Running a restaurant is a difficult feat, but brothers Giovanni and Peter Cucullo know the right ingredients needed to make not only one, but, three successful eateries. Just mere steps from each other on Huguenot Street in New Rochelle stand Fratelli Pizza & Pasta, Pop’s Espresso Bar, and Maria — a trio of businesses flourishing thanks to a key location, smart operational strategies, shared resources, and what they call “exciting new food.”
Though juggling three restaurants sounds challenging, Giovanni explains their proximity is a distinct advantage. “It’s easier to manage three stores on one block than it is to manage three in three different towns. I can just walk next door and check on my staff,” he notes. If one restaurant is short on staff the other is able to send employees over to help out. “You get the right team, you get organized, you get operational [synergies] in place to make your employees’ lives easier,” he adds.
The Cucullo Brothers
Although their geographic closeness does give the brothers better control of their businesses, strong relationships and having a good performance history has also helped, they say. A few years ago, they began using Square, a point-of-sale (POS) system that helps restaurants more efficiently make transactions using a smartphone or tablet. With their bills paid in a timely manner and consistent growth over the years, when it came time to open Maria last year, Square offered the business a loan. “If you open a business and you’re successful at one,” Giovanni explains, “then more opportunities open up via funding, loans, and banks to help you on another project.”
The key to their success over the years can also be attributed to maintaining loyal customers and attracting new ones by staying relevant, he says. At Maria, for example, the menu is constantly changing: “You don’t want people getting tired of the menu. You’ll have people becoming regulars and then after a month they’ve had everything.” This winter, he notes, the menu offers comfort foods like braised meats with heavier sauces; in the spring, they plan lighter fare.
Cucullo also offers dishes at Maria that aren’t typically found in Italian restaurants, such as Middle Eastern specialty baba ghanoush, or cassoulet, a slow-cooked French casserole consisting of beans and meat. At Pop’s Espresso Bar, the food is more Manhattan-chic and geared towards healthy trends: the menu includes items like avocado toast and baby kale with eggs.
Giovanni, who worked for culinary geniuses Wolfgang Puck and Reed Hearon in the ’90s, also believes their businesses are filling a niche. He saw a need for high-quality healthy foods in the area. “There’s not many people doing what Pop’s is doing — that’s why it’s very popular,” he says.
New Rochelle is popular with the brothers, who have been in business there for 27 years. After “nearly three decades of developing relationships with customers and creating a loyal following it made sense to expand in the same city,” Giovanni explains. “We opened Pop’s right next to Fratelli Pizza because we had a built-in client base and we also understood that Pop’s was a much cooler concept that would attract a wider audience.”
Of their most recent venture, Giovanni says: “We watched the corner location fail over and over again. We knew that we could make it work with Maria.” They love the location because it is where Main Street (Route 1) meets Huguenot. “Therefore,” Giovanni says, “we get Main Street visibility at Huguenot Street rent prices. We have a prime corner location at a discount.”
The influx of attention surrounding New Rochelle these days also doesn’t hurt, he says: “With the $4 billion development coming into New Rochelle, we are perfectly positioned for success.”