A Smart Move
A well-known and busy location convenient to a long-standing and loyal clientele would be the dream of most restaurant owners. But cousins Mike and Morris Salerno are not most restaurant owners. They decided to move.
“We had been in our old building for 33 years. It was old and wasn’t given the upkeep it needed,” says Mike. So this past February they moved Salerno’s, their relaxed Italian eatery, from its familiar spot in Flower Mound to a bustling retail corner in Highland Village. Both are booming suburban markets north of Dallas. “But,” he continues, “Everything is newer and fresher now. Our new location gives us excellent exposure and a much improved parking situation.”
Walls of the new venue are wrapped in a traditional red and black color scheme which pops against a gleaming, pale grey floor. There is seating for about 130 guests, with about 40 in the bar area. Booths run along the sides, and tables fill the center. A private sunroom is being added for parties of up to 40.
Another plus of the new location: Italian fine-dining steakhouse Bistecca, the other restaurant Mike and Morris own together, is right across the street.
Both are engaged, hard-working owner/partners. Morris runs Bistecca, but he manages the kitchens at both restaurants. Salerno’s is Mike’s responsibility. He is assisted by General Manager Blake Smith who oversees a total staff of about 50.
The surrounding community is made up primarily of affluent, two income households, with many homes valued in the four to five hundred thousand dollar range. “Even so,” says Mike, “we have lots of families, so we shoot for their business. We try to keep our menu prices reasonable, so that families can come in and eat for not a lot, and become regular customers.”
That menu reflects a Salerno food philosophy that Mike describes as good homemade food for reasonable prices, served in a friendly atmosphere. A selection popular with customers is also near to the owners’ hearts. An old family recipe in the Sicilian tradition, mogia chicken, marinates the protein in a sauce of that name, a blend of olive oil, vinegar and Italian herbs.
“We’ve used the same products for 30 years. Quality is our number one priority, so we may pay a little more for many items,” says Mike.
Established supplier relationships and known products help the kitchen manager rein in costs while maintaining the quality and consistency which has built their loyal and regular clientele.
Consistency has been a challenge lately, but a welcome one. Mike explains, “We were successful before, but our volume here is much greater. It took a couple of months to get consistent on our sauces—getting the taste just right, realigning everything. It was an issue at first, but now we have it under control.” And volume brings other challenges. He continues, “We make almost everything from scratch. So maintaining quality while trying to get the food out of the kitchen fast enough to get meals to the table in a timely manner is something we work on every day."
Salerno’s new location is not that far from the original one, but four and a half miles might be a deal breaker for a family weighing their dining options. Many of their former customers make the drive, however, drawn as much by Salerno’s welcoming environment as its quality and value.
In a booming area with many restaurant choices, Salerno’s personal approach is a winning one. “People choose us because we care. We address each customer as they come in the door,” Mike says. “In a fast growing area, personal service like this is very uncommon. Everyone wants to be acknowledged.”
That personal touch is not simply a business strategy. It is a sense of family which infuses the operation.
Mike worked his way through college in restaurants and bars, and he and cousin Morris had long talked about opening a restaurant together. “After working as a teacher and coach, I figured the hours would be better,” Mike says with a laugh. “We had the same Grandma, and Grandma had the money.” Inspired by their dream, she loaned them money she had invested in CDs. “We asked if she would help us, and she was great about it. It was all because of Grandma.”
Mike and Morris now have children of their own who have followed them into the industry. Along with a reinvigorated and successful restaurant business, the owners are passing on to them the work ethic it took to grow it. “You’re only as good as the last day you’re there,” says Mike. “You can’t be ‘off’ in this industry even one day. You have to be ‘on,’ each and every single day.”
Salerno’s supports the community at events for Special Olympics, Make a Wish and the local school district. “We believe we should go over and above. That’s our obligation to the community that supports us,” he says.
“And I thought being an educator was challenging. Now I work longer than even a coach, but I love it. I get pumped up coming in every day. It’s exciting to see this place blossom. I didn’t think we’d exceed our huge opening numbers again for awhile, but on Mother’s Day we even surpassed them. Seeing my customers smiling, and my employees happy and making good money…that makes all the hard work worth it.”