Popping Wheelies

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Rotelli Pizza & Pasta's upscale take on mom-and-pop Italian eateries is rolling forward fast

None of the dishes on the menu actually features rotelli - the wheel shaped pasta Rotelli Pizza & Pasta is named for - but customers haven't complained. Pasta dishes are still the hottest sellers at the three-year-old chain based in Boca Raton, Fla. Joseph Bilotti developed Rotelli as an outgrowth of a 10-unit Italian concept he hatched in 1991 called Bilotti's. He expan-ded the condept throughout Florida over the next eight years, gradually building an executive team.

Fast, Not too Fast In 1999, the team synthesized the best elements of Bilotti's to shape the first Rotelli Pizza & Pasta, an upscale version of a small Italian cafe. "I wanted the intimacy of a mom-and-pop but with sophisticated operations and an upscale look," says Bilotti.

The sleek 2,500-square-foot restaurant with black awnings, wood floors and quilted steel walls has a menu that ranges from gourmet pizzas, pastas and salads to chicken, seafood, and veal entrees.

The first year, sales volumes topped $750,000. Less than three years later, the concept has blossomed to 10 units in Broward, Dade and Palm Beach counties, plus on in Pittsburgh. More are planned for Tampa/St.Petersburg, Orlando and Pittsburgh. North Carolina is also on deck.

By the end of this year, CEO Bilotti plans to convert Bilotti's units to Rotelli and projects 20 more new stores for 2003. "we'd like to stay at that rate of growth for at least the next 36 months," says COO Jeffery Smith. "Fast but not too fast" Whole Menu Delivered A consultant chef shaped Rotelli's initial core menu. However, franchisees have since added new items. "We think growing our menu with input from the inside is the best way," says Bilotti. "Each unit has its own chef, and giving chefs room to be creative is important to attracting the kind of talent we'd like to have." Toward this end, unit operators can shape as many daily specials as they please. "We do ask that they submit them for approval first," says Smith.

Signature dishes include the Warm Spinach salad-bacon, red onions, tomatoes and mushrooms sauteed in balsamic vinegar over spinach and topped with Gorgonzola in a bread bowl for $7.95 - and Chicken Giuseppe with Madeira wine sauce, red onions, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts for $14.95.

About 60 percent to 65 percent of business is dinner. Checks average $16 with alcohol accounting for less than 5 percent of sales.

Carryout and delivery account for 33 percent to 45 percent of sales. Smith points out: "We deliver the whole menu - not justpizza." When a new unit opens, people "start out by ordering what they know best - pizza. But then that changes as they get to know us better," he adds.

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Rotelli Pizza & Pasta Inc.
4611 Johnson Rd., #1
Coconut Creek, FL

Phone: (954)601-0500
Fax: (954)601-0500

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