Everybody Loves Romano

How can Phil Romano, the "Steven Spielberg of the food business," become even more successful? By opening more restaurants, making more money--and feeding the homeless.

For the moment, however, the man who has started more than 25 eating places in his 40-year career, who knows that people in 43 states and eight foreign countries frequent restaurants he inspired, is clearly comfortable in a part of today's society most choose to ignore. In a few minutes, it will be time to leave. Yet the man who needs constant reminding of the nonstop schedule he keeps seems in no hurry.

Out of the corner of an eye he notices a car pulling into the parking lot and watches as a neatly dressed man gets out and walks hurriedly toward the van's service line. A frown begins to form as Romano sees the man speak to the volunteer who is ladling soup. "What the hell? Is this guy just stopping by for a free meal?" Romano asks.

Seconds later, his question is answered. The man turns away from the van and walks in his direction, hand extended. "Sir," he says, "you probably don't remember me, but two months ago, I was down on my luck and was one of those standing in that line over there. I just wanted to come by and tell you that things are better now. I've got me a good job, got me a car..."

Phil Romano has gone from making $9 a week to owning a 9,000-square-foot home.
Mark Graham
Phil Romano has gone from making $9 a week to owning a 9,000-square-foot home.
"Mr. Phil has been good to us," says one homeless person. "He's our friend...God bless him."
Mark Graham
"Mr. Phil has been good to us," says one homeless person. "He's our friend...God bless him."

Now Romano is smiling.

"...and," the visitor continues, "it dawned on me that I never properly thanked you for what you did for me."

That, explains Lillie Romano, is her husband's payoff for his latest brainchild. "You know," she says, "most nights he sleeps restlessly, usually for only four or five hours. On Wednesdays, though, things are different." On that night, she says, he sleeps soundly.

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