Leigh Kamstra, Chef/Owner, Roma’s Ristorante.
For 37 years an old, dilapidated stone building stood empty in Spearfish, on the edge of the Black Hills in western South Dakota. But it caught the eye of Leigh Kamstra, a college student then attending Black Hills State University. She didn’t know exactly at the time how or why, but she knew somehow her future would be in that building.
After earning a degree in business and working 10 years in banking, Leigh spotted on one stressful day a commercial for a culinary arts degree program at the Colorado Institute of Art. She changed course and received a degree in culinary arts with her eyes set on opening a restaurant. In 1999, with the help of an SBA-guaranteed loan, Leigh leased the old dilapidated building, refurbished it and opened Roma’s Ristorante.
Things have not always been smooth; sales declined sharply as travel and dining out fell off nationwide after Sep. 11, 2001. Plus, the old stone building was just too small, accommodating only 23 tables. Leigh adapted, securing another SBA-backed loan in 2010 to finance construction of a new building, with more space. Sales have nearly doubled and staff has increased from 11 to 35.