When you talk to Anthony Russo, his New Jersey roots are pretty clear, but hes been a Texas restaurateur since the early 90s, when he opened Anthonys Pizzeria in Clear Lake, outside of Houston. His parents, who immigrated from Naples and Venice to New York in 1962, opened Russos Italian Restaurant in 1978, after theyd moved to Galveston from New York, and hed been around the restaurant scene since he was 12. In 1992, he launched Russos New York Pizzeria in the Houston market, where it has continued to be a success (you can read more about this on the Russos website -- or just watch the video below).
The success of the pizzeria, as well as the later Russos Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen, led Russo to follow a franchise model, and the restaurants currently have 25 locations, including one in Richardson. Now Russo has his eyes on Tarrant County, with plans for eight restaurants in Fort Worth and surrounding cities, beginning in 2014.
I like the Fort Worth area, says Russo, I opened the store in [Richardson] a few years ago, and that was my first store in that market. But we plan on opening more units in Dallas and especially Fort Worth, because theres some good development there. Downtown Fort Worth is up and coming and its a great concept place for business. So were looking at some real estate there.
Downtown Fort Worth is already home to locations of Italian-themed restaurants Taverna and the dinner-only Ferre, as well as pizza-and-pasta joint Picchi Pacchi. But Russo, who is CEO of the company, says he sees room for his fast-casual restaurants featuring his familys recipes, especially with the downtown lunch crowd.
They dont have New York-style pizza, Russo says. They dont have New York-style pizza by the slice, they dont do deliveries, they dont have that broad menu like Russos does. We have good Italian and good pizza, all in the same system. Its attractive for takeout, dine-in and delivery business. (Note: All three existing restaurants do pizza, and its available by the slice at Picchi Pacchi, but its not Russos New York-style pizza. Taverna and Ferre are also full-service restaurants as opposed to Russos less-expensive fast-casual model.)
Russo says that lunch prices will range from $8 to $10, and that the expansion also includes Dallas, San Antonio and Austin. Restaurants range from 1,500 square feet to 5,000 square feet, and hes pushing the franchising pretty hard. For 20 percent down, people can own their own business, he says. For franchising information, go here.