Andrea Lepore and Fabrizio Cercatore are the founders of Hot Italian, the stylish and modern pizzeria in midtown that celebrates Italian culture while emphasizing a new urban spirit that includes good design, green living and bicycles, among other things.
American-born Lepore is the marketing and design visionary behind Hot Italian, while Cercatore, who is from Italy, is the force behind the pizza. (Two years ago, they opened a second location in Emeryville.) Hot Italian will host the Bicycle Film Festival on May 9-10 in Fremont Park, across from the pizzeria. All screenings begin at sunset.
On the heels of Hot Italian’s fifth anniversary, Feast checked in with the pair.
What was the original vision for Hot Italian?
Lepore: Fabrizio’s pizza. There wasn’t anything like it here – and in my mind there still isn’t. It was an opportunity to bring his style of pizza here. You can see it all over the country. Every city has artisanal, or Italian-style, pizza. I think we were ahead of the curve. We also wanted it to be a communal gathering place. We wanted to be be very modern.
What was the reaction when you first opened?
Lepore: We started doing a lot of events before we opened and people loved the pizza instantly. We positioned ourselves as a new-urbanist pizza place. When we put in 32 places for bikes, people thought we were crazy. Now everyone is trying to add bike parking. Sacramento is a huge biking community and it’s getting bigger. With the communal tables, it was a thing people hadn’t seen in Sacramento. Now you see them at LowBrau and all these places opening.
What has the growth been like?
Lepore: Sacramento is not an easy market. We opened at the height of the bad economy in 2009. Not to get on a political rant, but we really need to address the job situation here in Sacramento. We need other economies besides the government, real estate and construction.
A lot of people reading this might want to open a restaurant. After doing it for five years, any advice for them?
Lepore: Write a business plan. We started writing ours back in 2006. It took us two years. It’s scary to me when I hear of restaurants closing and then something else opens right away. I fear it’s going to close right away if it’s not really thought out.
Cercatore: You have to have a concept. A lot of restaurateurs want to open a restaurant where they have a lot of things, but they don’t specialize in something or focus on the product.
How important is style to a restaurant?
Lepore: I think it’s huge. I’m sort of a design freak, anyway. It’s not just colors. It’s how you feel in a space. We spend so much time eating out, you want to go into a space and feel comfortable. Design is definitely getting better in Sacramento. People are more aware of it.
What’s the difference between your Emeryville store and Sacramento?
Cercatore: In Sacramento, we sell more wine with the pizza. In Emeryville, they drink more beer.