CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- She's the vivacious general manager of the Bridge Road Bistro, an energetic overseer committed to fulfilling the dreams of her beloved friend and mentor, the late Robert Wong.
Quick money and a passion for people sucked her into the hospitality industry. Shelving plans for a law career, she collected a slew of impressive credentials in restaurant work. Credits include Cagney's, Outback, O'Charley's, Red Bull and Budweiser.
She found her working home under Wong's wing at the Bistro. His sudden death a year ago devastated her. Tearfully, she describes that sad day, how she held the apron and coffee cup he left behind that morning and knew then, deep in her heart, that she had to carry on.
"I was raised in St. Albans. I grew up in suburbia, like Mayberry.
"My mom, Betty, was married to a James Dean type. He drove fast cars and drank, a bad boy. About 9 months after I was born, he flipped his Mustang convertible going about 120 miles an hour and perished.
"Mom was a widow at 18. She met my stepdad, Billy Adkins. He raised me. My stepdad worked at FMC.
"I wanted to be a truck driver. I thought it would make me a good living and I would see the world and drive this huge beautiful piece of machinery. Then my intelligence kicked in, and I wanted to be an attorney.
"Marty Burke was a teacher at Stonewall and Capital. As a little girl, I would look up to her. She was a career woman. She helped mold me and showed me how to be a savvy woman.
"My first job was at the Valley Drive-In Theater in St. Albans when I was 16. I wanted to work there because my mom worked there. My mom was my idol. Her strength meant so much to me.
"My next job was at River's Edge. I set tables. Right before I graduated, they made me a server. I served for about six years, all through high school and college.
"I went to West Virginia State. I majored in criminal justice and political science. I wanted to go to law school. I was fascinated by how you could protect the innocent and help victims.
"I heard about this upscale restaurant called Cagney's. I needed better money. I had to pay for my books through school even with scholarships and grants. I needed to help mom with bills, too. She and my stepdad divorced. So I went to Cagney's as a server.
"My manager asked if I wanted to be a cocktail server. I made crazy money. I was making $800 to $1,000 a night, and I was in my early 20s. The money sucked me in.
"I was at Cagney's about two years when I heard Outback was coming to Charleston. There were hundreds of us at this mass interview. I took an hour-long aptitude test. They hired me as a server-bartender.
"Within the first week or two, I was a trainer. This girl came in and out a lot. The proprietor told me she was a service tech, that she went to other states looking at Outbacks to make sure we maintained our standards. Within six or eight months, I got her job.
"I was in charge of West Virginia, Virginia and Ohio. I eventually opened 66 Outback Steakhouses across the U.S. That's where I learned most of my standards in this industry.
"After four or five years, I decided I wanted to own an Outback and stop being a road warrior. But things were getting static. They said they weren't building any more Outbacks.
"O'Charley's had some headhunters calling me. They sent me to Kentucky to an O'Charley's to see what it was like. It was different from Outback, more family-oriented. I went to O'Charley's in Barboursville, and about a year later, I opened the one here on Corridor G and spent another two or three years there.
"I wanted to be a general manager, but promises weren't kept. The regional girl for Red Bull North America would come in, and we would run contests for her and we always won them. She said, 'Sandy, I want to start a family and you would be perfect for this job.'
"They sent me to D.C. on this big interview, wined and dined me and put me up in the most beautiful hotel and brought me on board.
"I was in charge of West Virginia and Virginia, overseeing any restaurant, tavern or bar that sold Red Bull. They gave me a Volvo and a huge expense account. They even paid my pet insurance. It was one of the best jobs I ever had.