Cafe Owner Gets Out from Under a High-Interest Loan with Our Affordable + Responsible Financing

Success Story
July 23, 2019

When you first stroll into Young Hickory café in downtown San Diego’s East Village, your eyes are immediately drawn to a giant mint-green and black mural that spans the entire side wall. It looks like something a famous abstract painter might have done. But on closer inspection (and after some coaching from café owner Clay Summers), the brush strokes evolve into words that jump off the white plaster canvas: “Stay Buzzed.”

They’re light-hearted words of encouragement from Summers who offers his customers two distinct and opposite ways to achieve the desired mood enhancement – fresh coffee and craft beer. Which ever you choose at a given time of day, this small business entrepreneur invites you to embrace his motto – “Let’s Hang Out.”

low-interest business financing for cafe to expandSix years ago, Summers was doing some serious hanging out of his own, working remotely as a self-employed graphic designer, spending lots of time in coffee shops with his laptop close at hand. He yearned for an alternative vocation and was moved to create a casual environment conducive to working, studying and spending time with friends.

Chasing a Creative Concept and Vision

“I wanted to create a comfortable environment, without the distraction of TVs, where people could connect from early in the morning through the evening,” said Summers, who first opened the doors of Young Hickory in North Park in 2013.

Young Hickory? What kind of name is that for a coffee and beer café?

“I wanted a name that was broader than the main beverages I planned to serve. The first café is at the corner of 30th and Polk Ave. I thought of President Polk (1845-1849). His nickname was young hickory. The name stuck.”

Now that’s some out-of-the-box, creative thinking.

In 2018, Summers got the itch to expand his “let’s hang out” way of connecting to a second location. He found his ideal space on the street level of a large apartment complex in downtown San Diego. Initially, he used credit cards and a small loan to start constructing his new café and buy equipment. But the build-out soon demanded more financial resources than he had.

“I had put everything I had into this project and felt like it might never come to fruition,” Summers admitted.

Related: Woman Entrepreneur Leverages San Diego Loan Program to Grow Business

Getting Out from Under Double-Digit Debt with low-interest business financing

Then at the recommendation of a business acquaintance, Summers got in touch with CDC Small Business Finance, a nonprofit lender with special access to low-interest business financing.*  CDC loan officer Nick Miluso helped the young entrepreneur consolidate his double-digit-rate debt and additional working capital into one $171,000 loan at 5 percent interest, which provided some financial breathing room.

“I went from panic to ‘whew!’,” said Summers. “I couldn’t have finished the project without CDC’s help. It was a huge relief…a life-saver really.”

Coffee shop owner gets low-interest business financing

Young Hickory-East Village recently celebrated its one-year anniversary and Summers is now able to devote more time to serving his growing number of customers with a variety of food and beverage fare, including panini sandwiches, salads, pastries and, of course, java and suds. To enhance Young Hickory’s point of difference, he’s partnered with several well-known local brands, including Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, The Homebrewer and Bread & Cie bakery. He features 20 craft beers, carefully selected for their colorful, creatively designed cans.

Raising the Bar in an Improving Neighborhood

Thriving on the eastern edge of the lesser developed downtown area, Summers feels he is in the right spot at the right time, contributing to the gentrification of his up-and-coming neighborhood. He’s pleased he’s been able to create 10 jobs through Young Hickory and he’s proud of his involvement in local fundraisers that are helping change the face of East Village for residents and tourists alike.

Through all the ups and downs of opening a second café, Summers has gleaned a few lessons that could smooth the path for other people thinking about taking the entrepreneurial leap.

“Be ready for things to cost more than you think and take longer than you hope,” he advised. “Whatever your small business idea is, bounce it off friends and then balance the feedback you get, both positive and not so positive.”

And it goes without saying – stay buzzed and keep hanging out.

Related: North Park Revival Fueled By Affordable Capital For Small Businesses


CDC Small Business Finance is proud to partner with the city of San Diego in improving access to capital for entrepreneurs. We are grateful the city has created this program that aligns with our mission and helps us deliver low-cost business loans to areas that need it most.

Wondering if you qualify for the San Diego Small Business Collaborative Loan? You’ll need a business license, company financials, or for a startup a strong business plan. And your business needs to be located in City Heights, Logan Heights, San Ysidro or a Diamond District. Reach out to our Senior Business Advisor Ray Hivoral to learn more. CDC Small Business Finance also offers free business advising through this program, particularly if you’re looking to start a business.

*This Program is funded in whole or in part with Community Development Block Grant program funds provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to the City of San Diego.

Related: How we’re getting more affordable business capital to underinvested San Diego areas and why that matters

Thinking about starting, expanding or buying a small business? Does any of Clay Summers’ story ring familiar with anything in your entrepreneurial journey? Talk to one of our loan officers who can explain all your option in minutes and find financing match for you and your business. Let’s talk! Reach us at or (619) 243-8667. You can also apply online.

In case you missed it:
LoanTipSixty: Understanding Down Payments for a Small Business Loan
Does Your Small Business Idea Have Legs?
What Are Interest Rates For Affordable Small Business Loans?
How to Build Wealth as a Small Business Owner
8 Things to Consider Before Signing a Commercial Lease


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