Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal

Local Young Entrepreneur Finds Good Food Leads to Good Business

Sam Solomon is feeling rather ducky. Yes, sometimes, it really is impossible to resist a good pun, especially when you are talking with the new owner of Spotted Duck Creamery. By the way, Sam’s official title is Chief Duck Officer.

A 27-year-old serial entrepreneur with a passion for the Finger Lakes, food, and fun, Sam graduated from Hobart and William Smith Colleges with a degree in sociology and entrepreneurial studies. His path to success with his first business, Pizza Posto, and now Spotted Duck, has been supported by numerous local organizations, companies, and individuals.

Finding a Place in the Finger Lakes

When Sam left his family in Long Island to go to college, he had no connections in the Finger Lakes. He says that organizations like the Geneva Chamber of Commerce and LOCATE Finger Lakes, as well as numerous food and wine businesses, are a huge help to people like him because they share their experiences and resources. “What was so incredible to me was that everyone was so nice and willing to help a young entrepreneur get off the ground. They didn’t safeguard their knowledge. They shared. And that helps all businesses in the Finger Lakes rise up.”

One particular standout in Sam’s support system was Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS), which was instrumental in Sam starting Pizza Posto, a wood-fired pizza food truck. Sam loved the school, but he was not impressed with the area’s pizza offerings, especially compared to what he had grown up with at home. As part of the school’s study abroad program, Sam lived in Italy for three and a half months, studying pizza. His professor was chief editor of the Italian edition of Food and Wine Magazine and took him to an annual invitational pizza competition for the top pizza chefs in the country. Sam ended up being one the judges. He also went to Naples, Italy and studied pizza making with a man whose pizzeria has been in his family for over 100 years.

When Sam returned to HWS in Geneva, NY, he entered The Pitch, an entrepreneurial leadership contest that helps students bring their big ideas to life. He won $10,000 to launch Pizza Posto.

After winning The Pitch, Sam went to work at a pizzeria in the Berkshires to gain more experience. There he became very aware of the pitfalls of starting a restaurant without enough experience and money. “I realized I should not try to do a brick and mortar business just yet, and instead bought a food truck where I could make woodfired pizzas using the techniques I had learned in Italy. I focused on creating pizza with a Finger Lakes twist and ingredients from local farms and businesses.”

He also validated that being an entrepreneur is what makes him happy. Growing up as a triplet, he watched his parents run their own video editing business. “I saw the ups and downs, but I also saw the freedom that my dad and mom had that my friend’s parents did not. That was really attractive to me.”

Pizza and Ice Cream

Because Pizza Posto did not have a physical location, Sam drove all over the Finger Lakes to different venues including Muranda Cheese Company, Other Half Brewing Company: Finger Lakes, and Penn Yan’s Spotted Duck Creamery, which had built a strong and proud reputation for its unique custard made from duck eggs. “[The founders of Spotted Duck Creamery,] The Hoovers were all about doing everything local and from scratch with the highest quality ingredients. So was Pizza Posto. It was an easy match of pizza and ice cream.”

Sam spent the next four seasons bringing his food truck to Spotted Duck on an almost weekly basis. The Hoovers and Sam began talking about collaborating on a restaurant in Geneva but were not able to find the right space. Then the pandemic hit, and plans were put on hold since both Spotted Duck and Pizza Posto were very busy as they provided an alternative to inside dining.

One day, the Hoovers told Sam they were planning on selling their business and moving to Tennessee. Sam was intent on finding a new owner for Spotted Duck who would commit to keeping the pizza and ice cream collaboration going. Sam’s father, however, had a different idea. He urged Sam to buy the business himself.

In partnership with Oskar Bynke, co-owner of Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard & Winery and Standing Stone Vineyards, Sam purchased Spotted Duck and quickly realized that he did not have enough bandwidth to operate two businesses. So he sold the food truck, retaining the rights to the brand and recipes.

Looking Toward the Future

Sam has not lost his love of pizza and plans to bring his pizza back to the Finger Lakes someday. He’s looking at one successful BYOB restaurant model in Brooklyn that only offers pizza and calzones. “I think people would love to go to a brewery and grab a six pack or bring their bottle from a winery to a pizza-only place that has really delicious wood-fired pizza with local pepperoni, mushrooms, and sausage.”

He also wants to continue bringing food to the area that is good for people’s health and the environment. ”It is very clear that a lot of the health issues we have are so closely related to the food we put into our bodies every day,” says Sam. “In terms of pizza and ice cream, you’re feeding a lot to children, and their bodies are still developing. I feel really strongly about feeding children high quality food and teaching them that it is actually a good thing to spend more money because of the effect food has on your body.”

As for now, Oskar and Sam want to expand Spotted Duck Creamery and capitalize on being the only people in the United States who make duck egg custard. The challenge is scalability and being compliant with frozen dessert regulations if they decide to wholesale. They are currently experimenting with their stovetop method of cooking but are not sure they can replicate it and stay true to quality in larger batches. If they are not able to go the wholesale route and sell to other restaurants, they may open more Spotted Duck locations, taking advantage of the high quality cream and fruit offered in the Finger Lakes.

“I’m incredibly bullish on the Finger Lakes,” Sam concludes. “There’s no reason why the Finger Lakes can’t produce more than enough of all of the ingredients that we use to keep us growing. It’s very clear that the Finger Lakes is a good place to not only live but also grow a successful business.”

Maureen Ballatori is a LOCATE Finger Lakes Business Journal contributing writer and a member of the organization’s board of directors. She is founder and CEO of 29 Design Studio, a creative agency for food, beverage and agriculture brands. Ballatori also owns Port 100 Cowork and Metro Collective which helps Upstate NY shared space operators activate their workspaces.

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