The Secret Sauce of This Pizza Spot’s Success

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When the Farrugio family opened il Canale in Washington, D.C. in 2010, their goal was to make the best pizza in the world.

Giuseppe Farrugio, who’s known as Joe, immigrated to the United States in the 1970s and has been working in the pizza business ever since. Having owned and worked at several Italian-American spots, he saw il Canale as his opportunity to provide a more authentic, Neapolitan-style experience to D.C. diners while working alongside his son, Alessandro. Listen to the Behind the Review episode below to hear directly from Alessandro and Sydney and learn their recipe for success.

The Secret Sauce

The Farrugio family knew a key part of achieving their goal was sourcing quality ingredients. Il Canale’s flour, tomato sauce, and mozzarella are all organic and imported directly from Italy.

Beyond good food, the restaurant offers a warm environment and quick service, making for a high-quality dining experience. Despite serving thousands of people each week, the Farrugio family and their staff make sure to personally greet and check in on their diners throughout the meal. This is part of what makes the il Canale experience so special for Yelp Elite and Community Manager Sydney G.

“There’s always a member of the family to greet you,” she said. “I’ve been for dinner, lunch, and happy hour, so I feel like I’ve gotten a really good experience across the board of the different service options. They do a great job of walking you through the menu.”

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Managing a team of hundreds of employees isn’t easy. Co-owner and general manager Alessandro has found success by focusing on thorough training, thoughtful hiring, and achieving work-life balance. He makes sure to not only support his staff with key resources while they’re on the clock but also to hire enough people to give both himself and his team the time off they need to recharge.

“We just try to (be) a family. We try to be supportive. The biggest challenge is having such a large team and having every single person follow your vision, follow your path, follow the requests that you make. But it’s just (about) providing the tools, providing the resources.”

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Another one of Alessandro’s strengths as a business owner is that he’s always willing to try new things. When he noticed some diners weren’t just looking for a pizza place but for a full-service Italian restaurant, he added new items, including gluten-free pastas and premium Italian wines, to the menu. This has allowed the restaurant to attract a wider clientele that includes locals and tourists alike.

“It’s nice when you have a big table. A few guests are gluten free, a few guests are not, maybe (some are) vegetarian or vegan, and everybody looks on their menu and they find something that they like,” he said.

Il Canale is also not afraid to find new ways of connecting with customers. Sydney admires the restaurant’s eagerness to use a variety of marketing tools, including Yelp products and resources, social media campaigns, and conversations with as many guests as they can.

“One of the ways you stay successful is to just never stop innovating and trying new things,” Sydney said. “If it doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try something else, because you never know what is going to reach somebody.”

Along with using paid features like Yelp Connect to share custom posts and photos with his customers, Alessandro uses Yelp reviews to keep a pulse on his business. With the Yelp for Business app on his phone, he receives a stream of notifications that alert him to any issues and give him a confidence boost when he gets positive feedback.

Reviews paint the most accurate and current picture of a business, helping both owners and future customers make informed decisions. Even when you’re visiting a restaurant like il Canale, which has thousands of reviews, adding your voice to the conversation is a valuable way to contribute to the Yelp community.

“Things change over the years,” Sydney said. “Businesses evolve, menu items change, service turns over, especially how things work pre-pandemic to now. So you really want to make sure that you’re giving people the most up-to-date information based on your experience.”

Although Alessandro enjoys getting an overview of his restaurant’s performance through reviews, he also makes an effort to check in with diners during their experience to make sure everything is to their liking.

For the customer’s part, Sydney recommends diners speak up while they’re in the restaurant so staff can address issues right away. Mix-ups are not uncommon in the restaurant world, and providing in-the-moment feedback can be incredibly rewarding for both the diner and the restaurant. For example, Sydney mentioned in her review that she received the wrong dessert. While she didn’t bring this up to il Canale staff because it didn’t have a huge impact on her experience, she wishes she had.

“They take service so seriously. I know they would have rectified it and made it right with us. I kind of robbed them of that opportunity by not saying something. People are human and there (are) plenty of ways to bring it up without being rude and give them the opportunity to fix it so that everybody walks away having a positive experience.”

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By focusing on quality food, service, and marketing, il Canale has earned a spot on three Yelp Top 100 lists over the last three years. Most recently, the restaurant achieved #14 on the Top Pizza Spots list, which is voted on by Yelp Elites. These accolades encourage Alessandro to keep thinking about how he can elevate his offerings.

“It sets our bar higher because we know the next year we need to do something better. Il Canale five years ago, six years ago, seven years ago is not the il Canale today. We’re continuously evolving, continuously getting better, continuously increasing our standards.”

In addition to investing in quality food and service, il Canale believes in:

  • Staying on top of customer trends and requests. Modifying your offerings based on guests’ needs and desires is key to growing your customer base.
  • Engaging with customers online. Whether you’re using specific marketing features like Yelp Connect or responding to reviews, the internet is a great place to find your target audience and encourage repeat visits.
  • Maintaining a work-life balance. When you and your staff have enough time off to stay healthy and recharge, you can avoid burnout and achieve top-tier service on a regular basis.

Subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday. Available on: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Pandora and Soundcloud.

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