Celebrating Diversity at Stritch: Angela Smith, '11
Angela Smith, ’11, leads impressive expansion of family restaurant business during COVID
We’ve heard countless heartbreaking stories of businesses that were forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One sector that was hit particularly hard was the restaurant industry. According to the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, 68% of operators reported sales volume in 2021 was lower than it was in 2019 and 75% of operators reported their customer traffic in 2021 was lower than it was in 2019.
One Milwaukee restaurant operation that thoroughly bucked that trend was Daddy’s Soul Food & Grille, owned by Stritch alumna Angela Smith, ’11, and her husband Bennie.
Daddy’s opened on Milwaukee’s near west side in 2014 after Bennie ran a successful catering operation for several years. The restaurant quickly established itself as a neighborhood favorite and developed a loyal customer base.
“In 2019 we had the bright idea to expand Daddy’s,” said Angela. “And then COVID hit.”
Daddy’s pivoted to curbside pickup and delivery service when in-restaurant dining was halted.
“The community put their arms around us and people were lined up around the block,” said Angela. “Their support has been essential to our success.”
Local business, including the Milwaukee Bucks, ordered catered meals which provided a boost as well.
The Smiths forged ahead with their expansion plans which doubled their flagship restaurant’s space to accommodate more seating and an additional serving counter in September 2020. But they didn’t stop there.
Daddy’s on Bluemound, a diner-style restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch, opened in March 2021.
Prior to COVID, two of the Smith’s six adult children worked in the restaurant. Now, four children work at the two restaurants.
“Our company's growth made them step up and do more,” said Angela. “They became involved in a different way.”
It’s not just the front of the house where you can find Angela and Bennie’s children. Each of the six Smith children - Amber (28), Benjamin (27), Ashley (26), Andrew (22), Jeremiah (21), Bria (20) – have a section of the menu named for them.
Angela leaned heavily on what she learned at Stritch while pursuing a bachelor's degree in human services management to successfully navigate owning, operating and expanding a restaurant operation during a global pandemic.
“You always have that education to lean on when you need it,” reflected Angela.
Angela enrolled at Milwaukee Area Technical College to study accounting directly out of high school, then “life happened” as Angela puts it.
“I came to Stritch when I was 35. I was looking for night classes because of my family and job responsibilities and when I saw that Stritch offered a program where I would attend once a week, that was a bonus. Stritch made it easy to return to school. I was learning with other adults who had been away from school for some time and that meant we were all rusty. But Stritch really helped us get re-acclimated. Even as an adult student I had access to all of the student services.”
Angela quickly discovered that she could apply what she was learning in business management and human services courses on the job at ACC Management Corporation and her studies helped her understand her job better.
“I believe I got more out of the program and my degree as an adult,” said Angela. “The cohort model helped affirm I was a leader. The last courses in my program helped me bridge over to a new role in the real world.”
In addition to her role as director of business management at Daddy’s, Angela serves as president of Dulaney Real Estate Investment Services, where she works with property developers, owners and management companies on low income housing tax credits projects, project-based HUD Housing, market rate leasing and property management.
“2020 was slow, but things definitely picked up in 2021 and are still busy,” said Angela.
As Angela reflects on her Stritch experience she “can’t believe” she completed the program and earned her degree “straight through.”
“Having a Stritch degree has validated me,” said Angela. “It is an important sign to the business community, especially lenders and funders, that has helped us succeed.”
Even though 11 years have passed since Angela earned her degree, she still carries lessons from Stritch with her.
“I learned to be flexible when I was at Stritch and that definitely helped me during our expansion. The program has helped me in so many facets of my restaurant operations and real estate work, especially how to deal with people, manage staff, lead an organization, and put out fires throughout my career.”
Celebrating Diversity at Stritch shares the stories of members of the Cardinal Stritch University family who are transforming the communities where they live, work, serve and lead.