The “New York” in Gandolfo’s New York Delicatessen represents the style of food, not the location, considering none of the restaurants bearing the name are in the Big Apple.
“Craig Gandolph founded the concept in Long Island, and then fell in love with a girl in Salt Lake City, so he moved to Utah and opened up a traditional New York deli in Provo,” says Dan Pool, CEO of Pool’s Restaurant Group LLC, which owns Gandolfo’s and Petro’s Chili & Chips. “He started giving the sandwiches names of places in New York because he was homesick, which is why we have the Rockefeller Reuben and the Central Park Hot Pastrami.”
Pool, who was a division president at Golden Corral Restaurants until 1999, discovered Gandolfo’s when contemplating his next career move.
“I was in the process of opening a full-service restaurant in Atlanta when I came across an article that said fast-casual restaurants had just passed fast food chains in the number of units sold,” Pool says. “I hadn’t spent much time in the sandwich industry, so I took several weeks and flew all over the United States visiting all these concepts, searching for what set them apart from each other. Then I visited a Gandolfo’s and it was the best sandwich I ever ate.”
That sandwich eventually led to a partnership, and Pool helped grow the chain from four stores to 50 franchised units in 17 states. There are no corporate stores.
“A lot of time you struggle to balance the company stores and the franchises, and I didn’t want to be in that position,” Pool says. “We made the decision to be 100 percent franchised and focus on the growth of the brand.”
Pool says there are plans to open five new brick-and-mortar locations and put 20 franchised Gandolfo’s food trucks on the road in 2011.
Food trucks, Pool says, give franchisees more control over their destiny. The cost of getting into a truck is lower and there’s less pressure to pick the perfect location because it’s easy to move. And, while Pool doesn’t foresee it happening to any Gandolfo’s units, food trucks can be easily rebranded if a concept doesn’t work.
Gandolfo’s New York Delicatessen
CEO & Owner: Dan Pool
Year started: 1989
Annual Sales: $30 million
Total units: 50
Franchise units: 50
“A few years ago you could leave your job, take your 401(k), use your house as collateral, and live the American dream,” Pool says of business ownership. “Now it’s a challenge to get lending to go into business. But $70,000 can get you into a food truck, so people with entrepreneurial spirit can still go into business without risking complete bankruptcy.”
Pool and his son, Dain, director of franchising for Pool’s Restaurant Group, started studying and watching food trucks two years ago when Pool bought out Gandolph, who is now a franchisee operating four stores.
“If you are a franchisee, you can do two food trucks for the cost of one brick-and-mortar location, in some cases three,” Pool says.
Not every item on Gandolfo’s menu will be available on the trucks, but best sellers like The Little Italy—a hero made with ham, salami, pepperoni, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, oil, and vinegar—will certainly be on board.
“We have 51 sandwiches on our menu,” Pool says. “For the trucks, we had to scale back to primary items. But we’ll have all the New York favorites like the Reuben, the salami on rye, and the Italian cold cuts.”
Be it in a store or on a truck, Gandolfo’s has the flexibility to have regional differences in its offerings. In New Hampshire, the concept offers a lobster roll, for example. There are also different Northern U.S. and
Southern U.S. recipes for chicken salad.
Gandolfo’s also offered breakfast sandwiches long before any national sandwich chains got the idea, Pool says. It sets itself apart by serving fresh deli sides as an option, next to the ubiquitous bag of chips.
“People have the expectation that we are an authentic New York deli, and that means fresh-sliced meat and cheese every day,” Pool says. “We bake our bread every day, too, and have a fantastic pickle. We also serve the best potato salad you’ll ever eat.”
A typical Gandolfo’s brick-and-mortar location is 1,500–1,700 square feet, with seating for 50–60 guests. Pool says adding trucks in areas already served by a fixed unit will not take business away from that permanent location, but rather reach additional customers.
“It’s a different clientele,” Pool says. “The trucks serve people to whom lunch is a nuisance. If they go somewhere for lunch, they’ll lose their parking space, or they only have limited time. A food truck is not going to stop somebody who wants to go out to Chili’s. But if you’re at your desk and you get a Twitter [tweet] that the truck is coming, you walk right down, buy lunch, walk back up, and keep working. As busy as people are right now, this is a service, a convenience. A brick-and-mortar store operator isn’t worried because that customer wasn’t coming to him anyway.”
The check average at a brick-and-mortar Gandolfo’s is about $10, and Pool expects that to be about the same for the trucks.
“Some places significantly mark up their prices on the trucks,” he says. “We’re not going to do that.”