Q&A with Uccello’s Ristorante

Local First caught up with Brittany Knoch, director of marketing at Uccello's Hospitality Group, to chat about the history of the restaurants and where they're going next.

Local First: Share a brief summary of your business – how it started, who you worked with, why you chose to set up shop in West Michigan, etc.

Brittany Knoch: President and founder of Uccellos Hospitality Group (UHG), Sicilian-born Faro Uccello opened his first Grand Rapids area pizza shop in 1978. He quickly grew his brand, with seven more shops opening within nine years. As demand for his fabulous pizza and service grew, Faro seized the opportunity to open Uccello’s Ristorante Pizzeria & Sports Lounge in 1996. Giving guests the full dine-in experience with exceptional food and service was driving him to success, but Faro did not stop there.

Now with five successful locations throughout the West Michigan area, UHG has expanded into fast casual dining with two Herb & Fire locations and upscale casual dining with us here at MAZZO. Again seizing the opportunity to offer guests an encounter to exceed their expectations, Faro and the team at UHG have painstakingly curated the best in everything to offer an Italian restaurant in the heart of Downtown.

Faro’s personal philosophy to treat each guest to the best of everything is reflected in the menu, service, and feel of all UHG locations. He personally touches every aspect of his restaurants, leading by example, never compromising and always striving to do better.

LF: How would you describe the personality of Uccello's?

BK: At Uccello’s we have 4 main Visions:

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    Service: Giving exceptional guest experience that is simply unfair to the competition. Our guests COME FIRST.

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    People: Employing only the best people who believe in our “Guest First” philosophy, teamwork and respect.

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    Menu: Offering our guests an innovative, value and quality-oriented menu.

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    Sports & Entertainment: Having all of the best sports packages, showing all of the major sporting events on state of the art equipment.

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LF: What have you celebrated in the last year?

BK: Uccello’s just turned 21 years old – Legally able to drink! With that excitement, we were able to launch an updated brand across all 5 Uccello’s locations.

LF: What do you see as innovative and extraordinary about your business?

BK: Uccello’s was one of the first Italian Restaurant chains in West Michigan. After Faro opened his location, more Italian families started to catch on to the brilliance. Now West Michigan is filled with incredible Italian food one every corner.

LF: Share a struggle that Uccello's has overcome.

BK: The restaurant industry is not an easy one. Casual Dining restaruants are having a rough time in today’s economy. Fast Food is the place to be and we are continuing to change up our ways to stay present in the Millennial mind through branding, online ordering, take-out and more. People want fast food, but not with skipping the quality. We strive to be one of the top restaurants with a farm-to-table philosophy and we will never falter.

We are constantly being reminded to stick to who we are. The Uccello’s family is passionately dedicated to providing an outstanding experience to every guest, every visit, in every one of our restaurants. We can’t lose our vision and values while still trying to remain present.

Catch Uccello's, Mazzo, and Herb & Fire Pizzeria at Fork Fest, October 26 at Romence Gardens

Field & Fire: Trying to Change the World Through Food

Trying to change the world through food. This idea is growing in our community as food entrepreneurs, farmers, and consumers alike are acknowledging the power of breaking bread together. At Field & Fire, Shelby and Julie Kibler are working hard to make sure that the bread we are breaking is made with quality ingredients, wood fired, and delicious.

Shelby and Julie started the Field & Fire bakery four years ago with a commitment to making artisan bread using organic ingredients. As their business continues to grow, notably with the addition of their cafe last year, they have found that their ability to evoke change in our community spans much further than creating a high quality product for their customers. They are finding that their ability to support local growers and cultivate a unique work culture for their employees are important aspects of building their business.

Over the years, Field & Fire has built a work culture that they take great pride in. This culture serves to attract talented employees who identify with the greater mission of Field & Fire.

“I like to think of us as the “cool” bakery in town. Is that ridiculous?” says Julie. “Really though, I think our culture of health and sustainability is something young people can get behind. We also like to be a little edgy, pushing toward the inappropriate at times. It’s fun. I feel like that energy attracts young folks with similar ideals to join our team. We like to curse and not take ourselves too seriously.” 

In addition to caring for their employees, Field & Fire is currently working to create opportunities to support our local growers. They recently began milling local flour in house and are looking forward to building relationships with more farms so they can begin to have additional organic grains grown for them.

“There is somewhat of a renaissance happening in the bread world, and we are on board with that for sure,” remarks Julie, “The longer it takes for flour to go from grain to bread, the less nutritious it becomes. We’re milling grains to bake with the same day! It’s incredibly exciting.”

Want to learn more? Visit Field & Fire at their café or bakery, or stop by and say hello next Thursday at Fork Fest!

Software consultancy receives national recognition for economic growth

Atomic Object, a custom software consultancy, was recognized on October 3 as one of the country’s fastest-growing companies headquartered in an economically distressed urban area by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) and FORTUNE at ICIC’s annual Inner City 100 event in Boston. Each year, ICIC recognizes 100 fast-growing companies that also exemplify opportunity, optimism and transformation in their communities and illuminate the competitive business advantages of being located in the inner city.

Over its 16-year history, Atomic has outgrown its offices twice. Each time, Atomic or its leaders purchased a historic building in Grand Rapids’ Wealthy Theatre Historic District—first at 941 Wealthy St. SE, then 1034 Wealthy St. SE.

Atomic Object CEO and Co-Founder Carl Erickson says it might have been more convenient and less expensive to move to the suburbs, but investing in the Wealthy Street corridor proved central to Atomic’s identity.

“As we started thinking about why our location mattered, we realized that the neighborhood and its businesses had become an intimate part of who we were,” he said. “We don’t have a cafeteria; we have Brick Road Pizza Co. We don’t have our own bar; we have The Meanwhile. We don’t have decent coffee, really; we have The Sparrows.”

Atomic gives back to the neighborhood that’s given them so much. The consultancy has revitalized two historic buildings, its 45 Grand Rapids-based developers and designers frequent local businesses, and its leaders launched SoftwareGR—a nonprofit that fosters the area’s software community.

Atomic also recently hosted “Owning It, Business Structures that Matter” as part of Local First’s Good for Grand Rapids workshop series, which aims to equip Grand Rapids companies with tools and resources to create high-quality jobs, stronger communities and a healthier Great Lakes region.

“Atomic Object is a true example of what it means to use business as a force for good in our local communities,” said Elissa Hillary, President of Local First. “They have demonstrated a commitment to supporting local by creating local jobs, volunteering in the community and shopping at local businesses in their neighborhood. It is great to see Atomic Object recognized as an Inner City 100 and we feel so fortunate to have them in Grand Rapids.”

City of Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said Atomic’s tenure has added energy and innovation to the neighborhood.

“The future of our city depends on businesses that are deeply rooted in our community,” Bliss said. “Atomic Object is one of these companies, and it is helping to grow our local economy by creating jobs and wealth for our residents.”

Atomic Object leaders accepted the Inner City 100 award on Tuesday night in Boston. Find the full IC100 List published in FORTUNE Oct. 5.

Local First Experiences Toronto

A few of us from Local First have been touring Toronto this week for the B Corp Champions Retreat. Given our affinity for local cuisine and the prolific number of delicious restaurants in Toronto, we took this opportunity to check out some fabulous restaurants. Below are some of our favorites! 

Mother’s Dumplings

Mother’s Dumplings is a Northern Chinese dumpling house at College and Spadina that has earned a cult following for its boiled, steamed and pan-fried pockets stuffed with things like wok-fried beef and winter melon. Mother’s Dumplings is one of Spadina’s perennial Chinese comfort-food favourites, serving up some of the city’s best dumplings. Perfectly pan-fried golden pockets arrive at the table, 10 to a serving, stuffed with pork and bok choy, and crispy in all the right places.

Milagro Cantina

Founded by Mexico City-born brothers Arturo and Andrés Anhalt, Milagro on Mercer opened in Toronto's entertainment district in July of 2016. The lively, fast-paced, west end Milagro is located in the trendy West Queen West neighbourhood. They offer traditional dishes from all culinary regions of Mexico. Their chefs and cocineros prepare our foods using only classic recipes and techniques as well as the freshest quality ingredients.

Kinka Izakaya

Kinka Izakaya is a popular izakaya-style restaurant. Famous for its bustling atmosphere, Kinka Izakaya was established in the winter of 2009 in the heart of downtown Toronto. When you walk through their doors, you feel as though you're dining in Japan. Kinka Izakaya offers an authentic dining experience of popular Japanese eateries, and is a pioneer in introducing Toronto to the world of authentic izakaya fare and superior Japanese-style hospitality.

Thai Elephant Café

Thai Elephant Cuisine opened in spring of 2008 on Queen Street West and Niagara. Their chef has over 15 years of experience in thai cuisine. They make fresh, delicious, mouthwatering sauce and exotic soups in Toronto. Their kitchen is designed to be open for the customer to see how they cook so they can enjoy a unique experience. They love to use the following herbs in their dishes to add flavor, aroma, and health benefits for their customers: Garlic, Lemongrass, Galanga, Basil, Chili, Ginger, Coconut, Mint, Shallot, Corriender, Lime, tumeric and many more.

Eva’s Original Chimneys

Chimneys (known as Kürtőskalács in Hungarian or Trdelník in Czech) are delicious and unique, bread-like freshly baked Hungarian pastries, named after their hollow, cylindrical shape. They have a satisfying crunch on the outside and a soft, fluffy dough on the inside. Eva’s Original Chimneys brings Toronto an experience just like on the streets of Budapest using a traditional-style, open rotisserie grill so you can watch your Chimney Cake or Chimney Cone bake before your eyes as you wait.

Want to explore our own prolific local cuisine? Check out Fork Fest on October 26 at Romence Gardens and Greenhouses!