Westminster High School senior Mia Romeo, 18, who has spent her teenage years working in restaurants, has developed a business plan to start an eatery of her own, earning her a spot as a finalist in the second annual Carroll County Public Schools Business Challenge.
The senior, whose father, Salvatore Romeo, owns Paradiso Ristorante in Westminster, said she began developing the idea to start her own Spanish small plates, or tapas, restaurant in her sophomore year. Her idea for a name: Sapore de Tapás.
"My dad is an entrepreneur himself and with that I've gained the skills and the abilities to deal with customers, with staff members and even the food suppliers — that has given me a passion for it," Romeo said.
The final round of the Carroll County Public Schools Business Challenge, administered by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, will be held April 29 at Winters Mill High School, where Romeo will compete against nine other finalists. Romeo, who received third place in the challenge at Westminster High, was chosen by the Business Challenge Advisory Board to compete in the final stage for a $5,000 scholarship.
She won a $500 prize from community sponsors at Westminster High. First-place winner Matthew Bosley won $1,000 and Kedric Hart, who will represent the Carroll County Career and Technical Center, won $500 for placing second. Bosley and Hart also will compete in the finals.
The three students pitched their ideas before two judges from the local business community — Richard Gavigan, who co-owns RJG Properties and Martin H. Rickell Jr., junior vice president of CLSI Engineering Firm.
"Last year, we didn't have a monetary award," said Allison Edgar, chairwoman of the school's finance and business department. "That added a new element that we want to continue next year," she said of the cash prize component.
Romeo said she had eaten at Spanish tapas-style restaurants while traveling with her family and thought, "Why don't we have that here?"
When Parks Landing seafood restaurant closed last winter, Romeo thought the Village Road location would be perfect for her idea to open a tapas restaurant in Westminster.
"It will be fresh seafood from Maryland as well around the world. It would be fresh and wild-caught seafood — never farm-raised," Romeo said. "A major component for the restaurant and the impact on the local community is that we're going to use fresh, locally grown ingredients to help support the local economy."
Types of seafood served would include: scallops, crabs, calamari, clams, Maryland crabs and a variety of different types of fish, Romeo said.
Romeo said such a restaurant concept is beneficial to diners because small plates priced at about $8 to $10 each would allow groups dining out to share and try different dishes. Those dishes will have fewer sides than an entree. Entrees would also be offered, priced from $25 to $30 at the business-casual restaurant.
She expects start-up costs for the restaurant to be roughly $754,000, which would cover property, food, utensils and dishes, and kitchen equipment, Romeo said. To fund the project, she would apply for a bank loan and would ask family members to invest in the business, she said.
She would hire about 60 employees to run the restaurant, including three dining room supervisors, 20 food servers, 10 kitchen employees and five people to bus tables.
Romeo doesn't anticipate the business will turn a profit until its fourth year, she said.
Throughout the process of developing her plan, Romeo said she has learned what it takes to start a business. She had to consider numerous details while developing the plan such as the property zoning, tax accounts, the type of business entity to use and how to price her products in order to make a profit, Romeo said.
"I've learned that creating a business plan is pretty difficult — it's very tedious work," Romeo said.
The competition also helped her hone presentation and organization skills.
"I have to create files and keep everything in a specific order ... especially when I'm presenting — I have to have all of my notecards in a correct place and my slides have to correspond with my notecards," Romeo said.
Although there is no business requirement for graduation, all students in Maryland are required to take a financial literacy course. Romeo has taken eight high school business classes: business principles, accounting, advanced business management, honors marketing, business law, advanced marketing, capstone to business and managing personal finances using Microsoft Excel.
A series of business courses are offered in five topics throughout the county. Courses are available in subjects including accounting, administrative services, business administration and management, marketing and financial services. Other business elective classes include business communications and key boarding, managing personal finances using Microsoft Excel, business law and an internship class.
The Carroll County Academy of Finance, based at Westminster High, is part of the National Academy Foundation. The program was created with students interested in pursuing careers in the financial services industry in mind.
Romeo will study at Towson University next year where she plans to major in marketing.
"I could definitely see myself opening a restaurant in the future," she said.
Because of incorrect information provided to the Carroll County Times, Richard Gavigan was incorrectly identified in an earlier version of this article.
If you go
What: Carroll County Public Schools Business Challenge
Where: Winters Mill High School, 560 Gorsuch Road, Westminster
When: 6 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 29
Cost: Tickets for Carroll County teachers and students are $5 in advance, $8 at the door. Tickets for non-Carroll County teachers and students are $10 in advance and $15 at the door.
Part 10 of a 10-part series
April 19: Katie Allen with "The Chill-Out"
April 20: Lauren Bishop with "Damp Out & Co."
April 21: Emma Rogers and Sarah Jacobs with "SPAtaneous"
April 22: Chintan Jani with "ShopNav"
April 23: Erica Dobrochowski with "Comfort Buddies"
April 24: Matthew Bosley with "Colossal Waffles"
April 25: Angela Himmelberg with "Brace Yourself"
April 26: Collin Gray and Brice Hardesty with "Goblin Skate"
April 27: Kedric Hart with "K-TECH"
Today: Mia Romeo with "Sapore de Tapás"