Fans of La Grange's Aurelio's Pizza will soon be able to get the food they love way down south in Florida. If you're from the Chicago area and have ever eaten pizza in Florida, you know this is a godsend.
Ross Barnard, owner of the , 11 W. Calendar Ave., will be adding a second location to the family's pizza business in Naples, FL. Ross and his son Andrew, with whom he shares ownership of the La Grange Aurelio's, said they are looking forward to putting in the work and splitting their time between the two locations.
"Florida is going to be a big market for us," Ross said at his restaurant recently. "When things slow down here, they'll pick up there."
Ross and his family open the Aurelio's location in La Grange in May 2008. To say it's been a hit is an understatement. , and the place is always busy on week nights and weekends in La Grange.
"We did a lot of homework before opening," Ross said of the decision to open in La Grange. “People drive through [the area], see something new they like and say, 'I gotta go back there.'"
Ross and his family live in Hinsdale, but the appeal of the La Grange restaurant community and plentiful traffic via a "main artery" on La Grange Road sealed the deal. Today, the La Grange Aurelio's location is the best performing store per square foot in the entire chain of 45 stores spread over six states.
Ross said he attributes some of the success to knowing what his customers want. He described the Aurelio's brand as "solidly blue collar," but for his La Grange location, the family decided to ritz things up a bit.
"We wanted a place where people would feel comfortable, but be subtly chic," Ross said of the aesthetic. "We're going to do something similar in Naples."
Ross' Naples location won't be the first for the city, but it will still be the only one. The franchise was revoked from the previous holder after they began diverting from the chain's popular pizza recipe and adding different menu items, Ross said. When it was announced that the location would be available again for a new owner, Ross jumped at the opportunity.
"I was calling the morning we got a letter [from the Aurelio's family] about it," Ross said.
Family Hopes for Vacation Destination
The Barnard family is no stranger in Naples. Like many other families in the Chicagoland area, Ross said, they've been frequenting Naples for years as a place to vacation. A bustling nightlife and its proximity to the ocean and Everglades National Park makes Naples a popular place to spend the cold, winter months of Chicago in the sun.
Ross and his wife have been vacationing there for the last 20 years, he said.
"I like the pace of the place," Ross said about his personal feelings. But, it made good business sense to him too. "Many of the customers who like us here go down to Florida on vacation."
Ross said the family is hoping capitalize on the market of vacationing Aurelio's pizza fans and bring new fans to the Aurelio's brand too. Ross joked that when he was in Naples he could often play "6 degrees of Chicago" with the people he meets—everyone seems to have a Chicago connection.
"When you're a grandparent who wants to bring the family out to dinner—that can get expensive," Ross said. "It's a place you can bring 6-8 people for a good time, good food and get out without spending a fortune."
Do it Right and Roll the Dice
Ross is no stranger to picking up and trying something new. Over the years he's worked jobs that have ranged from construction to a position as director of sales and marketing at a national homebuilding realtor. People told him he was crazy for leaving the homebuilding market to open a pizza place, but Ross said he could see the disaster the market was headed towards.
"I was in sales and I was telling people that all around were the telltale signs of collapse," Ross said. "But people were making too much money to see it."
Aurelio's was Ross' first foray into the restaurant industry, but he's become hooked. Each day, Ross said, is new, fun and exciting.
"You can't be afraid to fail," Ross said of starting over and starting anew. "This is an industry where your customers tell you how you're doing every day. You can see immediately when something is working."
Ross said that message has been key to the family's success over the years—something he learned from his father.
With a new restaurant to open, Ross is getting to be an even busier guy than he normally is. The family is hoping to have the restaurant open and serving sometime in November, just in time for tourist season. He's hoping that with this roll of the dice, the family will again show what hard work and a little risk can get you.
"Do a great job and exceed expectations," Ross said his motto was. "If you just try to meet them, that's when you'll miss."