Small businesses rise with perseverance, passion

Thanks to my parents, I have a soft spot in my heart for owners of small businesses. All the better when they deal with food.

With Mom’s help, Dad ran a confections brokerage for years, selling fine candies to upscale retail outlets. They passed the business to my oldest brother and his wife. My brother was ready to exit a somber career steeped in Cold War weaponry.

But owning a small business has its own drawbacks, including the tendency to talk, think and breathe work almost every waking moment, and taking risks while chasing dreams.

This brings me to Lisa Todaro and Lloyd Gann. They are engaged to marry but more to the point, they own Amato’s Bakery, which provides table breads and hamburger buns to fine restaurants and little sub shops up and down the Strip and elsewhere around town.

Lisa and Lloyd each had small-business experience in retail, restaurants and real estate, and when Amato’s Bakery went up for sale in January 2009, they bought it, along with bread recipes, the client list and an uncertain future. Amato’s had earned an excellent reputation for its fresh, hand-shaped products, but Las Vegas was reeling from the Great Recession.

“Some of the clients we thought we were getting were no longer in business,” Lisa said. On the other hand, “we were getting calls from chefs saying the bakeries they were using closed in the middle of the night and they needed products for a couple of their restaurants — right now.”

Lisa ran the front office and handled the invoices; Lloyd started deliveries at 4 a.m. and schmoozed with chefs. And despite the rough economy, they have grown the business from six employees to 25, with round-the-clock baking to serve 100 clients. Recently they moved to a larger facility.

If Lloyd were to teach a class in small business, these would be his five talking points: Have management experience, especially people management. Understand accounting and cash flow. Find a niche product or service so you stand out. Pay your bills on time to build good credit because you’ll need loans from time to time. And have perseverance.

“Running a small business is a grind, and you’ve always got to be ready for whatever is thrown at you,” Lloyd said. “Last night I woke up at 2 a.m.worried about my cooler, so I called down to the bakery to make sure it was all OK.”

The flip side?

“It’s fun to see pictures of someone’s list of the top 10 burgers in town, and five of them are between our buns,” Lisa said.

Tags: The Sunday