Twenty-three years after arriving in Miami from his native Italy at age 27, Graziano Sbroggio has achieved the proverbial American dream.
Now age 50, Sbroggio leads a local restaurant empire; including owning the management company Graspa Groupo, and co-owning an assortment of popular Miami Beach mainstays, such as TiramisU, Spris, Segafredo L’Originale, Spuntino Bakery and Catering, and Van Dyke Café, as well as Salumeria 104 in Midtown Miami and the newly opened Spris Pizza in downtown Miami.
And he is not done yet: More restaurants are on the way, he said.
Rumors have been swirling about Sbroggio’s Lincoln Road restaurants closing, so we first talked to him about that. Then we sent him these questions about his life and businesses, to which he responded by e-mail:
Q. Please tell me about the Italian town you were born in, and about your family’s background in the restaurant business.
A. I was born and raised in Treviso, a small city 20 miles from Venice, gorgeously located halfway from the seaside and the well-known Dolomites.
My family has always owned a restaurant, and it is fair to say that I was born to the restaurant business. I was always involved in the family business, but it was upon graduating from school that I started to really work in the restaurant. I learned everything about running a restaurant from my father and my mother, who were truly passionate about their job and passed that same passion down to me. I owe them a lot for where I am today.
Q. How did you end up in Miami?
A. I had a great opportunity at the right moment. It was back in 1990. Our family decided to sell the historical restaurant La Cappelletta after several years of successfully running it. It was then that one of our regular clients, Mr. Romano Fregonese, offered me the opportunity to relocate to Miami to manage their recently opened Italian restaurant TiramesU on Ocean Drive.
I was a little scared about the challenge, leaving my beloved country without knowing either English or Spanish. Well, I now can say that when I look back at those first years, the difficulties I had were well worth it, and I will always be eternally grateful to the Fregonese family for their trust and giving me this opportunity.
Q. How and when did you become a restaurant owner here?
A. I started with TiramesU as a manager. It was when we decided to move the restaurant from Ocean Drive to the then promising Lincoln Road that I became co-owner with the Fregonese family. It was 1997. TiramesU was one of the few restaurants on Lincoln Road, and the street was still a pristine territory where few tourists landed, but it was populated by lots of locals.
Q. What was your next restaurant venture and where? What other restaurants do you own? Do you have partners? Please tell me a little about each of the restaurants.
A. With TiramesU having a new successful life on Lincoln Road since day one, in 1998 I decided to open Spris La Pizzeria del TiramesU, two doors down on Lincoln Road. We are celebrating 15 years this October. Spris has won many awards for its excellent pizza and is one of the preferred Lincoln Road spots to munch over a family reunion, get together with friends or enjoy a romantic casual date.
After two years, in 2000, I opened Segafredo Café. The Lincoln Road hot spot is the first Segafredo Café in the United States. It’s not a coincidence that Segafredo’s headquarters are in Treviso. Segafredo Café also set the beginning of a great business and personal relationship with Mr. Mark Soyka.
With three successful restaurants, I kind of felt the need to get more corporate and find ways to standardize a high level of quality and service for all of the locations. In 2002, I started Spuntino Bakery with TiramesU’s former chef, Carlo Donadoni. The bakery would provide bread, pizza dough, pasta and other items to the restaurants. The company developed into Spuntino Bakery and Catering in 2004 to serve the rising demand of catering events which the restaurants themselves were not able to satisfy.
In 2007, I took on a new challenge partnering with Mark Soyka and Luca Voltarel (who’s also a partner in Segafredo) to co-own and manage the historical Van Dyke Café. We refreshed the menu, renovated the Upstairs and re-energized the music line-up.
2011 was another busy year. In May, the partnership with Mark Soyka was reinforced when we started managing Soyka, his namesake restaurant in the MiMo District/Biscayne Corridor. The restaurant first opened its doors back in 2001.
In December 2012, in partnership with Carlo Donadoni and Chef/owner Angelo Masarin, Salumeria 104 was born. The authentic Italian trattoria was a concept missing in bustling Miami, and Midtown is the perfect location for the restaurant. Salumeria 104 is definitely one of the foodie hot spots and critics’ favorites.
As you can see, I welcome longtime partnership and committed employees into business. I believe that having the partners directly involved with the day-to-day operations is a great incentive.
In 2013, I partnered up with long time Graspa corporate chef Alberto Marcato to open a second Spris location after studying, for a long time, industry trends and customers’ demand. This new location is slightly different, following the growing movement in fast casual dining.
Q. Please tell me about the new Spris in downtown Miami that just opened. How is it different from the Spris on Lincoln Road?
A. The new Spris Pizza in downtown is the first restaurant of a new concept. With partner and corporate chef Alberto Marcato, we have modified the original Spris and decided to launch Spris Artisan Pizza as a franchise concept. To quickly grow this winning formula, we embraced a partnership with Granite Transformation. This partnership may seem a bit strange, but I truly believe this partnership will assist us in our plans to franchise this concept.
Granite Transformation is a leader in their industry with franchise operations selling kitchen countertops not only in the U.S.A., but around the world.
The new Spris Pizza will be a fast-casual franchise, serving the same high quality thin-crust pizza, delicious paninis and healthy salads that we are known for on Lincoln Road.
We are already working on a second location set to open in November in Midtown. This new partnership will merge our extensive experience in the restaurant business with their expertise in franchising to create a new successful authentic Italian pizza chain.
Q. You also own Graspa Group. Please tell me about that.
A. Graspa Group is the result of our need to become a little more structured and corporate. Between all the restaurants, we employ around 400 people. Graspa Group takes care of the human resources, all the accounting, marketing, controlling and purchasing for the restaurants. That gives us more contract power, and most of all helps us be consistent with the quality of products and standardize processes, control costs and be more efficient overall.
Q. There has been a strong rumor that you are closing restaurants on Lincoln Road, such as the Van Dyke Café, TiramesU and Spris. What are your plans?
A. That’s just a rumor. Lincoln Road has been going through a lot of changes lately. National brands wish to be present on Lincoln Road with their flagship stores.
In all our Lincoln Road locations we have a good standing lease.
The rumor started a year ago when the building where Van Dyke Café is located was sold, and from there all the rumors about the street were triggered.
We feel part of the growth of Lincoln Road, we have been there since 1997, when it was not even half of what it looks like now.
Q. What is your favorite meal at which of your restaurants?
One says you never forget your first love. So my very first answer, from the heart, would be TiramesU. I’m Italian and I love pasta, with any white sauce. But the truth is that each of my restaurants has at least one meal that’s my favorite.
Q. What is next for you?
A. Right now I’m focusing on the new Spris Pizza project. Between the existing restaurants and Spris Pizza, I believe I have my hands full, although I love complicating my life with new challenges… so you never know.
It’s my priority to spend more time with my lovely wife and my two children. I want to dedicate more time to them and enjoy the most amazing gift of all, life.