September Spotlight: Nick Farrell of Sovana Bistro

Each month, I’ll be featuring an entrepreneur, an industry leader, or expert in the field here on The Talk About Town with the focus on marketing, storytelling, and balancing dreams and the 9-to-5 grind. 

Nick Farrell, restaurateur and owner of Sovana Bistro, has brought fine dining and catering to the quaint town of Kennett Square, PA for over two decades. Blending locally grown and sourced food with the tastes and cuisines of the world, Sovana Bistro is a dining destination for those near and far. 

LG: Thanks for being with us today! We’d love an introduction. Tell us about yourself. 

Nick: Hello Lauren! I grew up in Glen Mills, PA, as the youngest of five in a family where food was always at the center of everything we did. I spent a lot of time as a teen playing sports and working part-time at a neighborhood restaurant. After high school, I attended West Chester University and then went on to Culinary School at The Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh, PA. After graduating in 1995, I spent some time working in Malvern with my brother Tom at The Classic Diner. In January of 1998, I opened Sovana Bistro. It was there that I met my wife Linda! We now live in West Chester, PA, and have four amazing kids with one on the way in November 😊 along with our 2 dogs.

LG: How was Sovana Bistro created? Where did the name come from? 

Nick: I began the process of looking for a restaurant location at the age of 22 (in 1997). I was told by a friend about a spot in Kennett Square not too far from Longwood Gardens. I met with the landlord and we discussed the idea of a small Italian-style restaurant. He liked my proposed menu and vision and agreed to lease me the space. The name “Sovana” comes from a small town in southern Tuscany. I had grown up cooking simple, rustic, Italian food and the quaint village town of Sovana seemed to resonate with me.

LG:  Almost 22 years later, how has Sovana grown? Where do you see the restaurant going in the next 5 years? 

Nick: Sovana is continually evolving and changing. We have expanded on and upgraded the facility year after year. Highlights would include adding a 65-seat patio, getting a liquor license and two bars, adding a pastry, bread, and pasta kitchen. Our goal is always to continue to add value to our loyal guests and staff.

LG: How did you build Sovana Bistro’s marketing strategy? What tactic has made a difference in your marketing goals? 

Nick: We focus very heavily on guest experience to drive visitation through word of mouth. We are part of an intimate community and have been heavily involved in supporting our schools, churches, and local organizations. Our marketing has been mostly “grass roots”. I believe Social media has helped us stay connected to our fans.

LG: What has been a major success in your business? A fail?

Nick: I would say our success comes from building a healthy and positive environment and culture around key principles of life that seemingly attract the best people to our organization. We spend a lot of our time keeping the core values and mission in focus.

I have failed at many things over the past 22 years. Each and every one of them has made me better and provided insights that I would not have had.

LG: How do you manage the balance between your role as a father/husband, an entrepreneur, and a co-founder of Dineable

Nick: I love it all. I am grateful for each role that I have been given. I did not always have the right balance as a young husband and father. Building a restaurant required years of sacrifice and it was difficult for many of those early years. My wife Linda focused on the home and I focused on keeping the restaurant going. It took about 12-15 years to get things to a point where I  could see more balance in my life and start to spend quality time with Linda and the kids. The core team at Sovana is amazing and they are quite capable of executing at the highest-level whether I’m there or not. This level of flexibility has been a wonderful thing to have in my work/life balance.

I really love being an entrepreneur and building things from the ground up. When the chance to be a part of a young start-up Dineable crossed my path, I jumped at the opportunity. It’s been a great experience and I get to use my life’s work to help build a tool that I believe can seriously improve and better people’s lives.

LG: What’s your biggest piece of advice to entrepreneurs out there? 

Nick: There are moments when it’s so heavy and you want to quit. You are capable of so much more than you think. Nothing comes without a sacrifice and a willingness to give up comfort in the moment for the results you are driving towards in your life. 

LG: What’s the one thing you wish you could go back and tell your younger self?

Nick: Stop feeling sorry for yourself when it gets hard and be thankful for what you have in every moment.

LG: What has been the most rewarding part of Sovana’s journey thus far? 

Nick: Going to the restaurant and seeing it all come together every day the way it was designed and enjoying the relationships with the folks who bring it to life everyday. They are my family. Hearing people share the moments of their Sovana experience is a way that says we nailed it.

Come one, come all! Sovana Bistro would love to host you for lunch, dinner, and your next big event! Make a reservation today. 

Author’s Note: A special thank you to Nick for participating in this spotlight and his support of me through many different roles at Sovana over the years.

June’s Spotlight: Mark Surkin of Dineable

Each month, I’ll be featuring an entrepreneur, an industry leader, or expert in the field here on The Talk About Town with the focus on marketing, storytelling, and balancing dreams and the 9 to 5 grind.

Mark Surkin, CEO and Co-founder of Dineable, brings tech to the dining room table in the best way possible. Created with the customer in mind, Surkin blends his background in IT with his dedication to living with dietary restrictions in our world today.

LG: Tell us about yourself!

Mark: Anyone can probably get a pretty good read on me by knowing 4 things:

  1. When I was 13, I asked my parents if I could spend some of my bar mitzvah cash to buy… WINDOWS 95. Seriously. My idea of fun was sitting at home installing an operating system.
  2. Baseball is the greatest sport in the world and I dare you to try to prove me wrong.
  3. I believe that reading is one of the most important things anyone can do with their free time. Sci-fi, romance, self-help, history, whatever. Just read.
  4. I love to travel and have been lucky enough to do a lot of it. But even when it’s not possible, anyone can go anywhere with a great recipe. Food is universal, and even when there is no common spoken language, all it takes to make a friend is a taste and a smile. That’s why Dineable exists: to give everyone a seat at the table.

LG: You’ve launched Dineable. How did it all begin?

Mark Surkin, CEO of Dineable

Mark: Like most IT people, I can’t help myself from trying to solve problems with tech when I see them. I’m food-restricted. So are many of my family and friends. Getting together over a meal always began with exhausting conversations about who can’t eat what – sometimes among ourselves, sometimes with a server or chef.

There had to be a better way, and I wanted to find it, because I was tired of repeating myself and tired of feeling isolated, frustrated, or just plain hangry when there was nothing around for me to eat. I knew others shared my perspective, and I was lucky enough to be in a position to try to fix the problem.

LG: Describe the Dineable brand.

Mark: We get that food counts to everyone, each in their own unique way. Dineable helps anyone get food right for them, and we help anyone serving food to get the information they need to serve each guest at the highest possible level. We are all about hospitality – the simple act of knowing your guests as well as possible enables anyone to create magic moments.

LG: How did you build your company’s marketing strategy?

Mark: Marketing has always been kind of nebulous to me. I’m fascinated by it, but it’s not something I’ve ever figured out how to do effectively on my own. I watched Mad Men but whiskey didn’t seem to help much! So instead my team and I worked hard to define the segments we wanted to go after, and the order in which to go after them, and we hired you (Lauren) to help us get to where we want to be. In the end, whether it is marketing or sales or building software, it is all about having a great team.

Dineable

LG: What has been a major success in your business? A fail?

Mark: Our first major LOI was with one of the biggest auditing firms in the world. Talk about starting with a major success! From a company perspective, it is humbling to consider that most startups fail and that Dineable is still here, finding new successes each week. A few weeks ago we had to move our team meetings to a larger room. Walking into that full room was an amazing moment.

We failed a ton as we’ve been building this company. It is the nature of new things and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Remember my story about installing Windows 95 when I was 13? The most exciting moments for me was when an error message popped up, and I got to figure out how to fix it. Specific to Dineable, the initial product we rolled out had incredibly poor UX. We were so focused on building something functional and keeping it secure, that we lost sight of the core value of our product, and thus it was not presented directly to new users, and we provided very little guidance to existing users. We had a great team of software developers but only a part-time adviser keeping track of UX. If I had that to do over again, I’d have adjusted that balance.

LG: What’s your biggest piece of advice to entrepreneurs out there?

Mark: Talk to everyone you can, and be gracious and helpful. You never know who someone knows or where they can take you.

LG: How do you manage the balance between your role as an entrepreneur with a growing team and your home life?

Mark: Honestly I don’t manage it very well. I’m lucky to have my wife, Katie, be so patient and supportive of me, even while I spend most nights working until past midnight. I’m writing this interview at around midnight on a Saturday night, in fact, after getting home from date night. We don’t have kids and I’m not sure how anyone does this with kids. They deserve a ton of respect. And probably a few naps. For myself, Dineable could be the most important thing I ever do professionally. I truly believe the world needs a system to help get food right, that this is an incredibly rare opportunity to help a lot of people on a very large scale, and I’m super passionate about the work we are doing.

I do try to just ignore the pile of work once in a while and spend time with family and friends. Even a few minutes with my cat, or an afternoon with my nephew can rejuvenate me and fuel me through my next late night of work.

LG: What’s one thing you wish you could go back and tell yourself as a young adult?

Mark: “Stop and think.” Also, a bonus: “Stop comparing your insides to other people’s outsides.” I think I read that second one in an airplane magazine interview with Rob Lowe (the actor), and it’s really stuck with me.

LG: We’re all ready to use Dineable! How do we get started using the app?

Mark: If you’re food restricted or have a special diet, click here to create your own, free, personalized food profile and start sharing today!

If you’re an event organizer or food preparer, click here for the easiest way on the internet to ask guests if they have food restrictions or a special diet.

If you’re interested in learning more about Dineable, visit dineable.com.
Author’s Note: A special thank you to Mark and his passionate team for bringing me on to learn more about marketing in a tech start-up setting!

May’s Spotlight: Lynn April of Fresh April Flours

Each month, I’ll be featuring an entrepreneur, an industry leader, or expert in the field here on The Talk About Town with the focus on marketing, storytelling, and balancing dreams and the 9 to 5 grind.

It seems fitting to kick off my spotlight series with my first client, a business partner-turned-friend, and hardest working woman and recipe master in all of Philadelphia. My inaugural feature begins with Lynn April, the creator lady boss behind Fresh April Flours, a food (with sprinkles of life and family) blog bringing easy and delicious meals and treats to your kitchen with simplicity in mind.

LG: Tell us about yourself!

Lynn: I’m Lynn, full-time mom, full-time antibody purification technician, and self-taught baker. When I’m not wrangling children or at work, you can find me in the kitchen or behind my camera lens photographing food.

LG: How did you get started with Fresh April Flours five years ago?

Lynn: I started Fresh April Flours as a place to share my recipes. From 2010 to 2014, I baked and decorated custom cakes. It was really fun until it just wasn’t anymore, so I stopped. I wanted to continue sharing my cakes with people, but I also wanted to branch out into other desserts, so I started the blog to sort of “document” that. What started as a place for me wound up a place for all of my readers.

LG: Describe the Fresh April Flours brand.

Lynn: Since I’m self-taught, you won’t find anything super fancy on my blog. Instead, you’ll find real recipes from a real person. I love taking the time to learn something new or challenging and teaching someone else how to approach it from an amateur standpoint, but I also know that sometimes it isn’t realistic to want to make croissants from scratch because they take literally all day and you get 8 of them. What I do want FAF to bring to the kitchen, though, is quality, tested recipes that make you feel good about what you’re putting into your food. When you make quality recipes, and something you put time and effort into, sharing it with others becomes a celebration. My favorite thing to hear is that one of my recipes reminds someone of their grandmother’s or makes them nostalgic for something they had growing up. Helping people learn how to get back into the kitchen in a fast-paced, instant gratification world is what I aim to do with FAF.

LG: How did you build your company’s marketing strategy?

Lynn: Honestly, I’m still learning this one. My husband’s background (before he became a personal trainer and gym owner) is in marketing. For the most part, he helped me figure out what to do prior to my outsourcing of marketing, which was the best thing I have done for my brand thus far. Marketing is probably the hardest part of owning this brand, as the digital world we live in is constantly changing and moving a lightning speed, and all I know how to do is bake, take pictures, and write about my recipes. What I depend most on is word-of-mouth and sharing on social medias from my readers. Pinterest is my #1 traffic source followed closely by Google. I didn’t put myself there – other people did. The brand, in a way, markets itself!

LG: What has been a major success in your business? A fail?

Lynn: As far as success goes, when I realized that blogging was actually making me decent money, I started paying for things like vacations with that income. We’ve been on a few vacations in the last few years paid for solely by the blog, and that’s liberating. Overall, the blog itself making it to the 5-year mark is a major success in and of itself, considering this is not my full-time job AND we have two young kids. When it comes to fails, I actually can’t think of a single one. Nothing I’ve done along the way has set me back or broken me down. Everything has been a step forward. Except my baking fails. I have a lot of those. Do they count?

LG: What’s your biggest piece of advice to entrepreneurs out there?

Lynn: It sounds cliche, but do not compare yourself to other brands. The food blogging world is humungous and quite saturated. There are food blogs out there I could only dream of being as popular as. And some of my most loyal and regular fans/readers have no idea what those blogs are. I say the same thing to my husband whose gym is within a few miles of some major “big name” gyms — your people are with you for a reason. You are their person/brand. While quantity is important in the business world, so is quality and loyalty. If you can build your brand to be trustworthy, necessary, significant, and timeless, people will stick with you. And that can take you far.

LG: How do you manage the balance between your roles as a full-time scientist, blogger, wife, and mom?

Lynn: Coffee, a supportive spouse who gets it, non-negotiable me time (the gym), and regular quality time/dates with my husband.

LG: What’s one thing you wish you could go back and tell yourself as a young adult?

Lynn: You’re going to marry someone who loves to talk about business strategies and ideas. Listen to him in those early years… He knows what he’s talking about.

LG: We’re dying to know. . . what recipe must we try from your page?!

Lynn: Oh my goodness, you’ve got to try a yeast bread. They’re so NOT as intimidating as people make them out to be. My Italian anise bread, cinnamon babka, or funfetti cinnamon rolls are great places to start. As far as my most popular recipes: blueberry lemon pie bars or, believe it or not, my make-ahead breakfast casserole are fan favorites!

Interested in exploring Fresh April Flours recipes? Visit freshaprilflours.com. Want to know more about Lynn and her company? Visit https://freshaprilflours.com/about/faq/.

Author’s Note: A special thank you to Lynn who will forever be my first marketing client, her eagerness to support this new venture, and her willingness to be spotlighted!

How to Create Your 2019 Resolutions 🍾

December is filled with light, the best of home-cooked meals and desserts, unwrapped treasures, cocktails, and busy social schedules. Each year, the end of the holidays approaches (I cry a bit that Christmas isn’t for another 360 some days) and I look to January for a time of fresh starts and a life in the right lane for the winter months. 

I never thought of myself as too much of a goal person (my fam and friends might disagree with that one), but I’ve found myself making resolutions for the last few years. I used to swear them off thinking they were silly to create just because a calendar filled a page. Now, I have a list as long as my arm. We have to aim for something, right? 

I’ll share a few of my resolutions for 2019, but I first want to share some recommendations and suggestions I used prior to writing mine down.

1. Money Talk 

At 24, my mind is on experiences, savings, and the future. Some of my closest (and most successful) friends use a strict budget or old school envelope system to save their hard-earned cash. I set a savings goal for each money by quite literally transferring a lump sum from my direct deposit checkings account to my savings on pay day. Is saving on your mind for 2019? Keep it simple and shoot for a number you want to put in your savings every paycheck.

Not saving enough? Find a side hustle whether that be babysitting, freelance work from home, a coffee shop gig, or walking dogs. An extra revenue stream of income is one I have learned is worth every minute when financial planning.

2. Career

One of my favorite authors, podcasters, and influencers, Adam Grant, says we should change our 5-year-timeline thought process to where we want to be in a year – just 365 days. I’m in the process of discovering the next move for me by networking with 25 professionals in Philadelphia, almost all of whom are strangers to me! Get creative with a vision board, a list of must-haves, or create a spreadsheet with research for the future if you’re not looking for a move right now.

3. Off the Clock

Volunteering is a big part of my life, but finding time to do so can seem daunting. Time is, after all, money! Before you volunteer, make sure it’s a commitment you can really make, for an organization you share values with, and understand why you’re doing it. I have found some of my most meaningful conversations and connections come from those I made during volunteering experiences.

4. The Body

Need I say more? Everyone is always looking to be healthier, look better, and feel better. I’m no expert on this matter, but I know setting reasonable and achievable goals for exercise will make for a happier you and a happier schedule!

5. The Mind

Our world is stressful and aiming to become a better version of yourself can be exhausting in itself. “Self care” is all the rage, but my friends and I have had long conversations about what that means. Self care isn’t just a face mask, a manicure, or buying yourself that long-desired treat. Self care is identifying what’s best for you. . . whether that’s four workouts a week, a social media cleanse for a week, reading, family time, or whatever it takes to bring your mind peace. Me? I’m starting with a January social media and alcohol cleanse.

6. The Spirit

I put this on here because this is relevant to me in 2019. I think the spirit and mind are similar in identifying what makes you feel “whole”. In our crazy world, I’ve let church and faith fall to the wayside. I’m hoping to get back into a religion routine (which makes it sound less meaningful than it really is).

7. Splurge

Now for the fun. . . and yes, I put this last! How much are you putting in your piggy bank for the perfect gift to yourself? I know I need a new car this year so my extra funding will go to the perfect set of wheels. And, I always try to fit in a beautiful handbag once a year. Who can blame me for that?!

Creating your 2019 resolutions that you won't fail at

My Resolutions

I’ll try to circle back come 2020 (Yikes! Do you feel old, too?) on whether or not I achieved these goals!

  1. New career
  2. Less time on social media
  3. Read a book a month
  4. Graduate from Penn with my masters
  5. Say “no” more
  6. Launch The Talk About Town
  7. Lose weight
  8. Smile
  9. Travel
  10. Get my behind to church