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Latham, Roberts not interested in building chain of restaurants

Amerigo partners agree business tough but fun

JACKSON – Bill Latham, CEO of the Amerigo Restaurant Corporation, and Al Roberts, COO and corporate chef, know what it takes to make their customers

happy.

Both have worked in the restaurant business in Jackson for about 25 years, and they have been partners for going on 20.

The road has been a long one for both, and the partners are still perfecting the menu and the staff, despite their long running success with now four Amerigo

Restaurants, the newest of which is located in Nashville.

For Latham, the restaurant business was not something he had wanted to go into from the beginning, but it was the only business he had experience in after his “tour”

of the Mississippi State University business school, as he calls it.

“I got out of school and went straight into waiting tables at Friday’s (TGI Friday’s) and had no intention of getting into the restaurant business,” he explained. “I did it

because it looked like a fun job.”

After working at TGI Friday’s for a while though, Latham became intrigued with the business.

“There is a lot more to it when you get on the inside and see how a restaurant really works,” he said.

Soon Latham was in the TGI Friday’s management program and as time went on, he was able to learn more and more about the business. In 1977, he purchased

Scrooge’s.

“That was kind of my baby,” he said.

In 1982, Latham bought the Sundancer, a restaurant featuring French tableside service located in Highland Village. It was there that he met Roberts, who was, at the

time, working in the Sundancer’s kitchen.

Roberts’ story was somewhat different from Latham’s. A graduate of the University of Mississippi, Roberts had always wanted to work in the restaurant business, and

especially enjoyed working in the kitchen. His first restaurant job began in the late ‘70s with LeFleur’s Restaurant. Prior to that, he had worked in the Office of the

Governor.

It was not long before he began to pursue a career with Bennigan’s Steak & Ale Group, then a growing concept nationwide.

For two years, Roberts worked in the Houston area, taking part in the Bennigan’s training program, then the best in the country.

He was taught every aspect of running a restaurant, and from that point, Roberts decided he wanted to pursue cooking. That is when he took the job at the Sundancer

and three years later, he met Latham.

In 1983, Roberts and Latham became partners, and in 1987 the two established Amerigo Restaurant Corporation.

“Bill and I came up with the Amerigo concept after having the Sundancer because of the need in Jackson for Italian,” Roberts explained.

In 1989 Roberts and Latham sold the Sundancer in order to focus their efforts into expanding Amerigo. They opened their first restaurant outside of Jackson in

Nashville in 1992.

About four years ago, Scrooge’s was sold and even more of an effort was put into Amerigo Restaurant Corporation.

The effort paid off in 1998 when the Roberts and Latham opened another Amerigo in Memphis, and then this year when the partners opened yet another in Nashville.

“I’ve always said that it’s good people,” Latham said. “We’re just blessed with really, really good people. And you add that with a lot of prayer.”

Roberts believes there are many things that have made Amerigo a successful business venture.

“The restaurant has just, I think, the warmth and the inviting atmosphere, as well as our emphasis on excellent service. The food’s good, everything’s done from

scratch in house. But with the atmosphere and the quality of service we have provided, that’s just made it.”

But both partners agree that what has helped tremendously has been Amerigo Restaurant Corporation’s core restaurant management group, most of whom have

worked from the very beginning with either Roberts or Latham or both.

“They’re focused on our philosophy which revolves around the customer,” Roberts said.

Whatever it is that Amerigo Restaurant Corporation is doing, though, something must be being done right. Roberts and Latham have taken the company from

six-figure sales to eight figures annually.

Even so, their goal is not to build a chain of restaurants.

“We don’t have a desire to have (100 restaurants),” Latham said. “We felt there was a niche for a good Italian restaurant and thought it could be expanded in other

markets as well. That’s what we’ve done.”

So the partners are taking everything one step at a time.

“It’s obviously a lot of hard work,” Latham said.

Roberts advised anyone trying to get into the restaurant business that they be prepared to work a lot of long hours, and be sure that they have an understanding of

what it takes to make a customer happy.

“The glamour side most people look at is not reality,” he said. “It’s a business and you have to work at it to make a profit.

The focus of the Amerigo Restaurant Corporation, according to Latham, is mostly the Southeast. Among some of the places being looked at for possible future sites of

Amerigo Restaurant include Birmingham, Knoxville, Little Rock and possibly another site in Memphis.

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.

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