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It’s midday, you’re texting friends, making plans for the evening. Then, someone asks the most vexing question of all time: “Where should we go to eat?” Sound familiar? Okay, let’s increase the degree of difficulty by adding some caveats: you want a “waistline friendly” dining option that won’t blow your budget; a place that’s high on ambiance yet low on attitude; and, finally, a menu that’s packed with options to appease even the finicky eater in your group. Impossible? Not if you’re lucky enough to live in Hartsville, SC.

Thanks to co-owners Catrina and John Houston Penny III, health conscious foodies in that neck of the woods are consumed with LighterSide, a new restaurant that’s the real deal when it comes to palette pleasing, nutritious dining. From the moment you cross its threshold, alluring aromas from the kitchen beckon. A server passes, carrying tantalizing entrees to nearby diners; you do a double take, the food looks delicious. You think to yourself: “This can’t possibly be healthy dining. I must have the wrong address.” Don’t worry, you’re at the right place. You’re at LighterSide, a restaurant that serves vintage dishes with a nutritious twist. Whatever you order, the clever chefs at LighterSide have reinvented recipes to reduce excess calories, fat, sugar and carbs.

LighterSide made its debut in October 2016 with a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by a crowd of discerning diners. To fully appreciate the hard work and tenacity it takes to open a new restaurant, click the “rewind” button and watch as the months and years slip by in reverse, transporting you back to October 2014 where this particular story–and Catrina Penny’s journey–begins.

Inspired by a vision, Penny contacted the Florence Area Small Business Development Center (SBDC) seeking guidance on how to open a restaurant; but not your average restaurant. The establishment she envisioned would feature healthy food choices reasonably priced, made from locally sourced produce and served by a zealous staff whose raison d’etre is ensuring every diner has a pleasant experience.

Catrina’s first imperative was creating a business plan. This is when Eddie Watson, a consultant with the Florence Area SBDC, entered the picture. Having worked as a senior manager in the private sector for more than 25 years, Eddie is adept at creating actionable business plans.

“I am grateful for the countless hours Eddie devoted to helping me enhance my business plan and, most notably, revise my loan applications,” Penny said. “Prior to his becoming involved every bank in Florence and the surrounding communities had denied my loan request. That’s a lot of rejection! It’s a good thing I’m a bit stubborn because I was planning to submit applications until I finally received an approval. If it took 100 attempts until I received a yes, so be it.” To sidestep this hurdle, Eddie and Catrina rolled-up their sleeves, reworked her proforma projections and modified her loan application. “I finally received my coveted yes from West Bank located in Raleigh, NC–nearly 200 miles from my home,” she added.

“Catrina is an excellent example for aspiring entrepreneurs,” said Watson. “There’s a quote from motivational speaker Alan Cohen that perfectly captures her unshakable spirit: The difference between the impossible and the possible lies simply in a person’s determination.” Catrina’s doggedness paid off; in addition to the West Bank loan, she received grants from both the City of Hartsville and the USDA totaling approximately $1.2 million in capital funding.

“The LighterSide is a restaurant whose time has come,” said Catrina. “If you want convenience without sacrificing your health, this restaurant is for you.”

So, the next time you’re confronted with the most dreaded question known to mankind: “Where should we go to eat?” You can respond with a resounding: “LighterSide restaurant. I hear the food is as good as it is good for you.”


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