Veteran Feature: Paul Provost

Written by: Brady Drake

Hillsboro Cafe
Years of Service: 12
Branch: United States Marine Corps

What is your story?

I was born in Arizona and lived there for 25 years. I’ve also lived in California for 2 years, Georgia for a year, North Dakota for 3 years and currently live in Minnesota.

I joined the Marine Corps on January 25, 2010, and completed my contract on August 2, 2022, after dropping to the Individual Ready Reserve in October of 2021 to focus on family. Eventually, I hope to return and finish out another eight years once my kids grow a little older and the Cafe can be more self-sustaining.

What does your business do?

We provide quality food and a great atmosphere where the community can gather.

What was your first job once you finished your service?

I worked in retail, offloading trucks for a Kohl’s department store.

What led you to military service?

I was working 3 jobs, attending a community college and running track and field in 2009. After Track practice one day, realized I wanted to join like my best friend since kindergarten did in the Marine Corps. The military was something that had always thought about doing, but I felt like I wanted more of a challenge and to do something to better myself that would have an impact on others at the same time.

Did you take advantage of military benefits when starting your business?

During the time of starting our business, there wasn’t much in terms of military benefits. We of course took advantage of VBOC, and we looked into the Veteran’s Small Business Enhancement Act, but other than that, there weren’t any grants available.

What skill that you learned in your military service do you use most in your business career?

In my last billet, I was the Company Gunnery Sergeant and this helped me focus more on the overall operations, seeing the bigger picture and how to plan for it. I’ve been able to utilize that same mindset with the cafe and help plan for daily, weekly and monthly operations. It also helped in overcoming some of the obstacles that we have faced such as staffing shortages, food shortages and price increases due to inflation. Despite all of this, we have still managed to provide the community with quality food and service for almost the full year that we have owned the cafe. We are still facing some challenges, but are exploring various options that can mitigate these issues, such as: growing more of our own produce, portioning to cut back on waste, making more in-house items like hamburger buns and hash browns for a fraction of the cost it takes to purchase them. We have also started offering convenient services for our patrons like online ordering.

Would you have been able to start a business without your military experience? Why or why not?

It’s hard to say. In hindsight, I can confidently say that the Marine Corps has given me a vast amount of experience and knowledge on how to work under pressure and approach various scenarios, but who knows what other experiences and knowledge I would have acquired during those same 12 years had not been in the service.

What words of encouragement do you have for a fellow veteran nervous about taking the plunge into entrepreneurship — or maybe a veteran who started a business and is struggling?

“You are not alone.” These words have so many meanings, being a servicemember, but on the entrepreneurship side of things, there are many of us that have/are/or will be pursuing the same path that you are will be. Reach out to one another and get a different perspective. Maybe the thing you were nervous about someone else overcame with ease and can give you pointers. Maybe you’re struggling with how to track inventory and someone else found an easy-to-use tracking system that’ll help improve the accountability of inventory. Whether you’re just starting or have been in that field for 30+ years, it’s never too late to learn something new or gain a different perspective of how to do things. The only way we can do so is by helping one another out.

Many veterans struggle with finding a sense of purpose when reintegrating into the civilian world. How can getting involved in the business community help with that reintegration process?

I know this because I currently am struggling with this and find myself thinking about the Marine Corps every day. However, we joined the military to make a difference. Whether that difference was in yourself at home or abroad. Others are impacted by our decision to serve. This also goes for being in the business community. Whether you become a restauranteur, obtain a CDL, learn a trade or get involved with any other type of business, find the reason you are passionate about these fields and know that whatever goods or services that you provide you are making a difference in yourself and others. In the military, you are immersed into a brotherhood; getting involved in the business community enables you to also feel that sense of connection with others.

What are some things you would’ve done differently with your business career if given a second chance?

I thoroughly enjoy Lean Six Sigma and helping others learn how they can more effectively operate their businesses and eliminate waste and constraints within the workplace. Perhaps I would have started a consulting firm that would help those that are nervous about taking the plunge or those that are currently struggling to make it past where they are at in their business.
Instagram: thehillsborocafe
Twitter: @thehillsboro

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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.