Port Chester’s Nessa: Restaurateur Marc Tessitore’s Profitable Enoteca

You won’t find any trendy food and cringe-worthy price tags here, and that’s why Tessitore’s plan works: Please stomachs, please wallets and keep people coming back for more. And have plenty of zeppoles ready, too.

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“On Michael’s advice, we designed our menu to run vertically, exactly the way we want people to order. This gives them the best possible representation of our menu, and it also brings up our average ticket per person,” explains Tessitore, who saw a $7-per-person sales increase after the menu redesign.

Leave Room for Dessert

The success of one of nessa’s most popular menu items—zeppoles—is spawning what Tessitore hopes will be a mini empire built around lightly fried dough. Together with his business partner, Robert Squeri, and another financial backer, Tessitore is launching zeppoleme, a chain of cafés centered on the scrumptious Italian treats. The first zeppoleme is slated to open in Port Chester by summer, and Tessitore plans to open six to eight more locations in the next five years.

“Our customers at nessa go bonkers over our zeppoles, and that convinced me we could sustain a business around them,” explains Tessitore, who puts the cost of the first location at roughly $300,000, and again plans to be profitable in the first year of operation. The economic downturn has worked to his advantage for this expansion, Tessitore says, with construction and labor costs lower than they would be in a healthier economy.

As for the zeppoles, these are not the heavy, greasy artery-cloggers we all remember from county fairs. “We fold ricotta cheese into the dough and lightly fry it, then serve it with amazing sauces like buttercream, vanilla, chocolate, cinnamon sugar, and hazelnut. Zeppoleme will also offer savory options like zeppole with cream cheese and chives, or provolone and pancetta,” Tessitore says.

The zeppoleme menu will also include breakfast, lunch, and dinner panini; salads and soups; as well as inexpensive pulled wines. In addition, the restaurants will be Westchester’s first purveyors of Stumptown Coffee Roasters, a growing Portland-based chain that emphasizes high-quality coffee and ethical business practices. Tessitore sees zeppoleme as an anti-Starbucks. “I would feel confident putting a zeppoleme across from any Starbucks and know that we would do droves of business because we will appeal to serious coffee drinkers,” he says. “People are yearning for a real down-home neighborhood spot like this.”

Despite the still-shaky economy and the stiff competition in both the Italian cuisine and coffee shop sectors of the restaurant industry, Tessitore is remarkably confident in his vision. “My goal with nessa and zeppoleme is to offer incredible integrity of product, delicious food that is made in-house and to order, delivered with great, friendly service, at the best possible price,” he says. “If we can keep doing that, I know we’ll continue to be successful.”

Amy Roach Partridge is a veteran business writer and editor based in Thornwood who now has a serious zeppole obsession.

► For more from 914INC's Q2 2013 Issue, click here.



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