Piedmont native Daniele Barbos is the pizzaiolo and executive chef of Basil Brick Oven Pizzeria in Astoria, Queens, New York. As his restaurant approaches its second anniversary, Barbos recently quadrupled the size of his dining room and more than doubled the size of his menu. The following are five of his expert recommendations on what it takes to have a successful expansion.
1. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Patience is essential to success. You should plan for and expect delays. We recently expanded our seating capacity from just fourteen seats to over 60 (with 100 more seats opening outdoors this summer.) Though the space looked ready to open, due to Hurricane Sandy, our inspections for the newly expanded kitchen were delayed several months by the power company. It also took painstaking time and care finding the proper additional staff. But, it is absolutely worth the wait to do it right.
2. Cutting costs never pays off. With Italian food, the history is in the ingredients. Everyone has their own version of a recipe, but the ingredients reveal regional history and culture. You simply cannot skimp. I use over 100 toppings on 60 various pies on the menu, and quality comes first over cost. My customers are very smart, and can tell the difference. Several regular patrons are Italians visiting from other boroughs and Long Island, and if I use Canadian prosciutto instead of Italian, they can tell. Carefully source quality ingredients. It took a while, but I found a guy who imports rare cheese and meats from my hometown in Piedmont. It costs more, but the payoff is worth it. When it comes to mozzarella, I can call it fresh because I personally make 60 pounds of it every single morning during prep.
3. It takes a village. Surround yourself with a quality team you can trust. This may take some time. It took so long to find an assistant I could trust to maintain the integrity of my pies that I finally stopped looking at resumes. An applicant would walk in, and I would just hand them an apron and instruct them to make a margherita pizza. It was a quick litmus test to see how much experience someone has, and how much training would be involved. Remember, every single member of your staff reflects your establishment and its quality. Before, I was working seven days a week, 18 hours a day, but that’s neither realistic nor healthy.
4. Use what you’ve got. Once you have a strong team, and have built a loyal clientele, take full advantage of it. Invite regulars to sample new dishes and offer feedback. Try potential new menu items as specials, and then ask guests what they think. It’s a great way to work out the kinks, and also introduce new dishes to regulars who may already have favorites.
5. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Often times, chefs remove popular dishes just to ‘keep things fresh’. Instead, I keep the dishes that my customers love, and focus on adding new things to broaden the menu. If you have built a clientele on a quality product people enjoy, why remove it and play games? There are other ways to change things up.