Everyone knows there are changes happening at Bella Brava. With the very recent departure of Domenica Macchia, everyone is wondering about the future of the restaurant.
An employee there gave me some inside info on what led up to this major change.
Bella Brava is poised to join the Restaurant Row on Beach Drive at a pretty substantial cost. They are also getting ready to franchise themselves in several other cities. And right now, cost is a major consideration in this expansion.
According to this source, Domenica was brought on board to re-vamp the menu and lower food costs. This employee said she did that quite effectively, lowering it to about 27%. If you know anything about the restaurant business, that’s pretty impressive. If you are at 33% food cost (not counting your other expenses) you are doing very well. The conflict came with management’s insistence that it go even lower. This employee said that Domenica could not deal with the changes, as she felt it compromised her integrity as a chef.
Bella Brava’s menu claims to serve fresh fish, scallops and other locally-sourced items. This employee says everyone working there feels like this menu is not exactly accurate. Frozen fish and frozen scallops are brought in and the San Marzano tomatoes they claim to use are actually a brand name and not the San Marzano tomatoes grown in Italy. Most of their menu items are provided by US Foodservice, which is not keen on providing local, sustainable produce. Quite frankly, they feel like they are selling a lie to their customers.
It makes one wonder about their new “green” location on Beach Drive where they claim to begin doing environmentally-friendly things like composting.
Asking Domenica to leave saves them a lot of money for several reasons. First, they do not plan on hiring another executive chef. Secondly, they have a menu that she developed which can be used for their franchise model. (And why would they claim her food cost is too high, yet continue to use her menu?) All these questions remain. Is it really more about the money and less about the customers? I don’t know the answer to that.
I do know that lying to your customers (if that’s what they are doing) about where your ingredients come from is not the way to do business. This is not what St. Pete restaurants are about.