INSIDE DISH: Italian eatery thrives despite early blunders

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Inside Dish

Welcome back to IBJ’s video feature “Inside Dish: The Business of Running Restaurants.”

Our subject this week is Matteo's Ristorante Italiano, a Noblesville eatery born in 2003 from the budding romance of Matteo Di Rosa and Emily Herner. Matteo is one of four brothers in the Di Rosa family responsible for the local Italian spots Amalfi Ristorante Italiano and Capri Ristorante. He and Emily met while working at Amalfi in 2001, started dating, and soon determined that they shared the dream of opening their own place. (They married in 2005.)

The plan was for Matteo to run the kitchen and Emily to anchor the front of the house, but neither one had the back-office business experience to launch a new eatery. In the video below, they look back and laugh at the many naive blunders they committed while trying to get the restaurant off the ground, including running out of start-up funds before they could stock food and alcohol.

That the restaurant was able to survive and succeed is a testament to their single-minded focus. "We were like a bull," Matteo said. "All we knew was that we wanted to do a restaurant." A frugal mindset didn't hurt either. They were able to open the 4,200-square-foot Matteo's in 2003 with less than $100,000, some borrowed decorations and cookware, and supplies left over from the previous restaurant tenant.

In the last seven years, they have invested as much as $400,000 total into the space, prodding the bare-bones original incarnation to evolve into a swank, white-tablecloth eatery with high-end overtones. And they learned the business end as they went. They hired a restaurant consultant for an initial consultation in 2008, and then were able to make improvements on their own once they had a clear enough sense of the operation's weaknesses. The more streamlined operation was able to grow their 2009 sales to $1.3 million while in the midst of the recession.

Despite their ongoing success, the Di Rosas are keenly aware of the day-to-day challenges of maintaining and growing their customer base. "Every day we open the door, I feel like is the first day," Matteo said. "I can remember the feeling, and I carry it with me."

Matteo's Ristorante Italiano
40 N. Ninth St., Noblesville
(317) 774-9771
Concept: Traditional Italian fare blending northern and southern styles.
Founded: March 2003
Owners: Matteo and Emily Di Rosa
Start-up costs: $90,000
Sales/profit: $1 million in sales with a $130,000 profit (2006); $850,000 in sales with a $113,000 profit (2007); $1.2 million in sales with a $131,000 profit (2008); $1.3 million in sales with a $140,000 profit (2009).
Employees: 20
Seating: 140 (plus 80 with banquet room)
Goals: To attract more banquet and catering business.
Good to know: In 2007, the Di Rosas purchased a neighboring building for $560,000. They are in the process of renovating it, with the intention of either leasing the ground floor space to another restaurant or keeping it as an alternative location for when their lease expires in 2013.

  • Retraction
    That certainly makes a difference. I hope the editor of the IBJ takes a look at this.
  • Matteo's
    Wow!! from the sales and more importantly - profits - listed, I don't think they need my restaurant consulting... but, if they did, I would be more than happy to be on their payroll - go Matteo's!!!! I knew you when you were small, and I still love your food!!!!! Thanks, John

    PS: Still happily married from '04! Woop, Woop! We'll see you for our anniversary this year!
  • I Love Matteo's!!!!!
    I think Matteo's has the best food and the most wonderful servers of any restaurant I've been to. The owners are always there, and I see them working hard every time I eat at the restaurant. Matteo is always on hand to make a funny Italian joke, and Emily is checking to make sure my meal/server is on track! I love Matteo's - in fact I plan to have my rehearsal dinner there this year. I am proud to have a truly authentic Italian restaurant in my hometown - Noblesville - instead of the chain restaurants all over the place. I and my community will support the place - thanks IBJ for the feature!
  • You folks have the wrong impression
    Hey everybody. Mason King here. I apparently have left you with the mistaken impression that the Di Rosas did not pay for the any of the consultant's services. As Emily describes below, they did pay for the initial consultation. But they were aggressive in asking questions about their weaknesses, and then chose to attack the problems themselves instead of paying for the consultant to make fixes for them. My apologies to the Di Rosas for not making that clear enough. The text of the story has since been changed, and the video will be re-edited Monday a.m.
  • Restaurant consultant
    Unfortunately the article does not make the situation regarding the restaurant consultant very clear. The consultant (who solicited us) WAS paid for the 3 days he spent in our restaurant. It was additional hourly services for which we declined to hire him. We decided against it due to the (in our opinion) high hourly cost and our perceived ability to complete his reccomendations ourselves. We did in fact have a contract with this company for the three days, and that contract was fully executed by both parties. If there is any doubt left, Matteo and I would be happy to distribute copies of this paid-in-full receipt. We are firm believers that if one cheats in life it comes back to haunt you three-fold. We live by these values, and teach them to our two children. If there is any question of honesty, food quality, etc our restaurant is an open book to our customers. Sincerely, Emily and Matteo Di Rosa
  • off the list
    I would definitely take them off the list of restaurants to visit and recommend everyone else do also. People who are willing to "cheat" in one area are willing to cheat anywhere. Food quality, perhaps?
    • Noblesville
      Matteo's never fails to please. From the start with their fabulous dipping sauce, homemade bread, fresh salads with the perfect dressing, entree specials that are always delicious to the flaming bananas foster, it is always a fine dining experience.
      During the summer, eating outside on the First Fridays with music on the courthouse square makes for a perfect evening. The servers are always friendly and professional and Matteo and Emily are always present attending to every detail.
      They are also good community partners, always promoting Noblesville. I use to always get my Italian fix at Amalfi's but Matteo's is my favorite Italian since they opened.
      Much thanks to Emily and Matteo for their wonderful restaurant.
    • The art of business
      As a consultant, this is a grey area and consultants need to be careful. I am willing to offer free advice and need to do this to build credibility with potential clients. On the other hand, I would not offer to perform services that are clearly chargeable without a written agreement. From what I heard, maybe the consultant should have closed the deal before spending three days preparing reports, etc. without having a signed agreement for services.
    • Agree with below
      ...although, I wonder if the writer found their actions as shameful as we did, and that is why he outed them here.
    • I agree
      In fact, as a restaurant consultant myself, I would be happy to go collect from these two "business" people throughxdc2r dining and dashing..Just like they did to the helpful consultant...and it comes across as if they are proud of doing such a low act...
    • Not Cool
      "And they learned the business end as they went. Interrogating a restaurant consultant in 2008 (and then declining to hire him) gave them a clear enough sense of the operation's weaknesses to make corrections and grow their 2009 sales to $1.3 million while in the midst of the recession."

      I've eaten there once and enjoyed it...but this bothers me. I'll make sure to remind them of this next time I visit...I'm sure they would agree this means I can eat their food, drink their wine, and NOT PAY!

      Why does the writer seem to pass this off as savvy business ethics/acumen? Good Grief...

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