PEKIN — Being the owner of a new restaurant is apparently a job that calls for lengthy work days.
Sangalli’s Italian Steakhouse in Pekin has been in business only six months and owner Dave Sangalli is currently working 16-hour days in an effort to help his new venture succeed.
Sangalli’s day typically begins between 6:30 and 7 a.m., when he logs onto his home computer, reviews the previous day’s orders and receipts, and double-checks them against the restaurant’s point-of-sale system. After spending about two hours poring over the past day’s business, he heads to the restaurant to prepare for the next, arriving between 8:30 and 9 a.m.
“I’m a little bit different,” said Sangalli. “I’m a lot more hands-on because this is still a new restaurant, so I’m here a lot more than people who are more established might be.”
Although Sangalli’s management style is, for the time being, hands-on, his staff seem to find his approach helpful rather than intrusive.
“I’ve worked for a lot of people in 30 years in food service, and Dave’s my favorite boss,” said Sangalli’s server Kimberly Ozella. “He works with us and he cares about his employees. He wants to learn, and he’s willing to ask for advice from his staff. We’re all like family here. I think all the employees here genuinely love working here.”
Sangalli’s first order of business is generally a perusal of the day’s reservation book to gauge how busy lunchtime will be and make sure tables, servers, and the kitchen are prepared.
“I go into the kitchen to make sure the bread’s being made and our homemade soups are being made,” he said. “Then, I see what they need for the day. The chef, Rob Eaton, usually comes in around 10 and I talk with him. Everything we serve here is fresh, so we need to make sure we have enough fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, meat, and fish to carry us through the day.”
Having huddled with Eaton, Sangalli returns to the front of the restaurant and reads online reviews from Facebook, Yelp, MapQuest and Trip Advisor. He believes it is important to extensively study customer feedback because it alerts him to issues that may need addressed and provides suggestions for his consideration.
“We put up a poll on our Facebook page asking people what they would like to see on our menu,” said Sangalli. “Then, we took some of those ideas and served them as specials for the next week or two.”
Sangalli either responds to reviews and suggestions on the restaurant’s Facebook page personally or recruits his daughter, Megan Kober.
“Sometimes I’m too close to the question or the issue and I might not give a good response,” he said. “So, she and I will talk over a Facebook post, and she will usually write it. She’s a better writer than I am. She and her husband, D.J., take care of responding to a lot of the customers.”
Throughout the morning, vendors and salespeople come into the restaurant, and Sangalli must discuss fees and services and arrange for and accept deliveries. The telephone tends to ring throughout the morning with calls from more vendors and salespeople, or prospective customers wanting to make reservations. At lunchtime, he takes up a station where he will be able to perform final quality assurance checks on dishes leaving the kitchen.
“I take a look at it to make sure it’s all prepared the way it says on the ticket,” Sangalli said. “I make sure all the food looks good and just give it one last double-check before it leaves the kitchen.”
After lunch, more vendors and more salespeople arrive. Sangalli orders supplies and shops for fresh ingredients. Before dinner begins, he meets again with Eaton to discuss evening specials.
“Rob and I meet twice or three times a day to discuss different things we need to do to improve sales and make our customers happier,” he said.
Sangalli also checks dinner reservations during the interval between meals, ensures tables are set up. When dinner begins, he returns to his quality control station. If the restaurant is busy, he will deliver an order to its designated table. He likes to mingle with patrons during dinner service to ask if they enjoyed their meal and whether they are or intend to become repeat customers.
“Our main goal is to make everyone’s dining experience the best we can make it,” said Sangalli. “So, I try to be a hands-on supervisor and help out wherever I can.”
Sangalli’s work day typically ends with the closure of the restaurant at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Before leaving the building, he makes sure all doors are locked and leaves the premises at about 11 p.m.
“After the last customer leaves, I might relax by sitting in the bar area and having a beer or two,” Sangalli said. “It’s just a little bit of down time at the end of a long day. I’m hoping the work days will get shorter once the restaurant becomes more established. I want to get to the point that I can take a day or two off a week, or at least take part of each day to take care of things at home.”