In the slim margins of the restaurant business, nothing tastes sweeter than a profit. For Spokane Valley resident and restaurateur Ben Horwath, profits were immediately possible because he opened both locations of Ben’s Yogurt and Deli on his own dime.
After opening the first eatery debt free in West Valley in July 2010, Horwath poured his profits into expansion plans, opening a second location on North Pines Road this June.
“They were both profiting from day one. I paid with cash and did the whole remodel myself,” he said, explaining that he’d saved money and bought equipment at discount for two years before he quit his day job at Kaiser Aluminum to open the first Ben’s Yogurt and Deli.
Horwath said he was raised to work hard, save his money and live within his means. “My parents and grandparents instilled saving with me. I had a vision of what I wanted to do,” he said, describing how he built cabinets and installed countertops himself to cut costs. “I’d work all day then come here till three in the morning. It was a labor of love. It’s cool to see the end result and have people come and enjoy it.”
With frozen yogurt and an affordable mix of sandwiches and salads made with fresh ingredients, Horwath said he offers a wide range of healthy fare to fit a variety of dietary needs. “This is real food. No processed anything,” he said. “It takes five to six minutes but it’s worth waiting for.”
The menu includes low-fat options that list Weight Watchers points and calories, as well as gluten-free meals. The Mediterranean Light Salad, for example, has 276 calories, 6 grams of fat and counts for 6 PointsPlus.
And for dessert or an evening treat, the self-serve yogurt rotates six flavors weekly with a choice of up to 40 toppings with one no-sugar-added choice and one nondairy sorbet.
While both delis offer limited delivery, Horwath wants to have a local hangout atmosphere. Both locations have free Wi-Fi, while customers at the Pines restaurant can listen to live music in the courtyard patio each Friday. Horwath’s hoping to infuse some life into the Valley’s entertainment scene and has booked local bands to perform through mid-September.
“I like to have local music that is age-appropriate. It’s kid friendly,” he said. “You don’t have to drive downtown to have old fashioned family fun. I want people to have a local choice, a neighborhood place where everyone is welcome. Come listen to music, have dinner and dessert.”
Horwath got his start in the business as a teen when he worked at Isaac’s frozen yogurt. When that establishment closed, the West Valley graduate wanted to replace it. “I had a clientele waiting for me. People who went to Isaac’s came back,” he said. “It’s a people place, where everybody knows each other.”
He said the deli on Pines has a similar vibe, with many customers coming by more than once a day. “I can’t say enough good things about the people of this neighborhood. It’s opened a whole new realm of customers.”
To reward repeat customers, Horwath implemented a text messaging loyalty program. Customers provide a cellphone number when ordering and receive discounts by text message, including a free yogurt after 10 visits.
After one month the program already has 800 customers registered. “We have a very loyal fan base,” said Horwath. “I’m very thankful. I wouldn’t have Ben’s without amazing customers and an amazing staff.”