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April 2022 Small Business Spotlight: The Oakland Art Novelty Company

An interview with Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program alumnus Sandy Levine, proprietor of The Oakland Art Novelty Company, Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails, Dragonfly, and Freya.

First things first – tell us briefly who you are and what you do.

I am the proprietor of The Oakland Art Novelty Company—a craft cocktail bar in Ferndale, MI named one of the country's best bars by Esquire Magazine, Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails—a farm-to-table restaurant in Midtown Detroit named the 2016 Detroit Free Press Restaurant of the Year, Dragonfly—a casual and colorful bar featuring small plates and low alcohol/non-alcoholic craft cocktails, and Freya—a modern tasting menu restaurant for the 99%.

How has your perspective on negotiations changed? While I'd been of the opinion that one should enter negotiations with an "everyone wins"-type goal, the exercises our groups ran through showed how doing proper research ahead of negotiations can help expedite this significantly.

[Mori's] insistence that we recognize our worth and what we bring to the table is something that I desperately needed to learn, and it has both helped me "win" some of the negotiations I expected to fall through (including the building purchase for Freya and Dragonfly) as well as allowed me to walk away from others that I may have otherwise lowered standards for in order to make something work that simply wasn't going to.

We all have mentors or someone who has influenced us. Who is your strongest source of inspiration? A boss I had in Philadelphia from 2005-2007 named Ettore Ceraso. He embodied the restaurant he ran and knew every aspect of every inch—down to how many forks were in the restaurant vs. in storage. He had an unwavering attention to detail and dedication to excellence but was still able to manage people in a way that helped them lead themselves rather than forcing them to perform at his insistence.

How do you nurture and grow your relationships while running a business? I care. I always try to remember that motivating people to perform a certain way happens successfully when they're motivated to do it internally, rather than through fear or obligation.

What does the word empathy mean to you and how is it beneficial in a negotiation? I've long considered empathy to be the single most important quality in my business (restaurants and bars). In negotiation, it's essential to have a full and complete understanding of the needs, wants, and background of the person you're negotiating with. Without this knowledge, you're fighting in the dark (against someone who likely is wearing night goggles).

What is a piece of advice you wish you could give your younger self? Meditate. Breathe.

What is your favorite quote? And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it. - Roald Dahl

editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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