Starting a new business is never easy. For Marina Rondinelli, owner of
Rondo’s Pizza Plus in Bright’s Grove, Ont., getting her restaurant up
and running proved to be riddled with more challenges than she’d
Starting a new business is never easy. For Marina Rondinelli, owner of Rondo’s Pizza Plus in Bright’s Grove, Ont., getting her restaurant up and running proved to be riddled with more challenges than she’d expected.
|Marina Rondinelli proudly showcasing her “Blazing BBQ” pulled pork pizza recipe at Pizza Expo in March.|
“The day I opened, I found out I was pregnant with my second child. My kids have basically grown up in a playpen inside my restaurants because I liked having them close,” Rondinelli told Canadian Pizza during a rare break at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas in March.
Her kids, like her restaurant, have grown up in the 25 years – 25, come July – since Rondo’s opened its doors. For Rondinelli, the memories of opening day are still fresh. “The very first day we opened, we were praying that the three old Italian ladies we hired knew how to make pizza, because we had no idea,” she says with a laugh. “They never let one another know how to make the dough. They always came to me and told me their secrets and told me not to tell the others.”
Over time, Rondinelli developed a unique dough formulation, mixing and matching aspects of all three recipes until she was satisfied. This approach has served her well, earning her second place in the Canadian Pizza Chef of the Year contest, and a trip to the International Pizza Expo.
The contest has gone a long way in encouraging Rondo’s loyal customers to break out of their comfort zones and try something new. “Until I entered this contest, the pulled pork was a good seller, but it’s off the chart now,” Rondinelli says. “I think people are really tired of the same old pepperoni pizza. Even though that is a really good seller – I don’t know if that’s because the kids really want it – I’m finding a lot of people are really more adventurous.” She adds, “They do want good quality food and they do want something for their money.”
Rondinelli is committed to delivering that quality, every time. Quality often comes with a higher price tag, but with a reputation like the one Rondo’s has established, finding customers willing to pay up isn’t a problem.
“I ran one special for the last 25 years, and it used to be a large pepperoni for $9.99. Now it’s $10.99 for the past two years, and that’s it,” she explains. “I never give away any of my stuff. I charge and they don’t mind paying for it.”
It’s not just locals that are willing to pay for one of Rondinelli’s mouthwatering pies. “We get people that e-mail us that want us to ship them across Canada for them, people that ask us to package it for them because they want to ship it back home. They truly enjoy our pizza,” she says with a proud smile.
Secrets to success
One of the factors that has contributed to Rondo’s longevity is the staff. Rondinelli notes that in a small town like Bright’s Grove, where everyone knows everyone else, young teens tend to get their first jobs through their parents. Although she started out with reservations about hiring young staff, the practice has turned out to be good for business.
“I can actually mould and train them my way instead of trying to change bad habits,” Rondinelli explains. But that’s not the only benefit to hiring young staff. “I find they stay with me pretty much all through high school, all through their university, as they come back, and then when they can’t find a job, they’re back.”
The secret to keeping staff in the long run is pretty straightforward. “You treat them like your own kids,” Rondinelli says. “I hate when people say ‘well, they’re your employees.’ No. They’re human beings. They’re part of my family.” That attitude goes a long way toward fostering staff loyalty. (The cake she bakes each staff member for their birthday probably doesn’t hurt either.)
Another key to Rondo’s longevity is passion. “You have to love what you’re doing,” she explains. “If you’re just doing it for the money, you’re doing it for the absolute wrong reasons. The money won’t come until the end, and everything takes hard work.”
After almost a quarter-century, Rondinelli is beginning to think about life after Rondo’s. That life still includes a whole lot of love for the pies she’s been serving up for so long. “Basically my kids will be out of university, and I’d like to travel a little bit more, do a few more of these shows, and maybe go over to Europe and do theirs,” she explains. Plus, she adds, “After 25 years, it’s nice to just say ‘I’m leaving for Florida’ for two weeks or a month or two months.”
For the moment, however, Rondinelli has no plans to relinquish the reins of her kitchen, or her business. “I’d have to get the right person because I don’t want 25 years of my blood, sweat and tears to go down the tube in a month. When the right person comes along, I’ll hand it over to them.”
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