In addition to bars, coffee shops and restaurants, Budget Branders has made products for hotels, fitness clubs and law firms. Courtesy Ramsey Gilbertsen
The founders of a local fry stand have moved into a new line of work, thanks to demand from fellow entrepreneurs for the personalized to-go ware they had created for their business.
Ramsey Gilbertsen and his wife Jamie Gilbertsen — graduates of Grand Valley State University who studied finance/economics and advertising, respectively — in 2014 opened a french fries and chicken wings stand and small-scale catering business called Fry Nation in the RiverTown Crossings mall in Grandville.
“We graduated in 2009 and, as part of the poor economy at the time, we were forced to go down to Florida … because it was the only place that offered us good jobs out of college,” Ramsey Gilbertsen said.
“So, we were working down there for a couple of years, and it had always been my dream to start a business of some sort. I didn’t necessarily know what kind of business it would be, but we were always looking for an opportunity. And then around 2013, we got this idea for Fry Nation and used it as an excuse to move back to the Grand Rapids area.”
The Business Journal previously reported the Gilbertsens sold the fry stand to Sam Perez in April.
“Fry Nation was a great business, and we had a lot of fun with it, but we had owned it for five years, and we like to do different things,” Gilbertsen said.
Not long after opening the stand, Ramsey Gilbertsen started making custom-branded fry cones — a cardboard and paper triangle glued together with the Fry Nation logo on it — because they could not find anyone to do it for them.
Other business owners took notice.
“Right after I started supplying our french fry cones for Fry Nation, (I) started offering that service to other people,” Gilbertsen said. “There was always a lot of interest there, and I just wanted to explore that. I didn’t want to leave that as a ‘what if.’”
After offering the custom branding services for disposable cups, napkins, paper bags, food trays and coffee sleeves for a couple of years, the Gilbertsens incorporated the business as Budget Branders in November.
Within five months, they had enough demand to go all in with the business, designing and selling custom-printed to-go ware all over the U.S. and, in some cases, overseas.
For now, it’s a lean operation, with the couple doing all the product design work from their home in Hudsonville. They use a mix of U.S. and international manufacturing suppliers, depending on the project.
Pricing varies by product, and items can be purchased per unit or per case. Many customers opt for the latter, and Gilbertsen said he has noticed a pretty consistent minimum order of 10,000 units, which, depending on the business, could last a client up to six months.
“They have all said that they’re going to reorder with us,” he said. “They've all been happy so far.”
Gilbertsen said he has been surprised by the range of industries Budget Branders has supplied. He mostly expected to serve bars, coffee shops and restaurants but has also seen demand from hotels, fitness clubs, law firms and other corporate clients.
Looking to the future, Budget Branders is gearing up to add compostable branded products to its lineup following growing demand for sustainable to-go ware.
“It’s been a struggle to find a good supplier for that for those materials, (but) we just made a connection with someone that looks like they’re going to be able to help us out with those projects,” Gilbertsen said.
The couple also has been asked by a chain of convenience stores to supply it with custom-branded breakfast sandwich sleeves, and they are working to find a supplier that can make that happen.
Whether they can open their own facility one day will depend on “the path the company takes,” Gilbertsen said.
“You can chart your own path as much as you want, but it’s the customers that decide where you end up,” he said.
“With the compostable and biodegradable products, we weren’t pushing those very actively, but we just got so many requests. That’s what we’re here to do is to make the customers happy.
“Eventually, we want to offer anything that a restaurant or bar or gym or anybody else would want to put their logo on.”