Tucked into a quiet corner of the Harwood District, Magnolias: Sous le Pont was one of the first coffee shops I showed visiting friends after I moved here from California. Its cozy décor and seasonal lattes (at that time my favorite pick was a Cheerio Latte) make it a great place for a quick chat or meeting. The latter portion of its name, sous le pont, means “under the bridge” in French, describing its locale under Harwood’s bridge 2727, just north of the Rolex building.
On this day, I opt for a creamy flat white for my meeting with Sam Romano, son of renowned restaurateur Phil Romano, the man behind Oak Lawn market Eatzi’s, chain concepts Fudruckers and Macaroni Grill, and Uptown Steakhouse Nick & Sam’s. The 25-year-old took over management of Nick & Sam’s earlier this year. Over a black coffee (his “go-to in the morning”), he shares his perspectives on his famous father, his goals for the restaurant, and more.
D CEO: What are some of your favorite memories of your dad, and what did you learn from him?
Romano: “I’m born and raised in Dallas. I grew up in the business with my dad and saw him open a lot of different restaurants. I was 3 years old when Nick & Sam’s opened, so I really feel like I grew up in that restaurant. It holds a special place in my heart. Growing up with my dad was interesting. He’s very strong willed. If he wants something, that’s how it’s going to be. I think that I’ve sort of learned that but taken my own style from it. For me, learning from him, but also learning from younger people, has been valuable. My dad has taught me a lot. He always told me whatever I do, to try to be the best at it. I feel very grateful to learn from him, and I consider him the best at what he does.
“He put me at Nick & Sam’s when I was 7 years old. When I was 7 to 10, I was at the front door, seating tables. I was giving people menus, putting a napkin on their lap, and accepting a couple dollar tips. I remember working with a guy named Chas Martin. He was the guy who would say ‘Hey Sam, go seat them at that table.’ There’s been a lot of people at Nick & Sam’s who have come and gone, and I feel like I’ve been around and learned from them. For example, Nick Badovinus used to be a chef. I feel like you learn from and take things from people like that around town. I love going to everybody’s restaurants around Dallas. I think it’s a really good restaurant scene.
“I think we’re the next Chicago or the next New York. You see all these restaurants coming here. I’d like to think [Nick & Sam’s] is a staple of Dallas. We’ve always had conversations about maybe expanding the restaurant to another city, and maybe that will happen in the future, but for now, we want to be as best as we can in Dallas.”
D CEO: What are some ideas you have for the restaurant?
Romano: “Samir [Dhurandhar], our founding chef, will always come up with something in the kitchen. He’s a magician. It’s pretty amazing. He will be like, ‘Hey, Sam, I’m thinking about doing this,’ and show me a picture of a dessert in Dubai that we’re going to bring in to Nick & Sam’s. He’s a culinary genius. I would take him over anybody in the country, as far as chefs go. He’s on top of everything: He’s with the new trends. We’re lucky to have him.
“I think our service is great. I’m a little bit of a perfectionist, so I think it can always be better. If we ever think that we’re good enough, then we’re not going to end up being good enough. So, pushing each other and saying, ‘Alright, if a guest is having a long wait, if the guest didn’t have a good time, let’s find out why, and let’s make sure it doesn’t happen again.’ It’s just holding ourselves accountable. But I think we do a great job with our leadership team.”
D CEO: Who have been some of your other mentors?
Romano: “I’m lucky enough to have gotten into Young Presidents’ Organization. I have two sponsors: John Steinmetz and John Paul Merritt. I’m lucky to be in that network and learn from them, because learning from my dad, an 83-year-old man, is different than learning from 40-year-old businessmen. For me, to have those two different generations to learn from is really special. Surrounding yourself with the right people will help you on the right path. It’s a learning process. We’ve also done some cool investments, and I’ve learned a lot from them. So that has been fun, too.”
D CEO: What are some of those investments?
Romano: “We have a company called SP Romano Ventures. It’s what we invest through now, ever since I’ve come into Romano Enterprises. Of our investments, my favorite is a company in California, where we just got a license from the federal government to grow and research hemp for PTSD for veterans and first responders. Seeing something like that, I think, ‘OK, this is a new, cutting-edge thing people are getting into. How can we really make it effective for people who need it?’
“I’m invested in Delta Ag as well. I learned so much to just from [Merritt] and investing. That’s the cool thing: You invest in a company, and then try to learn everything about the industry, because you’re in it. You have to.
“Our investments with SP Romano are new cutting-edge things. They’re smaller investments and early-stage stuff.
“My dad and his partners have a fund called Scientific Health Development, which invests in medical devices. I’ve sort of dipped my toe in. I’ll help raise money a little bit. My dad invested in the heart stent and the gastric bypass surgery early on. … Learning from SHD helps me with SP Romano, because with SP Romano, it’s so early. I could see it going somewhere, but for now, we’re just putting things here and there.”
D CEO: What is your long-term vision for Nick & Sam’s?
“It’s hard to say. Nick & Sam’s has been successful for 23 years. It’s kind of an ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ situation. But, at the same time, we can’t be complacent. We have all these good restaurants coming into town, and we have to stay with our reputation. We’re Dallas, and we don’t want to get overtaken by the popularity of a New York or Chicago restaurant. But I’m confident that with our staff, we won’t. It’s always good to have good competition, but I’d like to think that Nick & Sam’s is Dallas.”