Whenever any company grows larger, it becomes harder to maintain distinctive offerings and high-touch service. However, it’s especially important for restaurants to make sure that never happens because those factors are usually a big part of their appeal.
That’s the challenge facing Quebec-based Restaurants Pacini – and the reason for its success as it expands across Canada. The fine-casual Italian-style restaurant chain has 26 locations in Quebec and Calgary and plans to open three more locations by the spring of 2015, including two in Quebec and one more in Calgary.
The first restaurant in this chain, called La Boîte à Spaghetti, opened in Quebec City in 1980. The small, 70-seat establishment was a hit and a second store was opened two years later, followed by a third a year after that. In 1984, La Boîte à Spaghetti changed its name to Pacini. Acquisitions bolstered growth in subsequent years, as did franchising and a strong franchise development program. The company is on the lookout for potential franchisees with a strong entrepreneurial spirit and passion for customer service.
Four years ago, Pacini opened its first restaurant outside Quebec in Calgary. This past summer, Pacini was chosen by Banff Lodging Company – which owns and operates nine hotels and eight restaurants in Alberta’s Rocky Mountain vacation area – to open a restaurant in its new hotel scheduled to begin construction in fall 2014 and open in spring 2016.
“Banff Lodging Company chose us because of the value we share for the caring of employees and the love of food and table and clients,” Director of Marketing Andréanne Charbonneau says. “Also, we have a fantastic breakfast menu and breakfast is very important in the hotel industry.” Charbonneau says Pacini hopes to capitalize on the growing trend of hotels turning to chains to provide restaurants in their hotels so the hotels can focus on what they do best.
Pacini plans to eventually open 25 more restaurants anywhere in Canada, according to Charbonneau, with a particular focus on Alberta. “Alberta is a booming province,” she says. “We have an opportunity to create economies of scale and synergies there.”
The chain’s goal is to provide an extraordinary experience in a friendly ambiance with authentically Italian cuisine. One of its most popular food features is a Bread Bar™, where customers can choose to grill different types of bread.
Authenticity is so important that the company in 2004 created the Pacini Culinary Academy near Venice in Italy. Since then, the academy has received more than 300 employees, restaurateurs, partners and customers for culinary training.
Food authenticity is important, but so is serving healthy options. In 2005, Pacini became the first restaurant chain in Canada to remove all artificial trans fats from its menu as they worked extensively with cardiologists and nutritionists to achieve this. It is also making extensive efforts to reduce the salt content of each of its dishes and to expand the availability of high-fiber food, without making any compromises on taste. Most regular pastas can be replaced by whole-wheat penne. “We put emphasis on the quality and Italian authenticity of our foods that are as healthy as possible and made with great care,” Charbonneau says.
Pacini also offers to people with food allergies and intolerances a dish and a dessert that contain no peanuts, nuts, sesame, eggs, dairy products or bovine protein. An extensive gluten-free menu is also available.
The service is warm, but not intrusive, Charbonneau explains. “The atmosphere is fun and family oriented, but privacy is respected and very welcome,” she says. “We have a rigorous employee training program. We hire personalities that reflect our value of love and care for our guests. ”
In 2012, Pacini introduced a concept extension: La Piazza Pacini, which offers several ways outside the dining area for customers to enjoy themselves while they wait for a table. They can shop for gourmet products in Italian mercato surroundings, sample cold cuts and cheeses from the Prima Cucina or sip a moscato or an espresso.
“Our philosophy is that a customer is a customer as soon as they step foot in the restaurant,” Charbonneau says. “That is the purpose of the piazza. They are enveloped by our atmosphere right away and it makes the wait much more pleasant.”