From Naples, with Love…

What do two young Edmonton entrepreneurs and tomatoes grown in the volcanic soils at the base of Italy’s Mt. Versuvius have in common? They all play a part in the success of the city’s newest, authentic Naples pizzeria – Famoso - and its authentic Neapolitan pizza.

Few people know that pizza was invented over 200 years ago in Naples, Italy. But even fewer know that there is a certification program to make authentic Naples pizza.

Justin Lussier, 26, and Jason Allard, 27, have deep roots: They met in kindergarten and grew up in Edmonton together. They also worked together managing pubs and nightclubs during their time at the University of Alberta. Jason graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree and always knew he wanted to be his own boss. Justin earned a degree in political science but loved brainstorming the next best business idea with Jason. So when Justin returned in 2005 from a trip to Europe raving about the amazing and addictive pizza he had while in Naples, the wheels started turning and a business partnership was born.

Their first challenge as partners was researching the pizza and specifically the traditional Naples pizzas. Jason had eaten his fair share of North American pizza but the duo didn’t want to be another mom and pop shop pizzeria. Having spent a week eating Margherita pizzas in Italy, Justin was passionate about its viability in Edmonton. So the search was on to find that kind of pizza for partner Jason and mentor/investor Christian Bullock to try.

After spending a week taste-testing pizzas in local Italian restaurants, they hit the road. They started in Vancouver, then headed to Seattle where there are two pizzerias certified to serve Naples pizza. The three agreed this was the taste they wanted to introduce to Edmontonians. They located premises on Jasper Avenue at 118th Street where The Commissary had been for many years.

Walking into Famoso, I didn’t think of fast food. The restaurant is clean and chic with flat screen TVs and an inviting atmosphere. But the food is fast:A true pizza—in the Naples’ sense—takes only 60 to 90 seconds to bake in the oak-fired oven at a temperature of 485º Celsius. It’s also a healthier alternative to North American pizza because the hand-kneaded, Italian wheat flour crust is less doughy with lower gluten and higher protein. Justin and Jason realized there could be no cutting corners if they wanted to maintain authenticity, so they import many of their ingredients from Italy.

PROMOTIONAL EFFORTS

From a marketing perspective, Famoso’s logo—a mountain shape in red and black— is actually a tribute to Mt. Vesuvius. Like the restaurant, it is clean and modern… and looks great on the signage above the door. The legible and imposing sign—incredibly important for a restaurant—is easily seen as you drive down Jasper Avenue. In fact, when I asked the guys what their best mistake was, without any hesitation Jason said, “We put our sign up way too early.” That turned out to be a very good move… apparently, people in the area anxiously awaited the restaurant’s opening.

Since their much anticipated opening, they have mostly focused on one of my favourite ways of marketing: word of mouth, which is reinforced by the large, prominent signage. If customers can’t find you, they can’t tell their friends about you.

The duo has noticed an increasing number of regulars who seem to have found the pizza as addictive as Jason did while in Italy. They began focusing on upscale, young professionals but quickly found that their true market is much more broad. Generally Famoso has a huge audience in people living downtown who are open to a healthy, fast, fresh, reasonably-priced eating experience. One of the challenges Famoso faces is the bitter sweet side of the product. Although the pizza is fast, fresh and healthy, it doesn’t last—and I’m not just talking about on your plate. Delivery is not the best option: Time in the box between the oven and the consumer detracts from the taste of the pizza. Depending on the distance to the consumer, the pizza may need to be reheated. This eliminates delivery from their added services and decreases their market to include only those consumers who want to eat out, or don’t mind reheating their pizza once they get home.

In August, Justin and Jason sent out their first direct marketing mail piece to residences in their immediate area. It consisted only of the menu. Unfortunately, they didn’t add a measuring tool. A simple coupon or “mention this flyer to receive a discount” could have helped them check the effectiveness of this initiative. Also, sending out a menu is what restaurants that deliver do. This might not have been the best way to spread the word and get people into and talking about their restaurant. But, as with all young entrepreneurs, we each live and learn.

Keep an eye on these guys… I bet they’ll be nominated for Edmontonians Sizzling Twenty 20 under 30 in the next couple of years.

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