Sandy Franchino decided it was time to make a change in her life after more than three decades.
That change occurred earlier this year when she named Nicola Leman general manager of her restaurant, Café De Marco. It marked the first time since Franchino opened the Old Marco eatery in 1983 that she hasn’t been the sole person in charge.
“After 36-and a-half years of owning and operating the Café de Marco totally by myself I felt it was time for me to advance some very qualified employees that I trust and love and know their capabilities to senior management to help me out,” explained Franchino. “It was time for me to make that kind of a change because I felt like I really needed the help at that point.”
Leman has been with Café de Marco for three years, working as a server who also assumed some managerial duties over time. He has about 30 years of experience in the service industry, beginning his career as a youth. Leman moved to Marco Island 19 years ago from Chicago, landing at what is now the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort before moving on to other restaurants on the island.
“A lot of places that I’ve worked at, I’ve always kind of assumed that role as manager,” said Leman. “It just became natural with me. In leadership, I try to make things right, make things a little better.”
He said that prior to being promoted, he found himself using his experience and leadership skills to assist Franchino wherever he could. This didn’t escape her notice.
“I have seen through these last three years Nicola shine in many, many different aspects of the restaurant industry and I just knew he would have the capabilities and ability, desire, drive and motivation and most importantly, to treat the job as if it was his own,” said Franchino.
Leman wasn’t the only staff member to move up. He was joined by Scott Terres, who is now floor manager after 20 years with the restaurant.
“He handles some different aspects for me and now for Nicola and again, I’m very grateful to have these two men on board to with me with me to help to handle some of the day-to-day responsibilities, and in addition to the rest of my staff, to care for the restaurant as if it was their own,” said Franchino. “That’s what you feel when you come to the Café de Marco.”
She credited Leman with making some process improvements since his promotion and with energizing her thinking with his ideas – what amounts to a fresh set of managerial eyes.
An example is his suggestion to make the restaurant’s popular courtyard handicapped-accessible, like its garden room. The problem was presented by the courtyard’s two steps and Leman devised a solution by re-sectioning a railing to add a wheelchair ramp.
“We’ve talked about different things and Nick has done an excellent job of saying, ‘Sandy, have you ever thought about…’ and then implementing certain things,” said Franchino.
The promotions of Leman and Terres aren’t the only changes ushered in in time for the new tourist season. Café de Marco has also added two new upscale menu items after testing them over the summer.
One is a one-pound lobster tail that is stuffed, seasoned, broiled and served with fresh vegetables and a salad. It’s joined by a new surf-and-turf combination that consists of grilled New Zealand rack of lamb, served as six lollypop chops graced by a red wine demi-glace and served with au gratin potatoes and fresh vegetables. On the side: two prawns over a rice pilaf.
“It was getting rave reviews over the summer,” said Leman. “People just fell in love with dish.”
The change has allowed Franchino to immerse herself in long-distance planning for the wedding of her daughter, Samantha Scheeler, next year in North Carolina, where she resides. That process involves frequent jaunts to the Tar Heel State for such tasks as gown shopping, fittings and venue planning.
“I am very excited about that and I am heavily into the planning stages for her shower and her wedding,” said Franchino. “Part of my time, at least for this period, will be involved with organizing that very joyous, happy occasion.”
A native of Union City, N.J., near New York City, she said the restaurant industry can be challenging because it’s so time-intensive, leaving less time to enjoy family and friends. But it’s been her passion, one that she feels fortunate to pursue here.
“There are sacrifices to be made, but working on Marco Island has been a blessing because Marco Island is a great place to live, it’s a great place to work,” said Franchino. “This community embraced me 36 years ago and together we built up a rapport that still exists today. The community is a strong motivator, as well as our repeat customers.”
Café de Marco is located at 244 Palm Street, Marco Island. For more information, visit cafedemarco.com or call 239-394-6262.