Today Sammy Jo’s is celebrating its five year anniversary in Winnsboro with special reduced pricing on its menu all day.
For the past five years Winnsboro has enjoyed Sammy Jo’s favorites like the chicken wings, and they have feasted on burgers and chicken sandwiches and cheese steaks added by Darryl Fenollol who purchased the business and relaunched it Aug. 21, 2007.
For Fenollol the restaurant business has been a labor of love and he is thankful for the community’s support in making it possible for him to realize his dream of owning his own place instead of continuing to work in chain restaurants like Cracker Barrel.
Fenollol finished University of Stonybrook in 1992 with a business management degree that emphasized aviation management.
He was unable to secure a position with Pan American or Eastern Airlines, so he drew upon his experience as a bar manager in night clubs while he attended college.
“As a 23-year-old running a popular bar and night club, life was pretty awesome. I thought I was living the dream,” he said. “I knew I wanted to be in the food and hospitality business but I lacked the culinary background and managerial experiences needed to open my own bar and grill.”
He applied at entry level positions with chain restaurants and over the past 20 years advanced to manage several different chain restaurants as well as small independents.
The combination of all those businesses’ eight to 12-week training programs along with on the job training made the New York native, Fenollol, confident he could strike out on his own.
“I found out I really enjoyed cooking and creating dishes but I think I preferred menu planning and managing the restaurant overall,” he said.
He traveled around the country and learned from some great chefs and kitchen managers and set a goal of having his own business by age 40. Fenollol achieved the goal by age 38.
He considered Camden, Lugoff/Elgin area, and some other small towns but at the time, Winnsboro looked the most appealing. He liked the lunch traffic, the local industry and the prime location across from a hospital.
Fenollol surrounded himself with a solid staff. He gave employees opportunities to learn on the job as he had received.
“I’ve always had a young staff and some would argue that was a problem but I felt like they were my kids and it was my job to get them ready for the next step in life. I often wonder; in ten years time will they look back and say” I get it now?”
He put his signature touches on the restaurant menu but left the name Sammy Jo’s because he bought the name along with the building and he wanted to keep the brand loyalty.
“The previous owners, Sam and Jo, had a nice following and I didn’t want to mess that up. I changed the appearance of the dining room and enhanced the original menu,” he said. “I kept the Sammy Jo’s favorites like the chicken wings, chef salad and chicken salad cold plate but I added burgers, chicken sandwiches and improved the flavor profile of the pizza and cheese steaks.”
Though he loved coming to work each day, Fenollol faced hard times as a new businessman trying to survive the economic downturn. Though he persevered, he acknowledges that struggle has made this a bittersweet anniversary for him.
“On the one hand I am proud of having been able to remain open for five years in an industry, where most experts would have predicted six months,” he said. “On the other hand due to the poor economy and slow recovery I will not be able to stay open for business too much longer.”
For the past year he has been struggling with declining sales and the rising cost of food, labor, utilities, and other day to day costs of running a business.
“I have watched local businesses start up and close down, unemployment lines get longer and longer, and more people using food stamps than ever before,” he said. “This recession has been my greatest challenge. It has taken a toll on me financially as well as spiritually. My greatest reward is the experience and the opportunity to have met and worked with so many great people.”
He wants to thank everybody who has shown support and loyalty in the best and worst of times.
“From employees to customers we would not have been here this long without you. It has been a wonderful experience for me here in Fairfield County; I take pride to have lasted this long. I definitely would do it all again. The operations part was running well but the economy was just too tough.”
In appreciation of his loyal customers, Sammy Jo’s is offering a $ 5 anniversary menu today.He said it is a day to celebrate five years of great memories and good times. He hopes to see lots of people stop by to dine in, order take out, and reminisce about the past five years.