A return to a family atmosphere has helped LoSchiavo Restaurant Group reinvigorate its Antonio’s brand

Although Vincent LoSchiavo grew up in Antonio’s Pizza, the family restaurant, in 1998, he wasn’t in the kitchen full time tossing dough or making sauce. He was working in real estate.

“I didn’t see the future,” Vince says. “The future didn’t look is so bright.”

The partnership his dad and uncles had to run the restaurant their father started wasn’t working — they didn’t see eye-to-eye and couldn’t agree on a direction to take the company. So even though Vince was still involved in the business, he decided he’d better find another career.

Vince’s brother, Anthony LoSchiavo, saw much the same thing, and opened up a car dealership and bars. Still, the two brothers never entirely left the family business. That left the door open for them to rejoin the family operation in 2005 when the uncles decided to move on. The brothers and their father, Fred LoSchiavo, formed LoSchiavo Restaurant Group and bought out their uncles, putting the four existing Antonio’s Pizzerias under the new group’s control.

“That’s when my brother and I saw it as an opportunity to be a true partner with our father,” Vince says. “We made a decision to purchase those restaurants, and by doing so, partner up with our father and really just form a mission and a vision to grow the company. The three of us were all on the same page. We knew that we shared the same vision. And by sharing the same vision, we knew we could grow the business.”

The two brothers left their careers and businesses behind, believing that to grow LoSchiavo Restaurant Group, they couldn’t have their hands in other pots.

“The brand was a well-loved brand, and we believe in our product,” Vince says. “We just saw a lot of opportunity.”

After divvying up the work based on each person’s strengths, the co-owners set out to return the company’s four restaurants to profitability.

Talent within

Returning the business to profitability began with a focus on customers by improving customer service and quality.

“We felt that as long as we provide the customers with the brand standard of quality and service, that sales would cure all things,” Vince says. “And sales did.”

There were operational improvements such as better management of inventory, variance reports and quality control, as well as brand standard reports. They also implemented a customized point-of-sale system that provided real-time data to the corporate leadership team, allowing it to monitor key metrics for each store and compare current and historical data to evaluate store performance and trigger coupon mailings to select customers.

The implementation of analytics came from an individual within the business, someone who had a strong interest in analytics and creating reports. So the family, always close with their employees, gave him that responsibility.

“Our biggest key to success is we’re able to recognize people’s weaknesses and their strengths,” Anthony says.

“Stop asking somebody to do something that may not be their strength,” Vince adds. “Find out what their strength is, and then when you do, let them run with it.”

That employee wasn’t hired to do analytics. He has been working for the company for 36 years, starting when the brothers’ grandfather owned it, through the period when their dad and uncles owned it, and transitioned into the new structure when the current ownership group took over in 2005.

“This is a pizza guy, too,” Vince says. “This is a guy that grew up making dough, making pizza sauce, shredding cheese. But he had a gift with computers and Excel.

“And we recognized that he had that gift, so we created a role for him,” Anthony says.

Getting the four restaurants back to profitability was difficult and took three to four years of trial and error to get it right. Once things stabilized, the family began to grow the business.

Family feel

Soon, the company doubled its footprint from four to eight restaurants. Then, looking to pursue an even more aggressive growth plan, the family decided to bring on a COO. The person had experience, having grown a business from two locations to 40, but the relationship was short-lived.

The COO, the brothers say, wanted to run the family business more like a corporation. In this structure, the brothers had to step away from the relationship side of the business, which separated them from their employees. They lost their sense of connection to the business, to the people they had worked with in the trenches making pizzas, who they laughed and joked with for years. It wasn’t the atmosphere the family wanted for their business, so they and the COO parted ways.

With the COO’s departure, the family reconnected with the people in the business. They were once again talking directly to their general managers and were able to get in front of their team more frequently.

The plan was still to grow. But rather than target a certain number of locations, LoSchiavo Restaurant Group would grow its people.

“Our mission statement is to deliver an exceptional restaurant experience by building an organization where people are inspired to better their lives,” Vince says. “We were all about building people. We didn’t want to open up restaurants without good people. So, we didn’t go out and seek locations and then say, ‘OK, we have a location. Let’s staff it.’ We would seek individuals, seek people. And when we found those people, we would say, ‘OK, we have a wonderful individual that we believe could operate an Antonio’s successfully and follow our protocols and procedures.’ And then when we had that individual, we would try to find a location that we felt would be a good location.”

The family wants people who are honest, hardworking, who have integrity, but also those who have a love for pizza and for making food, who share the same passion as the family does about the product.

“For me and my brother, we’ve got a personal connection to this,” Anthony says. “This is my grandfather’s legacy that we’re building. So, for us, it’s not really about how many addresses I can get. I’m doing this because this is something great that my grandfather — the path that he cleared for us and the product and the reputation that he had — this is more personally just to build on my grandfather’s legacy.”

With the family feel returned to the business, Vince says the individuals that they put into leadership roles were rejuvenated. The family put their trust in those individuals and things started to improve.

“We hired a chief operating officer, and when we parted ways with that individual, we brought on a team of officers,” Anthony says. “And it was guys that have worked with our company forever and had pizza sauce running through their veins. And that’s when all kinds of great ideas started coming up. We even implemented new pizzas. We sell a Sicilian-style pizza now. That was something we never had before. We had one type of pizza. We now have three or four different types of pizzas.”

The return to its old leadership structure put people who had been with the company for a long time into executive manager roles — people who started as delivery drivers and pizza makers. Recognizing their strengths from working side-by-side with them, the family hand-picked seven people who were successful at running their restaurants to sit at the board table.

Fred LoSchiavo, CEO of the LoSchiavo Restaurant Group, says fresh ideas bubble up from employees at all levels because it’s understood that success requires a team effort.

“We see the passion that people have and that’s the key to our success,” Fred says.

These changes helped Antonio’s once again double its footprint, growing to 16 restaurants. It also grew its people footprint. In 2005, when the brothers and their father took over the business, the company had around 60 employees. Today it has over 600.

Fun and excitement

Now, the company is adding a new concept to its restaurant family: a pour-your-own-beer restaurant called Antonio’s BrewWall.

When the family wasn’t seeing the same store sales that they saw in previous years — there were still increases, but not to the same degree as before — they wanted to do something that would bring some energy to the pizza business and bring in younger people. They heard about self-serve beer taps being used in a California business, which saw huge increases because of it. So, they decided to create a concept that’s attached to the Antonio’s brand. It was a huge success, and although the pandemic stalled progress, the BrewWall is on fire again.

“People love the idea,” Vince says. “They love the idea of being able to pour their own beer. It’s something that’s been good for our brand.”

The family wants to continue to grow the Antonio’s brand and is looking for opportunities to incorporate the new BrewWall concept as much as they can.

“As we see opportunities at our current locations to transform them into these Antonio’s BrewWall locations, we will,” Vince says.

The business is not only stable but growing, with the return to the family feel and new concepts injecting a renewed energy as they look to the future.

“We’re real close to 20 stores,” Fred says. “I’d love to see us get to 30. It could really easily be done. It just comes down to the people.”

TAKEAWAYS

  • Alignment in leadership is key.
  • Find the feel that fits and stick with it.
  • Mine the talent within your workforce.