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    A NYC Pizza Joint Starts an Empire

  • Two cousins left the family business in Staten Island to take on Manhattan’s cutthroat pizza scene. A decade later, they’re ready to grow across the globe.

    Artichoke Basille’s Pizza

    You might recognize Artichoke Basille’s Pizza owners Sal Basille and Francis Garcia from the Cooking Channel’s “Pizza Masters” series, now in its second season. After growing up in the restaurant industry, the first cousins, whose parents co-owned Basille’s in Staten Island, decided to put their pizza mastery to the test and strike out on their own.

    “When we told our family that we were leaving behind four generations of restaurant business in Staten Island to open our own shop in New York City, our mothers said to us, ‘They’re going to chew you up and spit you out,’” Garcia says. But the two couldn’t be dissuaded. In 2008, they opened shop and stuck to what they knew best: pizza and beer.

    “After being open only a few weeks, there was a line around the corner. We couldn’t believe it,” he says. In addition to hosting college kids, city workers, families, and even celebrities, Artichoke Basille has also curried favor with the nightclub crowd.

    At some locations, like the one in Berkeley, California, the menu is limited to a selection of six slices. At others, like the Chelsea location, guests can order a whole pie, non-pizza offerings like calzones and salads, plus beer by the draft and signature cocktails.

    Regardless of location, Artichoke’s top hits are always on rotation. The namesake Artichoke Pie is made with artichoke hearts, spinach, cream sauce, mozzarella, and pecorino romano; the classic Margherita Pie features olive oil, plum tomatoes, fresh basil, and Italian cheeses; and the Crab Pie combines crab sauce, fresh mozzarella, and panko-breaded surimi stuffing.

    “We do things a bit different than most New York pizzerias,” Garcia says. “We like to make things we grew up with and liked to eat.” To this day, Garcia never tires of his favorite—the vodka slice—nor does Basille tire of his go-to combo of the Stuffed Artichoke and the Margherita slice.

    As its menu varies, so does Artichoke’s locations. The first location in the East Village was a challenging 350 square feet. To make the space feel larger, the owners demolished the sheetrock walls and ceilings “to open up every nook and cranny,” Garcia says, and reveal an original brick wall and tin ceiling that they then restored.

    “A few weeks after we opened in 2008, a guy came in with his girlfriend and told her that his father has been taking him to our pizzeria since he was a little kid,” Garcia says. “When we told him that was impossible—we’ve only been open a few weeks—he refused to believe us. It was then we knew we managed to pull off the look we set out for.”

    The cousins had achieved the authentic feeling of a classic pizzeria and have continued to mimic the brick-and-tin look in their other locations using antiqued tin or uncovering properties that already have those characteristics.

    Since the first location, however, Garcia and Basille have formulated various Artichoke models that work in different markets. “We have full service with bar, limited service with bar, take-out, and food-court models,” Garcia says. “We can operate out of as little as 800 square feet all the way up to 3,000 square feet, depending on model.”

    These versatile store formats were designed to tackle any market, and the cousins hope to do just that.

    Garcia says the team aims to have a location in every city throughout the world. The brand is already working toward that vision. It expanded beyond New York City to open shop in Berkeley, California, in 2013 and in Miami last year. Additional multi-unit franchise deals are in development in New Jersey and the Hartford/New Haven areas of Connecticut.

    “Over the years, we have had requests from all over the world to franchise Artichoke Basille’s Pizza, but we never felt the timing was right until now,” Garcia says.


    Artichoke Basille's Pizza

    FOUNDERS: Francis Garcia & Sal Basille

    HEADQUARTERS: New York City

    YEAR STARTED: 2008

    ANNUAL SALES: Undisclosed

    TOTAL UNITS: 12

    FRANCHISE UNITS: 5

    artichokepizza.com


    To further accelerate growth, the brand has teamed up with franchise development firm Fransmart. “I just want to make sure that the ones that we open are as successful as the ones that we already have open. That’s our main priority, not to haphazardly pick locations.”

    The ideal spots offer Artichoke Basille’s good exposure and a residential community to tap into, as well as proximity to nightlife. It seems a shrewd complement for a concept that touts a lively atmosphere with the music turned up and the space crowded with business.

    Before setting off on their own, franchisees work for Artichoke Basille’s at the flagship 14th Street location. Garcia says the process ensures the quality and personality of the New York locations carry through to remote locations.

    Because the brand has developed a loyal following over the past decade, it’s made for an easy transition expanding into new markets, he adds.

    A key component of Artichoke Basille’s success, Garcia says, is its tight operations team, most of whom have been with the brand since day one.

    “They all know how to make pizza, clean grease traps, do profit-and-loss reports, and forecast ordering and labor—every aspect of our business,” Garcia says. “We all visit our locations daily before getting to the office [and] are very active in the day-to-day operation of Artichoke.”

    And the best trait an employee can have, Garcia notes, is a willingness to learn something new. “Most of our pizza makers started as porters and prep workers,” he says.