Restaurant Rockstars Episode 374

Tossing the Dough, Spreading the Legacy: An Authentic Journey of Neapolitan Pizza

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Every restaurant has its own unique story. But this one carries on a 152-year tradition.

In this episode of the Restaurant Rockstars Podcast, I’m speaking with Francesco Zimone.

Francesco grew up in Naples, Italy where pizza and pizza making are a time-honored tradition.

Francesco is an ex-finance person turned movie maker, turned pizzeria impresario who has brought authentic Naples’ pizza to America with four restaurant locations.

As a young boy, he frequently visited L’antica Pizzeria da Michele for many family get-togethers.  This pizzeria is not only famous for its century plus old recipe, but also notably appearing in the classic film Eat, Pray, Love!

Listen as Francesco shares:

  • Careers in Finance and movie making before starting his restaurant journey.
  • How he brought his Neapolitan roots to Hollywood to authentically establish L’antica Pizzeria da Michele here in America
  • Opening new locations in New York City, Santa Barbara and soon to be Long Beach just four years after founding L’antica in Hollywood
  • The true meaning of hospitality and how to build a winning team
  • Why responding to every online review matters
  • Leadership, company culture and loyalty

And of course, chasing the American Dream, wearing “all the hats” and never wavering on his authentic vision.

The episode also highlights the business challenges faced due to COVID, how Francesco adapted to that and his vision of a restaurant as a place that brings people together in a warm, hospitable manner.

Learn about Francesco’s passion for food and quality, and how he is propagating this legacy in America. From his inspiring story, gain insights on running a successful restaurant and see the passion it takes to deliver a memorable dining experience.

Don’t miss this episode, get my FREE “Top 3 Ways You’re Killing Your Restaurant Profits and a bonus at www.restaurantrockstars.com/profits then go out there and Rock YOUR Restaurant!

Roger

Connect with our guest:

@francescozimone,

@damichelela,

@damichelenyc,

@damichelesantabarbara

Welcome back and thanks for being with me on the podcast. Super excited today. I’m speaking to a gentleman from Naples, Italy, who shares the story of the origins of pizza. Now, very few of us realize that pizza was invented in Naples, Italy, generations ago, and it is such a time honored tradition where pizza making is revered and the craft of making authentic neopolitan pizza is passed down from great grandfather to grandfather to father to son, and so on, I’m speaking with Francesco Zimone, a native Neapolitan, and he is an ex finance person, turned movie maker, turned pizzeria. Impresario. Now he brought authentic Naples pizza to America. He’s now got four locations and this is all about the passion of food and quality and about tradition and about how you do things to really capture your audience’s attention with a really unique offering. And I can share that sentiment because I did the very same thing.

I was inspired 30 years ago to go to Naples, Italy. I was starting a wood fired pizzeria and that comes out in this story. So you got to stay tuned. Thanks for being with us. Thanks also to the sponsors this week. And if you haven’t already head over to restaurantrockstars.com/profits, I’m giving away the. Three ways you are killing your restaurant profit immediately. Actionable ideas to increase your bottom line. Plus a bonus restaurant assessment. Really thought provoking questions from the inside out to really dive deep into your business to improve all aspects of your operation. Get it at restaurantrockstar.com/profits.

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Welcome back, everyone. Glad to have you here. Francesco, welcome to the show.

Good morning, Roger. Such a pleasure to be with you.

This is a really exciting story for me because I had wood fired pizzerias. Those were my first restaurants that I started. No way. And I actually traveled to Napoli myself and made pizza in one of those famous pizzerias in Napoli a long time ago.

It’s an interesting story.

Will you be able to tell me which one? The only thing I, this was so long ago, this would have been 1996, and I think it had would it be possible that it was called Trianon?

Of course, right across the street from Demi Kelly. Then, oh! This

is unbelievable. That is all I remember.

It was Trianon. Yeah, right across

the street. One of the historic ones. Oh, that’s

wonderful. I lived in Milano for a summer back in 1988, and so I had some very basic Italian. And I walked into Trianon and I simply said, I just opened a pizzeria in America and I’d really like to do things the authentic Neapolitan way.

Next thing I know, someone throws me an apron over the counter and says, come on back. And now I’m making pizza and firing it in the oven. And I spent a couple of hours in this pizzeria and that was a very interesting story. And I printed that on my menus and my pizza boxes. So I was really excited when when you became a guest in.

I’m really excited to tell your story.

I’d say that he’s, what I find endearing about that is that being a Neapolitan, hearing a story like that one, it really shows why Naples is such a well thought concept as a town, as a culture, because we are exactly like that person who handed you a, an apron on that morning, 30 something years ago, for us, sharing, living a life with people, enjoying the moment and doing things together, it’s what absolutely 100 percent goes beyond my idea of a pizzeria restaurant. And so I’m grateful that you told me that. Very happy.

Let’s talk a little bit more about the culture, because it is not only a culture, but it’s a lifestyle of not only Neapolitan people, but literally in Italy, because I lived in Italy and I ate a lot of pizza, but Napoli is really where pizza was invented, where it began, and then obviously Napoli shared it with the world, but tell us a little bit more about what it means.

I believe that, the people that own these pizzerias, the people that make pizza, they’re revered because this is a tradition that’s passed down from generation to generation. Yeah. And there’s such a proud tradition there. But you. You grew up there. So tell us about your experiences growing up in Napoli and what, and what that culture was really like.

And like you said, it brings people together and it’s about the food. It’s about the wine. It’s about the neighborhoods. It’s all those things, but I’d like to hear from you. Our audience would love to hear.

That there is such a interesting question because. And I could I could go on and on in sharing with you how proud of a Neapolitan I could ever be, but we’re all like that, right?

Born in 1973, Christmas Eve, I’m basically turning 50 in about 10 days. Is a regular family in Naples. Mom and dad, one brother. As everybody in that town you got high end town calls. Everybody lives there. You got large communities. You got people always together.

On a regular weekend day, you go eat a pizza with your dad, maybe dad takes the two kids, maybe you go the whole family, maybe you go for lunch, maybe you go for dinner. And if you go for pizza, it’s basically what now in the United States we say we go out for dinner, for us going out to have a pizza is a much easier way than going out for dinner, not only economically speaking, but because We are all chefs at home.

We all have moms that cook so well. So then there’s a dinner out that the Sunday lunch out with the extended family uncle hand out of town in the Amalfi coast. It’s more like La Gita, the way of going out of town, spending the day with grandpa, everyone. But normally on a daily base, you go eat at this pizzeria or somebody told you that.

That new pizzaiolo does that pizza, so you gotta try, it’s the same thing we do the mom of my body makes the perfect Genovese. Oh, everybody at school knows. That, the mom of this guy makes the phenomenal lasagna. So this is how Italy is all about, right? It’s that old school beautiness that comes together with the fact that space is limited.

It’s more of a New York, but in Italy, right? You live in a building, you talk to people. You put your clothes outside the balcony and you say hi to the neighbor across the street, so you don’t have a white picket fence. You don’t necessarily say hi only to a couple of neighbors or the people on the same street.

So growing up for us, the pizza is It’s literally culture. , that’s why we, when we come here with our folklore, with our way of being and whenever we get asked questions of this level, we always say, dude, it’s about love. It’s about being together. It’s about, I get. Texts and calls from my business partner, Michele, which is the pizza guy, right?

And yesterday he’s in New York and he sends me a couple of photos of people thanking him, how nice he was, how wonderful he was, how much he gave, how better he tasted the tiramisu he gave them when he went home. Because that’s exactly what we do. That’s what pizza, that’s what Neapolitans, that’s how we embrace the projects, that’s how we live our life, that’s how Americans when they travel, you first go there and they’re like, wow, dude.

It’s people are just amazing. It’s there’s happiness everywhere, because we have less, but we own more. And that’s probably philosophically speaking, it’s and again, I said it at the beginning, so I got my own disclaimer that I could have taken that answer in any place I wanted.

But it’s just a dream. It’s a, because you’ve owned pizzerias, it’s flour, it’s water. There is no such a thing as the water from Naples or from New York is better. That doesn’t work. It’s just flour, yeast, water. And then there’s the capacity of the pizza maker to decide what kind of hydration, what kind of, how much water content you want, what kind of products you want to use, as a flour, and at the same time also as tomatoes and cheese, because let’s be honest, Pizzas should be very limited numbers of pizzas, which is Margarita, marinara , margarita with prosciutto . Margarita with the fungi. With capricciosa. Margarita with spicy salami. Margarita with anchovies. marinara with anchovies. That’s it. Let’s not, then you wanna do it. What we call it a Mischia Francesco. So it’s you want to do a minestrone, you want to put everything you want to be gourmet.

Whatever, but, that’s, yeah, it’s a different game. I wonder if my pronunciation is way off, but I used to order pizza con funghi e

cipolla. Oh my, that’s a, you like it. That’s a good one. But these, these are the, these are, there’s a lot of old school. And when I say old school, I’m talking about grandpa.

and grandma back in, after war, it’s the onions, chipotle would be the most poor dish you could find. And then the fungi would be a little gift to it. I think pizza should really have three, four ingredients at the most. What I found that is spectacular. I’ve noticed such a big change in the American appreciation of quality in the last 10 years, that is, the open mindedness of Americans towards products.

That I still get a review here and there that says everything was spectacular and the pizza at the center was a little bit soggy. Dan Michele pizza is a 16 inches, singular person pizza made With very soft, like a blanket, so it’s not romana, it is crispy, it’s not thick, it’s really like a particular product.

It feels almost like spaghetti, when you have it, because you need to fold it, you give a big bite, it explodes, it’s a great product.

Fold it, of course, that’s wonderful. So let’s talk a little bit about your story, because I understand that you worked in finance for quite some time. Did you come back to, your roots of pizza after a finance career?

Like how did you get back into pizza and then bring the concept of that traditional pizzeria in Italy to the United States? That’s so fascinating. It’s,

It’s obviously I try my best to so consider that it’s Again, I was born on Christmas Eve, right? I’m a first child of a family.

Yeah, I guess I’m a dreamer. I start with architecture. I ended up being in finance in London. Bloomberg and and a company end up getting corporate finance in Los Angeles with the Lionsgate films Moved to Universal. I’m about to produce a movie with Universal, but then Knocked Up comes out amazing and my movie doesn’t get made anymore.

I figured out my last name does not have a Stein at the end, so I’m probably not going to be a big producer in Hollywood. You never know. And I’m, my patience back then is basically literally zero. And I don’t like to wait for other people or people to tell me. Hey, you need to start from the bottom, take the dog for a pee, for a walk.

So I’m like, I’m done with movie business. It’s okay. I’m just, and I like people and I just want to be with human beings and talk to people. So I decided to take a job with Barilla, the pasta company, and to launch their culinary school called Accademia Barilla. All Michelin star chef, top of the top Wynn, Las Vegas, every big chef that nowadays we celebrate.

AnD I find that my love for people is just really cool, I just love people, I just want to be with people, I just have a great time. I almost forgot that I’m a Neapolitan guy and I just like to be with people, I just want to spend my time out with people, having a great time, and then one day, the longest possible, I’ll die, happy.

I don’t need to possess that much. I just want to have a great life. I decided, I went to architecture, so I decided that I wanted to do homes. And all together I realized, you know what, I’m a single guy here. I want a family, probably should go back to Italy and go to the streets of church table.

Like all the Americans tell me, Hey, what are you doing here in America? Go back there. It’s so beautiful, your country. So I’m like, these people might be right. There’s something tangible about being in Italy, how beautiful. So I’m like, okay, you know what? I’m going to give myself another shot. I’m going to open a restaurant.

So I convinced the D’Amichele family to open a restaurant together. And I told them, I’m all going to do a straight pizzeria. I want a restaurant. I want it super beautiful. I’m all about mid-century. I design homes in a certain flavor and level. I wanna upgrade the idea of pizza, but I don’t wanna lose my roots and I do not wanna make a project that is an expansive project.

I just wanna do something that when you walk into, you say, oh, I feel strangely comfortable inside here. I feel like at home. because you walk into a restaurant and if it’s a two Michelin star or three Michelin star, you got to look at the food and you have to just really savor every bite.

And I find it quite annoying. I can go once. per millennium, right? But if I go out, I just want to be out and talk to people, having a good time, party kind, slowly, but just having a good time. I want to go home and say, I want to go home and say, wow, I had a great night. Those guys are really cool.

Trust me, that’s my ideal business. So I designed a restaurant that feels like a home. You walk in and you’re like, okay, that’s fine. We invited these people, so our hospitality level is different. We talk to people, we go to the table we let them know who we are. We ask who they are.

We, if somebody says What do you suggest? By default, I would never suggest you something expensive. I’ll suggest you what I find good. I design the menus in a way that every single dish gives you an opportunity to taste to taste something, right? I believe the movie business, I believe the finance business, are the initial color that I put on the canvas to eventually end up being a restaurateur, I remember, I always say that my dad brought me to see a movie when I was 14, 13, called In the Name of the Father.

Daniel Day Lewis is an IRA guy and he’s not, but he gets arrested as a potential terrorist and, but he hasn’t done anything. And I, the movie will add an intermission in Italy. And then the first half. I went out, I told my dad, Dad, I’m so upset. He didn’t do anything. My dad looked at me and said, you should take this as a great example of a good director and a good writer.

These guys are capable of making a art piece that is making you feel something, whether you’re upset or you’re laughing. That’s the job of a director or a writer. That thing sticks in my head 35 years later and I think if I give you a dish that doesn’t have any identity, why the hell am I putting that dish on the menu?

 (continue here) So I want everything to provide an experience and and if you go to a restaurant and no server, no managers, no one comes to talk to you, no one addresses you for a second, asks you a question, why? What is it? It’s an industry. This is not what I want. I want every single place to be a place where people can meet, where people can actually, the American culture is a little bit more funky.

We do have our white picket fence. We strive for talking to people, meeting people. There’s a lot of, if you marry wrong, it’s a big deal in this country, right? Because it’s who the hell are you talking to when you’re 50 and up, if you don’t have, if you haven’t created a friendship with other people, you gotta make an effort in this country to go out.

Unless you’re in New York, you get out of your building. But in LA, you want to go for dinner somewhere, it takes you an hour.

I meet people in a month. I call people, do you want to go out? It’s yeah, what are you doing on March 27th? I’m like, dude, it’s November. What the hell do I know what we’re doing in March? Yes. So I said, I’ll open a restaurant. They come and visit me. I’ll become the mayor and I’ll have a great life and I’ll meet people.

And it was so beautiful. It was so beautiful. We just had COVID six months later that we opened the restaurant. What a challenge. Yeah.

This is a business of relationships, and you’re building relationships every day. And it’s all about the passion and the creativity and the story and the history. And like you said, you want to provide memorable experiences to each and every guest and make them feel at home as if they’re family in your own home.

And that’s a beautiful thing unto itself. But I’ve always believed that this business is you keep talking about movies and I can relate this to movies in that you’re putting on a production every day and your guests walk through the door and the curtain goes up and it’s showtime. And this is entertainment.

This is show business. This is more than just food, although the food is very important, but it’s also about the experience you provide them, the relationships you build with them, and you give them lots of reasons to make friends with your staff and you yourself, and then. They come back and they tell their friends and that’s all free marketing.

You’re building a brand now. You’re not just running a restaurant, although all the elements are there, but that’s a beautiful story. How did we talk about, Don McHale and that whole thing. And that is a very traditional, how old is that business?

First Pizzeria in for, in Napoli in Berto next to the station.

Yeah. Opened in 1870. That actually is not the original location. That was another one till 1920. Wow. Then they got into the location. It’s the brand has started 153 years ago. Wow. Two pizzas, margarita and Marinara since inception. uhhuh, that’s it. There’s no joke. I personally remember, even though I don’t have 153, but in 1980 something, we were going there and we had the one complaint that they would give us.

paper towels that you could Nowadays, sand wood. Oh. And every, it was so rough. Oh wow. Oh wow. Yeah. The paper towels that they were giving us, it was so rough because it cost, nothing, cost 4,000 lira. , it was like three euros, four euros at the most. We do not use extra virgin olive oil on the pizza. We use a canola oil from the region that is very unassuming, does not take a stand into the pizza flavors. It really just complements the cheese and the tomatoes by making this very juicy product.

And now I’m really, I really want it. That is so good. Roger, it’s just it’s just one of those ensemble that you’re like, come on, man. How simple, but how flavorful is this product? And that’s where, one of the biggest most amazing chef that I’ve been working with. two times James Beard Award, Paul Bartolotta used to tell me all the time, it’s you know what, Francesco, the the most difficult dish is tagliolini al burro, or pasta with olive oil and nothing, because you got nothing to make it perfect, but salt.

So if you don’t do the thing right, to make something so simple, so good, It really requires for you to have an understanding of what food is all about. So I’m very happy about the project, super happy. I have a two year old son, that every time that he sees the photo of Dan Michele, the logo, which is the grand grandfather that is probably 60 or 70, he always says, Papa.

So I think it looks it fits good on me, even though, of course, I would get offended when he would say it, because I’m much younger than the 70 year old grandpa of Dan Michele,

you’re passing on a legacy that’s going to continue in your family, probably generations, so what a beautiful thing that is.

You mentioned margarita. Now, is that still the most popular pizza, and is there any truth to that? To the story that the Italian flag comes from the colors of a margarita pizza, where you have obviously the red from the tomato and the sauce, and you’ve got white from the mozzarella, and then you’ve got green from the basil, is there truth to

that?

That story, one way or the other, at a certain degree or more, Yeah, it is actually true because the Ray, the Kingdom of Naples, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Had the savoia as the family that was in power. And the wife of the king was called Margarita de Savoia. The story or the legend speaks for a summertime visit to the king palace where the wife accordingly to legend was bored with the husbands or with the chefs food, and she asked her husband to get in the street there and pick up all these street vendors who would make these things called pizza.

So I guess one of these guys who would eventually have we Neapolitans are very forward. I guess one of these guys said had the courage to tell the queen. That he had made this pizza with these, the three ingredients of the flag of Italy, which to me, it’s a little bit incorrect because they’re the kingdom and the Republic came after.

So I don’t know why they would have said that, but I definitely didn’t dig into the story much more beside what it’s this myth about these things happening. The margarita. is also a flower and I just, and it’s just a phenomenal pizza, unless You’re a purist and you go for a marinara or a marinara with anchovies and then we’re talking about a completely different profile but I, a good pie.

Yeah, people who’ve never visited Italy are probably not familiar with, they order a pizza and they’re one size personal pizzas You don’t cut them. You give people a fork and a knife and here you come to America and they got the pizza cutter and it’s all divided into slices and that’s a differentiating factor, but obviously you’re doing things the authentic way and your pizza is, right?

You give them a fork and a knife or do you

cut it? We, we’ve been forced. yOu are what, to a certain degree, you need to understand the business as well. It’s having one restaurant is one thing. Now I have three opening the fourth one, which for a normal dude like me, without an institutional investor, behind two open restaurants that are anything between 6, 000 and 9, 000 square feet in New York and LA, Those are big restaurants.

Yeah. Wow. I have no idea. Roger, I have no, I really have no idea why, how I did and I’m doing what I’m doing and it’s probably unhealthy because this is my third restaurant in 12 months. It was a bet that I made with a big producer at Netflix. I asked him why did he should produce a documentary on me building three restaurants without any money, and he laughed and I’m a stubborn Capricorn, so I signed up three locations, and now I’m opening three restaurants, but never.

Ever again in my life I’m going to do any of this, ever, especially after COVID and also, I need to have, I cannot deal with general contractor and landlords. I cannot do this business anymore. I need to just step out of building restaurant, but I love it. I know.

I got it. It’s so beautiful.

It’s in your blood. I know. I love it so much. So it becomes identity, right? It’s like my pizzerias were my identity. It’s who I was as a person,

it is. And you go and it’s just, you go back and you go above and beyond. You just really, and you vibrate like your clients and you just love people and people come there and they just want to, I got no business in being any sort of public character of any sort.

Couldn’t care less. We never wanted to be any of that. I’m just very happy about the fact that I was able to create a community of friends. Somebody who cares of the bullshit that I say and it’s, or, always become my friends because they relate with being normal people and enjoying life. So this is great.

I just, I’m very happy. We love the idea of this restaurant. Just the happiest about creating a community. They’re all different. I got not, they always tell me, what about the brand identity? What are we talking about here? Who cares about, I don’t need any brand identity. The only brand identity we do is we.

I would sometimes I think are you kidding me? Our servers in the restaurant, they’re like the people I love, the bastards that don’t speak English. I love these people. You know why? The servers, for example, I think they do the best job on the planet. They just, I told them all the time, please smile, please talk to people, please have fun with people, please offer a dessert when it’s needed, please do whatever you want, have fun, enjoy your five hours there.

But when I get other people that eventually work in the kitchen or as bussers that they don’t speak a perfect English or they’re just, foreigner like me, I looked at these kids and I’m like, Dang, these kids look at me like a big brother or a father. And I just go there and I want to let them know like You have an opportunity.

I come from nothing. I sold my 401k to do this. I had worked for 15 years in US. I raised 300, 000 in my 401k. I traded my 401k all the way to almost a million dollar and I took the money out 15 years before and I put it in the first restaurant. And I say to people like, I have no idea what I’m doing, but if you want something, just do it.

And I see these kids, that they are like, hi Frankie. For me, that’s a big win. Because you need to give a little bit of love to these kids who eventually have no family in this country. Yes. Like me. Huh. I had no family, I got nothing to talk to. And not in a sad way, I chose to be here.

Many other people maybe have, didn’t have the luxury to choose to come here, to be able to provide, we offered about 45 loans to our employees in the first two years that we were open and we had COVID. Beautiful. So beautiful, man. Just a thousand here, thousand there, and you know what, I don’t think, I don’t think that the good people go to heaven and the bad one don’t.

That, I don’t believe in that. I believe in the fact that if I do good, it’s just good for me. I’m a selfish guy. Selfish is a good word. You gotta do good for yourself. Then if you believe that good is to be nice to others, then it’s a good. you know, simple things

know, a stressful day for me when I was, I had multiple restaurants also, but I always found it therapeutic to get in front of the oven and actually cook the pizzas, and I’d give one of my pizzioles a break and I’m like, you know what, I want to cook for a while.

And I’d get in there and we had, my biggest pizzeria had a huge brick oven and it was right in the middle of the dining room floor. So all the guests could see the, firing the doughs and all that sort of thing. And we could have 15 pizzas in this oven at a time and you gotta get the hang of it.

I don’t need to tell you this because you understand there are hot spots in the oven and the fire is over here and it’s a convection principle because it’s a big dome and you gotta spin those pizzas around so they don’t burn but just a little bit of char on it is traditional and you’re like really hustling so that you’re not.

Ruining any pizzas. And I found that really relaxing. And I used to do that several times a week. I’d get in there for a half an hour and make pizza. And for me that was like, heaven. I love doing that. The,

I was texting my partner, my, the mother of my son yes. Yesterday because I ended up washing my own car yesterday.

And I text her and I said I really needed to wash the car. Not too many people understand the stress that an entrepreneur goes oh, absolutely. Till a point where you either grow big enough to have a real infrastructure with a CFO, CMO

but, I’ve been juggling three restaurants, plus an opening, with our own money, a little bit of friends and family, and taking care with my staff of HR, taking care of people of these and people of that, and making sure that everybody feels happy, and fighting with the landlord in New York, fighting with the general contractor in Long Beach, and And calling the lawyer for this and the lawyer for that, and I just find very important because I’ve decided to expand the brand to find a balance for my own life.

in order for me to actually change throughout the process of building more restaurants with a few very simple principles. I do not want a chain of restaurants. I do not want anything to feel like a corporate. I want to run it as a corporation with all the principles, with all the difficulties of the day, right?

The the new laws for she or her and him or Dave. New laws of like this and the new laws of how many hours or many things. And so much that is going on for life. So we’re adapting with everything. We’re accepting everything. We’re looking at everything.

We are open minded about a lot of principles. And I believe the best we act as a corporation to with our employees. And the more we retain the right people, it is a very tough project to be able to grow a company and maintain it healthy and beautiful because, it’s the same story of the greenest grass where you put your attention.

So if I always see that when you sell a company or when you sell a piece, Then you always see the things change because, you sold, you’re out of it. So I don’t want any interest in getting out of it. I just want to have a company with principle. I live my life business wise as a basketball coach, which was something very different to me because I’m a soccer fan, right?

If you’re winning 3 0 and it’s three minutes to the end, you won, right? In basketball, if you’re 10 points ahead and there’s 50 seconds to the end of the game, the coach is still gonna call for a timeout. You’re like, why the hell are you calling for a timeout? There’s 50 seconds. They’re never going to make those 10 points.

No, they can make it. So I believe in full attention, a hundred percent at all times. We are in a service industry and we need to provide the people with an experience. And the only way to manage your stuff in a way that everything is always done to the nines is to put a little bit of pressure. So I love the idea of where we’re going.

I really, of course, I understand that the challenge is that after COVID and with the inflation, the market went down drastically. But I really feel very proud of how our clients have been loyal to us and our our sales didn’t really get a ginormous effect as I am hearing around.

It’s a very appealing concept and just the fact that you are a personality in your businesses and people love the way you’ve created your business and the people that you employ. Do you do anything special with your staff in terms of training them and bringing them up to the culture of Napoli and just so that they can impart not just the food to the guests, but also the whole experience?

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Yes, I think, Roger, we did something super cool, but honestly, we didn’t even know why, how, okay. What happened was when COVID hit, we were open for seven, eight months. And so I was like, imagine a guy in a storm that had just opened a 6, 000 square feet restaurant. Yeah. And I, with no advisors or anyone.

So I was like. What the hell am I going to do now? Should I send everybody home? So I retained the entire stuff. And then on the second lockdown, I looked at my, the beautiful lady and I asked her, I said, Amore, we cannot lose the money. Again, like on the first lockdown, yes there’s a talk for some funds that the state will give us, but I cannot put the company to zero cash in the bank.

She said, don’t worry. Don’t worry, baby, you’ll come up with an idea. So we’ll sit down on the sofa. We relax the minute. And then I looked at her. I said I’m going to create a drive in. So we created a drive in our parking lot and we provided the people with the park stalls.

They could make a reservation with their own car, bring their family in the middle of November and December 2020, when there was depression to a level unprecedented. And people loved us because we would deliver the food outside their car. They would hold masks, everybody’s about to die, and they would pick up and they would have gloves.

They’d get in the car, they would turn on their radio to a station. And then out of that, Roger, we got Disney Plus that called me and said, we want your lot for, to launch Disney Plus. LA Times wrote an article on me. I was like, you gotta be kidding me. So when we did that, I realized I’m like, Francesco, in one of those conversation I have every once in a while, when I look at myself in the mirror, I said, you have to stick with who you are and what you do, and this is your call.

So our training with our staff is basically a very boring version of me telling them how much I freaking love people and how much they should be happy of being in this industry. And if they don’t believe in service as the idea why you’re in this business, you shouldn’t. Because we look at every single review, we return, we respond to every review on Yelp, Google, on Resi, on OpenTable.

Anything a customer comes to us, we just go for it and we’ll just call back, apologize if there’s a mistake, but now, I have ambassadors. Now my staff is a true ambassador of what we want. We all breathe the same way, and that’s just exactly what I love about it, because in the same spirit of being Neapolitan, when we were saying at the beginning, you don’t necessarily have to be rich in order to have a great life.

Honestly, trust me, I haven’t made a dime yet. Definitely would love to make some because I have a two year old baby. We’ve refused a big offer from a big group this year to buy our company, but there’s no way. I’m not selling anything, I love this process and for me now I have about 350 employees.

I’m looking at 10, 000. I want 10, 000 employees. I want to have a company that really I really believe L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele has the legs and the opportunity to be the artisanal pizza player in the world.

I’m not surprised, I absolutely believe that to be true.

Yeah, I appreciate and I hope so.

I understand, I absolutely get what you’re saying and that is the power of that name and that history and that tradition. And that story, that story, you can’t compete with that story if you’re a pizzeria owner in this country. Like what you’re talking about here far surpasses the typical place that serves the food that we call pizza.

And I always believe that, very few Americans understand that culture and that tradition and where pizza even came from. Yes, maybe people believe it’s an Italian food, but Pizza in this country, for the most part, has become Americanized and obviously to suit people’s tastes, but you holding true to that tradition and standing behind it and explaining and educating and informing your guests and your customers about what’s special about this product sets you apart from.

Other pizzerias. I used to believe that about my pizzerias. I wanted to do things as authentic as possible, make our own dough every day, make the sauce every day, and really put forth the best product we could put forth. And I think that was very strong for our marketing and for our business. And We try to educate people,

and you’re doing that.

Exactly. Roger, the educational part has been very interesting. I have to say that times have changed dramatically. I believe my project 20 years ago would have had a very tough life. I still believe that somewhere in some pockets in the U. S. I will be, we will be getting a lot of returns into the style of pizza.

The ingredient attention, the attention to ingredients that restaurateurs In all sorts of businesses, especially in pizza, which as it’s very attached to a baseball game at home with friends and with the sticks, cheese sticks or lots of toppings and a different kind of project that will remain, I think there is an opportunity for that to be elevated as well.

And I have seen. Incredible product made by also people that don’t do Neapolitan style, also people that do a large 18, 20 inches, 16 inches pizza to slice. I think, the what the internet, more what the Instagram and what the last 10 years of our life has created. Is that there’s a lot of young people with a lot of pride, with a lot of ingenious minds and flavor profile do, have created their own things, which honestly, between you and I since and I’m absolutely no one to be judging, but I am people with taste and flavor.

So I say my own, if anybody wants to listen to it. I find it great. I find it great. I love it. Why wouldn’t you do something that is experiential or that has a feeling of it? Just if it’s got good taste, if it just has, people who are great, no matter how they do it, it doesn’t matter.

I’ve loved some Detroit style, I’ve loved deep dish, I’ve loved A lot of things, you just use the right product, just use the good flours, just, honestly, the Roger, I find bad when you get some terrible processed cheese and a crazy amount of pepperoni with oil and put mayo and put other things, and then you saw these things on Instagram that they got 20 million likes.

for something that should give you a heart attack. Come on, people. Yeah, are you kidding me? Yeah, meat lovers. The oil of the pepperoni, you retake it and you put it on top, you recook it on something. Dude, this is bad for you. Exactly. For everyone about anything, it’s all good.

I just I just I love a simple product. I love a simple product.

Let’s let me ask you there’s a famous book that became a famous movie that most everyone has heard of, Eat, Pray, and Love, and that is, I, I forget how old that movie is, but I do recall a woman from America is having, maybe she goes through a divorce, or something turns her world upside down, and she goes to Italy, and now she’s immersed in the culture, and she stumbles upon L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele is that the story?

First, it’s really beautiful that somewhere deep in our conversation because it really sets the tone of what the story is all about, right? Elizabeth Gilbert in 2006. I think they wrote this book.

It was at 2006 2007 for as much as I remember. Yeah, I thank you. I actually met her at an Airbnb conference, and I sneaked in the theater and I went to talk to her. She was lovely. 2010 there was a movie starring Julia Roberts. I think Dan Michele should make a statue to Elizabeth Gilbert and Julia Roberts about it.

I like a really big statue, not like a normal something close to the Statue of Liberty. Oh, wow. In size. We’re talking about, we’re talking about a hole in the wall in Naples that has been standing there for 140 years, making two pies that was very famous already through the grapevine of people who know, but they became a worldwide sensation.

And it is actually a correct worldwide sensation because you got history that is your pillars. You do not have shallow foundation, you have very strong foundation here. Now, those foundations are based on one single recipe of making a very large pizza, very thin, very soft, with a very good tomatoes, with an incredibly good cheese.

And with a so so oil. I just like to say it the way it is. The oil does complement the cheese and the tomatoes because it does not appear with a flavor. It’s just a great ensemble. but I would prefer an extra virgin olive oil. It doesn’t matter. But in the extra virgin, high temperature really doesn’t make good.

So if you gotta cook it, we’re doing it correctly. If I have to finish it up afterwards, I’ll finish it up with a little bit extra virgin. But each prelog came, made an insane amount of rumors for us. And somehow I found myself living in Los Angeles, being in the movie business, coming from Naples, growing up with the son of the pizzeria of Da Michele, Alessandro, and being a good friend of him.

And and every time that I would fly back home from the US, and I would land at the Naples airport, I would tell my mom, I said, on our way home. We’ll stop for a pizza at Da Michele and then we’ll go home with absolutely our happiness because there’s an incredible line but we were very privileged not to do the line.

Which is one of those little things you are very happy about And then it took me five years to convince them. And when I convinced them, then I told them I want to open in LA and I want to open a big restaurant and I’m not just going to do pizza. They were like, nah, nah, very purist. And I said, do you want to do it or you don’t want to do it?

I’m not going to open in U. S. culture, a whole, world that just makes two pizzas. This is not gonna fly. I gotta do a salad. I gotta do something, especially in California. And you do pastas as well, don’t you?

Oh, we do. Roger, I love burger. So why would I not do a burger in my own restaurant? Who tells me not to? So I do a cheeseburger with buffalo mozzarella and prosciutto crudo, it’s I, that makes sense. Yeah, I like, I like food a lot. It’s when you like food, it’s I want to win a James Beard award. I hope so.

And I also like to create an award for stoners. I think if you are, if you go to my restaurant and you go so, you really love it. We should create an award for stoners. What’s the best food when you’re high? And I loved it.

But, joke aside, I love the idea that when you eat something and you’re having a conversation with somebody else, And you’re all intrigued in your conversation.

And one thing that I love about my restaurants is no one is on their cell phone. And that’s my personal achievement. I love that no one is ever bored on their cell phone. But I’m think I’ve been many times at dinner with friends or I’ve seen people that they’re having dinner, they’re having the best time.

And while they’re talking to someone , at the table, then they like, Damn, this is good. So being interrupted in your happiness by how good the food tastes, now I’m winning. So that’s what I want. I want you to have a great time. I want you to feel at home. I want you to find the food amazing.

And I would rather be much more happy if the morning after you sleep at night, there’s no food on your stomach. Because we didn’t add too much yeast, or we didn’t add too much salt, and you don’t need to drink a lot, you just need to wake up healthy and say, I had a great time last night. Now I won.

Wonderful. That’s what I think are the pillars, that I don’t see, I go out and then I come home and I’m like, Hey, babe, I just need to stay up for another hour because I got to digest. That’s, to me, a bad answer. That’s, to me, a bad meal. Think I’m getting a little old.

It’s the old school guy, you know what

I’m old school as well. I totally can relate to everything you’re saying. You have Hollywood, and you have Santa Barbara, and New York City, and now you’re opening Long Beach, and that’s coming up soon. When do you open Long Beach?

We were having gas installed this morning, so we’re going for final fire marshalls next week.

Oh, so you’re right around the corner. It’s happening now.

Running on. That day between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, we should be open.

So we talked about the power of this brand and I heard, okay, how did I ever get into this? And now I’ve got four locations. Are you going to continue to grow this and bring it around the country, if not the world?

What’s your big plan?

Oh my God,

if you could even, if you could look five years into the future, where do you see L’Antica?

I’m so battled. I’m so battled. There’s a very big internal battles, man. I’ve promised myself this will be the last one. I want to spend time with my son, with my family but I also have looked at my decision as.

At the right condition, I would really really like to continue. Maybe you will. I would really like to continue because it is a mission. For me, it’s, our time in this life is limited. How do we spend it? It is so important, right? I make sure that every morning I’m at home and every night I’m at home so that I can say, because I got to the family party late, I had a baby at 47.

So I love My son so much. I just want to spend time with my son, right? And when I go to New York, I FaceTime him every morning, every night, and it’s just a dream come true, right? So it’s just a dream. It’s just the most beautiful thing. And my partner, she’s adorable. She’s great. She’s a beautiful mom.

She’s just fantastic. You have a happy

life. It sounds great. I remember when my kids were little, I don’t need to tell you, but enjoy every moment and you obviously do and you don’t neglect, the times that you spend with your son. I remember when my kids were four and now they’re boy 16 and

18 and how beautiful is that man?

Now they’re driving

and they’re off on their own and it’s still very close family life. They’re wonderful kids and my wife is beautiful as well and we have a great family life and it’s amazing, but it does go by

quickly. So exactly. So for me, if I can find the balance, which clearly that it clearly does change depending on your goal in in business.

Because you open one restaurant, I could have been a restaurateur for the next 10, 15 years, make a bunch of money out of a location, repetitive customers and all good, running it by myself. But when you build more and in different towns, now your infrastructure becomes very important. Also, building nowadays, it requires millions.

Doing business nowadays, if you think about it. 2.75, 3 percent of our business goes in credit cards processing. 20 25 percent goes in labor and wine. Sorry, food and wine. The myth of 30 percent labor of back in the days, it’s a forgiven knowledge. Now You don’t do anything less than 35, 38 percent of your business.

General administration insurances taxes and everything. Now you’re running landlords that wants a percentage put money aside for a lawsuit toward the other sales tax and all this thing. We do a pretty good volume of business. And we’ve seen prices going up like dramatically, but I feel, and I, we go to, I’ve been to a couple of restaurants.

I ordered tacos yesterday at lunch, $32 in Long Beach. I, it’s like $32. Seriously for tacos. Yeah. What are we talking about? So I’m selling a pizza at $24 and it almost, it’s almost cheap. So do I really need to sell a pizza for 30 bucks, a margarita? I’m one of those guys who I’m never going to put in your check at 3 percent for insurance?

No, that’s crazy. I’m like, dude, I raised my price. And I’m gonna do it for myself, but this crap of 3 percent here and 4 percent here is no, dude, no.

Now, we still have to provide value to the guest in addition to the experience. The guest is looking for quality, they’re looking for value, and they’re looking to be treated like they belong in your place.

As long as they’re educated person who understands the cost of life. Yes. And they understand we’re serious people, I’m all in. But of course, when you do volume. for me, I love the fact that we have a 90 to 95 ratio of appreciation on Resi, on OpenTable, on Yelp.

You’re always going to get that 5 10 percent of people who are unhappy. There’s nothing you can do with it. But if I can keep, if I can keep the standard very high That’s all I can do, man. I cannot do more than that, this is we need to do the best that we can then, nobody, if we wanted to make everyone happy, we will make gelato,

francesco, what a wonderful conversation I’ve had with you, and you brought me back to Italy and Napoli, and just the history of me starting my restaurants, and you shared a lot with our audience, and I’m really thankful that you’ve been with us today.

Oh, I’m very deeply touched because this was a great conversation really appreciate you having me.

on your show. I take nothing for granted, especially someone who would want to talk to me. You know what I mean? I enjoyed it so much. I love that, man. It’s the fact that the restaurant, I think, pouring your heart in life. May eventually bring you something back and conversation like today are just, the little cherry that says to me, keep doing it, keep going for it.

I really appreciate You’re absolutely welcome. I look forward to seeing you at any one of the restaurants. They’re all lit three anytime you’re around, I will visit. I

have a special place in my heart for Los Angeles. I lived there for several years and I do come back every year.

So I will stop by and I will definitely get in touch. Thank you so much.

Such a pleasure. Thank you again for having me.

Thank you so much. That was the Restaurant Rockstars podcast. We thank our audience for tuning in. Thank you to our sponsors of this show and we can’t wait to see you in the next episode.

So stay tuned and stay well.

People go to restaurants for lots of reasons, for fun, celebration, for family, for lifestyle. What the customer doesn’t know is the thousands of details it takes to run a great restaurant. This is a high risk, high fail business. It’s hard to find great staff. Costs are rising, and profits are disappearing.

It’s a treacherous road, and smart operators need a professional guide. I’m Roger. I’ve started many highly successful, high profit restaurants. I’m passionate about helping other owners and managers not just succeed, but knock it out of the park. I created a game changing system, and it’s filled with everything 20 years running super profitable, super fun restaurants.

Everything from creating high profit menu items and cost controls, to staff training where your teams serve and sell, to marketing hooks, money maximizing tips, and efficiencies across your operation. What does this mean to you? More money to invest in your restaurant. To hire a management team. Time, freedom, and peace of mind.

You don’t just want to run a restaurant. You want to dominate your competition and create a lasting legacy. Join the Academy, and I’ll show you how it’s done.

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