When Sandy and Angie D’Amato opened their restaurant in 1989, they were both veterans of the restaurant business – she as a manager and he as a chef. They understood what it took to hire and manage people and create and produce a delectable dining experience and they also knew enough about successful recipes to realize when an ingredient is missing. Learning how to run a business is what lead them to SCORE.

He had returned to Milwaukee in 1980 and was working at John Byron when his father decided to retire and sell the building that for generations had housed the D’Amato family grocery business. It seemed like the perfect place to fulfill their dream of opening a restaurant, so Sandy and Angie sold their house and bought the building.

It was more than a year before they opened the doors of Sanford, which was to become one of Milwaukee’s most renowned eateries. During that time they searched for sources to guide them through the process of owning a restaurant business and found very little help available. Sandy and Angie knew they needed to learn best practices and gain insight from an expert. On Saturday nights, a number of industry people - restaurant owners and purveyors, gathered at a Milwaukee restaurant owned by a family friend so Sandy and Angie began to show up, too, hoping to soak up some knowledge. “We talked about our dream and everyone said we were too young,” Sandy remembers, but they were determined. Through this group they learned that newly retired restaurateur Joe Locicero had become a SCORE volunteer mentor, so they connected with him and, as they say, the rest is history.

Little “pocket money” remained after the building purchase so Sandy and Angie planned on applying for an SBA loan. Their SCORE mentor explained the need for a business plan and assisted them with the process and referred them to an accountant. They got the loan and, “From that point on, people recommended other people and we were off and running.”

That is what SCORE is all about; seasoned veterans from a wide range of business and industry, donating their time to offer expert advice – for FREE - to those who are smart enough to take advantage of it. Confidential mentoring, group workshops and valuable resources enhance the success rate of new businesses and contribute to their growth.

“It is a very eye-opening day when you become the owner,” said Sandy. “As an employee – even a great employee – when you have a question or problem you always have a resource. As the owner, all of a sudden there’s no one else to ask. Until you get into it, you don’t know what you don’t know. It makes all the difference to be able to access someone with deep knowledge who you can trust. Having a SCORE mentor really helped us.”

And what was the best advice the D’Amato’s received? According to Sandy, “Be the devil’s advocate. Stuff breaks. Things go wrong. You have to be somewhat pessimistic and consider what bad can happen. It takes an expert mentor offering you real insight to prepare you for that.” Sandy and Angie also believe that the owner “has to be the best employee in the place; never let down. Listen to your customers; welcome and learn from complaints.”

In fact, their mentors’ advice still guides the D’Amato’s today. They eventually opened an additional restaurant and artisanal bakery and after nearly 23 years of business success, sold them in 2012 to focus on enjoying “a lower key life,” which includes more writing and conducting intimate cooking classes. “What we learned then was great advice. It took us through those years in business and it is still in our heads,” Sandy said. “We are applying it to everything we are doing now.” They experienced first-hand the value caring mentors can provide and they are paying it forward as they offer the same insight to Justin Aprahamian and Sarah Mudrock, former Sanford’s employees who purchased and are now running the business.

Sandy’s first book, a combination memoir and cookbook titled Good Stock; Life on a Low Simmer, will be available in October 2013. Maybe the title of his next book should be To Win in Business It Helps To Know the SCORE.

 

How SCORE Helped: 

It was more than a year before they opened the doors of Sanford, which was to become one of Milwaukee’s most renowned eateries. During that time they searched for sources to guide them through the process of owning a restaurant business and found very little help available. Sandy and Angie knew they needed to learn best practices and gain insight from an expert. On Saturday nights, a number of industry people - restaurant owners and purveyors, gathered at a Milwaukee restaurant owned by a family friend so Sandy and Angie began to show up, too, hoping to soak up some knowledge. “We talked about our dream and everyone said we were too young,” Sandy remembers, but they were determined. Through this group they learned that newly retired restaurateur Joe Locicero had become a SCORE volunteer mentor, so they connected with him and, as they say, the rest is history.

Sanford Restaurant