You know Barilla from its pastas and sauces. You may also know it as one of the leading providers of these products in the world. But Barilla is now stepping into a whole new business – the restaurant world.
The company — a fourth-generation Italian powerhouse, founded by Pietro Barilla in 1877, then carried on by his sons Riccardo and Gualtiero in the 20th century – now has 14,000 employees, has 13 brands, and owns 40 manufacturing and production plants, producing over 2 million kinds of products every year. And it’s been so successful, it’s decided to open a restaurant in Manhattan.
“We distribute pasta, sauces, cookies, oils, in over 100 countries,” says Stefano Albano, CEO, Academia Barilla Restaurants. “What Barilla does is good for the planet. Our food is safe and of high-quality. It’s well balanced, and good for you. Our goal is to reduce the impact of our product from field to fork.”
Barilla came to the U.S. in 1996, when it opened in Chicago. In 1999 its first plant was built in Ames, Iowa, followed by others in New York and other states.
“We came here as a retail business,” Albano recalls. “Pasta, sauce and bakery items. Then, later, we decided to get into food service, but it was always with the dream of having an Italian restaurant, which would complete the field to fork legacy.”
In 2004 Academia Barilla was formed, holding events throughout the year where restaurant chefs had the opportunity to work alongside Barilla chefs, and improve their cooking skills, and see demos based on new kitchen techniques in Italy. The Academia also began consulting services designed to improve profitability for restaurants and get them updated on trends.
“Barilla offers cold cuts to cheeses to olive oil, many Italian products, and we wanted to promote this Italian cuisine and have others invest in our Italian philosophy, too, here in the U.S. Though Italian food is traditional and comes out of necessity, as generations changed, family recipes evolved, along with the new taste and new trends.”
Albano says the company publishes 200 books a year. “To record the changes in traditional recipes, and make them more updated,” he says. Albano claims Barilla has the largest culinary library in the world, the Academia Barilla Gastronomic Library, with over 11,000 books, available in many languages.
Albano says the company decided to open a restaurant in New York because it’s such a diverse, affluent place. “It’s a key area to produce a new venture such as a restaurant. The U.S. consumer loves our product.”
What the Academia is trying to do in New York, he explains, is to better service other restaurants. “We want to develop a relationship with them and work on their product mix and inventory, leverage distribution to operators and be in constant communication to create combo deals for them.”
Another benefit of the New York City restaurant is that customers there can also shop for the same items used in Barilla’s recipes, and its Web site provides links to recipes that can be duplicated at home.
The restaurant was designed by Valerio Architecture & Design, a firm which helped bring the company’s vision to life, Albano says. “Our goal was to shy away from the old ‘grandma’ look of the Italian restaurant and bring in a new, contemporary look — earth colors, wood. We wanted it to be warm and comforting, for the colors, everything that’s on the tables, the wall art, our gigantic tables that seat 22 for big family celebrations, we wanted it all to say ‘welcome.’”
In the kitchen, which is open to the restaurant, glass and stainless steel dominate. “I designed the kitchen, which I felt should be centered around the menu offerings to maximize efficiency and the stage for food preparation,” says Albano. “I also wanted to provide a transparent, open kitchen, where everything done is visible to the guest, where they can see everything being made to order.”
As far as kitchen equipment, Albano says it was all chosen to fit the Barilla philosophy of taking care of the planet. “Pieces that could provide great execution while reducing energy,” he notes. “Electrolux ovens that are user-friendly for the employee, large kettles for large quantities of pasta to cook all at once so we can reduce our considerable use of water. Electrolux pressure cooker skillets, which allow us to prepare soup and sauces in one-quarter of the time spent before, without affecting quality. Our Irinox blast chiller is amazing. You can, bring food directly from the oven to the chiller without having to cool down first. It has three vents instead of two to circulate air faster, making the chilling of the product happen in half the time of blast chillers in the past.”
Albano says the restaurant’s concept is the Italian kitchen. “Enjoying togetherness, sharing food and recipes, learning about Italian cooking, I have a couple of screens that show recipes, panoramas of Italy, links where you can go and download all those recipes.
It’s a unique experience. Guests can change recipes if they want. Nothing is made in a way a dish can’t be changed. People can make a dish more to their liking.”
Albano says that he finds American cuisine very intriguing. “I fell in love with the way things work over here. In America there’s endless possibility, to take anything and change it. I love how food is happening in the U.S. You can have fusions in culture, Latin-Asian, Thai-French. I come from a country, ‘This is the way food is made, there’s no other way to make it.’ But here the evolution of food is open to new ideas. The consumer is someone who can help us keep at peace with the planet and provide what they would like to see in a restaurant.”