Serving Torontonians a variety of Italian cuisine favourites like delectable wood oven baked pizza – its signature menu item and a first in the Toronto market since 1986 – IL FORNELLO has transformed the local Italian restaurant landscape by providing an authentic and gourmet dining experience to its growing and loyal customer base.
With an extensive menu that offers pastas, salads and a variety of appetizers crafted with an Italian twist, IL FORNELLO has recreated the traditional look and feel of Italian eating establishments, combining tasty menu choices with a casual yet modern restaurant décor. Delicious wood oven baked pizza and classic, casual Italian dining made IL FORNELLO’s initial location a success, giving the restaurant its identity, putting it on the map, establishing its brand and quality and paving the way for future restaurant expansion through a structured franchising model.
As it happened, Ian Sorbie, President of IL FORNELLO, visited New York City – a global hub of Italian cuisine – to investigate restaurant designs that could then be translated to the Toronto market.
“In New York, I happened upon a restaurant that was serving wood oven baked pizza, which hadn’t been done in Toronto,” Sorbie told The Canadian Business Journal. “I came back totally convinced that this would be a great concept to start. Nowadays, almost every restaurant has pizza on the menu, but pizza baked in a wood fired oven was a unique item back in the late 1980s. It has identified us. We have our wood ovens front and centre in the restaurant so guests can see that activity, the fire and the pizza being baked. That look is an integral part of the experience in our restaurants.”
The popularity of IL FORNELLO has allowed the company to explore expansion through the development of its franchising model. Today, IL FORNELLO has four locations serving the Toronto market plus additional franchises in the surrounding markets of Ajax, Richmond Hill, Oakville, and will soon open its newest home in Barrie. This franchising model has seen IL FORNELLO grow its roots in the city of Toronto, the Greater Toronto Area and provide an entry into the surrounding Golden Horseshoe. Further expansion plans also see IL FORNELLO looking west to Waterloo and east to Ottawa.
“Our goal has been to make sure that every location we have is an excellent location,” Sorbie summarized. “The secret is finding the right operators. We’re insistent that our franchisees be owner-operators, that they’re in there working and that they’ve had extensive restaurant experience and if it is experience with us, even better. Fortunately for us, the operators of our most recent franchises, Ajax and Barrie, are employees who have been with us for a long time.
“Some companies sell franchises to anyone, anywhere in order to expand quickly and when a unit fails, they resell it to a new franchisee, but that’s not our goal. We really don’t want to be selling franchises just to sell franchises. We want to be sure our franchises are qualified and have an IL FORNELLO in an area where they have the best chance of being successful. Because it is sometimes difficult to find people with that kind of experience, we also look at partnership opportunities with investors wherein IL FORNELLO operates the restaurants with our own staff and management.”
Also critical to IL FORNELLO’s franchising model is the need for corporate stores. As a hands-on partner in franchising, corporate locations allow IL FORNELLO to be operationally involved in its business, a restaurateur as well as a franchisor.
Commitment to Quality
From kitchen to boardroom, the most important ingredient at IL FORNELLO is quality, from sustainable franchise expansion to providing the best possible food and service. The three principals behind IL FORNELLO since its beginning have a combined 80 years of restaurant experience and use this know-how to establish and maintain the IL FORNELLO brand of quality. IL FORNELLO’s organizational strength and focus have also resulted in attracting many long-term staff, which ultimately leads to a continuation of quality service.
“There are so many different elements in a restaurant – the atmosphere, the service, the food – and every element is really crucial,” Sorbie said. “Right now we’re in a stage where we feel we have such a strong, dedicated team in every area – in finding locations, in designing and building the restaurants, in creating an atmosphere that is unique and exciting, and a team that can create great menu items, and management who can make sure that everything works.”
Moving forward, the plan for future growth continues, with hopes to add another 12 to 14 locations over the coming years. As Sorbie concluded, “I feel more confident now than I ever have that we’re in a great position to grow.”