Ones to Watch | By Sabrina Davis
The first customer to walk into Artuzzi’s Italian Kitchen took a quick look around and walked out. “My partner ran after him,” recalls Rob Caswick, cofounder of the restaurant that opened in Roswell, Georgia, in February 2005.
“This guy was Italian and said he didn’t like fast-food Italian.” The Artuzzi’s owners convinced him to try their food and promised to give him the meal if he didn’t like it. “He finished his meal and said, ‘I haven’t found food like this since I came over here from Italy.’ Now he comes in two or three times a week.”
The Artuzzi’s brand has come a long way since luring that first customer. The chain has grown to seven stores in and around Atlanta, although Caswick says one of his biggest challenges still is explaining the concept to first-timers.
“People just can’t imagine fast Italian food being what we make it,” Caswell says. “When we came up with the idea, everyone told us it couldn’t be done. They said Italian either had to be what you see in the foodcourts or at a traditional, full-service restaurant at $10 or $15 a plate.”
The Artuzzi’s founders, who already had fast-casual experience, have proven their critics wrong. They serve fresh, cooked-to-order Italian food, with sauces and dressings made from scratch, in 5 to 8 minutes, and under $8.
“We were one of the first Moe’s [Southwest] franchisees back in 2001,” Caswick says, speaking of his partners Dave Pazienza and Jeff Newsham. “We saw fast-casual growing and really wanted to launch our own concept.” They liked the broad appeal of Italian and, for one partner, pasta and pizza were in his blood.
Pazienza is Italian, and many of the Artuzzi’s recipes are derivations of his family’s recipes. In addition to running Italian restaurants with his father in Boston, he has 30 years of experience in restaurant operations including work at Boston Market and T.G.I. Fridays. Newsham’s background is in insurance sales. Caswick began his career as a stockbroker, but pursued his MBA with a specialization in small business finance and entrepreneurship with the plan to launch a restaurant franchise.