John Velasquez, CEO of Spoleto My Italian Kitchen, which is a GrowFL 2017 Florida Companies to Watch honoree, does not mind that Spoleto has been called the Chipotle of Italian food. He actually takes that as a compliment.
"We have so much respect for that brand. They've established a very high bar that I believe we are raising even higher with our optionality, transparency, authenticity, and culinary," he said. "Our cause is culinary freedom. We believe in bringing the most authentic Italian culinary to the world; in a transparent and interactive way, at a reasonable price."
This cause drives the organization's culture and connects the brand to a growing fan base of everyday consumers.
"Our optionality sets us apart," Velasquez explained. "We offer gluten free, wheat base, organic, non-gmo, all natural, and core traditional Italian flavors. Our guests can customize and experiment with ingredients that are sourced locally and made in house every day. It's clean food mixed with dynamic and rich Italian flavors in an urban casual environment. We're a fine casual Italian restaurant where our guests are treated to amazing ambiance. They go to the ingredient bar, interact with a chef, and build custom recipes that are made to order right in front of them in an open kitchen. Ninety percent of our produce is organic and we have very healthy offerings. We're conscious of today's eating dynamics and cater to them one plate at a time."
Velasquez comes from a strong background in restaurants and growing franchise eateries.
"I've always loved the business of food and hospitality" he said. "My last positions were with Domino's Pizza where I was Director of Real Estate and Franchising for the Southeast US. I also worked at Domino's International in South America and the Caribbean, which is where I got connected with the founders of Spoleto. We aligned on a dream of bringing the Spoleto brand to the U.S. I left Domino's to become the President/CEO of Spoleto U.S. and a partner in the business. Now, we are fulfilling this dream of opening 1,000 Spoleto restaurants across the U.S."
Velasquez is especially honored that Spoleto was named a Company To Watch because of how young the company is.
"This award validates the great work being done by our team," he said. "It recognizes the great culture we've built at our company and certainly puts us on the map, we are proud to be the recipient of this prestigious award."
Velasquez advises aspiring entrepreneurs to follow your passion and be prepared.
"Do your homework," he said. "Understand what inspires you the most and what drives you the most. Find that first so it drives you. If you don't understand it, that's what gets you foggy and unfocused. Find your passion and what drives you and motivates you to get up every day. Entrepreneurship is not easy. My favorite quote is that entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won't so you can live the rest of your life like most people can't."