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Mandola’s Italian Kitchen charts growth

Paul Avery of World of Beer teams up with the upscale Italian fast-casual restaurant to expand the Austin-based brand

Mandola’s Italian Kitchen, with four units in Texas and two in Florida, is poised to expand with a pop this year.

The concept was first opened 16 years ago in Austin, Texas, by Damian Mandola and his wife, Trina, as an upscale fast casual with a market-style, counter-service structure. Mandola had previously founded or cofounded D’Amico’s, Damian’s Cucina Italiana and Carrabba’s, and the new brand drew the interest of Paul Avery, who was the chief operating officer for Outback Steakhouse parent Bloomin’ Brands and went on to helm World of Beer Franchising as CEO and president.

“They knocked on my door about two and a half years ago and said, ‘Paul, we know you’ve got some history at scaling up restaurants and … we'd like to talk to you about looking at this,” said Avery, who had visited Mandola’s soon after it initially opened. “I flew out to Austin and was just so impressed with the concept and what they have done with it and how they evolved it into a really great place.”

The concept retains “that charisma of the market, which makes for the experience to be really tremendous,” he said.

Mandola’s is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. and offers takeout and curbside pickup.

“People love the model,” Avery said. Customers pay at the counter, but “that's really the only thing that's fast-casual-oriented,” he said.

The most recent openings include a 7,960-square-foot unit in Carrollwood, Fla., which opened in October 2021, and another in Riverview, Fla. The Carrollwood location seats 146 guests and offers 1,190 square feet of patio space for outdoor dining with seating for an additional 40 guests.

This year, it plans to open another in Texas, in Round Rock, and four in Florida.

Avery said the company will continue to focus its growth on Texas, Florida, and the broader Southeast.

“Houston is such a powerful market for Mandola’s, particularly because the family has been there for generations and is a very well-known name for restaurants,” he said.

The lasagna and chicken parmesan are the best-selling menu items, and the brand tries to keep entrees in the $11-$15 range.

“We have daily features seven days a week,” Avery said, “and those will go upwards of $18. But there's there is really significant price value with that.”

The fast-casual model, which was required initially because of Mandola’s agreement with casual-dining Carrabba’s, has grown more appealing to consumers, the owners said.

“There's more and more occasions where people seek to get in and get out much quicker,” Avery said.

Trina Mandola continues to oversee the marketplace décor, which Avery said is “a really comfortable environment. It's got bright colors to it. The music is lively. It's just a fun, energetic place to be.”

The initial Florida location was a bit larger than typical units, because it serves as a commissary for other stores, especially in the production of desserts like house-made gelato and popular cannolis.

Avery and Mandola said the brand would also be highlighting catering with a mobile brick pizza oven that can be used for office gatherings, weddings or other social occasions.

“It's absolutely a business extension that we're going to offer in in all of the markets that we enter,” Avery said.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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