The Family Favorite
After learning the pristine art of the pizza toss, what started as a teenage job delivering pizzas on the Jersey Shore quickly turned into passion and career for Tony DiSilvestro.
Fast forward twenty years since he opened the first YNOT Pizza in the Great Neck area of Virginia Beach, and DiSilvestro has expanded his operation to six locations. He also recently tweaked the restaurant name to YNOT Italian to better showcase the restaurant’s diverse menu offerings. And the “why” behind YNOT? Simply enough, it’s just Tony backwards.
So what is the secret to YNOT’s winning streak? DiSilvestro says they have never veered from their original idea that success comes from quality food and customer service, even with a small name change.
DiSilvestro, along with his brother, Harry, their wives, Cyndi and Theresa, and now two long-term employees, Luke Grimpel and John Foster, have become partners in the two newest YNOT locations. Together they have built a small empire of family-friendly, casual eateries throughout Virginia's Hampton Roads metropolitan area.
"It's a process, every day, with customer service and training, and our quality food has been developed over years. We're constantly looking for the best products."
That includes what DiSilvestro calls "quality checks" in every pizza, ensuring all the ingredients from pepperoni to onions all meet their high standards. The team travels to vendors to see, first hand, where their food is processed. They've traveled to Wisconsin to meet with cheese farmers and to Modesto, Calif., to scope out the tomato fields. "We look at every detail," he adds.
From the start, they also structured the business like a franchise in that they have proper procedures. "We talked to a franchise company and they said whether we're expanding ourselves or with partners, we needed to get our manuals straight so the operations run smoother," DiSilvestro says. "The cleaner and more systematic the process, the easier it is for everyone."
And by everyone, he means everyone. YNOT Italian now employs about 350 workers across their restaurants. No matter how big they get, DiSilvestro adheres to the philosophy that the staff is family and is sure to share that sentiment often. "I depend on my staff to be successful and I make sure they appreciate and understand that," he says. "I can't accomplish my job without them. They're what gives us our longevity. It's about truly caring about people and not all about money."
No doubt, service is extremely important, but having quality food is what keeps bringing diners back. Over the years, YNOT expanded its menu from pizza to include pasta, salads, strombolis, calzones, entrees and even gluten-free items, because they listen to what their customers want. That includes in person, but also through their 12,000-member VIP program and social media. YNOT employs a social management team to monitor and interact on Twitter and Facebook, to post specials and more importantly, to quickly respond to any complaints.
"If you're not responding, you're missing the boat," DiSilvestro says. "It's no different than talking to someone in the dining room. [Other restaurants may] ignore them, but we've chosen not to be that company."
And you'll always find Tony, Harry and the other managers working alongside everyone else. "I'm wearing an apron right now," he said with a laugh. "We're not the owners who stand in the starchy shirt. We're on the lines working with them. When they see us working as hard as they are ... that has a huge impact."