Amanda Friedman Creates Concepts, Services, and Products that Make People Smile

Celebrating 10 Under 10 honoree Amanda Friedman ’19

By: Janice Endresen
a woman standing in front of a brightly colored background holding a huge pair of scissors cutting a ribbon and smiling. the 10 Under 10 graphic identifier is overlaid on the photo.

Amanda Friedman ’19 at the official opening of SAMBAZON Açaí Bowls’ first licensed college and university location at California State University, Northridge, September 2022

A designer and project manager who is devoted to developing exceptional guest experiences, Amanda Friedman ’19, a graduate of the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration, is one of the 2024 10 Under 10 Notable Alumni honored by the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

Friedman is director of design and development at SAMBAZON Hospitality Group. She joined SAMBAZON—an acronym for Sustainable Management of the Brazilian Amazon—in 2020 as a founding member of its hospitality group with the vision of launching SAMBAZON Açaí Bowls as a licensed and franchised concept in airports, college campuses, and major league baseball stadiums across the United States.

A woman standing in front of a SAMBAZON Açaí Bowls food counter.
Amanda Friedman at SAMBAZON Açaí Bowls at Nova Southeastern

“My roles at SAMBAZON have been quite diverse and exciting!” she writes. “Initially, under the mentorship and leadership of Vito Buscemi, president of SAMBAZON Hospitality Group, I oversaw the development of customer service training documents, standard operating procedures, menu creation, research, competitor analysis, and project management. Now, I’ve expanded my horizons and lead all design and construction, brand standards, and manage the launch of new locations. What has been most gratifying is that our efforts have earned us international acclaim: The Moodie Davitt Report named us the best airport health-centered offering of 2023 and Airport Experience News named us a finalist for best quick-serve restaurant concept in large airports.”

Friedman lives in Orlando, FL, and one of her favorite quotes is a testament to her devotion to embracing change and coming up with innovative concepts:

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”—Walt Disney

In her free time, Friedman unwinds by composing original music, preparing delicious meals, or strolling down Main Street, USA.

Learn more about Friedman in this Q&A.

Driven to create unforgettable guest experiences

What drives your commitment and focus in your professional career?

Friedman: Creating concepts, services, and products that will make people smile and enjoy their experience fuels everything I do. Whether I’m reimagining a grocery store product as a dynamic quick-service restaurant concept or designing the appropriate atmosphere for a space-themed rooftop bar, my aim is always clear: Ensure that my concepts will be financially profitable and will create unforgettable guest experiences. Additionally, I believe that education never ends and that the more you live, the more you should learn. That is why I chose to continue my education at prestigious institutions such as the Parsons School of Design, the Disney Institute, and Georgetown University, where I was able to further refine and enhance my skills and expertise.

What does being selected for the 10 Under 10 Notable Alumni list mean to you?

Friedman: I am truly honored to have been selected as one of the 10 Under 10 Notable Alumni. This recognition holds special significance as it marks the first time graduates from the Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration have been eligible for this award. It’s hard to believe it’s only been five years since I graduated from Cornell; to receive acknowledgement for my contributions to hospitality and entrepreneurship is incredibly gratifying. This recognition not only validates my years of hard work and dedication, but also inspires me to continue making a meaningful difference in my field and community. I am sincerely grateful for this honor and look forward to leveraging my unique skills and experiences to create positive change in the world.

Problem solving, storytelling, and courage

What are the most valuable things you learned at Cornell that have helped you in your career?

Friedman: The three most valuable things I learned from my time at Cornell were how to be a creative problem solver, the art of storytelling in solution development, and the courage to never shy away from any challenge.

A young woman speaking with a small humanoid robot to her side in the background.
Amanda Friedman presenting her pitch to use Pepper, an interactive child-size humanoid robot, as a “cruise director” in nursing facilities at the Pepper Challenge at eHub Collegetown, April 2017

While studying at the Hotel School, I took a different approach than most of my peers. Instead of narrowing my scope to a finance or real estate track, I enrolled in a wide range of courses to prepare myself for any direction my career might take. This led to amazing opportunities to work on real-world projects for notable hospitality companies such as Caesars Entertainment, Delaware North Companies, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Pivot Hotels and Resorts, SoftBank Group, The Breakers Palm Beach, and the Inns of Aurora.

Each project came with its own unique set of challenges and impelled me to develop innovative solutions, products, and services. From marketing initiatives for a local spa to the implementation of new technology platforms for a major casino company, I felt confident in my ability to successfully tackle each of these projects. Looking back at these projects, it’s fascinating to see how much of an impact they have had and still have on these companies today. I am most proud of my pitch about how to use Pepper, the humanoid robot project, to improve the lives of nursing home residents—especially since Pepper has become a transglobal fixture in nursing homes in the Americas, Europe, and Asia.

Did any particular faculty or staff member(s) influence you on your chosen career path?

a young woman and an older man standing side by side and wearing graduation regalia / caps and gowns.
Amanda Friedman with Professor Bruce Tracy, Cornell University graduation 2019

Friedman: I find it difficult to pick just one professor because so many of them have inspired and impacted my career trajectory. I learned how to create a restaurant from the ground up thanks to Giuseppe’s teachings in Restaurant Entrepreneurship [taught by Giuseppe Pezzotti ’84, MMH ’96, former senior lecturer], and how to optimize a brand’s strategy in [Singapore Tourism Distinguished Professor] Chekitan Dev’s Brand Management course. Professor Bruce Tracey instilled in me the importance of continuous self-development and valuing any business’s most important asset: its people! Peggy Odom-Reed [senior lecturer, marketing and management communication] honed my public speaking skills, which helped me win the Models of Excellence competition and to become the confident public speaker I am today.

a young woman and older woman standing side be side, smiling and holding an awards certificate.
Amanda Friedman with senior lecturer Peggy Odom-Reid after winning the Models of Excellence speaking competition, spring 2018

But if I had to select just one, the professor who had the most profound influence on me was Reneta McCarthy ’84, MPS ’01 [former senior lecturer], as her courses covered a wide range of subjects, from Hotel Operations to Casino Management and Wellness and Spas. With her guidance, I dove deep into the multifaceted world of hospitality, gaining not only knowledge but also a profound understanding of what it truly means to embody the spirit and expertise of a Hotelie.

Sharpening and sharing hospitality and business skills post-graduation

Describe a challenge you encountered as you built your career and how you overcame it.

Friedman: In the initial stages of launching SAMBAZON Açaí Bowls, I had to take on multiple roles. Although I had gained an abundance of classroom knowledge during my time at Cornell and had gained operational experience at Four Seasons Orlando, I also knew I needed to further refine my skills in order to develop this restaurant concept right from the start. While my can-do attitude did allow me to make significant headway, I still felt that my project management skills needed some improvement. So I decided to enroll in eCornell’s project management certification program in order to better familiarize myself with the ins and outs of managing various projects.

a young woman standing behind a large table displaying photos of interior designs.
Amanda Friedman displaying her interior design concepts at the Parson School of Design

I also enrolled in the Hospitality Interior Design Certification program at the Parsons School of Design, which enabled me to create 3D mock-ups and floor plans of the concepts I was developing in a matter of hours rather than having to resort to old-fashioned pen, paper, and paint. I also decided to take every single online course offered by the Disney Institute to improve the content and writing of my company’s brand standards books and customer service training manuals. By continuing my education, I honed my hospitality and business skills—which helped me grow SAMBAZON Açaí Bowls into a successful brand. In less than four years, we have not only developed our brand, but have also opened seven high-profile locations throughout the U.S., including UCLA, Petco Park, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

What is the proudest moment of your career or of your personal life?

a young woman speaking to college students in a classroom.
Amanda Friedman as a guest lecturer in senior lecturer Christopher Gaulke’s class, Nolan Hotel School, fall 2023

Friedman: The proudest moment of my professional career was when Professor Christopher Gaulke [senior lecturer of food and beverage management] invited me back to Cornell to be a guest lecturer for his Restaurant Development course at the Nolan Hotel School. It was an honor to share my real-world insights on designing exceptional guest experiences through the lens of sustainable design, cutting-edge innovation, and compelling storytelling. The time I spent with his class this past fall semester was truly memorable, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have spoken to the future leaders and developers of the hospitality field.

What do you do to recharge?

Friedman: Whenever I need to recharge, I turn to my creative outlets. Singing and playing piano are my go-to activities because I love writing music. It’s almost like a challenging, yet fun, jigsaw puzzle as I try my best to match my lyrics to my melodies. Cooking is another of my passions—I love experimenting with different herbs and spices to create unique and delicious meals. Additionally, I enjoy playing tennis and badminton with my family and friends. Engaging in these activities not only helps me take a break from work, but also boosts my energy levels. But I always strive to incorporate my hobbies into my work, which makes what I do even more enjoyable!

Six keys to success

What do you wish you’d known as a current student and what advice would you give to students today?

Friedman: Reflecting on my own journey, these six principles have been essential to my success, and I hope other students will embrace them as I have.

  1. Work hard and always be prepared, especially in today’s remote world.
  2. Embrace the value of small businesses, as they offer invaluable hands-on experience that can shape your career trajectory.
  3. Infuse your unique personality into everything you do. Incorporating your ideas and likes into your work adds authenticity to it.
  4. Build meaningful connections. They can open opportunities for you and propel your career forward.
  5. While money may be important, enjoying what you do is even more important.
  6. Never stop learning and be the best you can be in every aspect of life.