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Danielle Williams, 32-Year-Old Single Mom, Buys Oceans 234

When the word "restaurateur" is used, the prevailing image that comes to mind is a middle-aged man. Like so many industries, the restaurant biz tends to be dominated by men.

Yes, we've progressed in terms of gender equality, but we still have a long way to go. Danielle Williams is forging ahead. The tall, thin, young brunet does not fit the average bill for restaurateur. The 32-year-old single mother of two recently bought out the beachfront Oceans 234 in Deerfield Beach. Details after the jump.

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The Philadelphia native has been working at the same site since she was 19 years old. Williams started off waiting tables at the beachfront establishment, formerly owned by her mother-in-law. At the time, the restaurant was run as more of a mom-and-pop shop than a special-events destination, with little to no standard operating procedures in place: no set managers, so real systems. Things kind of just took care of themselves.

"I could see stuff was wrong around here," says Williams. "I just started doing things."

The self-described "systems person" quickly moved up the ranks to manager. As the restaurant started to become more successful, Williams and her mother-in-law started talking about tearing down the old beachfront property to rebuild and expand. Right around that time, just before her one-year anniversary, Williams' husband unexpectedly passed away. No easy experience for a young, working mother.

Williams and her mother-in-law decided to forge ahead with the project. With Williams serving as director of operations, the restaurant is now coming up on its tenth year.

She admits that running an oceanfront destination restaurant has come with a huge learning curve.

"It really is a labor of love," Williams says. "I think about five years ago, I really started to get it."

To handle the influx of parties and special events, Williams brought in Kristin Pease as a full-time special-events coordinator about three years ago. Thanks to the success of Oceans' special-events programs -- everything from fundraisers and corporate parties to weddings and anniversaries -- the spot is looking to bring on a second events person. Two and a half years ago, the restaurant completely overhauled the menu. Right now, Williams is focusing on improving service and overall experience. "We're a destination, because of our location. We do tons of events: birthdays, anniversaries. If someone comes in for a birthday, that's an experience. Try to mess that one up," she says with a laugh.

While Williams is no stranger to overseeing and owning restaurants -- she's owned the Whale Raw Bar in Parkland on her own for about six years -- she felt a huge difference after she closed on the purchase of Oceans. "I had been gearing up for the February 1 closing date for quite a while," she says. "But on February 2, I woke up like 'I need to do this'; 'Why didn't we do this before?' The level of expectation really started to change."

Between the two restaurants, Williams manages 100 staff members. That's no small feat for any restaurateur, nonetheless a single mother in her 30s. Williams admits it really comes down to having reliable managers and employees. "Knowing that I'm doing this alone, that I don't have a husband or a partner, I really had to build that team," she says. "Everyone was handpicked: Delegation is key."

Overall Williams is ecstatic about taking over ownership of the restaurant. "I definitely have a huge sense of pride behind it. I was nervous to take the jump financially -- there were no family discounts," she says with a laugh. "I knew what I was doing. It was time."

Oceans 234 is located at 234 N. Ocean Drive in Deerfield Beach. Call 954-428-2539.

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Sara Ventiera

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