Why ‘I Know the House owners’ Is a Acquainted Chorus at O Sole Mio

  • A former hostess and server returns to her previous office to uncover the secrets and techniques of wonderful restaurant service at O Sole Mio in Stony Brook, New York.
  • Sal Maggio and Victor Todaro, the restaurant’s co-owners, consider their “regulars” as “any clients who return greater than as soon as” and deal with them accordingly.

By Jolee Sullivan

My first job was a hostess place at O Sole Mio, a neighborhood Italian restaurant-pizzeria in Stony Brook, New York, and I spent most shifts sandwiched between an all-too-familiar crowd of hungry clients. The place was small, however that by no means stopped individuals from squeezing their manner inside to seize slices or anticipate a dinner desk, urgent themselves in opposition to the partitions to make manner for the hustling busboys carrying trays of pizza excessive over their heads. They’d worm by the group to come back ask me, “Are you able to be certain that John is our server? If he’s not right here, Nelson’s tremendous. Or Roberto.”

Nearly all the time, O Sole Mio was a zoo. Nonetheless is a zoo, I ought to say. There, I realized loads about communication, time administration and Italian meals. I additionally realized to dread the phrase, “I do know the proprietor.”

With such a small eating room and a protracted wait checklist, clients have been continually—and impatiently—inquiring as to when their desk could be prepared. A lot of them—most of them—tried to appeal me with that phrase, name-dropping one or each of the house owners, eyeing my scribbly wait checklist and anticipating that they’d be moved to the highest.

In response to “I do know the proprietor,” I used to be all the time determined to answer, “So does all people else.” Whereas one buyer was telling me they’d recognized co-owner Sal Maggio without end, I’d look over to see Sal sitting at one other buyer’s desk, catching up and asking how they favored their wine.

It wasn’t all the time simple, plastering on a smile of shock when it will have been so completely, deliciously ironic to close them down with an unimpressed “get in line.” But when there’s something I realized from the house owners of that restaurant, it’s that it doesn’t matter if the shopper is correct, incorrect, or impolite—it issues that the shopper feels particular.

With greater than 15 years in enterprise, perched on the nook of an unassuming suburban strip mall subsequent to a couple takeout spots, a liquor retailer, a dry cleaner and a movie show, O Sole Mio welcomed crowds of consumers practically each day of the seven years I labored there.

“They’re Our Folks”
“It’s an Italian factor,” Sal says with a heat grin, giving his companion, Victor Todaro, a pleasant elbow to the ribs. “We deal with all people like household.”

There are greater than 20 pizzerias and Italian eating places inside a five-mile radius of O Sole Mio, but individuals journey from an hour away simply to dine there. The meals is nice, and the ambiance is cozy. However why, precisely, has this place been so very beloved for therefore a few years, surviving a recession, loads of native competitors, a pandemic, employees shortages and extra?

“We actually care concerning the clients,” Sal tells me, his eyes smiling by his sq. glasses. “They’re our individuals.” Whereas that endearment could appear trite, I can attest that it isn’t. Victor and Sal, who labored as managers for 11 years earlier than taking a rightful spot as co-owners, take customer support significantly.

“We get plenty of regulars,” Sal continues, “and we joke that our ‘regulars’ are actually simply any clients who return greater than as soon as.”

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“There’s lots of people who work on the hospital or in these retailers,” he says, referring to the Stony Brook College hospital down the street and the neighboring strip mall shops, “they usually’re coming in for his or her lunch break or after work. We wanna make {that a} good a part of their day.”

He explains that the pizza-makers and counter employees (most of whom have labored on the place for a number of years) excel at remembering orders, offering fast service, taking particular requests, and being certain to “all the time have a optimistic angle. Irrespective of how loopy busy it will get up there [or] how a lot is happening, we all the time smile. We ask them how they’re doing.”

Whereas Sal and Victor—each 5-foot-6 in matching black trousers and black collared shirts embroidered with the sunny O Sole Mio brand, each sporting identically shiny bald heads—are a preferred duo within the neighborhood, so are a lot of the employees.

Roberto poses for a selfie with clients.

Assault, Be Superb, and Work as a Group
Throughout my seven years at O Sole Mio, I labored alongside the identical crew of counter assist, busboys, pizza makers, cooks and dishwashers. Whereas others got here and went, I additionally labored with the identical six or seven servers through the years; I even joined the server power for a short time. Submit-pandemic, a number of of the unique crew stay, however even the newer members of the employees are well-versed in going above and past for purchasers.

“We wish the individuals who…they’re not shy,” Victor explains, once I ask him how they be certain that to rent service-friendly employees. “We are able to train them the menu, the computer systems, the tables, however they gotta be good. They gotta smile,” he says.

“We rent a brand new waiter, they gotta be on the desk like that.” He claps the again of 1 hand into the palm of the opposite. “There can’t be any playing around, no standing in [the enclosed waiter station] on their telephones or messing round. They gotta be out right here with a smile, excited to assist whoever is available in.”

“You imply they should ‘assault’?” I say with a smile, and Victor laughs, agreeing. We each know that, when hiring a brand new hostess, he trains her to “assault” the entrance door in order that the minute a buyer steps inside, she’s there to ask, “How can I aid you?”

Sal grabs a passing waiter by the shoulder. “Roberto right here, he is aware of.” Roberto, a stout, jolly man with infectiously optimistic charisma, smiles with out lacking a beat. “I don’t know what I do know, however sure, I do!” We snigger, and I ask him how he retains his clients glad.

“Nicely, right here’s the factor,” he begins, elevating his eyebrows. “I work quite a bit, and I see lots of people within the day. However regardless of how drained I’m or how a lot I wish to go dwelling and see my youngsters, when [customers] ask how I’m doing, I merely say, ‘Superb.’”

He’s telling the reality. I’ve by no means heard him describe his temper utilizing every other phrase.

Teamwork additionally helps the employees present nice service, and I point out that, as a server myself, I all the time appreciated that. “Sure,” Victor says, “you stroll by a desk, they usually want extra water, it doesn’t matter if that’s your desk or his desk. You go get the pitcher, and also you give them extra water. All of us work collectively. The client doesn’t comprehend it’s your desk or his desk. They simply know they’d nice service.”

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“What about you, because the proprietor?” I ask. “What’s your function throughout the dinner rush?” I already know simply how concerned Victor and Sal are. They’re not the type of enterprise house owners who pop into their store at times. They’re there each day, working simply as exhausting as their employees.

“Oh, come on,” he says, smiling. “I’m bussing the tables, I’m checking the road, I’m operating the meals, I’m making you drinks.” Whereas Victor’s all the time readily available to ensure issues run easily within the eating room, he’s additionally placing in particular orders for purchasers, sending an appetizer platter to a big household with kids, or a visually beautiful pattern of a brand new dinner particular to one of many regulars—all the time on the home, after all.

I ask Roberto how he juggles the quite a few regulars who request his service, particularly at dinnertime. “Oh, it’s simple,” he says. “I’m glad to see them, and they’re glad to see me. I’m busy, however after we are all glad, they don’t thoughts in the event that they wait somewhat longer.”

“After I come to their desk with their wine earlier than they even order, they’re glad, they really feel particular, they wish to keep and spend extra money. He raises his palms and shrugs. “After which they wish to give extra money to me!”

Sal Maggio reveals off a pizza masterpiece.

Charity, Social Media, and Authenticity
Roberto, who has labored as a waiter for many of his life and at O Sole Mio for greater than a decade, is usually the person behind the digicam taking pictures content material for the restaurant’s Fb web page.

If you happen to take a look at O Sole Mio on Instagram, you’ll discover that the final picture was posted in February 2020. However their Fb web page options newer exercise, together with photographs of dinner specials and a reside video of Victor placing collectively baskets for charity. There aren’t any professional-looking graphics, particular bulletins or follow-us incentives.

“Do you are concerned about individuals wanting up O Sole Mio on social media?” I ask Sal and Victor. They take a look at one another, apparently questioning whether or not they ought to fear about that.

“I had Roberto over right here the opposite day,” Victor says. “He posted my reward baskets for the hospital. You noticed the hampers on Fb?”

I did see the hampers on a Fb Stay video, which now has 1,000 views. The no-frills three-minute video, shot on an iPhone, reveals Victor in the back of the restaurant. “So what are we doin’ over right here, Victorio?” Roberto narrates. As Roberto shoots, Victor makes use of a warmth gun to shrink-wrap a cellophane basket crammed with packing containers of pasta, containers of olive oil and pasta sauce, a bottle of San Pellegrino and a bottle of Chianti.

Giving again to the neighborhood is vital at O Sole Mio. It’s one other manner of claiming, “We love you guys,” to their clients, who’re the lecturers, docs, college students and fogeys that make up the neighborhood. Whether or not it’s a powerful meals donation, a handwritten examine, a hand-crafted basket, an in-house fundraiser or a flyer on the window, Sal and Victor have all the time been adamant about supporting native causes.

I level out that many eating places use social media for revenue and that clients use it to turn into aware of companies or to get updates. “It’s one thing we gotta work on extra, however take a look at us,” Sal says, with amusing, referring to his and Victor’s age. “I bought no thought what I’m doing.”

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I ask them whether or not they intend to speculate extra in social media, they usually inform me it’s within the works. “We gained’t be right here without end. I’m getting previous,” Sal says, with a chuckle. He considers hiring a social media individual, acknowledging, “We positively wish to be certain that individuals see our meals on-line once they seek for us, that we’ve got somebody right here who’s good with that stuff.”

Regardless of their considerably minimal on-line presence and lack of classy content material, what they do submit on Fb will get spectacular engagement. Many posts rake in lengthy strings of feedback from clients, typically immediately mentioning Sal, Victor or one of many waiters.

Branding is vital for making social media efficient, and it strikes me that the O Sole Mio model and persona do come throughout of their social media. They submit no-frills, unfiltered content material that portrays a family-like employees who share a cheerful camaraderie and a love for Italian meals.

So, whereas the restaurant trade has confronted innumerable challenges and adjustments through the years—adapting to newer know-how, navigating social media advertising, incorporating third-party supply companies, and working in another way as a result of pandemic—I’m wondering if customer support has been and all the time shall be a core worth.

“Sal, you’ve been doing this without end, working within the pizza enterprise,” I say. “How a lot did you worth customer support then in comparison with now?”

“Oh, I imply, that’s the place I realized it,” Sal replies. He grew up in a pizzeria owned by his household, he notes. “Again then, you didn’t have a web site or something. It was word-of-mouth and your common individuals who saved you in enterprise. And it was only a pizzeria, however you continue to needed to provide nice service, get to know the purchasers, have a pleasant relationship with them.”

“And this was Brooklyn,” he provides, laughing, “however my father all the time taught me to be personable, be good.”

As we’re chatting, a girl smiles and waves politely as she walks previous together with her household. I watch as each Sal and Victor instantly rise up. Sal gently hugs the girl, and Victor messes up her son’s hair, asking him when soccer season begins. The boy’s father is 2 full heads taller than Victor, however that doesn’t cease him from giving an enthusiastic handshake and yanking his visitor in for a hug.

All of them speak like previous mates, and, whereas I wish to say I’m amazed by it, it’s nothing I haven’t seen earlier than—numerous instances with numerous individuals—at O Sole Mio. Whether or not you’re ordering a plain slice in your lunch break, inserting a vacation catering order, sitting down for dinner, or asking for a donation, you’ll seemingly by no means step foot inside O Sole Mio and not using a stable handshake from the proprietor or at the very least a real smile from the employees. And whereas there are many locations to get pizza on the town, there aren’t many that may make you are feeling like household.

Jolee Sullivan is a New York-based freelance author and content material specialist who’s obsessed with culinary creativity and nice eating places. She writes for a slew of food-related media retailers, together with Cozymeal and Tasting Desk, combining her background within the restaurant trade and her schooling in literature to make content material that fun-loving foodies like herself can devour.