“That’s very important because a lot of people even though we’re wearing masks and the tables are distanced, they still are afraid to sit inside,” Mandola says. “So having a nice amount of outdoor seating is very prudent.”
The brand fancies itself as a fast-casual concept with the look and feel of a full-service restaurant.
That theme has proven to have broad demographic appeal, meaning the restaurant isn’t boxed into particular real estate—a good sign for growth potential.
“This is a family restaurant. That’s what’s neat about it,” Mandola says. “You see moms and dads and kids. … You get a varying degree of different people. At 4 o’clock you’ll see some of our elder folks come in for an early dinner and then you see the moms and dads in the evenings.”
Mandola says the Italian eatery has performed well amid the pandemic, although that wasn’t always the case. He described the closure of dining rooms in Texas as devastating. But as capacity restrictions have relented, business has continued to improve.
Right now, the company is doing a 50/50 split between dine-in and off-premises sales.
“Little by little we see in-room dining coming back,” Mandola says. “… It’s a challenge, but we’re making do here in Austin. For all intents and purposes, we’re doing well. We’re making a little money. And at this point and time, just to say that is an accomplishment.”
While Texas is allowing 75 percent capacity, the Floridian Mandola’s Italian Kitchen will likely make its debut at full strength. On September 25, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced an executive order that allowed restaurants to operate at full capacity.
“One would like to think that this COVID paralysis is going to pass in due time,” Avery says. “We don’t know how long that will be, but it will pass. Gov. DeSantis made a very bold move to free up the industry in the state to 100 percent capacity, but that doesn’t mean we’re not being responsible with our staff and the environment and sanitation, which we of course take very seriously. But it is good timing for us.”
Capturing sales outside the four walls is a primary goal for the brand, as well. Avery explains the new restaurant includes an enhanced takeaway area to increase efficiency and that more curbside and delivery parking spaces were negotiated in the lease agreement. He anticipates high takeout demand for the pastries, cookies, and pies, along with the to-go beverage program that includes canned Prosecco and bottled Bellini’s.
The restaurateurs also see potential in Mandola’s Italian Kitchen’s catering, which involves a mobile brick pizza oven and complementary gelato cart.
“We’ll of course have our online ordering available for folks, and that should be a very customer-friendly, efficient process online for our customers,” Avery says. “So we have our IT team working on bringing that to life.”
Avery says that if good fortune comes their way, Mandola’s Italian Kitchen should develop into a significant national concept.
But right now, the focus is building a strong foundation of employees and remaining intensely focused on opening the Riverview unit successfully.
“To the extent that we execute our business real well, I think we’re going to attract a good investment community as well as those interested in operating locations,” Avery says.