The Cary Cafe

The Business

For Vicky Ismail, small business ownership has always been a way of life. Growing up, her parents owned a series of restaurants and bakeries, laying the groundwork for entrepreneurship later in life. Her husband, Abdul, also has a business background and after they were married, they wasted no time planning and creating small businesses of their own.

Their first endeavor included part-ownership of a successful mall food court business. Soon after, they sold their portion of the business to open a pizzeria in Florida. Then, after 13 great years, they sold the pizzeria to their employees and moved to North Carolina, where The Cary Café was founded in 1995.

Named after the Ismails’ hometown of Cary, North Carolina, The Cary Cafe specializes in fresh, creative breakfast and lunch options, which Vicky and Abdul decided better fit their lifestyle and new customer base. They were right, and for 18 years, the Cary Cafe thrived on great food and a friendly, family environment.

“The menu was limited but delicious and the real draw was the freshness and the family atmosphere,” Vicky said. “We knew our customers well. They even placed Christmas cards and pictures from their family vacations on the wall.”

Preparing The Business For Sale

In early 2013, Vicky and Abdul decided they had taken The Cary Cafe as far as it could go. They wanted to start the process of selling the cafe so they could focus on their second business, a catering, event and wedding venue in nearby Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina.

Vicky first spoke with local business brokers, but with their previous experience selling a business, she and Abdul decided to try selling on their own, a practice commonly referred to as for-sale by owner (FSBO). Their first step was to simply research tips on raising business value before a sale. Vicky’s readings included the “BizBuySell Guide to Selling Your Small Business,” which she said provided her an easy to follow, step-by-step process.

“I started to think about what I would want to see as a buyer and we invested about 80 hours over the next few months to prepare the business for sale,” Vicky said. “We made sure everything from the physical upkeep to the financial statements were perfect before we finally decided to list the business as for-sale.”

Selling the Business

After reading BizBuySell’s guide, Vicky and Abdul decided to list their business on to determine the level of interest it would generate among buyers.

“We had nothing to lose, so we decided to list it online without a lot of other marketing,” Vicky said. “I’m not very tech savvy, but we were able to easily take pictures and upload them. The price was great, so there was very little risk involved for us.”

Once their ad was listed on, Vicky and Abdul were excited to discover interest right out of the gate. Approximately six prospective buyers contacted them within the first two weeks and the couple began the process of qualifying each prospect. Vicky and Abdul spoke with the buyers, provided them a packet of information on the business (including a non-disclosure agreement) and discussed which buyers might be the right fit. Vicky admitted that while several prospective buyers had the money to buy the business, she also wanted to make sure the person was a fit and that the café would continue to prosper under new ownership.

From listing to sale, the entire process took Vicky and Abdul about three or four months. They enlisted the assistance of an attorney near the end of the process to review final contracts.

The Results

The Cary Cafe was officially sold in July 2013 to one of the interested buyers who reached out as a result of the posting. The deal included the cafe, recipes, equipment and the customer database. As part of the agreement, Vicky and Abdul agreed to provide three weeks of training during the transition process (which is generally the case with business transitions). They remain in touch with the new owner and continue to support the business as much as they can.

The lesson Vicky and Abdul learned through the entire sale process was that research and planning paid off, literally.

“I estimate we made another $40,000 to $50,000 on preparation alone,” Vicky said.

With that money, Vicky and Abdul are now focusing their efforts on their second business, Highgrove, which has experienced tremendous growth in the year since the sale. In the end though, Vicky and Abdul are just happy with the life experiences small business ownership has provided them.

“The draw of owning a small business is not only money. Doing what you love, with whom you love, and for people who appreciate what you do is reward in itself,” she said. “The fact that you can make a nice living and earn a financial boost at the end of that journey is just icing on the cake. No regrets.”