D’Avanzo’s Family Kitchen brings taste of Italy to downtown Goldendale

GOLDENDALE, Wash.–Shannon and Phil D’Avanzo knew they wanted to relocate from Troutdale, Oregon, to the small town of Goldendale in rural Washington state to be closer to family, but what would they do for work?

Shannon had worked in corporate retail for 16 years and Phil’s experience was in gym management and auto detailing, so….what if they opened an Italian restaurant?

Shannon freely admits she had never even worked in a restaurant before, but she had been cooking since she was 10 years old. And she was very good at it. Wouldn’t everything else work itself out?

As many a failed restauranteur could tell you, not necessarily.

Shannon and Phil D’Avanzo, co-owners

Fortunately for the D’Avanzos, and their satisfied customers in Goldendale, the restaurant on East Main Street has been open for about one year and things are working out, thanks in part to ongoing meetings with Lorena Lowell, a business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

The draw, of course, is the food, which is hearty and delicious. The menu features traditional Italian favorites such as pasta Bolognese, lasagna, fettuccini alfredo with chicken and a wide assortment of desserts, from pavlova to cheesecake. But, without the proper business systems and financial controls, it doesn’t matter how good the food is, which is where Lowell and the SBDC came in.

The Washington SBDC is a network of more than 40 business advisors who provide confidential, no-cost, one-on-one technical assistance to small business owners and entrepreneurs who want to start, grow or buy/sell a business.

The Washington SBDC network is hosted by Washington State University and receives funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration, WSU and other institutions of higher education, economic development agencies and civic and business groups. The SBDC position in Goldendale receives funding support from the Klickitat County Public Economic Development Authority.  Lowell, who joined the SBDC in 2021, meets with small business owners in Goldendale and Stevenson. 

In their first meeting, Shannon said, Lowell was supportive, but did not sugarcoat what they were up against. Together, they created a fairly detailed spreadsheet of the expenses involved in opening and running a restaurant, the straightforward costs as well as the hidden ones. They also discussed how many meals Shannon would have to sell every day just to cover costs.

“It was an overwhelming amount of information,” Shannon said, but it was exactly the information she needed. Even more, Shannon knew she had someone in her corner.

“Lorena was very detailed in our meetings,” Shannon said, “and she would send me follow-up emails to make sure I had the information I needed.”

The D’Avanzo’s Family Kitchen Team

Shannon first reached out to the SBDC because she was hoping to get a loan to help with startup expenses. In the end, the D’Avanzos self-financed the launch of their restaurant and Lowell advised them to treat their own investment in the business with the same seriousness as they would treat a commercial loan. That meant keeping money in reserve for unexpected expenses and watching cash flow carefully to spot small problems before they became big ones.

Every couple of months Lowell would ask Shannon to bring in her bank statements and QuickBooks accounts so they could go through the profit and loss statements together.

When they first moved back to Goldendale in 2021, Shannon said, their plan was for her husband to operate an auto detailing business as their primary income and she would run the restaurant on a limited schedule. Within weeks, she said, they expanded hours to meet customer demand.

“The community wanted us to keep it open,” she said. In fact, Shannon said, one of the happiest surprises of this adventure is how supportive the community has been.

“I didn’t realize how many people would be so thankful to have a new restaurant in a small town,” she said. “People thank me all the time and I didn’t expect that.”

In a small town like Goldendale (population 3,524 in 2021) every job counts, and D’Avanzos Family Kitchen employs seven people, not counting their 9-year-old daughter, Rosie, who also helps out when she can.

In 2024 the D’Avanzos are planning to flex their entrepreneurial muscles by expanding the restaurant and opening a third business, a clean juice and smoothie store. They’ve already reached out to Lowell to talk with her about their plans.

“We don’t have the fear of failure,” Shannon said. “We’re just going to work hard and make sure we succeed.”

For more about the D’Avanzo’s Family Kitchen, click here.

For more about the Washington SBDC, click here.