AP NEWS

Restaurant owner gives secret to 25 years in business

March 19, 2019 GMT

He’s an Italian immigrant whose family moved to the Friendswood area when he was 4, but Stefano’s Pizza and Italian Kitchen owner Stephen Carpentieri doesn’t claim to draw on Old World family recipes in his menu.

“My dad was a doctor; so he didn’t cook. And my mom’s English; so they don’t cook,” he said with a laugh. “So, when I decided to open my restaurant, I tried a bunch of different recipes, a bunch of different combinations, until we got it right.”

Ultimately, developing the right flavor for the pizza and pasta in his restaurant, 106 S Friendswood Drive, came down to the freshness of the ingredients, Carpentieri said.

“You don’t necessarily have to spend a whole lot more for good ingredients,” he said. “but it makes a huge impact on your food; so it’s crazy to not offer good, fresh ingredients. We crush our own tomatoes, all the oregano and basil is fresh — nothing is ever frozen. Everything we purchase you can get from your local grocery store, and that’s made all the difference in our food.”

The restaurant, which is dine-in but offers delivery or carry-out, focuses on Italian favorites like pizza and lasagna. Most entrees can be purchased for around $10, and the pizzas are cooked in a stone oven.

But Carpentieri said that having popular food at reasonable prices wouldn’t have been enough to keep people coming back for 25 years.

“It’s the way you treat people,” he said. “It’s the way you treat your employees and the way you treat your customers. If you treat your employees well and pay them a livable wage, they treat the restaurant like their own.”

After graduating college in 1994, Carpentieri sought to establish a career as an architect but found that the market wasn’t paying what he wanted.

“So, I thought I’d open this restaurant and keep it going for a few years and then sell it,” he said. “But I guess I’m addicted. I don’t know, but I can’t walk away.”

The restaurant opened in 1994. Part of Carpentieri’s desire to keep going in the business, he said, is the community.

“These aren’t customers,” he said, “they’re friends. You do things because you want to help, you want to be involved. After (Hurricane Harvey), we opened and just made dough for about 20 hours so our drivers could go around and pass out pizzas to people who might need them. No electricity, their houses were flooded, but our business was OK. It would be irresponsible and certainly not compassionate to not help where we could. It’s a really rewarding business, if you make it rewarding.”

“It’s little things you do to make connections, little things you do to help people,” he said. “If you’re in here about three times, we know your name and what you usually order. If one of our customers is having trouble — for example a few weeks ago one of our customer’s husbands’ was going in for brain surgery — we put it on the calendar and try to send dinner over.

“It’s just treating people like people. If we all did more of that, everyone would be a lot happier.”