As a child, Michael Hampton often rode his bike down Folsom’s Sutter Street in search of his grandfather, who spent a great deal of time at the Sutter Club bar and other businesses along the historic drive.
“Today, my uncle owns the Sutter Club,” Hampton says. “And because there’s a lot of family history there, I’ve always wanted to have some type of presence on the street, too.” Last year, that vision became a reality.
Hampton and his business partner, Imran Aurangzed, opened the casual bar and grill Hampton’s on Sutter in September. They invested $250,000 to install a kitchen and other modern amenities in the historic Donnelly House at the northernmost end of Sutter Street. But his upfront investment didn’t end there. Neither he nor his partner have formal restaurant industry experience, so they’re putting in as much time as money.
Hampton has a day job in Roseville as an advisor with Ameriprise Financial, so putting together a management team to handle day-to-day operation was critical and at first not entirely successful. In less than four months, he had fired both his chef and manager.
“When it comes to any business decision I make, I am very hands-on,” Hampton says. “I can analyze people pretty well, and it quickly became obvious that my first general manager wasn’t going to work out and that my first chef wasn’t happy with the situation here.”
So he hired Jennifer Kipgen, who brought 13 years experience in restaurant management, including time at My Brother Vinnie’s and the national franchise, Ruby Tuesday.
“She grew up in Cameron Park, so she knows the area and most everyone in Folsom,” Hampton says. “After talking to her a few times, I knew she would be a perfect fit for the type of customer experience I wanted to create here.”
Chef Pete Treleden was the next to be tapped. Initially hired on as sous chef, Treleden brought a wealth of cooking experience and restaurant management knowledge to the aspiring destination grill. Back in 1979, Chef Pete founded Pete’s Pizza Restaurant and Brew House in Rancho Cordova. Through 1992, he played a key management role as the “Original Pete’s” concept expanded to 16 northern California franchises. After divesting himself of that business, he spent the next several years as a restaurant consultant and culinary teacher.
The opportunity to work in a historic setting such as Hampton’s both intrigued and challenged the veteran chef.
“Being on Sutter Street is like being in Old Sacramento,” Treleden says. “It’s both exciting and very technically challenging. You have a small kitchen and almost no storage area. We have two levels of dining, so servers are constantly running up and down stairs. Everyone is getting in shape, but it also makes everything that much harder. Because of the small storage area, any produce we order must be used in several menu items.”
But despite the obstacles presented by operating a business in a registered historical building and having an offsite owner inexperienced in the industry, for the most part things are working out just fine. According to Hampton, revenues have increased each month. He attributes that success to a combination of passion, a quality product, ambience and location.
“We’re a casual dining experience where you can feel comfortable in work clothes or shorts and flip flops,” he says. “We all love the street we’re on and the history that it comes with. We’re not located in a box or in a shopping mall. This place draws from Folsom, Fair Oaks, El Dorado Hills and Sacramento. This is an attractive place to do business, especially since all the upgrades and renovations that have been completed on Sutter Street, the nearby parking facility and the [Regional Transit] light-rail station.”
Treleden says working with Hampton can be a handful at times, but he also credits the owner for jumpstarting his enthusiasm for the restaurant business.
“While it takes some patience to educate the partners, there is no denying Michael’s energy. He runs at 1,000 miles per hour all the time. He wants everybody to do better and more everyday,” Treleden says. “That is not always possible, so we have to temper that enthusiasm sometimes. But there is no denying his passion has a positive effect on the overall operation.”
According to the chef, Hampton’s financial and marketing expertise works well in the front-of-house management of the restaurant and is a good counterbalance to Treleden’s “old school” approach to running the back of the house.
“I’m an old chef,” says the 55-year-old Treleden. “I scream and yell a lot in the kitchen. My staff is OK with that back there, but it doesn’t work well with the servers in the front of the house. Michael and Jennifer do a great job out there.”
For her part, Kipgen says working with Hampton and the rest of the management team, including bar manager Josh Norman, has been an incredibly exciting adventure.
“We all bring huge personalities to the table,” she says. “Pete is loud, boisterous and funny, and he willingly throws all of his knowledge at Mike. Josh knows everyone’s name the moment they walk through the door, or at least he has them convinced of that by the time they get their first drink. I’m very huggy and hands on. I don’t ask my servers to do anything that I wouldn’t gladly and proudly do myself.”
And her assessment of Hampton himself?
“I have nothing but admiration for the man,” Kipgen says. “He has a fulltime job, a wife and two daughters. He’s here just about every night and most Saturdays and Sundays. He interacts equally well with staff, customers and the community as a whole. There is no doubting his passion for the business.”
As the intrepid owner of a new business, who also has a family and day job, Hampton admits to a life that is slightly out of kilter.
“I get to my office in Roseville by 7:00 in the morning each day. I try to get here by 5:30 each evening. Our Saturdays and Sundays are swamped all day. I have cameras on the business that I can watch remotely all the time, but right now I’m just trying to spend as much time as possible on site so I can get a good feel for the business,” he says.
Still, he attempts to remain a balanced individual. He says his wife, Shantel, and daughters Savannah, 9, and Isabella, 7, are integral cogs in the ultimate success of Hampton’s on Sutter.
“I love my wife and my daughters. Sacrifices have been made by all. There is a three year plan in place that the entire family has bought into. We are all passionate about what we want to achieve here. We all spend time here on weekends, and that unfortunately takes the place of at-home family time, he says.
“When I’m comfortable that people like our food, staff and service enough to come back on a regular basis, then I will change my schedule,” Hampton continues. “As a family, we want to achieve that goal. And it’s a very good feeling to work toward that together.”
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