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Celebrating Success: Margi Rudnick, Tommaso's Italian Restaurant

Small businesses are at the heart of everything we do here at BusinessBlocks. In our new series, we celebrate and highlight the brave visionaries, who work day in and day out to turn their dreams into reality. Read Margi Rudnick’s story about running Tommaso’s Ristorante Italiano in San Francisco as a third-generation family business.  

Tell us a little bit about Tommaso’s.

Tommaso’s is a family business. The restaurant originally opened in 1935 as Lupo’s by the Cantolupo family, the first to bring the wood-burning pizza oven to the West Coast. When my mom’s side of the family immigrated from Italy in 1971, my grandparents took over the restaurant in 1973 and has since been passed down to my mom and uncle and will soon be handed down to me and my cousin, Georgia.

Our restaurant has 12 employees - most of whom are family. If they’re not family, they’ve worked with us for more than 30 years, so they’re practically family. And because of that, we treat our employees with respect and giving them the trust and creative space to do their job. We also pay good wages, higher than the minimum wage, including health benefits, because it’s important for us to keep our employees happy because they’re like family.

What are some of the challenges your business faces?

Our business is very old school because the restaurant itself has been around for 83 years. It’s interesting because one of the reasons we thrive is because there hasn’t been much change in terms of the food and recipes - it’s very tried and true. That has really helped us in the long run and most people think, “This restaurant has been around for so long, they must be doing something right.”

But on the other hand, we’re really struggling with implementing new technologies and doing things like social media to help grow the business in the modern age. My grandparents and mom are very set in their ways. It’s only been 2 years since we brought in a computer and updated our credit card machines, so by far the biggest challenge has been trying to bring our restaurant into the 21st century and figure out how to market ourselves for this new audience and age.

I have a degree in accounting, so I’m fairly good with the numbers. But I really needed to refresh on my marketing skills. I considered taking a class at a city college and doing a deeper dive in marketing, but I wasn’t sure if that was the right avenue for me.

I saw an opportunity to freshen up on my marketing and also get a tailored experience with the coaching. Valerie, my BusinessBlocks coach, challenged me to think outside the box and helped me create a marketing plan with clear objectives and goals.

What’s changed since you joined the Businessblocks community?

I’m more confident at the end of the day, and a lot of it has to do with Valerie. This learning experience has helped me better communicate with my bosses, also known as my mom and uncle. Now, I’m able to articulate what needs to be done and build a plan when the business is need of a change.

Using this approach, I was actually able start a ‘Half-Off Wine Wednesdays’ and we’re even considering a happy hour menu! We’re keeping the things that are truly working and tweaking things to make our lives easier and to draw in more customers.

What is your advice for other business owners?

For a lot of people in the restaurant industry, their schedules are unpredictable. From my personal experience, make time for yourself and be in a space to take the lessons without any distractions and focus on your coach. They’re there for you. They’re going to give as much as you give to the course experience. It’s one thing to conceptualize, and it’s another to put what you learn into action because that’s when you can truly can make a difference.