July 1, 2016 |

Conversation with Michelle Mongelli, Roostica, Key West, FL

By Pizza Today

Roostica Wood-Fire Pizzeria

Key West, Florida

Veteran restaurateurs Michelle and Robert Mongelli opened Roostica in 2012. The Neapolitan-style pizzeria caters to locals
in Key West, Florida.

Michelle lets us in on the pizzeria’s concept, pizza style and customer base

Michelle and Robert Mongelli

Michelle and Robert Mongelli, owners

My husband, Robert Mongelli, and I own and operate two busy local seafood restaurants and our newest restaurant is Roostica Pizzeria, which we opened four years ago. Roostica and one of our seafood restaurants are situated in Stock Island, which is a working waterfront section of Key West, well off the beaten path. We decided to open Roostica because we just had a mad passion for pizza and there was a real need for a neighborhood pizza hangout in our area (and we got tired of making them at home). In our quest to figure out what type of pizza we were going to feature, we traveled extensively through the States, and some of our favorites were Pizzeria Locale and Basta in Boulder, Marco’s Pizzeria (now Racca’s Pizzeria Napoletana) in Denver and it was (owner Mark Dym) who said we have to go to Naples, Italy, to visit Starita, where we got a lot of inspiration.

We decided to go with two Earthstone wood-burning ovens and constructed the restaurant around them. We finally agreed on the name Roostica which is a play on the rustic Italian cuisine we fell in love with and the roosters that run wild in Key West and especially on Stock Island.

We consider our pizza concept as Neo-Neapolitan, which gives us the opportunity to feature traditional Neapolitan-style pizzas, but also have the play room to try different types of pizzas and have some fun with different toppings, especially our local seafood! Since we have two wood-burning ovens — one is used for all of our pizzas and the other is used to feature other items on our menu that we prepare and finish off in the oven.

Neapolitan authenticity helps our brand in Key West, especially since there was a real need for some authentic-style pizza in our area. A lot of the locals were unfamiliar with traditional Neapolitan-style pizza at first, and it has been well received so far.

The key to us being successful in this tourist-driven area for sure is that all of our restaurants are busy local hangouts. Our restaurants are off the beaten path in the working waterfront section of Stock Island. And, even though the tourists find their way to us and enjoy mingling with the locals, the regulars are very much recognized at all of our places, which really makes them feel special.

Our Sunday Gravy is a slow cooked sauce with meatballs, sausage and pork that can be ordered in various sized family-style portions and it comes with our homemade garlic bread and salad. It has been a big hit from the start. Everyone really enjoys the family atmosphere here and there is just something very comforting about having a big family-style platter in the center to dig into. We have our regulars every Sunday! There is no other place in Key West that serves family style.

After being in the restaurant business for so long I think the one thing we have learned is to listen to our customer base — which we try to do while staying true to our concept. Also, we always look for what’s missing or needed and try to provide that for the locals.