I love Famoso, says Taya Hawes-Puiu our Guest Blogger this month. Maybe it’s because I love real Italian food inspired by many visits to Italy. Maybe it’s because, when I was in Naples and the Amalfi Coast, I experienced a non-stop succession of “pinch me” moments. Or, perhaps it’s because I’ve had my share of Italian boyfriends. For whatever reason, I am predisposed to authentic, fresh, the-ingredients-speak-for-themselves cooking. And yet, this is only one of the reasons why I love Famoso.
It’s no small task to build a franchise network and successfully acknowledge that each and every restaurant counts; to somehow create a big picture vision that truly respects the small picture details. To have both high standards in today’s terms and to adhere to ancient-import standards, all the while putting people first. I recently sat down with Jason Allard, a founding partner and COO along with Andrew Mitchell, the Managing Partner of Abbotsford’s Highstreet Famoso. They welcomed us like family and shared some stories, including, of course, their favourite pizza tales.
So, you got a call from Italy from your childhood friend, Justin Lussier, saying “I’ve got it. We’re going to open a pizza place.”?
Jason: That’s right. Justin and I have known each other since Kindergarten and we always talked about doing something together. I did say, “Are you kidding me, another pizza place?” And later got it. Justin was traveling and he loved it, as it was inexpensive, fresh and quick. North America doesn’t do pizza like the Neopolitans. It was a culture, a way of life. Here we have Starbucks on every corner. There they have pizzerias.
How did you know you had something big?
Jason: Christian (who we’ve known since we were 18), Justin and I invested our life savings into our first restaurant. People kept asking us to open more. It works because it’s simple – we let the ingredients do the talking, we’re healthy, fast, fresh. We are perfect for lunch or for dinner. We appeal to date-nighters as well as families. It’s a universal mindset, of one that loves the Italian way.
When you developed the concept, you received official designation from Vera Pizza Napoletana to give you special designation that meets strict requirements respecting the tradition of the art of Neapolitan pizza making?
Jason:Yes, my partners and I are not Italian and we weren’t going to pretend we were, but we wanted to be as authentic as possible to the art and approach to pizza making so we connected with the authority directly in Napoli.
Is it true you import your tomatoes from Italy?
Jason: This is part of doing it authentically, as specified by the VPN but not only is this about adhering to tradition, it also makes sense. Most tomatoes are picked green and then ripen over time where ours are picked ripe at their sweetest. They also come from a region that capitalizes on the acidic nature of the soil in which they are grown, close to Mount Vesuvius in the Amalfi Region which makes our tomato sauce especially delicious.
I noticed you hand-stretch the dough? And the flour also comes from Italy?
Jason: Yes, It’s a 0/0 highly refined flour which makes our crust crispy yet chewy. It has less gluten and doesn’t leave you feeling heavy after. It’s why Italians can – and do – eat pizza every day. The hand-stretching keeps it light. When we take our new restaurant owners to Italy, we make sure to visit the Caputo family who run Caputo Flour.
I heard you take your Managing Partners to Italy to induct them?
Jason: Yes, we take group trips – taking a few restaurants at a time – roughly two times a year. One year we had 17 people. We have them experience it first hand and visit the families that own the flour, the tomatoes.
Is everything you do inspired by Italy?
Jason: Most things, yes. Italians are passionate about fresh food. They shut down their businesses at lunch and everyone’s Mom has the secret recipe that makes the best dish. They have a warm and inviting culture. We did choose to put our stamp on some of the traditions such as slice our pizza when it’s brought to the table and in our New World section of our menu we still have a “Ham and Pineapple” version for those North American diehards.
How would you describe your company culture?
Jason: First and foremost, we find people like Andrew who are passionate about food and people. We mandate that owners are owner-operators in each of our locations. Myself, Christian and Justin all stay close to the restaurants. Christian manages all real estate and development, I run restaurant and franchise operations and Justin, our CEO is passionate about all of it. We’re an “on the floor” team. It keeps us connected. We like to surround ourselves by great people and hire people better than us. Our goal is to replace ourselves eventually. In one word though? We’re unpretentious.
Speaking of unpretentious I turn to the owner of Famoso Highstreet, Andrew, and ask him about the culture.
Andrew, how would you describe the culture?
Andrew: This company is backed by a lot of passion and experience. You don’t get a manual with this business, you get real people. They are very picky about who gets restaurants. It’s not just about money with them. They want the right person first. They also care about the little things and want to see me keep developing in my role. That’s the best part for me – to keep challenging myself and I get to grow with the company.
And, how do you enjoy being at Highstreet?
Andrew: It’s a fairytale for me. I got the opportunity earlier than expected and in a place that I call home. How cool is that? It could have been anywhere that I was given a restaurant but it wasn’t. It’s here in Abbotsford where I’m from. It’s me. Highstreet too is so cool. They are committed to hospitality not just as a philosophy but as a practice. It’s a small big town. Everyone knows everyone. We want to wow our guests and so does Highstreet.
Do you eat here?
Andrew: Seven days a week. I even order take out on my days off.
So, Jason, what’s next?
Jason: This is it for now. Focus on Canada. One of our other partners owned 3500 Yogen Fruz’s worldwide. Their experience is invaluable. You never know though. Brazil could be cool. And did you know Japan is crazy about their pizza?
Famoso Pizza currently has 21 locations and is headquartered in Richmond, BC. They have recently opened at Highstreet at the base of Cineplex in Abbotsford and will have a patio this summer. (Mi amore. I’ve already been twice since last week.)
Photo Credit: Tanya Goehring
SHOP THE VIBE AT HIGHSTREET
This bottle of Cantina Tollo Pinot Grigio can be found right around the corner at Mt Lehman Liquor Store.
Inspired by Famoso? Stop by Walmart for fresh ingredients to bring a little bit of Italy home.
Linens from Bouclair Home
Get this stylish look from Lens Crafters