Great Italian Cuicine Without Wait

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APRIL 4, 2011


Porcini’s Pronto:
“Great Italian cuisine without the wait!”
In January 2011 Tom Alessio, marketing vice president at Porcini’s, Inc., of Boston, was pondering issues raised by a potential expansion of his company’s restaurant business. The domestic market for full-service chain restaurants was nearing its saturation point at both in-city and shopping mall locations. The big chains were looking overseas for growth, but as a small regional player, Porcini’s had neither the resources nor brand power to pursue that option. It needed a domestic avenue for growth.

Alessio had persuaded Porcini’s senior executives to consider opening limited-menu outlets, Porcini’s “Pronto,” to serve interstate highway travelers. Most competitors serving this market were fast-food or low-end outlets. Alessio believed that Pronto could offer a quality difference that travelers would value, but the challenges were substantial. Could Pronto’s profitably provide a limited selection of Porcini’s standard menu at moderate prices without jeopardizing the company’s reputation for excellent food? Could it maintain Porcini’s famously high service standards? Could it profitably break into a market occupied by established competitors? Food and service quality were only two aspects of the challenge. Porcini’s—a slow-growing, privately held enterprise—would need to roll out its new restaurants quickly in order to establish itself as a powerful brand. With limited capital and access to prime real estate sites, however, that seemed unlikely unless it adopted either a franchising or a syndication model of ownership. The first risked the company’s quality reputation; the second might produce a pace of growth that the company was ill-equipped to handle.

Working with VP of Operations Kurt Jensen, HR director Wanda Halloran, and Chief Chef Mariana Molise, Alessio had sketched out tactics for facilitating Pronto’s quality goals. These included an innovative process for selecting, appraising, and rewarding employees, and the use of wireless technology to eliminate time from customer billing. Meanwhile, Chef Molise had begun formulating menu items for “great Italian cuisine without the wait.” In Alessio’s mind, all parts of the Pronto concept—service quality, food quality, pricing, branding, location, and ownership form—had to be coordinated and mutually supportive. And it had to meet or exceed the company’s 6% hurdle rate. That was a big order. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ HBS Professor James L. Heskett and writer Richard Luecke prepared this case solely as a basis for class discussion and not as an endorsement, a source of primary data, or an illustration of effective or ineffective management. This case, though based on real events, is fictionalized, and any resemblance to actual persons or entities is coincidental. There are occasional references to actual companies in the narration. Copyright © 2011 President and Fellows of Harvard College. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, call 1-800-545-7685, write Harvard Business Publishing, Boston, MA 02163, or go to This publication may not be digitized, photocopied, or otherwise reproduced, posted, or transmitted, without the permission of Harvard Business School.

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Company Background
Porcini’s, Inc., had begun in 1969 as a family-owned restaurant in Boston’s North End—a largely Italian-American neighborhood. Over the next two decades it opened new Porcini’s restaurants in Hyannis, Massachusetts, Providence and Newport, Rhode Island, and Hartford, Connecticut. In 1989, the family (the Ventolas) sold a controlling interest in the enterprise to a group of private investors. The new management expanded to a number of downtown and shopping mall locations in...
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