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In a good year, new owners of small businesses will open their doors knowing that the odds are against them. But during a recession, it takes more than faith to start or expand a business, according to area entrepreneurs.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 66 percent of new businesses will exist in the first two years of operation, but only 44 percent will be operating by their fourth anniversary. Several longtime Rapid City family operations shut their doors this summer after experiencing dwindling profits and fewer customers.

Yet, at least three small businesses in the Black Hills area have shown steady growth since starting last year.

Four years ago, Al and Justine Rodriguez opened Curry Masala, an Indian restaurant and grocery store, in Suite 7 at 2050 W. Main St. They served a niche market with a strong business plan and clear goals.

In November, they extended their lunches at their downtown restaurant to dinners on Fridays and Saturday evenings.

Success hasn’t come easy. Al Rodriguez has dedicated 16-hour days to the business. Justine Rodriguez, who works a 40-hours-a-week job as a counselor, works at the restaurant after her day job to help and to teach cooking classes once a month.

“We do home recipes here and we eat here every day,” Justine said. “We try to sit down and eat as a family each day.”

The exotic food is gluten-free and vegan friendly, catering to two groups of customers who normally would have difficulty finding something to eat in typical restaurants.

They say their secret to success is their cultural hospitality, their unique menu, affordable prices, generous portions and a quality product.

They also credit their employees’ dedication, work ethic and loyalty with a lot of the new business’ success.

“So far so good,” Al Rodriguez said.

Nancy and Daniel Evangelisto opened their new bed-and-breakfast facility, Summer Creek Inn, on July 18.

Coming from nearly 30 years in the building trade, they knew a lot about business. The Aberdeen natives moved back to South Dakota nearly four years ago, found a location, researched the bed-and-breakfast industry and built their nine-room facility.

Their research told them what was available in Rapid City -- but also what was missing.

They found their niche market.

“What was not available here was a place for family reunions and corporate retreats. We found a need for that sort of facility here,” Nancy Evangelisto said.

“We know there is a need here for this kind of facility,” she said.

The Evangelistos, who did all of the bookkeeping, cooking, laundering and housekeeping, had full bookings throughout the summer and fall. They recently hosted 130 visitors at a Christmas tour, part of their marketing strategy, which uses the Internet.

They get most of their bookings through their Web site.

She said their Christmas gave local people a chance to see the facility. “They were excited about the weekend getaways.”

Wheeler Farms Candy & Gifts began simply enough as a home candy-making project by Trina and Charlie Wheeler. For the holidays, over a series of days, the family would create enough candy to last.

But the candy was so good that it evolved and began taking over the Wheelers’ lives; and Trina said they soon needed a store because she was tired of people showing up at her house to shop for candy.

“After Charlie got over the initial heart palpitations, we decided to do it. We knew there was a recession hitting its peak, but we talked to business owners we really trusted,” Trina Wheeler said.

They worked on pricing, packaging, taste testing, asking for brutal responses to their research. It paved the way to success. Each month that the Wheelers have been in business, they have experienced a 15 percent increase in business. The family business is that.

“We’re married to the store. Every one of our kids works here and helps us. This is how we spend our family time together,” she said.

Contact Jomay Steen at 394-8418 or

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