Successes are limitless in Ave Maria
Erica Fish, Ave Maria Development
By creating meaningful investments in their communities and supporting tradition and innovation among staff, clientele and fellow competitors, small businesses truly are the life support of the U.S. economy. They generate close to 50% of the nation’s economic activity and employ two-thirds of our workforce, according to the White House’s Economic Report. And as for Ave Maria’s business owners, their contributions have become a vital asset to the town’s commercial and lifestyle successes, as a variety of people continue establishing their unique significance in A Big Kind of Small Town.
For one family, their generational impact has led to a vibrant ownership of three businesses: Oil Well Craft Beer (OWCB) voted as the “Best Beer Bar” in Florida for the past two years, The Secret Ingredient, a popular women’s boutique featuring trendy styles for any occasion, and The Cannonball Café, conveniently located at the Ave Maria Water Park. Witnessing their parents – Matt and Daneé Williams – create influential business successes, two of their kids Peyton and Reese, have committed to practicing their leadership and entrepreneurial skills by running operations at OWCB’s sub sandwich station and the poolside café.
“To have started helping my parents to now working a section of our livelihood on my own has given me opportunity to envision more for myself,” said Peyton Williams (20). “I have a bunch of different business ideas from a coffee shop to running a flower cart at a farmer’s market.”
Peyton’s younger brother, Reese (18) has become a warm face representing his father’s bar, as he has been working the rounds with the team and making dozens of subs daily – a popular lunch staple in Ave Maria.
“I appreciate learning how a business runs through the guidance of my parents, especially my dad. Customer service is vital but keeping up inventory, routinely checking food machinery and maintaining creative have been responsibilities of mine, which is making me really think about what I want to do on my own,” Reese shared. His first business idea he wants to implement at The Cannonball Café is late night delivery for college students. “Hopefully once students are back in the fall, we can get this started,” he said.
Matt Williams leadership has ignited additional support from their staff and family. “We hoped they [Peyton & Reese] would become part of this legacy we’re building, and so far, it’s been working out well,” he said.
Right now, Oil Well bartender Ross Wright, is completing University of South Florida’s Brewing Arts program, with tuition completely covered by Matt and Daneé. Once completed with his hands-on training and courses, Wright will become a Master Brewer, overseeing all taps, the brewery and fermentation process and other service aspects of the bar, all done in-house.
“Oil Well has been a place of opportunity for me. I’ve dramatically grown here under the teachings of Matt. But this business is going to continue growing too. It’s a special place for residents and visitors. A definite cheers!” Wright said.
Ross is not the only staff member to feel this way. Anthony (AJ) Luminiello has been working bars for the last 10 years and started with OWCB opening day five years ago. From managing day-to-day operations and ensuring there’s a cohesive team environment, Luminiello strives in producing the dream Matt had when opening his beer bar.
“We’ve been most successful because we are not your typical sports bar. We’re a neighborhood bar… Well, Ave Maria’s bar! The people who make Ave Maria what it is, is who we prioritize when hosting events, social hours and other fun things created by Daneé,” Luminiello said.
The benefits of supporting small businesses goes deeper than surface level economic development – it’s about being able to connect with your neighbors and enjoy all-around positive experiences when interacting with your community. Matt and Daneé keep in mind what people love by providing that locality and hometown feel for those who support them.
Oil Well regular Jackie Rategan and her husband became full-time residents in 2017, because they wanted the small town, family feel where they could know their neighbors and be part of a tight-knit community. “It’s a conscious effort to be involved with your community and we wanted to put ourselves out there,” Rategan said. “What’s special about here [OWCB] is you walk in, and everyone knows you. There’s always a fun event going on, and it’s a great place to meet up for any occasion. That’s what I appreciate about it.”
Rategan also shared the Williams and their staff have set the tone for being social with those who make Ave Maria the thriving community it is. “Weekly food trucks, bingo sessions, 80s or Latin Night and DJ entertainment are just a sliver of what these people are all about. They truly do care about the experience each and every customer has,” she said.
For almost five years, Pamela Buzan has been employed with The Secret Ingredient – located conveniently in the Ave Maria Town Center – and shared she enjoys Daneé’s creativity, marketing and commitment with customers, participation in events and community involvement.
“I enjoy seeing so many friendly faces,” Buzan said. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in the community, and with my 50-year background in apparel design, I’ve been able to help many more shoppers create a stunning look they feel special in.”
Accomplished entrepreneurs who live in the location(s) they work, know what community members want, and by encouraging social networking, fun around town and further sense of belonging, there’s no better feeling than seeing the pay off. “Listening to what people want and catering special occasions to Ave residents and guests gives people opportunity to explore new things – like meeting a stranger or just loving the simple comforts of life,” Daneé Williams said. “We’ve been blessed with employees who contribute to the same goals we aim for, and I’m so grateful for their commitment to every customer. That justifiably is a large part of our successes in this town.”
It’s community support which keeps circling back to these three establishments because their owners are committed to serving those that appreciate the friendliness, warmth and commonality they all possess.
“We’re proud to serve the areas that go beyond Ave Maria, because we want everyone to feel welcome when enjoying our services. It’s the future endeavors that make it count for us, and I’m happy we’ve contributed to countless smiles,” Matt Williams said.