By Laura Aiken
By Laura Aiken
There’s construction mayhem on the stretch of street running past
Marcello’s Pizzeria – heavy machinery, barricades, traffic backed up.
In 2005 the city of Toronto began working on a new rapid transit line
running through a stretch of St. Clair West
There’s construction mayhem on the stretch of street running past Marcello’s Pizzeria – heavy machinery, barricades, traffic backed up. In 2005 the city of Toronto began working on a new rapid transit line running through a stretch of St. Clair West that includes the Corso Italia neighbourhood Marcello’s calls home. The upgraded public transit and general restoration of the area will likely be a blessing to the retailers when it’s complete, but for now it makes getting through St. Clair West feel like standing in a perpetual line-up at the museum of modern machinery. The project, which has had sketchy completion dates, has been abysmal for the local retailers as patrons choose to shop and eat elsewhere to avoid the mess.
Marcello’s has not only survived the challenges customers are facing in accessing their casual Italian family restaurant, but opened a second successful location in the Italian community of Woodbridge on the outskirts of Toronto. The Galifi brothers – Maurizio, Frank and Tony – serve up a winning combination of quality product, portion and price that has won over a loyal and returning client base.
“We’ve been hanging on tight considering what’s been going on,” says Maurizio Galifi. Seemingly never ending construction at your doorstep, coupled with a heavily felt recession in Ontario could be a lethal dose for any business.
Galifi’s brothers bought the Toronto location in 1992 and he came on board in 1998. The brothers kept the original owner’s name (Marcello’s) but otherwise executed their vision for an Italian restaurant throughout two renovations.
Two years ago, they found that the Toronto location, which seats 80, was getting overcrowded. This prompted the decision to open a second location. The Woodbridge restaurant can seat 140 in a much more ample space. Galifi says business at the second location didn’t decline at all during the recession while they saw a slight drop in the original. With the second location doing well, Galifi says their main focus is on growing the Marcello’s name to a third restaurant.
“Considering what’s been going on up there [in Woodbridge], another location yes but franchising no. We’ve always been a family business and want to keep it a family business.”
Marcello’s is moderately priced with the dominant goal of returning customers, says Galifi. There are competitors in their landscape and the demographics of the area require that they charge reasonable rates. He says they have had to do a couple price increases over the years but keeping it out of the fine dining realm was crucial. “We’re not known as a fine dining restaurant and we don’t want to be.”
In a neighbourhood where you see a lot of familiar faces, customer service has been their ticket to earning the word of mouth that builds repeat business, says Galifi. Marcello’s doesn’t do any marketing—no print ads, no radio, no TV and no direct mail flyers.
“Customer service is everything. Without your customers you’re nobody. It’s your responsibility to make sure they feel at home here. I tell my staff – don’t ever say no to anybody. Always say yes or let me see what I can do.”
They also worked to ensure their portions drew the fine line between over plating and not being “chincy”, says Galifi.
Guests of the Toronto location dine at dark wood tables surrounded by a series of black and white photographs. The feel is contemporary. The kitchen is open and you can see the pizza heading in and out of the custom wood burning clay oven. Galifi, who manages the original location while his brothers handle operations in Woodbridge, says they recently updated the oven over the winter, adding stone work around it.
The menu has remained fairly static, says Galifi, with a couple changes being made but it also being the one thing that hasn’t really been fully updated.
The menu segments consist of antipasti, soup, insalate, panini, pizza, pasta and secondi. Marcello’s offers 20 different 10-inch pizzas or the option to customize, with pies ranging from $9.50 to $13.50. Pasta entrees start at $10.50 and cap at $16.95. Marcello’s make their own pizza dough. Head chef Enamuel Haque oversees the kitchen. Marcello’s does not offer delivery, nor do they plan to, says Galifi, but they do a good take-out business.
Despite years of road carnage and a recession, Marcello’s has stuck with a model of consistency and customer service that has created a loyal following that’s kept them in business and served as a model for growth.