The management team of Mici (pronounced mee-chee) Handcrafted Italian has its roots firmly planted in Italy and its sights set on growth in the U.S.
Founded by siblings Jeff, Michael, and Kim Miceli, the Denver-based, fast-casual Italian concept was built by combining old family recipes with an understanding of modern family life; the food is wholesome, affordable, and can be eaten in the restaurant or ordered for carry-out or delivery. Menu staples include a variety of pizzas, pasta dishes, soups, salads, and panini—all made from high-quality, minimally processed ingredients.
The Miceli siblings grew the concept to four Denver-area locations before welcoming Elliot Schiffer to the Mici family last August as partner and CEO. Schiffer was previously senior vice president of nontraditional development for Smashburger. He says he first became a fan of Mici as a customer three years before signing on with the company professionally.
Simply stated, Schiffer says the reason he joined the team was the food, which boasts an “old-school” appeal and a “new-school” convenience factor. He cites ordering as an example of that convenience, since about 60 percent of Mici take-out and delivery orders are placed online via an ordering app.
“I found it interesting that with four units, a lot has been done with branding and technology,” Schiffer says. “Mici is not operated like a mom-and-pop place.”
One of Schiffer’s menu favorites is Tortellini alla Miceli: cheese tortellini, prosciutto di Parma, and peas in Alfredo sauce, served with garlic bread. When it comes to pizza, Schiffer picks the Pizza di Pina, topped with mozzarella and fontina cheeses, plus thinly sliced zucchini. He says this pizza is representative of how, in Italy, simple foods with perfectly paired ingredients make the meal shine.
The pizza at Mici is thin, with an edge the eater can hold onto, which only results when crust is made by hand, not with a sheeter, Schiffer says. There are a dozen different signature pizzas to choose from, and they outsell the make-your-own option 85 percent to 15 percent, which Schiffer sees as an endorsement of the authenticity of Mici cuisine. “We pride ourselves on making things you won’t find at other places,” Schiffer says.
Pizza accounts for 40 percent of total sales at Mici, so management occasionally feels the need to run a promotion encouraging customers to try the pasta. A location might, for example, offer to add a free pasta item with the purchase of a large pizza.
“A lot of places make good pizza, but not everyone puts the time, care, and effort into their pasta dishes that we do,” Schiffer says.
Mici Handcrafted Italian
FOUNDERS: Jeff, Michael, and Kim Miceli
PARTNER & CEO: Elliot Schiffer
YEAR STARTED: 2004
ANNUAL SALES: Undisclosed
TOTAL UNITS: 4
FRANCHISE UNITS: 0
Carry-out and delivery account for half of Mici orders because foods like pizza and pasta travel well. To ensure those orders are as good as the food served in the restaurant, Schiffer says, he’ll put the food in a box and then wait 45 minutes before tasting it.
The décor at Mici is subtle, featuring a clean, modern Italian style with dark woods and a black-and-white color scheme. Schiffer says the aim was to be the opposite of the stereotypical red-checkered-tablecloth Italian restaurant. The walls are dotted with old family photos that have been enlarged and pixilated, accentuating the Mici theme of old-world food meeting new-world convenience.
With Schiffer on board, Mici is gearing up for expansion. The concept is slated to begin franchising toward the end of this year. It plans to open one or two corporate stores annually while simultaneously building a pipeline for franchises and strengthening systems. In 10 years, Schiffer says, the goal is to have 100 Mici restaurants in operation. Corporate growth will stay in Colorado for the time being, and Schiffer thinks it could reach 15 units in the Denver area.
Franchise locations will depend on the franchisees. “We want great operators who care about the brand,” Schiffer says. “We’ll choose the person over location, because there’s nothing that requires anything unique from a demographic perspective.”
The story of the first four Mici locations reads like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Schiffer says the first location in downtown Denver at 1,200 square feet is a bit too small; the second in the Cherry Creek Shopping Center at 2,300 square feet is a bit too big. But the third and fourth locations—at 1,500 and 1,800 square feet with seating for 50–55 guests, respectively—are just right.
“The store in suburban Stapleton was the ‘aha’ moment,” Schiffer says. “Families in bedroom communities really love our products. The reaction was just explosive, with more dinner business and less lunch business. Then the fourth location in Highlands Ranch was even more suburban.”
Stores three and four are both located in strip malls—a little hidden, Schiffer says, but that’s just fine. The important thing is access for guests picking up orders or delivery drivers trying to get in and out quickly.
When a new Mici location opens, the brand doesn’t do a lot of marketing. Instead, it focuses on becoming involved with local children’s organizations and various schools in the neighborhood.
“It might take six months for people to find us,” he says. “We don’t open with a big bang.”