Eat Local, Eat Well: Andiamo Restaurant Group is doing better than you might expect.

    Joe Vicari had a tangential interest in the restaurant business a while back when he owned some Ram’s Horn properties. Then the owner of the Andiamo restaurant in Warren offered him the keys to the place. That was a little less than 20 years ago and today the 11 Andiamo restaurants, plus the Mesquite Creek and new Rojo Mexican Bistro are doing very nicely, thank you.

    Corp! asked Vicari about the most important lesson he had learned in business, beside hiring Chef Aldo back in the Warren days.
    “First and foremost,” responded Vicari, “you must create an excellent product combined with excellent service. Then, if you treat your employees and your customers well, you will be successful.”

    Vicari went on to elaborate, “We have 11 Andiamo Restaurants in the area and continue to do well. Several months ago along with Dan Linnen, I opened Rojo Mexican Bistro in Novi, a new concept which we developed,” he explained. “We did our homework, we found an outstanding chef, Luiz Garza, within our own organization, and we encouraged his creativity. We created a visual atmosphere that was sophisticated, combined it with great Mexican cuisine, trained talented cooks and wait staff, emphasized our good service mantra to the entire staff, and found ourselves with a new successful restaurant.”

    How was Andiamo able to adapt to the new economy? Vicari answered, “We try to be mindful of the world in which we exist. Michigan is going through a difficult economic period, so we have created a series of promotions at our restaurants to allow people to still be able to go out and enjoy a good meal. Our restaurants are still doing well because we understand the changing price points that our customers are able to pay.”

    People who analyze the restaurant business for a living talk about customers ‘moving down the food chain,’ going from white tablecloth restaurants to chain establishments such as Applebee’s. What are you doing to keep your current customers, Corp! asked.

    “We have created our Mille Grazie program to reward our loyal customers and enable them to take advantage of specials that we are constantly creating,” Vicari responded.

    Vicari continued, “One of life’s great pleasures is still dining out in a relaxed atmosphere with fine service and food made of the finest quality ingredients. I feel good that the Andiamo Restaurant Group is allowing people to enjoy that experience despite the difficult economy.”

    We asked Vicari what is his favorite restaurant. “That’s an easy question. It is anyone of the 11 Andiamo Restaurants in the Detroit metropolitan Area. In addition to that since I am involved in both Mesquite Creek and Rojo Mexican Bistro, I count them as among my favorites,” he said with a chuckle.

    Corp! wanted to know how Vicari developed his interest in customer service. “My parents always taught me to believe that if you treat other people well it will enhance your life,” he said. “Whether it is in your personal life or in business, respecting others reaps great personal rewards. That principle has guided so much of my life and has fueled my desire to be involved in our community.

    “As I think about that philosophy on a number of different levels,” Vicari reflected, “it has helped create meaningful relationships with my family, my employees, and the charities that I support.”

    Vicari continued with thoughts about family. “Family stands as the focus in my life and everything else radiates out from that point. I was lucky to have good role models in both my family and my wife Rosalie’s family that helped me become who I am today.

    “And now I take my family to the office with me,” Vicari continued. “My wife Rosalie and my daughter Theresa are an integral part of the business. In addition to helping me make many business decisions, Rosalie manages our Sterling Heights restaurant, and Theresa is in charge of our marketing efforts.”

    Does the sense of family extend to his ‘extended family’ at work? “As I established my business it became clear that no businessman stands alone,” Vicari responded. “Any successful business is made of a group of people who are committed to success. If the group feels that they are an integral part of the plan, if their ideas and work ethic are respected, they are more likely to help engineer a successful business'” he explained. “I have been fortunate enough to have people who have been part of my team from the very beginning. When I opened the first Andiamo Restaurant, almost 20 years ago, Chef Aldo came to work with me and to this day he still overseas our food operation,” Vicari continued. “Many of my managers have become operating managers and have grown in responsibility as well as compensation as the company has grown.”

    The restaurant business is often cited as a stepping stone to other careers. Is that the case at Andiamo, Vicari was asked. “People tend to work for the Andiamo Restaurant Group for a long time,” he said “I like to think it is because they enjoy what they do, I listen to what they have to say, and I appreciate and recognize their contributions to the success of the company.”

    You mentioned earlier that you were involved in your community. Can you amplify on that, Corp! asked. “We all live in an amazing community where people genuinely care for one another. It is a generous community that has a long history of taking care of those that are struggling,” he explained, “and once again my parents’ philosophy about treating people well has become part of our Andiamo Restaurant Group philosophy as we work with community organizations as our way of giving back.”

    Vicari reminded Corp! of an article we had written on one of his favorite charitable endeavors, “Being in the restaurant business, I am very aware of those who are not fortunate enough to have sufficient food on a regular basis,” he said. “The Capuchin Soup Kitchen has been at the forefront of feeding those who are needy for so many years in this area. Each year, for at least one day, we bring all 11 of our chefs to the Capuchin Soup Kitchen to provide lunch and dinner for almost 1,500 people who come there. We have challenged other restaurant groups to do the same.”

    Vicari told of a positive result of his work with the Capuchins, “One of the of our chefs, whose family once was helped by the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, is now in the proud position of being able to provide food that he has cooked to the clients at the Soup Kitchen.”

    Corp! wanted to know what Vicari does when he isn’t at work. “I am not sure that anyone that owns numerous restaurants really has much free time,” he said, “but when I do have a bit of free time, I love being outdoors. I wish I had more time for golf but maybe that will come later in life.”

    Does he really have no time at all for golf, Vicari is asked. “My golfing buddies try to remind me,” he says with a wry smile, “that taking business calls on the golf course is not exactly getting away from the office, and it doesn’t do much for your game.”