Laura Petty Kepley

SBA Business Development Officer
Wilmington, NC

With 14 years of sales and marketing experience in the banking and lending industries, Laura is an expert at helping small business owners find opportunities to fulfill their dreams of ownership. Her process involves developing a personal relationship with each client and going beyond the numbers to support their larger vision to grow their business.

Recent Small Business Success

Coronato Pizzeria Owner Finds the Recipe for Success+

When chef Teddy Diggs landed his first restaurant job during high school, it marked the beginning of his journey to becoming a small business owner.

Diggs had a love and appreciation for food even at a young age. After working in some of the top kitchens in Washington, D.C. and serving as executive chef at the well-known Il Palio restaurant in Chapel Hill, N.C., Diggs not only perfected his culinary skills but developed a full understanding of managing a successful restaurant.

He knew it was time to take the leap and open his very own restaurant—Coronato Pizza. Diggs’ decision led to a partnership with North Carolina-based SBA lender First Bank SBA, which helped him acquire the funding to realize his entrepreneurial dreams.

“My lender was patient in answering questions, explaining the process, and helping me determine the best way to move forward with financing the business,” he continued. “The SBA requirements are cumbersome, but First Bank simplified and streamlined the process to make it as efficient as possible.”

In August 2019, Diggs’ Carrboro, N.C.-based pizzeria opened its doors for the first time. Roman-style, cracker-crust pizzas highlight a menu that features an array of snacks, small plates, and desserts also influenced by the modern-day eats of the Eternal City.

“While I fully understand the restaurant business, this was my first time seeking an SBA loan,” Diggs said. “I am excited about taking my future, and family’s financial future, into my own hands. With my previous career experiences and industry knowledge, the sky is the limit for the potential growth of the company.”

Diggs was thrilled to open Coronato’s first location in Carrboro, a stone’s throw from his family’s home in Chapel Hill. Moving forward, he hopes to create a scalable pizza concept that moves quickly through the Triangle and potentially throughout the state of North Carolina.

“I value this community, love this state, and aim to create a high-quality restaurant group that raises the bar for the food and beverage industry,” he said. “With First Bank being a well-established financial institution founded in Southern Pines, this will hopefully be a successful long-term partnership between two North Carolina-based businesses.”

Coronato is located at 101 Two Hills Drive, #140, Carrboro, NC 27510, in South Green Shopping Center. The full-service Italian restaurant is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday and offers lunch only on Sundays. For more information, call 919.240.4804 or visit

Vortex Taps into Charlotte Market with Help from First Bank SBA+

vortex bottle shop interior

Just beyond the borders of Charlotte, NC, lies Vortex Bottle Shop, a growing oasis in which locals can get away from the hustle and bustle of business life — all while sampling some of the best beers, wine, and food from North Carolina and beyond.

With a tap line of 18 constantly rotating local North Carolina beers, an additional 250 offerings sourced from the world’s best breweries, more than 100 wines by the bottle, and daily wine pours, Vortex provides the region’s best selection to wine and beer aficionados.

The Vortex food menu — which includes small plates, paninis, exotic Sunday brunch specials, and more — is curated in house, and showcases the talents of Vortex’s executive chefs and their ability to hand-craft the perfect pairing (including gluten-free options) for any drink in the taproom.

vortex bottle shop

Since opening its doors in June, Vortex has seen an increasing number of guests to its Harrisburg, NC, location. The bottle shop’s “sip, shop, dine, and discover” mindset has proven quite popular, leading owner/operator Matt Widerman to begin expanding the Vortex menu, along with its wine and beer offerings.

vortex bottle shop

Widerman, who worked for more than a dozen years in the financial sector before setting out on his own, said Vortex’s early successes would not have been possible without the help of First Bank and the SBA.

“It can be difficult to acquire financing for a first business, and complying with the requirements of the loan is a full-time job in and of itself,” Widerman said. “The staff at First Bank helped immensely to navigate those issues.”

With each pint he pours and meal he plates, Widerman is reminded of how First Bank SBA helped him realize his dream of becoming a small business owner.

I’m truly thankful to First Bank SBA for helping to change the course of my life and allowing me to do what I truly love,” he said. “To have a passion and a knowledge of a craft that you can make into a hobby is one of the most rewarding things in life, but to be able to turn that hobby into a sustainable business is nothing less than a dream come true.”

Vortex Bottle Shop is located at 4469 School House Commons, Harrisburg, NC 28075. The kitchen, tap room, and retail center are all open seven days a week. For more info, email, call 980-258-0827, or visit

Monticello Coffee Company Bolsters Local Revitalizes District+

2 baristas in front of countertop

Annette Taylor used an SBA loan to transform an old abandoned building in the heart of Monticello, Arkansas, into a thriving craft coffee shop. The Monticello Coffee Company has given the city’s business district new life and has helped increase traffic at the surrounding businesses.

“The most exciting thing to me has been getting to know all the wonderful people in our community and seeing them every day when they come into our shop,” Taylor said. “This business has been my dream for many years, and SBA helped to make it come true.”

Monticello Coffee Company makes its syrups by hand and sources many of its other products locally. The SBA program not only gave Taylor the capital she needed to start her business, but allowed her to create jobs and support other businesses in her community.