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Sam Romano: Making a Name for Himself

The 26-year-old hopes to build on the success of his famous father, Phil Romano, at the Uptown steakhouse, Nick & Sam’s.
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Sam Romano Portait
In his new role at Nick & Sam’s, he is focusing on operations and building relationships. Sean Berry

With a pin that read, “I accept tips” attached to his lapel, a 7-year-old Sam Romano listened as Chas Martin, the former manager of Uptown steakhouse Nick & Sam’s, encouraged the youngster to seat tables. He watched as his famous father Phil, the brains behind Fuddruckers, Eatzi’s, Nick & Sam’s, and more than a dozen other restaurant concepts, connected with customers. “People knew him and respected him, and they were grateful to be in the restaurant,” Sam says, “I’m grateful that they’re coming into the restaurant still—now that I’m part of it.” 

The younger Romano became majority owner and general partner of his namesake venue earlier this year, answering a literal call to leadership: his father phoned halfway through Sam’s time playing lacrosse and studying sports management at Syracuse University, inviting his son to enter the family business. “It just took him saying, ‘Alright, it’s time,’ for me to dive in,” Sam recalls. The young leader, who had ranked No. 27 in the nation as a high school lacrosse recruit, hung up the phone, enrolled in summer classes, and graduated a year early so he could return to Dallas. 

Now, he’s hoping to leverage more than 20 years of lessons, values, and principles gleaned from his father to help Nick & Sam’s continue to thrive, while putting his own spin on leadership. “I’m not motivated by money but more so making a difference and making a name for myself, aside from being my father’s son,” Sam says. He notes that he tries to live the foundations of integrity, responsibility, patriotism, God, charity, communication, and other values that Phil taught him growing up. Loyalty has become his No. 1 tenet, passed on from his father. “People will come and go, and you have to cling on to the ones that will be loyal,” he says. “That’s why I think loyalty is king, especially in our industry.”

Many of the people Sam works with have been Nick & Sam’s employees since the restaurant opened in 1999, including Chef Samir Durandhar, who Sam calls “a culinary genius.” Though Durandhar and other key leaders are much older than he is at a young 25, Sam says it feels like he’s working with family. He tells them often they are not working for him, but with him. “To rely and to lean on the people who I’ve known forever who have worked in the restaurant has been special,” he says. He sees maintaining those relationships as essential.

“I’d like to think that my dad is sort of like The Godfather; he knows best, and I know that he knows best, and what he says goes,” Sam says. “These are all his babies, if you will: these businesses. So, we’ve always got to respect that. I think what I come in and do is have a relationship with the people who are running the businesses with us, the people who work for us, and get to know them on a personal level, because that’s how we sustain longevity.”

So far, Sam has left menu changes to Dhurandhar and focused on sustaining solid operations, with an eye toward potential expansion. “Expanding to another city is a conversation we’ve had, but for right now we want to be Dallas’ best,” he says. He admits to visiting similar steakhouses in other cities to see “what turns each market on,” just in case the timing for expansion becomes right.

Already heavily involved in Romano Enterprises, he aims to one day take on an ever larger role with his father’s roughly 25 restaurant concepts. He has also begun his own investment venture (see sidebar), and, in the future, he says, he may guide his children as his father guides him. “Hopefully, they’d like to be in the industry, too, and we pass on the family business and the next generation of Romanos,” he says.

Impacting the Future With Side Investments

Ever since Sam Romano joined his father’s business, he has also made investments through an eponymous entity, SP Romano Ventures. His father Phil was an early investor in gastric bypass surgery and the heart stent. “He actually has two heart stents, so he always jokes that he saved his own life,” Sam laughs. John Paul Merritt of Pony Oil, one of Sam’s mentors, helped him expand into other opportunities, such as cannabis and hemp. SP Romano Ventures invested in Delta Ag, a hemp company founded by Merritt, as well as a California company that grows and researches hemp as a means of addressing PTSD in veterans and first responders. “We want to make money from an investment—anybody does,” Romano says. “But we also want to find something that is going to make a difference for people.”

Author

Kelsey Vanderschoot

Kelsey Vanderschoot

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Kelsey J. Vanderschoot came to Dallas by way of Napa, Los Angeles, and Madrid, Spain. A former teacher, she joined…

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