Francis Garcia and Sal Basille founded Artichoke Basille’s Pizza nearly 10 years ago and have been growing with the industry ever since.
In your experience, what were the toughest obstacles you faced when looking to expand the Artichoke brand, and how did you overcome these challenges?
The toughest obstacle we have come across is finding good help and keeping it. We are obviously very passionate about this brand that we have created from the ground up, and it can be challenging to find people who meet the same level of passion as company founders. However, when we find excited and driven employees, we do our best to never let them go. We have created a fun corporate culture that feels more like an Artichoke family than a restaurant company. Since the beginning, being family-run and -operated was important to us. Many of our employees have been working in our family’s businesses dating back to the 1980s. We are a tight-knit group, and our employees have become a part of our extended Artichoke Pizza family.
What are the best practices you can offer fast-casual restaurant operators who are looking to build a franchise?
Be creative and think different. Fast casuals are growing quickly across the country, so it’s important to stand out in the crowd by offering something unique, whether that be the food, the brand or the experience. Pizza has withstood the test of time and will continue to be a fan-favorite for years to come, but Artichoke sets itself apart from other brands by bringing authentic New York slices to markets way outside of New York, like San Francisco. We don’t use conveyor belts to cook our pizzas, and we aren’t offering unlimited customizability like some of the other guys. What we offer is great tasting, comforting slices cut from huge whole pies and topped with toppings that range from classic margherita and sicilian to the more unique, like crab and artichoke pies that are distinctly and uniquely Artichoke Basille’s Pizza.
Take chances. We started this business on somewhat of a whim and built every part of it from the ground up. We were working at our family’s restaurant in Staten Island and would sneak slices of our now signature artichoke pie into the bread baskets. We received such a great response from customers that we decided to open our own restaurant in Manhattan. Our family thought we were crazy to leave that business to open our own in a tough city like New York, but we were passionate about authentic NYC pizza and took the leap. Now almost 10 years later, it was the best chance we ever took. Even though we didn’t set out to start a franchise with locations all over the country, we knew our business could be something special and believed in it 110 percent from the beginning.
What steps do you recommend pizza operators take to make their establishments run more efficiently?
Simplify your menu and don’t try to be everything to everybody. It’s like that old saying — do one thing and do it right. Operators can fall into a pattern of constantly expanding their menu offerings. We have stuck to our core menu: our signature artichoke, our crab pie, our square-sliced sicilian. These are the menu items that we have perfected, that we are known for and that we already know our customers love. When we told our family that we were leaving behind four generations of the restaurant business in Staten Island to open our own shop in NYC, our mothers said to us, “They’re gonna chew you up and spit you out!” It didn’t stop us. We borrowed the money, built it ourselves and we stuck to what we knew — pizza and beer.
How did you choose which technologies to utilize in your restaurants?
As technologies are constantly evolving and changing every day, we change and evolve with them. We have always worked with user-friendly systems that are the most reliable and easiest to utilize. We always want to be providing the customer with the best and most efficient experience possible. Artichoke locations operate from lunch to dinner to late-night, so we have all types of customers walk through our doors. Our ability to give the guests an easy and streamlined experience starts and ends with the technologies we use, so we try to stay up-to-date with the latest tech and make sure our customers have an enjoyable experience, no matter when they stop by.
How has the restaurant business evolved since you opened your first location?
We have watched the industry transition throughout our entire life, long before the first Artichoke Pizza location. We grew up in the restaurant business, watching both of our parents own multiple restaurants and working in them at an early age. One of the biggest changes we’ve seen between then and now is the rise of social media. It’s leveled the playing field in terms of marketing and advertising. Now, everybody has access to effective marketing opportunities that don’t break the bank. Years ago, TV ads were only accessible to the big players that had millions of dollars to advertise. Today, social media can spread the word about a restaurant in seconds and can reach millions of people for free. We have customers who visit New York from other countries and come into our shop saying they’ve seen us on social media, and that still blows our mind. That type of thing wasn’t imaginable when we first started.