Q&A With Stefano Ispani CEO of Ponti’s Group

Stefano 199x300 Q&A With Stefano Ispani CEO of Pontis GroupNew Beginnings for Ponti’s with the re-launch of their Italian Kitchen, Charlie Nelson talks to Stefano Ispani about food, family and salame felino.

Ponti’s has been around since the early 1960s, why is now the time for a revamped Ponti’s Italian Kitchen?

My father, with the help of his uncle “Zio” Johnny, opened the first caffè in 1963 at a time when London was experiencing an invasion of Italian culture, many Italians came over and opened lots of caffès and restaurants. Ponti’s rode the wave and did well until a new breed of pizza/pasta guys came onto the scene, by the mid 1990s the old counter concept was becoming tired and outmoded.  Sadly in September 2001 my Father passed away and a new MD took over. In 2007 we realised that customers wanted a very different experience to the old tray style operation, we really needed to make some radical changes. The previous MD left, I took charge and with a re-invigorated team we started the process of reclaiming the brand, concentrating on what we were good at rather than try and compete in a race we weren’t going to win. Food was the first thing we knew we could do well – concentrate on the brilliant produce and culinary heritage of Emilia Romagna, the region of Italy where our family comes from. The idea is to celebrate the family heritage of the business through the provenance of the food.  Secondly we knew that we had to take service seriously and out do the competition. We really hope that these core values shine through at Ponti’s Italian Kitchen.

Ponti’s Italian Kitchen is all about a more premium offering, what makes it special?Pontis Affettato Misto 300x225 Q&A With Stefano Ispani CEO of Pontis Group

I’ve already mentioned the attention we pay to the provenance of the food we serve.  Produce from Emilia Romagna is exceptional; we don’t serve Grana Padana parmesan but a superior Parmigiano Reggiano and the Salame Felino comes from a particular producer near to where the family originates in Piacenza (the hometown of Giorgio Armani). Our Tortelli Piacentini are individually hand-made in Piacenza also, this makes all the difference as the local water, eggs and flour that go into the pasta make it taste totally distinct and its not something you can replicate here. We have close ties to one of the restaurants in the area, called Il Falco di Riva Alta with whom we exchange recipes and swap ideas; Sabrina, their head chef comes over to help with new recipes. We are creating new dishes too, new generation twists on the Pontis Tortelli Piacentini 300x225 Q&A With Stefano Ispani CEO of Pontis Groupclassics; our Italian Kitchen Burger uses award winning beef but comes with provolone cheese and pancetta on a handmade roll specially imported for us from Italy. All our desserts & cakes are either made on the premises or baked to own recipes and delivered daily. We really feel that no other upper-mid market Italian provides the same quality of food at the prices we offer.

Tell me what else is on the menu?

Obviously we have great Pizza; the toppings are limited to classic and authentic choices. Our Antipasti comes on olive wood boards with mixed meats like salame felino, mortadella, coppa, prosciutto crudo, all from the same region and carefully Pontis Italian Kitchen Burger 300x243 Q&A With Stefano Ispani CEO of Pontis Groupchosen.  We have kept things simple and hope that the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves.  We have tried to offer something for everybody, I know that Italian food can be very carb heavy so we have lighter salads, soups and some freshly made sandwiches.  We recognise that to be successful we have to get as much trade out of every day as possible so we serve breakfasts.  You can get Italian style pancakes, our take on more classic full cooked choices, fresh pastries and so on.

Ponti’s Italian Kitchen isn’t just a restaurant, what else is available for customers?

There is the open kitchen with its wood-stone oven and all the produce we use on Pontis Food Open Kitchen 300x225 Q&A With Stefano Ispani CEO of Pontis Groupdisplay. We also sell lots of ingredients and products that are not available from supermarkets – cheese, wine, meat and oil can all be bought here. It seems to be selling much better than we had expected.  Our Lavazza Tierra coffee bar is also a great feature, we do take-away coffee all day.  We really are a multi-functional outfit, that can be used by customers for whatever purpose. If you want a full service dining experience with wine and a Grappa to finish, fine, but equally we want to serve those who want a cappuccino and pastry in the morning. Our ‘Scuola Pizza’ is very exciting, we run sessions teaching people how to make pizza our way and they get hands-on with the dough and toppings.

What’s next for Ponti’s, can we expect a roll-out of Ponti’s Italian Kitchens?

We are focusing very much on the now, with what we have, rolling out an idea doesn’t always work in every location, we are taking it one step at a time. The old style Ponti’s will be getting a makeover, we have launched the new style Caffe Italia branding that will be gradually upgrading the old stock.  But ultimately its the customers who decide whether we rise or fall, they are the people we want to impress with the quality of what’s on offer. We hope that what we have done with Ponti’s Italian Kitchen will provide customers with that genuine Italian experience and make us the place to go for exceptional food from the food heart of Italy, Emilia Romagna.

pik logo  300x121 Q&A With Stefano Ispani CEO of Pontis GroupPonti’s Italian Kitchen
5-7 John Princes Street
Oxford Circus
London W1G 0JN
Tel: 020 3230 3018

54 Duke Street
London W1K 6JN
Tel: 020 7629 3174