Business New Haven
By: Anne-Marie Brungard
New Haven celebrated the grand opening of Sandra's Soul Food at 46 Whitney Avenue on January 20. The guest list read like an Elm City Who's Who, including top officials from Yale and City Hall. Proprietors and lifelong New Haveners Miguel and Sandra Pittman thanked the city and university for support and assistance with site selection and access to financing.
Sandra's Southern-style cooking, recognized for favorites like chopped barbecue, collard greens and black-eye peas, adds a new flavor to Whitney Avenue's eclectic mix of restaurant's and retail stores. Sandra's other location is on Congress Avenue in the city's Hill section.
Although the quality of the food remains the same, there has been a definite raising of the bar as far as location and ambiance are concerned. The new modern look and feel is emphasized with suspended artificial lighting, and avant-garde color schemes.
According to Miguel Pittman the couple's success is an example of sticking with a dream and backing it up with hard work. In the early 1980s Sandra Pittman enjoyed cooking for friends, her church and family members, while Miguel expanded his skills in business management. Sandra later honed her culinary skills at the Stone School and the two combined their talents and know-how in 1989, when they opened their takeout restaurant just a few blocks from the current Congress Avenue location.
Sandra's inspiration and passion for traditional family-style recipes were born in her mother's kitchen. Mary Harris, an Alabama native, taught her daughter all she knew about soul food, commitment and community. We wouldn't be where we are today without God and my mother, says Sandra. I am also grateful for my husband's vision and focus - he is all business.
Soul food and family do go together. The Pittmans are proud parents of four children and several family members play an important role in restaurant management. Pittman's mother is still involved in the business and they have even named a special dish after her.
We depend heavily on our family for support, they have been there in the good times and the bad, always helping us and pushing us forward, says Miguel Pittman. He encourages other entrepreneurs to ensure that every effort is put into maintaining financial records so that when the time is right one can obtain financing. This is not an easy process, he says. We sought the assistance of business and finance professionals to help prepare loan packages and identify the right programs.
Being all business doesn't preclude giving back to the community. The Pittmans have sponsored an annual Children's Day Festival, a huge block party, at their Congress Avenue restaurant for several years. They also have adopted a New Haven public school and sit on the boards of community-focused organizations like the APT Foundation and Greater New Haven Business & Professional Association.
If their supporters and sponsors are any indication of future success, then Sandra's on Whitney not only tastes good - it looks good, too.