were very helpful, encouraging and professional," she says.
Still, she says, even with all the encouragement, she was skeptical at first of making it on her own.
"I actually had second thoughts about opening up the restaurant in another location because I thought I would be struggling. But here I am doing much, much better," she says.
The restaurant at Peters Rest is much roomier than the Beeston hill location, and some people have sought it out for parties, says Gumbs, who also provides the meals. There also is a separate room for private lunch meetings that accommodates up to 10 people.
She employs two other people who help prepare the meals, but mostly shes taking orders and serving patrons in her restaurant, which serves breakfast and lunch with a healthy outlook everything is either boiled, broiled, roasted or grilled.
"We have nothing fried on the menu," she says proudly. "We use only chicken breasts in our dishes, which helps cut down on the fat."
For breakfast, the restaurant serves fresh fruits, Belgian waffles or choice of banana and apple pancakes, burritos, omelets, scrambled tofu or bagels with cream cheese.
Lunch features Greek salads with feta cheese, olive oil and artichokes, a Caesar salad with grilled chicken, and baked marinated tofu salad. Entrees run the gamut from eggplant parmesan with homemade tomato sauce to roasted chicken with stuffed mushrooms and even lentil loaf — a blend of lentil beans baked with vegetables, oats and seasoned browned rice as only Gumbs could make.
She also makes four kinds of lasagna — turkey, spinach, black bean and vegetable — and offers a kids' menu that includes a spaghetti bowl or grilled cheese sandwiches.
Menu variety aside, Gumbs is perhaps best known more for delicious homemade drinks — ginger beer, passion fruit, lemonade and fruit punch — and especially her smoothies.
"People come in here and say they were recommended by someone else who had a smoothie," Gumbs says. Flavors include strawberry, banana and mango (when in season) and protein can be added at the customers request.
Gumbs, who regularly puts in 14-to-20-hour work days, says she learned a second lesson going into business and that is "you have to work hard and make your business work for you."
"Vacation is out for the time being," she says.
The restaurant is opened from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday thru Friday; and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. To reach the restaurant, call 713-8390.
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