Cathy Amato expects to do $30 million in combined sales for 2012. That's a far cry from the less than $250,000 her company did when she first started two decades ago. Amato, and partners Martha Jordan and Rick Riley, collectively owns and operates 55 Subway restaurants in San Antonio and Austin, along with 1 Mooyah Burgers & Fries, and 3 Ruby Tuesday locations.
She has come a long way since her first job at 14 as a busboy and dishwasher (by hand) at the Highway Café in La Vernia, Texas. "I never had any aspiration or skill set that would necessarily help me be successful in the restaurant industry," she says. "I started at the ground floor and through hard work and applying myself I've been able to move up the ranks. But also, I have been able to go out on my own and build a substantial company."
Lured by a Jack in the Box ad aimed at bringing more women into management, the budding restaurateur cleaned those vats, scrubbed those floors, clocked those crazy hours, and soaked up every facet of management, eventually becoming the corporate training manager for all of South Central Texas. After 15 years, Riley snatched up Amato for Subway, where she also works for the development office for South Central Texas, responsible for selling franchises, site selection, and leasing. With strong growth plans ahead and supported by an established infrastructure, Amato is passionate about promoting from within, developing in underserved areas of the city, and being a good corporate citizen.
But like many multi-unit operators she has felt the pinch of the long lasting recession.
How has the most recent economic cycle affected you, your employees, your customers?
We are all faced with rising costs that affect our disposable income. We are all making buying decisions based on value and not spending as much as we used to. The days of wanton spending are gone and everyone is more cautious where and how they spend their money.
Are you experiencing economic growth/recovery in your market?
We are lucky to be in San Antonio, Texas. We feel it, but not as badly as many parts of the country.
What did you change or do differently in this economy that you plan to continue doing?
Evaluate risk on new locations and ventures more closely. Nothing is a "gimme" anymore.
How do you forecast for your business in this economy?
I really read all the industry publications, as well as data sources, such as Sandelman's. It is also so important the franchisor is using their resources to keep us current on how not only our category is performing but how we are performing relative to the category.
Where do you find capital for expansion?
Long-term solid banking relationships.
Is capital getting easier to access? Why/why not?
Because of our 20 years in business with successful restaurants, we have been very fortunate and not had lending issues. A big goal in the past has been to pay down debt quickly so we look very good on our debt ratio. Individuals just getting started are finding it tough to get initial lending or having enough cash to put down.
Have you used private equity, local/national banks, other institutions? Why/why not?
Local community banks are wonderful and still consider service an important part of banking.
What kind of exit strategy do you have in place?
Thinking about it.