Restaurateur Jon Mangini has found a recipe for success in a recession.
Basic Urban Kitchen + Bar, which Mangini opened in a 6,000-square-foot converted warehouse near Petco Park in April 2006, had sales of $1.2 million in its first eight months of operation. Specializing in thin-crust, brick-oven-baked pizzas, sales at the fashionably gritty establishment rose to $2.5 million in 2007.
Yet last year, when consumer confidence became an oxymoron and many restaurants were forced to close their doors, Basic’s sales jumped to $4 million.
“The key is simplicity, especially nowadays with the economy the way it is,” Mangini said. “But even when the economy was great, the fact that we were selling food at low price points was important.
“When we opened I told our staff that we don’t want people to walk out of Basic and have the money they spent register negatively in their minds,” he said.
At Basic, 14-inch pizzas start at $10, while 20-inch pies with toppings range from $25 to $28 and can be washed down with a pint of beer for $5 or $6. Wine sells for $6 or $8 a glass and liquor is also served.
Even in hard times, people still seek the conviviality of dining out with friends and family, Mangini says.
“People don’t want to spend a ton of money,” he said. “But they do want to be out with others and have some fun, so they’ll have a pizza and a couple beers rather than a steak and a couple bottles of wine.”
In October, he opened Urbn Pizza, a spinoff of Basic, on Main Street in Vista.
“It’s an older building with a lot of charm and high ceilings and it gets walk-by traffic,” he said, describing the 3,000-square-foot, free-standing structure that formerly housed an Italian eatery.
Urbn’s menu is the same as Basic, but the pies are baked in brick ovens powered by coal rather than natural gas, as at Basic.
“Most of the original pizza joints in Connecticut and New York had coal-fired ovens, and in time those ovens get a flavor of their own just through use,” he said. To his knowledge Urbn is the first restaurant in the state to use anthracite coal-fired brick ovens. And anthracite coal burns cleaner than natural gas, he added.
Mangini, 35, a native of Connecticut, says he longed to open a restaurant, and had other deals in the works, but none came to fruition before Basic.
Meanwhile, plans are to expand Urbn. He says he spent $250,000 to remodel the Vista site, and his monthly lease rate is $1 per square foot. The tab for construction at Basic was $1.3 million and the monthly lease is $3.50 a square foot.
Renaissance Of Restaurants
In 2007, there were about 1,000 restaurants in the county, according to the San Diego Food & Beverage Association, which represents 700 hospitality businesses.
Many have closed, but how many is uncertain because no one is keeping statistics. However, association Vice President Steve Zolezzi says he thinks the total will remain constant as a “renaissance” of small to midsized, multiunit establishments with well-tested products and concepts come on the scene.
They’ll include national chains, but some, like Basic and Urbn, will originate here.