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November 16, 2012

San Antonio Business Journal

The large-scale shopping center in Northwest San Antonio known as The Rim is adding some new flavor to its tenant mix.

The latest entry, Russo's Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen, is slated to make its debut in mid-2013, according to founder Anthony Russo.

While the menu will include some pasta, chicken and seafood dishes - as well as a tempting array of desserts - the signature item will be New York-style pizza, Russo says.

San Antonio marks the 16th Texas market for Russo's, which is headquartered in Houston.

It is a city that is on the rise, boasting both population and job growth, says Russo of the Alamo City.

And when it came to finding the right spot here to announce Russo's Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen's debut, The Rim, "was my first choice," the restaurateur says.

"It is a prime location to showcase our brand," he adds.

Russo believes that the greater San Antonio market can ultimately accommodate anywhere from six to eight Coal-Fired Italian Kitchens - all of them franchised stores. He expects to reach this goal over the next three to four years.

Jay Elizalde, a site selection specialist with real estate brokerage firm The Retail Strategy, says his firm represents Russo's concept.

Russo says that the restaurants range in size from 1,500 to 5,000 square feet. Development costs range from $450,000 to $1.2 million.

The Rim store will measure 3,400 square feet. Russo puts development costs for the restaurant at $650,000. Local businessman Ketan Bhakta will be the owner/operator of the franchised store.

The restaurant business is in Russo's blood. He says he began working in his parent's restaurant in Houston, Russo's Italian Restaurant, when he was 12. The restaurant featured many recipes passed down to his parents over several generations, adds Russo, whose mom and dad hail from Sicily and Naples, respectively.

In 1992, Russo struck out on his own with Anthony's Pizzeria - to bring to Houston diners something that he believed they would be starved for: New York-style pizza.

Over the next several years, Russo would roll out his slice of New York to other Texas cities and other parts of the U.S.

In 2008, he created the franchise model for his brand. To date, there are over two dozen Russo's franchises.

So what exactly makes a pizza a New York-style pizza?

"It's all about the dough, the crust," Russo explains. Not only is it a thin-crust pizza, but the crust should be crispy.

"When you cut into (the pizza), you should hear a clicking sound," Russo continues. "When you fold it, the crust actually stands up. It's crispy, not soggy."

High-quality ingredients - "soft, melty cheese, tangy pizza sauce, spicy pepperoni and sausage, and the freshest vegetables" - are also a must, Russo adds.

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