Dennis Hoffman just wanted a better restaurant in his neighborhood. And in late 2007, his good friend Hilda Staples, now a managing partner in the restaurants of chefs Bryan Voltaggio and Mike Isabella, approached him about investing in her first place, Volt. Hoffman, who works in private equity, had been friends with Staples’ husband, Jonathan Staples, since college, and he was the best man at their wedding. Like the Staples, he lives in Frederick, Md., and liked the idea of bringing a higher-caliber restaurant to town. At the time, Hoffman didn’t actually think he would make any money. “I looked at it more as I was joining the country club,” Hoffman says. “I was putting money into Volt so it would happen and I could go and eat there, but I was very pleasantly surprised when I realized it was an investment that would pay reasonable returns.”
Volt opened in July 2008—just before the stock market crashed. Despite the economic downturn, Volt made a profit its first year and continued building with an extra boost from Voltaggio’s appearance on Bravo’s Top Chef. “In those years, that was the best investment I made,” Hoffman says.