Ones to Watch | By Sabrina Davis
Just about every family and every family-dining restaurant has its own macaroni and cheese recipe. And while many restaurants relegate the cheesy dish to the kids’ menu, Jonathan Bellobuono knows that few parents can resist stealing a bite. The timeless appeal of the hot and creamy treat led Bellobuono to launch the fast-casual J.B. Mack Macaroni & Cheese Kitchen.
“J.B.” comes from Bellobuono’s initials; “Mack” stands for macaroni and cheese kitchen. A family dinner at a restaurant with an unusual mac and cheese recipe inspired the idea. “So many restaurants have their signature macaroni and cheese dish,” Bellobuono says. “This one put lobster in their macaroni and cheese. It got us to talking on the way home about how much fun it would be to add this or that to macaroni and cheese.” For Bellobuono, the conversation blossomed into a business plan.
Bellobuono’s background is in Hollywood production, but with a business degree and experience in his father’s Italian restaurant, he had the itch to launch his own concept. Letting customers create their own macaroni and cheese dish seemed like the original idea he’d been searching for. With help from his cousin and business partner Amy Cannarella, J.B. Mack was born.
The first store opened in March in the Buckland Hills Mall in Manchester, Connecticut, more than a year overdue following construction delays. “By the time we finally opened, I had started thinking maybe I was crazy for getting into this,” Bellobuono recalls. “But on just the second day we were open, I saw this kid with his face pressed against the window watching as the macaroni and cheese dishes were coming out of the oven. Just seeing the expression on his face told me we had hit a home run.”
J.B. Mack serves 200–300 people Sunday through Friday and 500–600 on Saturdays. The restaurant was operating in the black by its first week. “Our break-even is very low,” Bellobuono says. “It’s not labor intensive. Any young adult can manage and run this restaurant without being skilled in the food industry.”
The simplicity that Bellobuono hopes will help sell franchises also sells the food.