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22 • FOODSERVICE EQUIPMENT & SUPPLIES • MARCH 2017 a pro you should know John Ferdinandi Guides Family Pizza Business By Amelia Levin J ohn Ferdinandi and his family have been involved with pizza restaurants since 1955. Starting out as Me-n-Ed's Pizzeria franchisees, the Ferdinandi family eventually grew the business to include a portfolio of concepts and the business evolved into Milano Restaurants International Corporation. In 1995, Ferdinandi and his brother John took over their family's Fresno, Calif.- based Milano Restaurant, which has blos- somed into a multi-concept operation with 5 distinct restaurant brands and more than 70 locations nationwide. Most recently, the team launched a new fast-casual pizza and self-pour beer concept, Blast & Brew. The brand has al- ready inked a deal with franchisee Cristallo Ventures LLC to open 12 units in California over the next eight years in Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo. FE&S: When did Blast & Brew open and how did you come up with the idea? JF: We opened Blast & Brew in May 2013 as a single conversion unit. We had an ex- isting pizza-by-the-slice operation, but af- ter a lot of R&D, we changed the concept to Blast & Brew. With the new concept, our guests have complete customization of their pizza — they choose the crust and then an array of toppings before the pizza is fired and handed to them in minutes. FE&S: How does the self-pour beer program work? JF: With the self-pour system, the restaurant scans the guest's driver's license and credit card and provides the guest with a loaded reader in a wristband or card ver- sion with fixed amounts of ounces to pour and a maximum of 2 pints per person. The guest can then use that reader to sample different beers from the tap. You can either cash out before the 32 ounces or sample up to that amount. Our San Louis Obispo franchise was the first to test out the concept and after we found it to be successful, we incorporated it into some of our current units and also brought it into Me-n-Ed's Pizzeria's flagship location. FE&S: How do you cook the pizza? JF: We use a dome-shaped oven with a combination of gas and wood to cook the Neapolitan-style pizza at 825 degrees F so it's ready in a matter of minutes. For the toppings, we focus on high-quality ingre- dients and seasonal vegetables to match many of the seasonal beers we also offer during different times of the year. FE&S: The fast-casual pizza space is becoming more saturated. How do you differentiate Blast & Brew to stay ahead of the competition? JF: We started off with pizza and beer as an old-fashioned pizza parlor with the classic benches and take-out and delivery options. As we enter the quick-serve arena, we're seeing a little bit of a shift back to that dine-in experience with a focus back on the guest inside the restaurant as opposed to eating the pizza at home. There's nothing new about pizza and beer, but at Blast & Brew, you're able to craft your own selections to the highest level of personalization and choose exactly what you want on your pizza, and pair it with whichever beer or beers you want. Each beer-pouring station is accompa- nied by a "beer genius" to assist guests in selecting the perfect beer and food pair- ings. When selecting the beers, we tried to John Ferdinandi President and CEO Milano Restaurants International Fresno, Calif.