Eat, Live, Love

La Porchetta

La Porchetta began with a dream. “It is the classic migrant story,” says Sara Pantaleo, CEO and sister of the late co-founder. Italian born Rocky Pantaleo and Felice Nania wanted more out of life than working for a run-down pizza shop in Melbourne. In 1985, the co-workers decided to make their move and bought the restaurant that had been employing them.

“They brought all their Italian ideas into it,” recalls Ms Pantaleo. “They succeeded in bringing homemade Italian cuisine to the local consumer.”

The authentic recipes, warm atmosphere, and reasonable prices were an instant hit. Soon the entrepreneurs franchised the popular restaurant, and La Porchettas began popping up throughout Victoria. Now, with 72 locations throughout Australia and New Zealand, La Porchetta is the largest Italian restaurant chain in the country. “No one has been able to do it on the scale that we have,” Ms Pantaleo remarks.

Throughout La Porchetta’s phenomenal growth, the team has held on to the core values that have made the restaurant a success. “Our basic principles are good food, friendly service, and value for money,” Ms Pantaleo explains. “Our vision is to create an international group of restaurants serving Italian food and getting people together to enjoy a meal and life.” The restaurant’s motto, ‘Eat Live Love’, says it all; every franchise, no matter where it is located, is expected to maintain the warm, family atmosphere that La Porchetta patrons expect. As a result, La Porchetta captures the spirit of a warm, fun-loving Italian family’s kitchen, where the food is delicious, the conversation lively, and everyone feels at home.

This family atmosphere is also present in the company’s Thomastown, Victoria Support Office. “We [maintain] the same principles that we bring into our restaurant,” shares Ms Pantaleo. “Everyone can come into the CEO’s office and have a chat with me. It is an open door policy.” The team works hard to support the franchisees, but they also take the time to throw a company barbecue every now and then, which promotes togetherness and gives the staff an opportunity to have some well-deserved fun.

Of course, what really makes La Porchetta stand out is the food. The restaurant has an extensive menu featuring pizza and pasta as well as meat, poultry and seafood dishes. The menu is unique, Ms Pantaleo says, because the food comes from many different parts of Italy, rather than just one region. Furthermore, the team has carefully analysed what Australian consumers crave and tailored dishes accordingly. As a result, some La Porchetta dishes are strictly traditional, while others have been adjusted to suit the Australian palette. For example, the team has added cream to the original Carbonara recipe, while keeping the Napoletana and Bolognese exactly as it is served in Italy. Perhaps most importantly, every La Porchetta dish, no matter what the recipe, is made using only the freshest ingredients. “We produce everything from scratch,” Ms Pantaleo says. “We don’t have premade meals.”

La Porchetta’s delicious food and warm atmosphere brought the company success; franchising made it possible to spread that success throughout the continent. “The franchising model has allowed us to grow to this level,” Ms Pantaleo points out. “We have amazing franchisees that are really passionate about the business and they really bring La Porchetta to the local area.” The franchisees have done an excellent job of serving up the mouth-watering food that patrons expect, as well as maintaining the company values. “They support the local community,” Ms Pantaleo explains. “We really love that culture of caring.”

Franchisees are often recognised by their communities in return. “Our franchises often get local awards,” Ms Pantaleo points out. While franchisees all adhere to certain La Porchetta standards, the company also allows them some room for originality. “One point of difference is that we allow the franchisees to have a specials board,” Ms Pantaleo reports. This flexibility accommodates any variations in regional tastes and preferences.

La Porchetta’s business stayed strong throughout the GFC, but Ms Pantaleo has noticed a slight dip in sales over the last 24 months. “In the last two years, with the carbon tax coming in, with some really big legislative changes that have gone on, it has affected our average consumer.” The problem, she says, is that the average family is feeling the need to tighten the belt a bit. La Porchetta’s target market of families has not stopped dining out, but they are ordering more frugally. “They still want to take their family out but they may not have that dessert… What has dropped is the spend per head.”

The team has implemented several strategies to entice consumers to continue enjoying La Porchetta. The company has always reviewed and updated its menu every 12 months, and this year the team kept the economy in mind when they revamped the offerings. “We developed menu ideas for some lighter items so that franchisees can encourage people to have not just a meal, but maybe add something else to their business.” The new items have caught on fast, with consumers showing a willingness to pay a bit extra to enjoy a starter or an extra side. This year’s menu also features a wider range of salads, grilled meats and slow cooked meats, including slow cooked porchetta, a traditional Italian pork dish and the restaurant’s newest signature recipe. La Porchetta also recently appointed an executive chef to assist with menu changes. Overall, the strategy for new items will continue to be straightforward; “We are going to give the consumers what they want and what they are asking for,” says Ms Pantaleo. The team is also developing a brand new look for its menu that will be rolled out this October.

La Porchetta has also added several gluten free items to the menu, including a gluten free pasta. “That has been driven totally by our consumers,” Ms Pantaleo reports. The team is eager to accommodate families with special diet needs and is planning to rev up their marketing regarding their new, gluten free offerings to ensure that as many people as possible can enjoy La Porchetta’s savoury dishes.

The company also just finalised a new restaurant design last year. “We have been franchising for a while and some of the older sites needed a freshening up,” Ms Pantaleo explains. The new look made its debut at La Porchetta’s Melton, Victoria location. “That has been received very, very well,” Ms Pantaleo adds. The team is eager to apply the design changes to all future locations and to update current locations as much as possible. The new look includes the use of dividers to create a more intimate dining experience within a large, well lit space. Wall art and wood finishings bring a welcoming Italian ambience.

La Porchetta has also launched an e-learning platform for franchisees to utilise for staff training. This training will guide employees on how to “make the customer feel welcome,” and teach them how to assist customers in the most effective way. The company is also focusing on its customer website. La Porchetta has offered online ordering for about two years, but the team plans to update the online platform and make the website more interactive and customer friendly. The goal is to increase sales as well as customer feedback. “That is one of the major projects that we are doing in the next 18 months.”

From an immigrant dream to the largest Italian restaurant chain in Australia, La Porchetta is a classic success story. And, the team is ready to keep moving forward in order to accomplish even more. “Our future is all about growing,” Ms Pantaleo reports. This means assisting franchisees in expanding their sales, as well as helping them launch additional locations. “Many franchisees who have one restaurant would like to have more, so we are looking at how we can assist them to grow.”

Growth doesn’t happen by accident, and the team is actively pushing into new markets both at home and abroad. “We are [working on] introducing our Italian menu across Australia and going into more regional areas,” Ms Pantaleo explains. “We have been able to replicate the success in New Zealand,” as well. “It has been really, really well received.” There are already seven La Porchetta locations in New Zealand and several more in the works. And of course, “We want to take it international,” Ms Pantaleo shares. Armed with delicious food and a trademark family friendly atmosphere, this goal should not be hard to obtain.

For more information about La Porchetta, please visit http://www.laporchetta.com.au/.

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