Joe Hyslop, division vice president of restaurant operations at North Italia, took some time to chat with FSR and Sapore about the brand’s growth, ability to stand out in a crowded segment, and where North Italia goes from here.
The Italian segment is crowded with brands across every category—fine dining, casual, quick service—where does North Italia carve out its niche? What are some of its differentiating factors?
We’re focused on creating special moments for each and every one of our guests, first and foremost. There’s a thoughtfulness to every detail, from the design of the location and training of our staff, to the build of each of our hand-crafted dishes. North Italia is not your traditional Italian restaurant, and we take pride in providing a modern and handmade experience that delivers consistently.
How has North Italia evolved since its founding in 2002, from a directional standpoint? How different is today’s consumer and how is the chain changing to meet that demand?
While we are a large brand with multiple locations across the country, each restaurant has a strong local identity. We take great care to ingrain ourselves into the community and have adjusted over the years to make sure that stays a priority. Today’s guest is looking for more than just a great meal, and because there are so many more options, we strive to deliver on that as well as the experience they’ve come to expect from us every day.
Talk about the group dining and private events opportunity for North Italia? How has that matured?
Thankfully, there are so many occasions that North Italia has become synonymous with in our guests’ minds. That has really pushed us to consider how we best facilitate those experiences for them. Group dining is a major part of our business, and many of our locations are designed with private dining spaces to accommodate larger parties, on top of the great patio and main dining spaces available. Making that experience special (and as handcrafted as our dishes) is a priority for our teams, and we work to give them the tools they need to execute
How does North Italia approach technology and the off-premises opportunity?
Part of that guest evolution over the past several years has been this move into convenience and delivery. Like many brands, we’ve realized there is a real opportunity for us to adapt to this new method of reaching customers. However, we took our time to do it the right way for us. There’s an experience that our guests have come to expect from us, and in wanting to keep that promise made, our goal was to replicate that as much as possible. That means being just as thoughtful about our delivery partners, menu availability and item preparation, to-go materials, etc. as we are about the in-restaurant experience.
With The Cheesecake Factory coming in, how will that expertise help North Italia grow and improve operations?
TCF is an impressive organization with an incredibly strong brand with similar values to ours. They’ve been able to maintain both as they’ve grown nationwide and internationally, and those lessons they’ve learned along the way will be invaluable in North’s continued growth.
What are some of the growth goals going forward?
More restaurants and more opportunities to treat people to something worth savoring. Our goal is to provide real value to the markets we enter and communities we become a part of, and we intend to keep doing so whenever the right opportunity reveals itself.
What does the ideal market look like for North Italia, and what are some of the grand opening and marketing strategies?
As we continue to grow and enter markets where we don’t necessarily have a historical North Italia or Sam Fox Restaurants presence, there is a need for us to be very intentional about building brand equity. We’re very much a “new” restaurant in terms of both the physical location and in awareness, so building phased plans that start with an introduction and then reinforce those messages with reasons to believe or rather, visit again, becomes important. Our goal with our marketing is to be where our customer is, provide the right message at the right time and ultimately influence their next visit and positively affect sales.