IL Pizzaiolo: Cane Rosso, Dallas, TX

Dallas-based Cane Rosso on track for serious success

We first met Jay Jerrier in 2008 at Campania Pizza, where he served as an investing partner in our 2008 Independent Pizzeria of the Year. Fast-forward four years and it’s not Campania Pizza where we find Jerrier. Instead, it’s at Cane Rosso, which he now owns and operates in Dallas’ fashionable Deep Ellum district.

Cane Rosso –– Italian for “red dog” and named after a beloved pet who passed away –– has made headlines on its own since it opened last Valentine’s Day. Jerrier, who had served as a minority investor at Campania, says he wanted his own smaller concept (Campania weighed in at 6,000 square feet over three floors) in which he could create authentic Neapolitan pizza.

“In 2008, I bought my own mobile pizza oven,” he says. “It was a wood-burning oven on a trailer and we started a catering company.” That got off the ground in 2009, and he started doing private events that resulted in “a cult following” in the Dallas area. By the end of that year, Jerrier began actively looking for a space. “That’s when the economy was really tanking and landlords were asking too much. We were confident that we’d eventually find something.”

By the middle of 2010, his current landlord had tracked him down with the first location Jerrier had seen that had character with room to grow –– just what he wanted in a fledgling restaurant location. Deep Ellum had become a hip spot for restaurants and boutiques, and he was able to build the restaurant for a fraction of what it would have cost anywhere else. His tables were created from reclaimed shipping palates, he bought chairs at auction and he found his barstools in storage in the building next door. Pillows flank the booths, many of which were brought by friends and family during the restaurant’s soft opening.

Jerrier expects Cane Rosso to bring in between $1.5 and 1.8 million in sales in 2012. The restaurant was named one of D Magazine’s 10 Best New Restaurants and has already garnered attention in Dallas’ competitive dining scene.

Taking center stage is the wood-burning Stefano Ferrara oven –– burning at 900 degrees –– and mixer, both of which he sourced from Naples. “I had this oven designed probably a year before I actually ordered it,” Jerrier says, adding that it was brought into the restaurant via forklift through the patio doors and he built a bar around those –– essentially creating a stage for his pizzaioli. The restaurant can seat 100 with an additional 40 on the patio, and guests can wait up to two hours during peak times –– an indication of the restaurant’s popularity and reputation. Crucial to maintaining that reputation is the pizzeria’s AVPN certification –– one of a growing number of American pizzerias who have met the rigid standards of the Italian-based Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. “It’s the kind of pizza that I like,” says Jerrier, who honeymooned in Italy with his wife in l995 and later built a pizza oven in his own backyard. “I was frustrated with how I couldn’t get it to work right, and then I went and trained with Vera Pizza Napoletana. … I like other styles of pizza, but this is the style that I prefer to eat all the time.”

Last fall, Cane Rosso brought celebrated master Italian pizzaiolo Dino Santonicola on board to help tweak the authenticity of the pizza (he’s currently looking for other master pizza makers). At Cane Rosso, the pizzaioli are “really passionate about this product,” Jerrier says. “They’re not just clocking in and clocking out –– they’re on the Web, reading the journals. They know who all the big U.S. pizza makers are. We’ve surrounded ourselves with like-minded people. They’re more than just line cooks. They know when the dough’s not right, when the dough needs more water (or) more salt. They know when the oven’s not right. And they’re all faster and better at making pizza than I am. When we work, I usually man the oven to stay out of their way.”

The oven can fit five to six pizzas at a time, but “if you cook six in an oven, you’re going to burn two or three,” Jerrier says. With just four in at a time, he can keep a better eye on the oven’s temperament and adjust accordingly. Cane Russo puts out 400 to 500 14-inch pizzas a day, which are slightly larger than the typical 11-inch Neopolitan offerings. Pizzas are made with high-end ingredients that the customers appreciate as well, including San Marzano tomatoes, house-made mozzarella (600 to 700 pounds a week) and fresh-grown basil as mandated by the AVPN. “Really, the food cost isn’t that expensive,” he says. Cane Rosso does use a high quality Italian flour, but Jerrier says it is comparable to any high-gluten offering and he keeps his doughballs at about 23 cents each.

“The most expensive thing that we have from a food-cost standpoint are our cured meats,” Jerrier says, “because we don’t do any pepperoni here. We use a hot soppressata … In terms of keeping food costs down, we don’t have any single-stock items in the restaurant. Everything is reused. If it’s on a pizza, it’s on a sandwich.” They also added a Saturday brunch and spread their ingredients across that offering as well. “Dallas is a very brunch-y town,” Jerrier says. “Part of it, too, is that we’ve been making brunch here for ourselves for a long time.”

Beer and wine are available, but the wine menu “is not very complicated,” Jerrier says. They even offer wine on tap with a portable wine cart, just one more point of differentiation.

Despite opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant, Jerrier has kept his catering oven and added a second to run out of the Forth Worth area last fall. “We bill $20,000 to $25,000 a month in just catering with one mobile oven,” Jerrier says.

The restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays and is only open on Tuesdays for lunch. “Really, I wouldn’t even be open (on Tuesdays), but it’s a prep day,” Jerrier says. “We need to make cheese, we make dough. We figure we might as well open for lunch.”

By Wednesday, however, they can have as many as 60 reservations on the books. There’s one table in the front window that is referred to as “Table 20” that is highly reserved and regarded amongst Dallas’ dining scene.

Jerrier handles his advertising himself, and “we don’t pay for any advertising ourselves,” Jerrier says. “It’s all Facebook and Twitter and me 100 percent reaching out to local media. I think it helps when it’s an owner-

operator reaching out versus a PR person. We don’t do press releases.” He’s also active on local dining message boards and sites like Yelp.

Next up, Jerrier plans to build out a casual sports bar restaurant in the space next to Cane Rosso. Aside from the second mobile oven in Fort Worth, Jerrier is already looking for a new space in that area, but “we’ve got a good brand. I don’t want to over-expand too quickly, but we want to keep the momentum up where I can use that leverage with landlords,” he says. He’s been approached by outside investors but is keeping his cards close at the time. “I’d like to have one, maybe two more in the Dallas area, but I don’t want to over-saturate. … I’d like to be open more than a year before we get too crazy.”

 


Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.

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