I went to Tulane University in New Orleans, and prior to that my family opened a restaurant here in Columbus, Ohio, called Lindey’s. It’s an Upper East Side, New York–style café-bistro that has now become an institution in Columbus. It opened in 1981, and that was the year I started college, so my career was launched with the family business. When I went to business school in New Orleans, I learned to cook at Mr. B’s Bistro down in the French Quarter—that’s how I got started.
I graduated in 1985, and we started Bravo Brio Restaurant Group in the early ’90s. My brother and I built that company to about 60 restaurants and then sold it in 2006. After that transaction, I began the process of studying fast casual. Fast casual was coming on at that time, and nobody was really doing anything in the Italian segment, so we began the development of Piada in early 2009 and launched the first store in early 2010.
It’s not just Italian food that inspired Piada; it’s more about the lifestyle and approach to food that Italy has. Italy’s food is so fresh and simplistic, yet delicious, and Italian chefs are extremely passionate about food—that’s what inspired me the most. Great food doesn’t have to be complicated; it needs to be nurtured and prepared the right way. Another thing that inspired the creation of Piada was the simple approach. Across Rimini, Italy, food can be found by the roadside at family-run food carts and in markets with a basic menu.
Today we have 34 stores open. Piada is well positioned in the fast-casual segment, and so far it’s been going quite well. Our focus is on the Midwest, and we also have newer restaurants in Texas and Minneapolis. We’ll open eight to 10 restaurants next year. Our model is to deliver a great guest experience and execute high-quality food in a fast-casual segment, so growth is always a function of how well we do.
The food: It has to be great.
The calamari Piada or salmon salad. Those are both my go-to items. The calamari Piada has a spicy Fra Diavolo sauce, lettuce, mozzarella, and hot peppers and fresh fried calamari, so it’s great.
I like to golf and ski.
This story originally appeared in QSR's February 2017 issue with the title "Start to Finish: Chris Doody."