Pay close attention to Boulder, CO-based pizza and pasta restaurant Tossa. The fledgling chain takes a unique approach to service, giving customers the speed and efficiency of a fast casual experience during lunch, then switching over to a table-service approach from 4 p.m. on.
Tossa isn’t the first restaurant to offer a service style that morphs with changing customer expectations as day turns to night. But the few places that have tried it weren’t serving a very broad menu of Italian food that was available in every daypart. That’s the operational challenge Tossa is taking on, and it’s a daunting one. However, the people who are bringing the Tossa concept to life have an enviable track record of restaurant development, so they just might pull it off.
The restaurant describes itself this way:
“Tossa was created as a modern, lighter way to enjoy delicious pizza and Italian food. Chef Andrew Selvaggio’s principles of fresh, made to order food and top-quality ingredients offer recipes that are made for the way you like to eat today. Tossa offers lunch featuring a fast casual service that lets you order at the counter and have your food brought to the table. For a relaxing dinner with a glass of wine, Tossa has complete table service after 4 p.m.”
Denver-based Consumer Capital Partners (CCP) is Tossa’s parent company. Its other fast-casual venture is better burger concept Smashburger, now up to 163 units nationwide. The company’s chief concept officer, Tom Ryan, thought that one up. Tossa is his next big project.
But it probably won’t be his last. Ryan is a serial restaurant idea man. He previously was worldwide chief concept officer for McDonald’s, was senior v.p. of business development for Long John Silver’s and held a key role at Pizza Hut. Among the items he has come up with are Pizza Hut’s stuffed crust pizza and Pizza Lover’s line; McGriddles, Big ‘n Tasty, the dollar menu and fruit and yogurt parfaits at McDonald’s; and Steakhouse Beef Dip, Prime Rib and flatbread Sammies at Quiznos.
The service style gets all the attention at Tossa, but coming up with a menu that could be produced at a high level across both dayparts was the key. That feat was pulled off by Selvaggio, CCP’s chief culinary officer and, for now, Tossa’s chef. He previously developed the Smashburger menu and was executive chef and senior director of culinary development for McDonald’s.
For Tossa, he came up with an extensive menu that’s complex by fast casual standards. It offers four small plates; six made-to-order salads; 12 pizza options (three “salad” pizzas, three traditional and three signature, plus a create-your-own); eight pastas (four classic, four contemporary;) four grilled paninis; and a three-item kids menu. Every menu offering is paired with two wines drawn from Tossa’s list of six whites and 10 reds. All glasses of wines are $6, while bottles go for $24. There are four dessert choices, too, and the six-item coffee menu features Illy coffee.
It’s a vast menu by fast casual standards and probably a little bigger than the ones most casual Italian restaurants offer. It’s a good thing the Tossa management crew has so much experience in the QSR and fast casual segments, because the operational challenges of producing this vast a menu during, say, a lunch rush, seem daunting.
However, when you consider how far and how fast Ryan and company have built out Smashburger, you have to think they have an excellent shot with Tossa. It seems certain that whoever cracks the code for fast casual Italian—Piada Italian Street Food from the founders of the Brio Bravo chain is going to be a strong contender—and expands it quickly could find strong acceptance in the marketplace. We don’t know if Tossa will prevail. But given the proven concept development skills of its founders, we wouldn’t want to bet against them.
The first Tossa opened late last year. The company says it plans to open two more units in 2012. The race is on.