Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Duane Dinio, Owner of S'mores Amore, located in Norfolk, VA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Our business provides "The Ultimate S'mores Experience" with our S'mores-inspired desserts. We are known for our S'mores Brownies and S'mores Blondies, which are created with layers of familiar S'mores flavors presented in our own unique and delicious way without the need for a campfire! Our customers range from all ages, whether you are a kid or a kid at heart, a local or visiting from out of town or even from another country. We're proud to offer "The Ultimate S'mores Experience" to anyone and everyone here in S'morefolk, VA! (aka Norfolk, VA)
Tell us about yourself
I am a Filipino American born in Baltimore, MD, and moved down to Virginia Beach, VA, with my mom and dad. My dad was in the Navy as an Aircraft Mechanic. I've pretty much lived in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia all of my life and currently reside in Norfolk, VA. I love tennis, pro wrestling, and watching (and falling asleep to) "The Office." My Mount Rushmore of inspirational figures is Charlie Brown, Vince McMahon, Willy Wonka, and Roger Federer.
What motivates me each day to do what I do are the customers that have become loyal fans of our brand that come back time and time again and new customers who have no idea of what our brand is about and are hooked by "The Ultimate S'mores Experience" we strive to provide. I'm motivated to hopefully one day become a recognizable brand that helps to inspire people to "Get Fired Up!" for the Ultimate S'mores Experience at our stores, in their communities, and maybe one day globally!
I grew after graduating from the Culinary Institute of Virginia in 2010. After pursuing my passion for cooking, I took several jobs in the food service industry before finally taking the plunge to open my own business in July 2018 at Selden Market in Norfolk, VA.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
As a business owner, I believe my biggest accomplishment has been and continues to be building a brand that loyal customers and new ones find a love for with the consistency of our customer service and product offerings through the years, especially through the pandemic. We have also been able to expand our reach to one of the biggest supermarket companies (Wegmans) in the Virginia Beach area and local partners (The Dirty Buffalo) restaurant chain in the short time we have been in business.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
One of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner is being able to grow out of being just the "technician" or "creator" of your product and evolving into developing the skills to actually manage a business. I've learned that opening your own business means more than being just a cook or baker and involves learning about how to advertise your business, connect with your customers, and hire and train employees and working with them with the goal of continuing to offer the same consistency that existed when it was just myself baking and my wife being the salesperson in the store.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- "Chance favors the prepared mind." When you start a business, initially, you are excited because you're doing your own thing. You're no longer under anyone else's management or feel you're being "held back" from expressing and implementing your own ideas. Then it happens... after the initial wave of customers interested in your product, you hit a lull, and sometimes it can weigh on your mind the thought of, "Did I make the right decision?" "Should I go back to what's familiar, safe, and brings in a reliable income?" It's in those moments you have to remind yourself why you took the risk in the first place and emit that enthusiasm to the next customer in line because that customer could just be your big break.
- "Money CAN'T be your only driving passion to be successful." In the short time I've been a business owner, I've learned you have to find other goals than just making money to achieve a different level of success. Reach out to your local community, listen to your customers and provide them the best experience you can based on what you're capable of, and contribute to worthy causes that line up with your values whenever you can.
- "Success comes with Sacrifice." If you're looking to truly be a memorable brand, be prepared to put in the hours and have to say no to friends and family to invites to some considerably important events. When you're starting out, you have to be present for your customers as much as possible and as consistently as possible. True friends you've grown up with throughout the years will understand when you turn them down to help sustain your business early on and even (hopefully) in the years after. This is especially important in the first year. Whether you're feeling sick or have to decline an invite to a wedding, be sure you're taking into account what missing that time will do to any loss of business. It won't be that way forever, but for the start of a business, be sure you're able to be present and at the moment as much as possible because it makes ALL the difference!
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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