At just 23 years old, Franco Stanzione opened up his first restaurant, a Neapolitan-style pizzeria named Stanzione 87. Since opening, the restaurant's received much praise for its pies, which come out of a 900 degree Stefano Ferrara oven and onto your table in literally a minute. Though Stanzione does have plans to expand, another move is coming first: he's adding small plates and draft beers to his offerings. Watch out Brickell. Here's what the young restaurateur had to say about the first year in the biz, challenges, changes and more.
When and how did you decide to open Stanzione 87?
So, I decided to open in August, it was then that I wrote out a business plan for it. And yeah, I decided to do a Neapolitan pizza concept here in Miami; I felt like there wasn't any down here and there wasn't really any fork and knife kind of, high end pizza restaurants. So I decided to launch my pizza restaurant around the concept of Neapolitan pizza – my heritage is from Naples – and it's just something I wanted to do. Moving forward, I found the space and started construction.
What were you doing before you opened Stanzione 87?
Well, I opened when I was 23, so [he laughs] before that I had just graduated college. I came down from New York to work in a job in finance. I also worked in Forcella Pizzeria and also my uncle owned two restaurants in Miami, which I worked in when I was much younger. I would say before this.. pretty much college I guess.
How has the last year been at the restaurant?
The last year's been fantastic. It's been a great year. We don't do any marketing or PR, we haven't even had a website until we made one just two weeks ago. And this has been great because we got to really grow organically and we're really, 100% product-driven and the only reason why we get people and we're busy is because our product's great and it's nice to see that the product and service are good and that's why people keep coming back. We built kind of a niche for ourselves, being a nice, local restaurant. It's the only one I think in Brickell right now other than River Oyster Bar; we're like the only two places that I feel like, you know, people that actually live around here can go get dinner or lunch nice and easy. It's their spot, we're not super touristy. We were definitely busier than we expected from the minute we opened. I did not expect us to sell out of dough as many times as we did.
What were some of your biggest challenges?
In the beginning, when we first opened, we only had one pizza maker, so we would make a limited number of pizzas a day and that was definitely one of the challenges. But we kind of liked the idea of running out of dough. A lot of Neapolitan pizzerias go with that, we make a certain amount of pizzerias and that's all we make in a day and it's great. But the biggest challenge by far was the construction of the restaurant. Dealing with contractors and the City of Miami was not easy. Getting all the permitting done and having to pay people to do jobs that they just didn't show up to do was the hardest part. Since the restaurant opened, it's been a breeze compared to construction. The restaurant operation is like 100% easier than everything we had to deal with beforehand. Oh, and another big challenge is we don't have any parking and we're next to a huge construction site. We tell people to part on the street or the Publix parking lot, which is right next to us and it's $2 and just a block away.
What are you most proud of at the restaurant so far?
I think we're most proud to make an impact on our neighborhood, to be honest with you. Most people constantly tell us our place should be in Design District or Wynwood and that we don't fit into Brickell and I understand that it's super commercial here, but I like that we don't fit it in. It shows that we can carve out our own niche and that we do have a privately-owned, privately-run shop and other places should open. A lot of people live in Brickell and the cool restaurants don't only have to be in Design District or Wynwood or South Beach. People can come in and make great restaurants all over Miami.
What, if anything, has changed over the past year?
Well, we changed our menu, our pizzas, probably like 5 to 12 times. We constantly change our menu, so I guess that's the biggest thing. We like to challenge ourselves and we like to make everything better on a regular basis. The changes are based on what's the best product that we can possibly get, imported or local, so it's going to change for whichever one of those products come in. So, if we get a new deal for some fantastic prosciutto, we're going to bring it into the menu and try to make a pizza around that product. We changed hours, too. We're open now on Mondays and we're open till 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Knowing what you now know a year later, if you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice before opening, what would it be?
Hire better contractors. That's it. It's just crazy, the restaurant was the easiest part. The whole restaurant took like a year and a half of terrible construction. The whole restaurant was done for a year, we were just waiting to open. It was all the way you see it today for a whole year. It just sat there.
Does it feel like it's been a year?
Not at all. I feel like we opened two months ago. Not even.
What's in store for the future?
Well, we definitely have a ton of things, which we're really excited about. We just finished our website, we changed our menu yet again and we are changing our menu one more time. We're going to be adding a ton of stuff besides pizza. We'll be doing a lot of small plates. We've been working for the whole year on seeing exactly how we can set it up and do a lot of things out of our oven. We have some great things we can do since our oven burns above 900 degrees. It's not the easiest thing to cook thinks to completion in there, but we were able to find ways and do things inside of the oven. We really want to create a stronger social atmosphere at the restaurant and do a lot of small sharing plates as well as bringing in draft beer. The beer should be here soon and we're really excited for that. I think it's really going to take our restaurant to the next level. You know, we have two ways to go: we can either go really commercial and start delivering and make-our-own pizza or we can stay our same route and stay artisanal and add to what we've built, and that's what we've decided to do. I think the small plates will really help us take off. We'll doing a lot of Neapolitan things, but with our take on them. Think like really fast, bustling, super high-end cafeteria [he laughs].
Do you have any plans for expansion?
I mean, I always have plans to expand. It's the only way, I think, to become a great restaurateur. At the end of the day, I want it to be an expansion, but I want it to be organic – I don't want to force anything. I have people come in every day and they want me to go to Denver and they want me to go there and open this place and this place and you know, I don't want to remake my pizzeria, it's too easy to remake my pizzeria. So, if I go in with something else, it's still going to represent the area that I represent, which is Southern Italy, and I'll be doing something else. It will definitely be challenging. But we'll stick with what we're famous for, which is pizza, but we'll be doing it with a whole other atmosphere, a whole other look and a completely different style of restaurant within the same realm of Southern Italian.
· All Coverage of Stanzione 87 on Eater [EMIA]