“The Customer is Always Right Even When The Customer Is Wrong” With Franco Francese

I had the pleasure of interviewing Franco Francese, owner of Mattone Restaurant and Bar in La Grange Park, Illinois. After getting his start in the restaurant business at age 11, Francese has continued to build on his knowledge and strengths to create a popular Italian restaurant that is both traditional and modern.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?

We have two banquet rooms at Mattone Restaurant and one is located in our lower level. When we first opened, we had a 90th birthday party in our lower level banquet room for which we had no elevator. We had two guests that could not walk down the stairs. We did however, have a service elevator that was half the size of a real elevator. We ended up having to ask two patrons to ride the small service elevator, and boy was that a sight.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

While we are a family business, we don’t act like it in regards to our sophisticated use of technology, and we hustle more than the big for profit corporations do. Our recipes and dishes are well thought out, and we strive to provide a fantastic customer service experience.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’m grateful to my father. He had the courage to start this business in the late 80’s. He endured the very difficult process of attracting customers to frequent his establishment. In 2010, my brother and I took it from there. The hardest work was over by then. We are lucky that he gave us the opportunity.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We always try to give back to the community. Most recently Mattone Restaurant donated 10 gallons of our home made Minestrone soup to BEDS Plus, a local homeless shelter. We will always try and work with our local community and give back.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my Start-Up” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1) The customer is always right. Even when the customer is wrong — you must have empathy for a customer who feels that something is off about their experience. At Mattone Restaurant, we try to neutralize and de-escalate all customer issues and complaints, even if the customer is just complaining because they had a bad day.

2) Organization may be the most important skill to master prior to starting a restaurant. Space is limited. A restaurant owner who is scattered will not only lose and misplace inventory, but might also susceptible to theft.

3) It may be years before you get a day off. There is an old saying and it applies here, if you want something done right, do it yourself. Nobody is going to care about your restaurant the way an owner will. Plan on being there, especially in the beginning.

4) Never stop learning. Go to the industry trade shows and network with other restaurant owners. Talk to people who are in it with you. Offer advice when appropriate but also learn from people. You never know who can offer a sage piece of advice that could solve a problem that you are having.

5) Take personal time away from the restaurant for yourself. Working out, yoga, meditation…whatever the activity is, make sure you make time for yourself away from the restaurant. You must be sharp in body and mind to perform your best.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this.

I would love to meet Kevin Brown, CEO of Lettuce Entertain You. He has a fantastic restaurant group, and I would love to pick his brain about some of the things he’s learned along the way.