The owners of fine-dining restaurant Commander’s Palace have partnered with those of Reginelli’s Pizzeria to expand the casual-Italian eatery beyond their shared hometown of New Orleans.
Their first co-owned unit, Reginelli’s ninth unit in total, opened in Baton Rouge, La., last month. The new partners said they are now shopping for locations in Houston.
“This is the type of thing we have wanted to do for years, and to find it with someone that we knew of and the culture of excellence that so matched ours gives a great foundation for solid growth,” said Ti Adelaide Martin, co-owner of Commander’s Palace.
Bruce Reginelli, who founded the first namesake restaurant with partner Bruce Erhardt in 1996, said they are looking for 3,000-square-foot sites to accommodate the broad, table-service menu of pizza, pastas, sandwiches and salads. The original eight New Orleans Reginelli’s units are not part of this expansion deal, they said.
Martin said the Commander’s Palace owners — which include herself, Alex Brennan-Martin, Brad Brennan, Arlene Nesser and Joe Henican — had been looking for a casual-dining concept in which to invest and grow. Reginelli said he was looking for partners when he ran into Ella Brennan, Martin’s mother, in an office building.
“I ran into Miss Ella in the elevator after coming out of an appointment, and we just chatted,” Reginelli recalled in a phone interview last week. “She asked if my ears had been burning, because she and her family had just been talking about how Reginelli’s had grown. That’s a great compliment to be talking to Ti’s mother and know they were speaking of us.”
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Martin added that the Commander’s Palace owners had considered other casual-dining options. “We had been looking for a long time at opportunities not in fine-dining but in the very casual end,” she said. “Frankly, we thought we might muck it up, coming from sommeliers and white table cloths. We truly have admired Reginelli’s from afar for a long time. That’s how we started talking after mom grabbed him by the collar.”
As they discussed the possible partnership further, Martin said, it became clear the two companies shared philosophies. “We found out the culture of their company was so similar to ours: just focused on absolute, unrelenting standards with the food — and passion for it — and also they way they work as a team and leadership style and a commitment to the guest,” Martin said.
A point of differentiation is the décor of Reginelli’s, which Martin said is “hip and cool and very appealing," adding, "I don’t think we could improve on that.”
Reginelli said that the décor package debuted with the third pizzeria, which opened about four years after the first one. The modern décor has remained, featuring “classic, contemporary Italian with clean lines,” Reginelli said, “with some of the pastels of ‘40s and ‘50s in the style of the classic Vespa. That really has never gone out of style.”
Best sellers on the menu include pizzas and salads, he added. “The pizzas sell very well across the board, but a grilled chicken salad with balsamic-citrus vinaigrette with roasted pecans and Gorgonzola cheese with fresh field greens is by far out best-selling salad,” Reginelli said.
Going forward, the partners are looking for sites in Houston, where Ti Martin’s brother, Alex Brennan-Martin, operates Brennan’s of Houston and Bistro Alex.
Commander’s Palace chef Tory McPhail has already worked a bit with Reginelli’s menu and drinks program, which includes beer, wine and mixed cocktails. “Since we signed the partnership, we’ve developed a couple of really great cocktails and frozen drinks,” Reginelli said.
In related expansion updates, Martin said she still expects SoBou, the drinks-intensive Commander's Palace spin-off being built in the W New Orleans French Quarter, to be open by June.
Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected].
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