A truly local business.
Rob (left) and Tony Caruso. Supplied
Brothers Rob and Tony Caruso opened Panini’s Italian Cucina at 8544 Jasper Avenue on July 11, 2016. More than three years later, they are still enthusiastic about the venture.
Rob (age 26) is the foodie in the family. He loves to cook and is happy to be in the kitchen seven days a week, constantly creating new versions of pizza, pasta, and panini.
On the other hand, Tony (age 34) is an opera singer who studied for years at the University of Alberta, the University of British Columbia, and the Giuseppe Verdi conservatory of music in Milan. Turns out, though, that Tony has a real talent for handling the public relations side of the business, and charming the customers as they come through the door – and everything else that needs to be done other than cooking. “I am not afraid to get my hands dirty,” he says.
Rob and Tony chose the location at 8544 Jasper Avenue in part because this area has few places to eat, other than chains like Subway and McDonald’s. As well, the population is increasing quickly as several new residential buildings are being built.
Another reason for the location is the owners’ fondness for the Boyle Street and McCauley communities. Their grandparents were among the many immigrants who came from southern Italy to Edmonton in the 1950s and 1960s and settled in what is now called Little Italy. Their grandmother worked at the GWG factory a couple of blocks north of where Panini’s is now.
Rob and Tony are surprised to have acquired about 500 “regulars” – people who are in the restaurant or ordering takeout every week, or even more often. They are a bit surprised as well at the level of sales via Skip the Dishes. This writer, who lives across the street from Panini’s, can testify that mountains of pizza boxes get carried out every evening.
The growth of the business has caused the Carusos to upgrade the ovens in order to cook more pizzas at once. They have also had to hire more staff.
Tony says the restaurant business can be tough financially – the average profit margin is only about 10 percent. So what are their secrets of success? Although they don’t say so, it is clear that the dynamic Rob-and-Tony team is a major factor. Rob says another of their secrets is “teaching the staff to love the food.” The patio with a view of the River Valley is also a drawing card (although the weather this past year allowed it to be open only about 10 times all summer).
Most of the staff live within three minutes of the restaurant, as does Tony. And Rob says he might consider moving here too. These folks have deep roots in this part of town, and no doubt the customers can sense that.
Panini’s website is: paninisitalian.com.
Anita Jenkins is a retired writer and editor who lives in Boyle Street.