By Julie Fitz-Gerald
Queen Margherita Pizza restaurant is ready to open its third location and finding success with spino
By Julie Fitz-Gerald
In just three short years since bursting onto the Toronto pizza scene,
the owners of Queen Margherita Pizza (QMP) are getting set to open their
third location and say they are enjoying the success of their new busy
take-out/delivery concept called FBI Pizza
In just three short years since bursting onto the Toronto pizza scene, the owners of Queen Margherita Pizza (QMP) are getting set to open their third location and say they are enjoying the success of their new busy take-out/delivery concept called FBI Pizza. And there is more excitement on the horizon: co-owner John Chetti says to expect a major announcement within the next few months that will alter the business in a spectacular way. Chetti sat down with Canadian Pizza for a Q&A about all things Neapolitan.
|A peek inside the new Baby Point location. |
Photo credit: Matt Sherkin
Let’s start from the beginning. What led you to enter the pizza industry?
It was something we always wanted to do. It just kept getting delayed and delayed and then I walked into Queen Street on a real estate deal to look at the building. It was the perfect room; everything lined up. I went back to my partners and I said ‘I think I found the spot.’ Before you knew it, Queen Street opened. It was April, 2010.
What was the vision for QMP when you opened the first location on Queen Street in the Leslieville neighbourhood?
It was supposed to be our Sunday night dinner. Traditionally on Sunday night, Italians have pizza for dinner because they’ve had a big lunch. It was suppose to be light, airy, good cheeses, good side dishes. It was suppose to be antipasto, pizza and either a salad or dessert; that’s the vision we initially had. The vision slowly changed to allow for what people wanted, so instead of offering salad at the end we ended up doing dessert at the end.
What are some of the reasons that QMP has had success in the competitive Toronto pizza scene?
I think the reason we’ve been successful is the reason that continually sets us apart from the next person and that’s the fact that everything that comes into the restaurant is fresh. It’s either Italian or local, so we try to do our best to keep it as authentic as possible. Sometimes neither choice works and you have to go outside the box, but for the most part we try to keep everything as fresh and local and/or Italian as possible. The fact that we bring in whatever is fresh daily helps significantly. For example, this week we’re running golden chanterelle mushrooms hand-picked in Ontario.
What has been the single most important factor to the success of your first location?
I think it’s preserving your ideologies, making sure that you keep it real even though you’re expanding, and not overlooking what’s important to you. Understanding that this is who we are, this is what we’re doing and this is our philosophy. It’s very easy as you get bigger to get away from your core values because you think that that’s what you need to do, but we try to do the opposite. We stick to what we know and we expand based on our ability to do what we want to do. We have no problem sitting on a spot for a little bit longer until we’re ready.
At what point did you and your business partner, Rocco Mazzaferro, decide to delve into the world of delivery with Full Blooded Italian (FBI) Pizza?
We were trying to give people a real product that works economically and is a sustainable business model as well. So it was a pilot project to see if we could give customers something better and would they understand the quality difference between FBI and [chains]. One of our slogans is this: Taste is subjective, quality is fact. And we always try to give the best quality. I’ve always said, you may not like something, but you will never be able to say that it wasn’t fresh or it wasn’t good, it just might not be to your taste, which is different. Those are the principles that we work from.
I know Mazzaferro is now taking the lead with FBI Pizza, but can you speak to how it’s been received?
It’s doing really, really, really well. There’re two FBI locations and I’m sure there are more in the works. I had to take a step back about seven months ago, after I had my son. It was just getting to be too much. I have three children between four years old and seven months!
As far as competition goes, do you know of any other pizzerias that are doing delivery/take-out of Neapolitan style pizza in a similar way to FBI?
No, we’re pretty much it.
Turning back to your crown jewel, QMP, 2013 looks like a year of expansion. With additional locations, consistency of the product is important. How do you ensure that each QMP location meets the standards that you’ve set in Leslieville?
For one, we made a commitment to our top pizzaiolo and he responded by stepping up to the challenge in terms of educating himself and getting himself up to speed with expansion and testing the variables prior to us expanding. So it wasn’t until we got the green light from him that we said, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’ He’s trained every single person that goes on the station, he goes to make the dough and he ensures that the process is exactly the same in every location. We acknowledge the risk that there can be a difference from place to place and we try to minimize those risks the best we can. I think we’re within a five per cent variable from each location, which is pretty good.
What can customers expect from the new Baby Point location that opened in March?
We’re not looking to do these copycat restaurants, where you walk into one and it’s exactly the same as the other. We believe in taking the space and transforming it into something beautiful. We take a unique space and we try to make it something spectacular. When you walk into Baby Point, you’re going to see a different menu. It is one of our showcases. It allows us to cook a little bit more and it’s just a different menu than Queen Street. Queen Street is equally good, but it’s a different menu and different options. We want to be able to give people different experiences in different parts of the city; however the pizza is going to be exactly the same. For example, Queen Street has a prix fixe menu, whereas Annette St. has a full menu a la carte.
How are customers receiving your entry into the west end?
If the number of people visiting the store is a reflection of reception then we’re doing fantastic!
When is your Dundas West location slated to open?
We just got permitted yesterday, so construction is starting immediately. We should be open in about three months; we’re shooting before the end of the year. It’ll have the same Queen Margherita pizza. It will have our signature dough, sauce and cheese, however, the menu surrounding the pizza will be different. It’s a different market. You’ve got Susur Lee across the street; there’s a lot of high-end stuff and we have a very high-end product, the only difference is that our price points are relative to their high-end price points. What we’re looking for is a chic dining experience. We’ll have a nice bar, great pizza, we’ll have a new concept for our appetizers and we’ll see how it goes. It’s going to be something new.
With your business multiplying so quickly, is there any time for life away from the pizzeria?
Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, but you know, a happy wife a happy life! We try our best.
With your ambitious plans for expansion playing out across the city, what’s next on your list for QMP?
You can expect a major announcement before the end of the summer! We’ve got big things happening, but we will never dilute our product and that’s why we’re not rushing into everything. What we’re doing in the next three months, should, instead of diluting our product, be more of a collaboration to make things better. It’s not a collaboration with other pizza people or anything like that; it’s just something that should enhance the profile of the company. •
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed.
Julie Fitz-Gerald is a freelance writer based in Uxbridge, Ont., and a regular contributor to Canadian Pizza magazine.