I had no expectations of being in the restaurant business when I started. I’d been running a cookie business, which taught me the difficulties of starting very small with only one domestic oven, and the hard work gave little to no reward. The day I knew it was over I went with my last boxes of cookies to give to friends at my local pub. I remember sitting there feeling it was time to stop, with my hair covered in flour, I said that’s it, I’m done. I didn’t know what to do next, but while sitting there, I noticed the pub had a kitchen that no-one was using, and I asked if I could run it. I’m from Rhode Island, in the USA, and I had the sudden notion that I wanted to cook the great food that I grew up eating. At the time there were no ‘good American style burgers’ that I had in England. I grew up down the road where the first ever diner started. And not far from where the first American burgers started. I thought right then and there, ‘’This place needs a good burger’.’ I had an incredible opportunity to have my own kitchen, made my own menu, and worked on creating burgers that were just like I had at home. But made it with my own inspiration by making them inclusive. To cut a long story short, I went from working in that kitchen, armed with just a frying pan and a bum-bag, to running two very successive restaurants alongside my business partner and an amazing team of people.
Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
Fast-forwarding to opening our first restaurant in Nottingham - you need a good manager to help run your restaurant. We learned the hard way, as we were totally ignorant as to how to run this kind of business. When you get a manager who has experience in the industry, they’re worth their weight in gold.
What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your own)?
It was little creperie in Nottingham called Aubrey’s Traditional Creperie. Sadly, it’s closed now, but it was independent, creative and her food was beautifully put together. You could tell the owner had passion for what she did and that she put her heart and soul into every crepe. We started around the same time in a similar way, and it was great to have a pal to share my experiences with.
What motivates you?
The feeling you get when your restaurant is bustling, and you can hear the conversation and laughter and your waiting staff are smiling and running around. Or the kitchen on a Saturday night, where everyone is busy working and moving around one another, like they’re all doing a dance. When it goes like that, it is amazing to sit back and look and think “How did this all happen?” People are coming to your place to have a great time and a shared experiences with their friends and family. Amazing.
What keeps you up at night?
The notion that business is always a risk. The larger you grow, the more responsibilities you have to cover and protect, especially the people who you employ and work with.
Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the restaurant business?
My business partner, Daniel. He is incredibly important to me. His knowledge and inclination for business has steered us (and still does) and it has been a big part of our success. We’ve been together on this journey through thick and thin and I wouldn’t want to be with anybody else. He is up there alongside my mother, who was also owned her own business while I grew up. She is the one of the best influences in my life.
What time do you wake up?
Usually between 6am and 7am.
How do you let off steam?
I do love a good pint of real ale and watching or playing a gig with friends.
What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
I grabbed a suitcase and my guitar and flew to England by myself in the early 90’s, leaving my hometown behind me. I was in my early twenties. I didn’t know anybody, and I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I loved England and, for some deep-down reason my heart lay here. However, I love going back to visit my family and friends.
Favourite holiday destination?
I love Britain, so I love travelling here. However, I also love Europe – anywhere that’s a good food destination will make me happy. There is adventure on the further-out countries. But if I get to retirement age and can afford it, I would like to leave it for when I need things to do. I’m not very good at sitting down for any lengthy period of time!
What are you currently reading?
A Taste of History: 10,000 Years of Food in Britain by Maggie Black. I borrowed it from a friend and it’s an interesting read.
What was your dream job growing up?
I think I’m doing it really – it’s a job where I sold something that I created. When I was around 7 or 8 years old, I’d sell homemade lemonade in front of my house for a quarter in little paper Dixie cups, or I would go door-to-door in my neighbourhood circle selling handmade potholders. I do remember me and my friend Keith from the neighbourhood trying to build a shop with old wooden planks of wood from the back of the garage. It wasn’t anything you could describe. other than leaning boards with a nail in it and a plastic pull out table with a tablecloth on it. I also made and tried selling a few sandwiches using an old Fisher Price child’s cash register to people heading for a kids baseball game to the field behind my house. They were wrapping in plastic wrap and turned out pretty mushy and sweaty, and nobody bought them! But I loved it nonetheless!
Best business decision?
The day I offered to have my own kitchen at the Old Angel pub, because everything happened from there.
Worst business decision?
To go into a previous business in an industry which seemed to be profitable but which, as it turned out, I didn’t have the passion for. It was a painful learning experience. But the positive thing is that I will not do that again! I am the type of person that needs to love my business. It’s not just about just making money. I must love and be behind selling what I’m selling.
What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
I heard something at a Women in Business awards event in Nottingham and it’s this: Whatever business you endeavour, be yourself. If you try to 100% copy somebody else, you will only ever be 80% as good as they are.
Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Spaziano came to the UK from the US in her early 20s, having already attended the University of Massachusetts to study to be a pre-equine vet. Once here she studied a BA Honours in Sociology at the University of Nottingham and went on to work at the housing department of Nottingham City Council. She later became self employed, moved into the hospitality sector and launched Annie’s Burger Shack in 2009.