The word artisan gets bandied about a lot these days, but the Tuscan Kitchen & Market brand takes it very seriously. "We dry-age all of our own steaks; we cure our own salami; we're rolling out all of our own pastas; we're making all of our own bread; and we're making all of our pastries and gelato," declares Joe Faro, founder and CEO of Tuscan Brands. "I'm a restaurateur, but first I was a food artisan."
The first Tuscan Kitchen opened in Salem, New Hampshire, in November 2010. The unit, which Faro says “has become our culinary epicenter,” made all of its product in the basement, a space that later became a wine cellar and a room to host special functions. The production facility was moved to the first Tuscan Market, a 25,000-square-foot facility with the feeling of an open-air Italian market and which opened across the street from the restaurant in 2012. The Burlington, Massachusetts, Kitchen location opened in 2014 with the Market under the same roof.
One would think that running both a restaurant and a market that sells its own product might be contradictory to a growing business, but as Faro admits, its customers “can’t go out to eat every night. We create a multilevel customer who comes to our restaurant, comes to our events, and then purchases product at the Market to take home during the week.”
The Kitchen is a more upscale dining experience for lunch and dinner, serving regional Italian fare like Mozzarella Calda, Tagliatelle Bolognese, Maine Lobster Ravioli, and Signature Tuscan Steak alla Fiorentina. The Market offers a fun, vibrant open-air vibe that includes a trattoria for more casual eating and drinking, such as a post-soccer game hangout with the kids. Further, the Market locations have a second story that offers multiple function rooms that can also be consolidated into one larger room. For example, the Salem Kitchen location has three function rooms that can seat 50 guests apiece—and when opened up into one big room, the space can handle 200.
“There is a little trattoria inside [the Market], and there are thousands of imported Italian products as well as all of the artisan products that we make,” Faro says. “We have a lot of fun with it and make a lot of stuff ourselves, so we celebrate that with the guests all of the time.”
Of Sicilian descent, Faro takes his Italian food very seriously, stressing the proper pronunciation of many culinary words from the language. He launched his artisan gourmet manufacturer of pasta and sauces, Joseph’s Gourmet Pasta, in 1991, and grew the business to $60 million by the time he sold it to Nestlé Prepared Foods in 2006. This previous entrepreneurial endeavor allowed him “to develop some great relationships in Italy,” he says. “I’ve leveraged those relationships in the Tuscan brand as well. I’ve been to Italy literally 100 times. I work with all the vendors from whom we import food, and I’ve spent countless days in Italy refining what I want for a product and then custom designing the equipment to match that.”
Faro prides himself on Tuscan’s homemade approach. “If you come here, you would see 6,000 pounds of salami hanging in our salumificio,” he says. “You would literally see dozens of pasta machines producing pasta every day. You would see a stone hearth oven from Verona baking breads that [without this] you would literally have to go to Puglia [in Italy] to get.”
Looking ahead, Tuscan Brands has major plans in the works. It will open a new 17,000-square-foot Tuscan Kitchen & Market in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, this year, and then a Boston Seaport location in 2017. While Salem is its home base and the birthplace of the company, the Seaport will be its urban flagship location in, what Faro describes as, “a beautiful city location that is in the fastest-growing area of Boston.” There will be no full-scale Market at this spot, but a casual cafe space up front is intended to be the perfect spot for waterfront lounging. “We’re very excited about it because I think that our style of artisan Italian cuisine and wine, in addition to that open-air, espresso-bar market environment, is going to be a lot of fun in the Seaport.”
Further in the future, a new Tuscan Brands restaurant concept, Joey’s Italian Sports Grill, is expected to debut in 2018, the same year that a redesigned Tuscan Kitchen and Tuscan Market will emerge in a new, 50-acre Tuscan Village redevelopment at its original $13 million property in Salem. A second new concept, the Tuscan Prime Chophouse, will open in the original Tuscan Kitchen building in Salem.
“Certainly I have a vision and a lot of experience and the capital to do so many things,” Faro acknowledges. “But you know what? These businesses don’t take shape, don’t grow, and don’t become what they are unless you have a passionate group of people that believes in the vision. We have that. We’re very excited about our people. We have a tremendous group of young restaurant professionals that we are continuing to develop every day.”
Key personnel in the company include Joe Brenner (vice president of operations), Tim Bean (CFO), Joe Comforti (wine director), and Amy Scarpello (front of house director and training). Tuscan Brands currently employs 340 people, but by the end of next year, with the opening of its third Tuscan Kitchen & Market location in Portsmouth, the total will reach 500.
The restaurant business can be daunting, but Faro embraces it. “It is a good business if you pick a passion and focus on that,” he says. “I think you can really celebrate that passion with your guests, and that’s very gratifying.”