Small Business Advice from Founder, Lisa Raskaup of Habit Doughnuts

Habit Doughnut Dispensary is taking a new approach to feeding Denverite sweet tooths! Founder and CEO, Lisa Raskaup, shares her entrepreneurial journey, tidbits of advice, and the funding that's helped her expand to five storefronts since 2014...

How did you come up with the idea to start your business?

Initially, I wanted to bring Habit Doughnut Dispensary to Denver; it was inspired by both premium, singularly focused doughnut bakeries (which Denver did not have) and fantastic urban bodegas in big cities.  I was also inspired by this idea of riffing on Colorado legalizing marijuana back in 2014.  The idea of pimping sugar highs through a hip-hop vernacular was really amusing, fresh and badly behaved. 

What makes your business model unique?

When I was writing the business plan, it became obvious to me that most doughnut bakeries do not make money.  So I decided we would co-brand Habit with an all-day café and bar, Carbon.  This was my strategy for creating three equal day parts for revenue generation.  It also seemed like we would be able to build out our two brands’ spaces with shared infrastructure and that could save upfront money.

What or who has been your greatest inspiration from a business owner's perspective?

I have had the good fortune of learning a lot about owning a business from three really strong people. My father Vilis Berzins, a restaurant designer and Colorado Restaurant Hall of Fame member, taught me how to be self-employed and how to express good design in spaces. My brother, Mark Berzins, owner of the Little Pub Company, taught me how to scale a startup. And, my husband, Ed Cerkovnik, president of Breckenridge-Wynkoop, taught me how to be a fair, and sometimes tough, leader.  

Did you face any roadblocks when starting your business and how did you overcome them?

Wow there were so many!  I think the greatest learning for me came from the challenges of raising capital, negotiating leases and working with landlords in a developer’s market while being the sole decision maker on construction projects. These three aspects still remain intertwined in the context of starting and running a business. We like to go into old buildings full of character, which also comes with many challenge and is a leap of faith into the unknown; you hope your investors, lenders and landlord are all advocates for your success.

How does your business support the community?

We are lucky to now have five locations for our three concepts (Habit Doughnut Dispensary, Carbon Café & Bar and Dead Battery Club).  We donate thousands of doughnuts each year for a myriad of community-based organizations and events.  Both Carbons are enclaves within their respective micro-neighborhoods.  Our mission statement at Carbon is ‘A place where everyone can be in their element and be nourished’.  This open-arms approach has allowed us to really become hubs of our neighborhoods.  Carbon hosts countless meetings, open mic nights, features up and coming artists and musicians, supports CBD startups and donates to the homeless.  Dead Battery Club is located inside the WeWork building in LoHi and was created to be an amenity for the thousands of co-working, startups and individuals living and working along historic Platte street. It also pays tribute to Denver’s past, something I strongly believe in as a native.

How has the loan from Colorado Lending Source helped start or grow your business?

Colorado Lending Source and the Small Business Administration loan we received made our Habit Carbon Five Points location possible. Although we believed strongly that the Arapahoe Square/Five Points neighborhood is destined for greatness through the revitalization efforts of the City and developers, many traditional lenders and investors were hesitant to participate.  It is also much more difficult to get funding as a female entrepreneur.  We are one of several businesses in the area that were given SBA loans that made our dreams of expansion possible. 

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

When I decided that I wanted to start Habit Carbon Hospitality Collective in 2014, an advisor said to me, “Lisa, how much of your time are you planning to devote to HCHC?”  Because I was successfully consulting for quite a few restaurant groups and other businesses, I answered, “Oh at least 85-90% of my time.”  He said, “Wrong answer.  The only way this is going to work is if you devote 100% of your time, talent, and treasure to the company.” 

Four years later, I cannot overstate how correct he was in his admonition.  To put it in other words, starting a business is like being catapulted into an exciting, exhausting, exhilarating relationship with a new lover, a lover you created for yourself.  The best advice I could give is to be prepared mentally, emotionally, physically and financially to grow your dream.  It is going to be that HARD and that rewarding.  You will miss important family events and forego travel, exercise and self-care.   Keep an eye on your end game and the path to get there. It takes longer and so much more than you can imagine right now.  Ask lots of people for their advice and sit with it to decide if you can benefit from their experience.  Do not give up if you feel depleted or defeated.  You can do it.

With the help of Colorado Lending Source in partnership with Collegiate Peaks Bank, Lisa was able to use the funds for working capital and renovations, in addition to purchasing furniture, fixtures, and equipment. The impact on this loan has on the community goes well beyond the 35 jobs created and melt-in-your-mouth doughnuts; Habitat has created a space where people can congregate, collaborate and be part of a creative environment.