Springfield, MO

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Opinion: Restaurateurs share 4 tips for sustained success

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Boasting more than 60 restaurants, downtown Springfield is home to a variety of management experiences, from fresh entrepreneurs to seasoned veterans. The shifting sands of the past two years don’t appear to be getting firmer any time soon with high inflation, a tight labor market and a forecasted economic slowdown on the horizon.

Two well-known local restaurateurs shared their thoughts on how they navigated their businesses through the past two years.

The Russo family has owned dining establishments in Springfield for 50 years. The last 19 have been with Jenny Russo at the helm for St. Michael’s Restaurant and Italian Catering. Andy Faucett owns both Bambino’s Cafe locations (the original just south of Grand Street on Delmar Street and at Battlefield Road and Lone Pine Avenue) and the Walnut Street Inn,  and he’s currently consulting with Harbell’s Grill & Sports Bar’s new owner, Marlin Blakeney.

Separate conversations with Russo and Faucett produced four main themes for restaurant management – especially during these turbulent times.

  1. Save money for a rainy day. Many locally owned small businesses struggle to get out of the gate in their first five years due to undercapitalization. A counter to that is closely monitoring expenses.

Russo noted their restaurants have benefited from family members pitching in – for instance, her three sons have worked when available.

“Since we are an authentic owner/operated family business without a management staff, our labor costs are manageable,” she said. “We have had a willingness to travel to resource the best pricing for product, and labor costs are reduced by an owner/operator-generated menu.”

Faucett echoed those thoughts by emphasizing the importance of saving money and accumulating assets to fall back on when a rainy day inevitably comes.

  1. Value your staff. At the same time, Faucett reinforced that people are the most important asset for any business. “Forcing staff to work off schedule, while sick or in an understaffed, stressful environment over time just isn’t worth it. It is OK to reduce your hours to accommodate staffing shortages,” he said. “Customers will ultimately understand. And you will better be able to serve your customers the hours you are operating.”

St. Michael’s evolved into a lunch only – 11 a.m.-3 p.m. – schedule when the COVID-19 stay-at-home order was lifted to protect the integrity of home life for their staff and family. They are now open in the evenings for private gatherings only.

  1. Develop new products. A strong social media presence for St. Michael’s during the early days of the pandemic resulted in an unexpected spike in its catering and cake sales – both in-house and wholesale. That revenue has more than exceeded the previous revenue from evenings and weekends.

According to Faucett, “Dine in, takeout, curbside, catering, third party, indoor dining and outdoor dining – at one point over the last two years our ability to utilize any or all these options helped maintain a consistent revenue stream.”

Listening to customers and being nimble to serve them is critical to meeting evolving needs.

  1. Build enduring relationships. Cultivating connections and friendships with customers is at the heart of success for these restaurateurs. The reality in their businesses, and any, is that customers can come and go.

“Never take customers for granted,” Faucett said. “Show your appreciation whenever possible. The bond you create when things are great can sustain you through the hard times.”

Russo offered a similar summation, “In the final analysis, customer loyalty has most contributed to our long-term success. Build sincere relationships, and rewards will remain.” 

By watching the bottom line to preserve a rainy-day fund, truly valuing staff by not burning them out, developing new products and methods of delivery, and ultimately building enduring relationships with customers, restaurant owners can learn valuable lessons from these tested and beloved industry icons.

Rusty Worley, executive director of Downtown Springfield Association, can be reached at


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