The successful restaurateur talks about life without his mentor, Matt Haley, his 22 years of sobriety, what motivates him today and more.
CSM: You and your wife, Lisa, met in college and spent summers in-between semesters working in Rehoboth restaurants. What's one of your fondest memories from that time in your life with her?
SK: We worked at Dos Locos, me and Lisa and our two best friends from high school, the four of us together. It was our second summer here together, and we had so much fun. I just loved how busy it was, the action, the hard work and the fun of working in a restaurant on beautiful summer days.
With the birth of your first son, Griffin, in 1996, you concluded it was time to get sober. Twenty-two years later, what inspirations do you find in your sobriety?
I feel like I have a lot to offer Delaware and our company and that so many families rely on me for their future. That is inspiration enough.
You met your future business partner, mentor and best friend, Matt Haley, at an AA meeting. How have you grown as a businessman and as a person since his passing in 2014?
I think I was a good protégé. I learned as much as I could from Matt, from books on business and leadership, and from being in the restaurants every day. I was ready to become the leader of this company, but I just didn't know it. What I have gained in recent years in confidence in my abilities.
What's the most important lesson from Matt that you keep with you everyday?
The philanthropic nature of Matt changed the direction of the company, and restaurants in Southern Delaware, in a lot of ways. I don't know if I or if people in the company would be so interested in philanthropy if it wasn't for him. I think we have done a great job in honoring his legacy, and it makes our lives richer. We stand on the shoulders of the people who have come before us. For the SoDel family, we are all buoyed by Matt; he lifts us up every day.
What messages of hope can you share with young individuals in our community struggling with addictions today?
If you are clean and go to meetings and try to do the next right thing, your life will get better. That is a guarantee.
You're a former high school All-American wrestler. What from your days on the mat carried over to your professional life?
Never back down. The thing I learned from wrestling is that it doesn't matter where you started. If you are strategic, out work everyone, have a plan and never give up, you will succeed.
You've said one of your dream jobs is to coach a professional sports team. Which team would choose today?
I'd pick the Cleveland Browns because I really think I could help them. Together we could be relevant. Success is a formula, and you can apply it to many different industries. What works in restaurants could work in the NFL.
SoDel Concepts continues to redefine the restaurant scene in Coastal Delaware, most recently with the opening of Bluecoast Rehoboth. You’re known to be planner. What can we expect over the next five years?
Yes, I have a five-year plan, and yes, we will continue to grow the company, but we are not ready to make any public announcements yet. I will say that we are bullish on the beach area, the state of Delaware and the surrounding areas. This will be our growth area and where we feel we can successfully execute on our mission of serving beautiful, simple food.
What do you envision for the evolution of the local industry as a whole over that same time period?
I feel that companies that put their employees first will thrive. Restaurants that are willing to innovate and reinvent themselves will be successful.
Ten restaurants, a catering company, a restaurant management firm, countless civic endeavors, including SoDel Cares, and a film company. For most, that would be considered one hell of a successful career. At age 44, what motivates you to want to accomplish even more?
I am motivated by all of the people who work for SoDel Concepts. They work hard every day to make the company great, and I have a responsibility to them to build the best company I can to provide jobs for people in Delaware. My passion is to create opportunities for the people who work to make SoDel Concepts great every day.
SoDel Cares was established in 2014 to continue the philanthropic mission of SoDel Concepts founder Matt Haley. To date, more than $250,000 in grants have been awarded and SoDel Concepts provides in-kind donations of up to $100,000 annually to the charity.
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