ROCKFORD — Zammuto’s, a popular and well-established takeout restaurant at 725 Kent St., reopened 10 years ago this month under new owners Zina Horton and her daughter, Alida Horton.
Food items such as collard greens and macaroni and cheese were added to the menu shortly after the Hortons purchased the eatery to reflect the diversity of the neighborhood, but most of the restaurant’s staples, such as granita, a semifrozen dessert similar to Italian ice or sorbet, have remained.
Zina Horton recalls the early days of her business venture and her daughter’s unsuccessful attempts to find the right recipe on the internet for granita.
“So Peter Provenzano, a nephew of the original owners, found out about us, and he came and told us, ‘I’m going to have my uncle Joe come over here.'” Joe Zammuto was the son of Frank Zammuto, who came to Rockford from Sicily.
“So Joe came over, and he told us we were doing everything wrong,” Horton said. “That was the first week we were open. He made the granita, and he wrote their recipe down. So just like Bush’s Baked Beans, we have the recipe locked away, and we’ve been making granita ever since.
“And the wonderful thing about this is just last week we had a guy say he hadn’t been here in 60 years, and when he tasted the granita, he said, ‘It tastes just like I remember.’
“That was a phenomenal compliment,” Horton said. “It’s wonderful to know you are carrying on something that has been a staple in Rockford for nearly 100 years. People ask me, ‘Why do you continue the Zammuto name?’ It’s business sense. It’s been here since 1925. Why would I change the name?”
The mother-and-daughter business owners are African-Americans who speak Spanish and have adapted well to the neighborhood. Their success is the exception, however. The number of African-American-owned businesses nationwide in 2012, the latest year tracked by the U.S. Census Bureau, totaled 2.6 million, accounting for 9.6 percent of the country’s 27.6 million businesses. Meanwhile, African-American unemployment remains high: 11.3 percent nationwide, 16.4 percent in Illinois and 23.2 percent in Rockford, according to the Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey.
Earlier this year, a pilot program called Advancing the Development of Minority Entrepreneurship was launched in three cities — Chicago, Rockford and Peoria — with the goal of expanding it statewide. Local and state officials believe the program will be a slow but long-lasting means of boosting minority employment.
Creating, growing, retaining jobs
The program identifies “high-potential” entrepreneurs who are people of color, women or veterans and provides start-to-finish support to help them launch or grow a business. The program is administered by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity through the Illinois Small Business Development Center network.
Horton was one of 12 current and future minority entrepreneurs who attended the six-week ADME program offered during the spring in Rockford.
Applicants were asked to complete a talent identification assessment developed by Gallup to determine each applicant’s potential for success. Business plans, financial data and other proprietary information were scrutinized as part of the selection process. An entrepreneur liability score was created, applicants were selected, and over a six-week period the ADME participants received a business-focused education centered on development of a business plan, and learned how to access capital to get a business off the ground or expand an existing business.
“What it did is it gives us the individuals who really have the high potential to be entrepreneurs but most importantly to be able to create jobs,” said Marcus Yancey, deputy director of the Illinois Office of Minority Economic Empowerment and ADME program manager. “That’s what we’re looking for. We are always looking at job creation, job growth and job retention.”
Yancey said programs like ADME have the potential to increase employment opportunities for minorities because minority entrepreneurs are “more likely to hire people who look like them.”
In addition, ADME aims to help create mentorship programs and networks to help would-be and existing entrepreneurs even after the program ends.
Zina Horton has six employees. She is not looking to add to the payroll just yet, but she would like to increase the manufacturing of Zammuto’s granita, already sold at Woodman’s stores in Rockford and Beloit, Wisconsin, and at the Chiquita Food Market on South Main Street.
“One of the reasons I was really interested in the ADME program is I want to figure out how to get capital because the machines that we are dealing with are old,” she said. “They’re almost as old as this building, and we need new machines. For instance our ‘Gracie,’ which is our granita-making machine, costs almost $30,000. I need two of her. I need ice cream machines. They cost almost $10,000, and I need four of those. We’re talking $70,000 just in the machines. For me and my daughter, that’s a lot of money.”
Dave Buchen is a Rockford resident and director of the Small Business Development Center at Sauk Valley Community College in Dixon. He was one of two local ADME facilitators. While the ADME program is still under state review, Buchen continues to meet on an as-needed basis with program participants and is optimistic that a second six-week session will be offered.
Buchen cautioned, however, that education only goes so far — lenders must be willing to invest.
Chris Green: 815-987-1241; email@example.com; @chrisfgreen