Last fall, Aldos Ristorante Italiano & Bar in Naples, Florida was tapped by Pizza Today to host the finale party for Slice of Hope, a fundraising event uniting the nation’s pizzerias in the fight against breast cancer.
Talk about an event. Owners Kelly and Aldo Musico, their crew, partners and volunteers created a grand festival-style event with a touching tribute to local breast cancer survivors, live music, an auction, bounce house, sticky wall, face painting and more. They sold tons of pizza and other items for the cause. The result: an estimated 1,000 people came out to Aldos.
The Musico’s commitment to serving their community is no surprise to the small city of Naples. It’s all part of what Kelly and Aldo do. Every Monday night, Aldos prepares a family style meal for Youth Haven, a residential emergency shelter for abused, neglected and abandoned children. “We cook them a family dinner and bring it to them every Monday night to give them a sense of security around them,” Kelly says.
Kelly and Aldo serve on the board of directors for Able Academy, a non-profit organization specializing in services to children with developmental disabilities. The restaurant hosts donation nights. Aldos also hosts Pizza with Santa, a fundraisung event for Able Academy, in December. Children have their pictures taken with Santa and eat pizza and cookies.
Each year, Aldos also adopts families for the holidays. But last December, with the devastating Superstorm Sandy that hit the East Coast, Kelly and Aldo adopted families in Tom’s River, New Jersey. The restaurant became a donation center. “It’s the little things we can do,” Kelly says. “The community has a place to drop things off and feel like they are a part of something.” Three pallets filled with necessities and gifts were sent to Tom’s River over the holidays.
The Musicos say taking an active role in the community is simply how they were raised. “I think we should give back and not just take, take, take,” Kelly says.
The Musicos and their restaurant’s visibility as community champions have had a positive impact on Aldos’ $1 million annual sales. Some Slice of Hope attendees noted that it was their first experience with the restaurant and indicated that they would be back for more.
Aldos’ generosity has created a buzz. From its beginnings, the restaurant has thrived from word of mouth. Aldo, who was born in Naples, Italy, and Kelly opened the restaurant as a six-table lunch, carryout and delivery place in an industrial park, in 2002. Within its first year, Aldos received a positive review from the local Naples Daily News, bragging about its pizza. “A lot of these people in Naples read the paper and they think it’s the Bible,” Kelly says, adding that the write-up brought a flurry of business.
Within a month, Aldos moved into its current location in a strip mall tucked away from the tourism-rich downtown and beach sections of Naples. The move increased dining space to 70 seats and gave the Musicos the kitchen space to provide a full Italian menu and beer and wine. The restaurant continued to build steam among their clientele of families, snowbirds and the golfing community.
The Musicos were looking to expand even more and provide liquor, as well, in 2005. To acquire the proper liquor permit in their area, they increased their seating to 150, including a 60-seat private room. With their resourcefulness, the entire project cost under $10,000, including a liquor license. “We were able to acquire used tables and chairs,” Kelly says. “We had friends build booths so it was just material. Another friend did the stone wall.”
Aldos, during the peak season months of January to April, uses the private room for general seating. The room is used for meetings, wedding rehearsal dinners and family gatherings, year round.
After the renovations, Aldos stocked a full-service bar. Ten percent of the restaurant’s total sales come from wine, with an emphasis on Italian varieties, with beer and spirits adding another five percent of sales.
Alcohol sales get an added boost from Aldos’ 15-percent carryout business because of its inviting bar. “People love to order a pizza and then come sit at the bar and have a drink while they wait for their food to be ready,” Aldo says.
Pizza is No. 1 at Aldos, and makes up 60 percent of its annual sales. Its specialty New York-style pizzas, like the Gorgonzola with ricotta, garlic and mozzarella, are popular among patrons. The Musicos infuse specials into their traditional menu. Each year, Kelly and Aldo evaluate their menu, ridding it of items that don’t sell well and adding specials that were customer favorites, helping keep food costs at a steady 26 percent. The Campania made the menu last year with fresh arugula, cherry tomatoes, shaved Reggiano tossed with extra virgin olive oil and lemon over a white pizza.
The Musicos also look for ways to improve their menu offerings. They recently changed up the lasagna, using more cheese and less noodles. Kelly says the dish’s sales have doubled.
Kelly says signature dishes sell well, including Chicken Aldo and Veal Aldo (chicken breast or veal sautéed with roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, provolone in a pink sauce), and Veal Carmelita (Veal medallions wrapped in prosciutto and provolone, sautéed in a caramelized white wine sauce).
In a coastal state, seafood is also a must. Mussels, clams and grouper make regular appearance on its specials menu.
For the Musicos, their business is always moving forward. Aldos recently charted new territory — niche marketing. Having never participated in advertising before, Kelly says they elected to place colorful, photo-rich ads in Golf Shore Life magazine, so that locals and tourists could see their offerings. Aldos has also partnered with the AA hockey league Everglades. The team’s mascot, Swampy, gives away Aldos gift certificates and coupons during all 34 season games, with a viewing of an Aldos commercial thrown in for good measure.
Aldos recently opened a new lunch daypart operation. The restaurant already provides lunches to a local private school. “Aldo and I are here anyway, so it was a no brainer,” Kelly says. “We use all of the same ingredients, so all we had to do was modify the dinner menu by adding some hoagies and stromboli/calzones.”
The Musicos hired a marketing consultant to get the word out that Aldos is now open for lunch. They send lunch specials, like a two-slice deal for $5, to Aldos’ more than 1,000 Facebook fans and advertise them on sidewalk signs. Kelly has personally called all of her contacts to let them know of lunch offerings and the free meeting space that is available.
Aldo says the lunch business is slowly growing. The Musicos are focused on building lunch sales, with a goal of elevating it to 20 percent of Aldos total sales.
Denise Greer is associate editor of Pizza Today.