Restaurants and Hospitality

Saigon Sisters

Mary Nguyen Aregoni and Theresa Nguyen are sisters who were born in Laos, lived in Vietnam and Thailand, and came to the United States as young children with their family in 1976.  Inspired by their mother (Mama Suu) and grandmother, who were successful entrepreneurs in Vietnam--having grown an open-market grocery into a large food market operation that was the main supplier to nearby embassies--the sisters opened a Vietnamese street food kiosk in the Chicago French Market. 

Their kiosk became so popular that they decided to expand their horizons by opening a full restaurant in Chicago’s Fulton River District/West Loop neighborhood.  It was at this point that they sought the advice of SCORE mentor, Brian Stinton.  Brian helped them to create a business plan and cash flow analysis which enabled them to obtain bank financing.  He also worked with them to establish a sound bookkeeping system and to set realistic goals.

In November 2010, Mary and Theresa opened their restaurant at 567 W. Lake Street in Chicago.  As they said, “Our passion is to bring the delicious street foods we grew up with to Chicago, offering creative, contemporary interpretations but using authentic Southeast Asian ingredients. Saigon Sisters Restaurant is a contemporary casual restaurant where our guests can enjoy deliciously fresh, quickly prepared food at lunch and can come back to relax and enjoy a frequently changing menu of interesting small and large plates at dinnertime.” 

The Saigon Sisters website can be found at

Mary Nguyen Aregoni and Theresa Nguyen
My Location
567 W. Lake Street
Chicago IL
United States
My Successes

Their restaurant soon received great reviews and continues to attract new and repeat customers. 


What's Great About My Mentor?

Brian Stinton’s contribution to the sisters’ success is best described by them:

“The thorough analysis and unbiased advice we got from our SCORE mentor, Brian Stinton, helped us understand the risk and the reality of what we were getting into so we could be better prepared for it.  It gave us a roadmap of what our sales goal should be and what capital was needed to overcome startup hurdles and risks.  It gave us the realistic picture of what to expect and gave us the courage to proceed with the venture.”


"My husband and I developed a “passion” for Kettle (pop) Corn; and, when we decided to try it as a business a friend felt it would be advantageous for us to attend the SCORE® seminars on how to start a new business. This resulted in an on-going series of meetings with SCORE® counselors, each time benefiting from the advisors’ invaluable experience and knowledge. Today Kernel’s Kettle Corn is a reality!

We have a business location on the Santa Fe Plaza, and we could not be more grateful for the excellent direction and advice that we received from the SCORE® counselors along the way. From help in setting up our basic “business structure,” to doing the necessary research to “vet” our idea, thru the implementation of our business plan, the thing we found unique about SCORE® was their ability to stick with time-proven, good business sense, while continuing to incorporate practical suggestions for navigating through the ever changing economic times in which we live today.

Having mentors who have been there “first hand,” and understand the needs of a small business is a real plus for anyone needing direction. As we learned from our time with SCORE®’s counselors, many small businesses have failed simply for not doing the basic planning and investigative work needed to be successful. Even with something as simple as popcorn we can honestly say that, had we not followed through on the approaches suggested by SCORE®’s advisors, we might not be in operation today. We are now completing our first year in business and are making preparations to expand.

Even now that we have started our business, SCORE® counselors continue to give support. My husband and I have also attended additional seminars this past year, to learn about websites and the internet, as this will be a next step for our continued success. SCORE® has been a great experience for me and I recommend it for anyone who wants to start or cultivate their small business. Best of all, Its FREE!!!

My Location
On the Plaza, Santa Fe, New Mexico
United States

Urban Solace

Urban Solace restaurant, located in North Park, is the first independent venture for partners Matt Gordon and Scott Watkins, who have 40 years of combined restaurant experience. Their restaurant serves delicious comfort food at neighborhood-restaurant prices, and it has exceeded revenue goals by 58 percent since opening in 2007. Urban Solace is also a critic's favorite, having received 13 food and restaurant awards in 2008 for such dishes as New York Cheddar Mac n' Cheese with caramelized bacon and charred tomatoes, and char-grilled prime Omaha hanger steak with homemade steak sauce and sweet potato mash.

Success was immediate at the North Park location, and he has since opened two additional “Solace” restaurants to accolades; Solace & the Moonlight Lounge in Encinitas, and Sea & Smoke at Flower Hill Promenade, Del Mar.

Best known for his American comfort foods, served with health and sustainable ethics in mind, Gordon's newest restaurant, Sea & Smoke, an American restaurant, explores the flavors of the wood-fired oven, a central feature of the space, with a modern interpretation of an American menu.

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Gordon and Watkins
My Location
San Diego CA
United States
My Successes

When preparing to open Urban Solace, partners Gordon and Watkins used SCORE San Diego's free business consulting for financial advice and business plan guidance.  
"SCORE San Diego helped us with numerous aspects of opening our restaurant by pairing us with a diversity of counselors," said Gordon. "We had a team of consultants who could advise us on a wide range of topics because of their specialized business backgrounds, and there are no restrictions on the number of counseling sessions."  
Starting a small business is always tough, and the small business loan application process is especially difficult in the current economy. So, when Gordon and Watkins decided to open a second restaurant, they returned to SCORE San Diego for assistance.

Gordon's personal accolades include "50 People to Watch" by San Diego Magazine in 2011, "40 Under 40" by San Diego Metropolitan Magazine and "Best Chef" by San Diego Downtown News in 2008.

What's Great About My Mentor?

"Due to the current economic crisis, banks have increased their credit requirements and, at the same time, have decreased the number of loans they're approving," said Paul Hollenbach, SCORE San Diego business consultant. "Our business consultants know what information banks require when reviewing a loan application and are able to help small business owners put together a strong business plan and resume that will increase their likelihood of approval."  

How SCORE Helped

"We returned to SCORE San Diego for help because restaurants are notoriously risky investments and the help SCORE gave us the first time around was invaluable," said Gordon. "Their connections and knowledge of bank loans helped identify lenders willing to finance a start-up business during a recession."  
For more information about Urban Solace, visit or call 619-295-6464. 

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