Clay Caldwell is classically trained and worked for decades at five-star restaurants in the NYC area. Several years ago, he was ready for a radical change. “I was honestly ready to have fun. The formality kept me from engaging with guests. I wanted to move away from that and build something different,” he says. “I wanted to be a part of a community.”
Clay and his wife, Tina, toured the country before deciding to make Loveland home. “We stopped here to visit friends and fell in love. Loveland is very aptly named. It’s a great city and we’ve found our home.” Clay threw nearly everything he’d learned aside and built Betta Gumbo from scratch.
“I wanted to build community around the table. I took the food from my family history and created recipes that people could connect over. I became infatuated with the idea of community and how to develop it. I built a team that could see my vision,” he says.
And that’s how this staple in Downtown Loveland came to be. Clay leads a highly successful business, has a great team, and is now quite the leader in the community.
“I just began filling the voids I could in the community and meeting people’s needs. I don’t care what your income, race, or political party is – if you have a need, I’m happiest if my team and I can fill it,” he says. Clay is known for his generosity, philanthropy, and dedication to those around him.
“I completely reshaped my business model where people come first – my staff, the community, our guests. It’s made all the difference. When people come first, the rest follows,” he says. This approach has paid off. Clay has a dedicated staff and many have committed their careers to work alongside him, building something amazing.
“We have good days and bad days, but we’ve never stopped trusting each other,” Clay says. “Our team is awesome and I trust them with everything I’ve got. Talk about trust – give the keys to your livelihood, your business to someone, and let them open it without you there. That’s how much I trust them.”
Clay has many long-time employees including Jessica Palmer, Sean Keefer, and Raven Rowl. They have all been with him for years and Clay feels exceptionally lucky to have found, “People with tremendous hearts and talents. They’re just awesome!” he says.
Jessica is a server, manager, trainer, and head of HR. “I’ve worked for clay for 10 years. He’s such an inspirational guy and he’s great to work for. He’s family. My husband fell off scaffolding at work one time, Clay showed up at the hospital without me telling him and asked what he could do to help. That’s the kind of guy – the kind of boss he is,” Jessica says.
In the restaurant industry, finding staff that will stay is a challenge but Betta Gumbo is anything but ordinary. Everyone has bought in and they’re all committed to their mission.
Sean has been with Clay for three years and is now a manager. “Clay has built something unique here. He allows the team to grow and develop, he leads with wisdom, and it’s a good environment. Our team is great. Everyone shows up every day to make it a special experience for our guests, that’s all Clay’s teaching,” he says.
“I am very relationship-oriented,” Clay adds. “I am always working to be better. We have a very collaborative environment, if someone has a different point of view, I’m willing to listen. I’m happy for them to help make this place better. And if I mess up – which I do – I’m always willing to apologize.”
It’s this very attitude that has made Betta Gumbo a sacred space. The moment you walk in the door, you feel at home. There’s something for everyone and the food speaks for itself.
Clay is an amazing leader who has made a tremendous difference in the lives of so many and he’s just getting started. He’s built the team and the menu to expand the business into multiple markets, but the thing that will always remain the same is his commitment to those who work for him and the communities they serve.
From serving hundreds of free Thanksgiving meals every year, to fighting for affordable housing for his staff, to supporting the business community, Clay is not afraid to stand up for what he believes in.
“Clay has never treated me as anything less than family,” Raven says, emotion catching in her throat. “Clay took me in when I really needed it. Clay stood by my side and never gave up on me. He’s always stood by me and I’ll always stand by him. He’s the kind of boss that makes you want to work hard for him because he works right alongside us.” Raven has worked for Betta Gumbo for four years and doesn’t see herself going anywhere else.
“I fight for my employees. I fight for my guests. I personally invest in their lives and cheer when they have victories. I cry alongside them when they have challenges. I care,” Clay says.
Clay and his team have seen such strong growth that they’re now opening a second location in Windsor this summer. “Windsor is a hub and its downtown area is fantastic. I know we can recreate this and it will be just as good. I can’t wait to build a community there, too,” Clay adds.