WINDSOR, N.S. — Lucky Italiano's owners may have discovered the recipe for success in downtown Windsor.
John and Melanie Francis are celebrating 10 years in business this month, and have survived the ups and downs of making it work in a small town.
They now have their sights set on expanding their offerings while still providing their customers with the service they know and love.
Melanie said when they launched Lucky Italiano, they had a specific vision — to create a restaurant that welcomed customers and served good quality, homemade food.
“We wanted something a little more casual with easy, unpretentious food that was still good,” said Melanie.
“I wanted something quaint. I wanted a friendly, easy-going restaurant,” added John.
The couple said they're thankful for the support they've received from customers and they're excited by the possibilities that the downtown revival will bring to Windsor.
“When we moved here we were like ‘this place is just ripe for something really fun to happen’ and that's what we liked about it too,” said Melanie.
“People always wanted things to happen but it was a lot of 'they should.' Now people are stepping in and stepping up and making things happen. We're really excited to be part of that,” she said, adding there has been a noticeable attitude adjustment over the last year as new, complimentary businesses are popping up.
The couple, who were living in Calgary, moved to Nova Scotia to be closer to John's father. They decided on making their home in Windsor by happenstance.
“We didn't want to live in the city so when we first came here, we toured around in a Volvo station wagon with two dogs, a cat, and a kid,” said Melanie. “We wanted to live in a town — an actual town.”
They soon discovered Windsor. Its close proximity to Halifax and its charming small-town feel was appealing. They quickly bought a house and John, a professional chef by trade, began working at a local restaurant. He soon met the owner of Fred's Pizza. They began chatting over lunch and John learned the Water Street eatery would be for sale and his dream to own his own restaurant could become a reality.
“The opportunity came up here almost by serendipity,” said John.
“When I was really young, like a little kid, I always thought it would be cool to own a restaurant,” said John during a lull in the afternoon before the big supper rush.
After graduating from Toronto’s George Brown College in 1990, John worked in a variety of high-end restaurants but one thing always stuck out to him: “it seemed like only really rich people owned restaurants.”
Within mere weeks of learning about Fred's Pizza being put on the market, the couple put in an offer and took it over.
“When we started, it was pizzas, subs and donairs and then John said, 'you know what, I don't want to make this kind of thing... Let's just have an Italian restaurant,'” recalled Melanie. “I was like 'that makes good sense, let's do that.' I was terrified but we did it anyway.”
Looking back, the duo agree that it was a move in the right direction.
“It's been great. It was absolutely the right decision to have made. It was something that played to our strengths. It's the kind of food we enjoy,” said Melanie.
And it's food that patrons keep coming back to enjoy.
From the soup and bread to the pasta and desserts, the pair make basically everything from scratch. And much of their ingredients are sourced locally.
Earlier this month, they offered a rhubarb crisp to customers after picking up some of the first stalks of the season from a local farmers' market. It was a sell-out success.
John said he hopes to plant a small garden at their farm this year in order to capitalize on the stellar growing conditions the region has to offer.
“We buy a lot of local stuff but it would be nice to actually produce it ourselves, even on a small scale just to start,” said John. “A lot of the food trends are going that way and we have a perfect opportunity to do it. I figure let's try that.”
Looking forward to the future
Running Lucky Italiano is a labour of love. The couple usually put in a 12-hour day at work, six days a week.
“That's pretty much go-go-go the whole time,” said John. “People don't realize that if there's no customers in here, there's tons of things to do.”
From prepping for the next service to whipping up fresh loaves of bread, there’s rarely an idle moment.
As part of their 10-year anniversary celebrations, new specials are being added to the menu regularly and they have their sights set on adding a summertime deck to their establishment. Melanie said they may hire people to help keep up with the demand over the summer months as it’s more or less just the two of them that run the business.
They also recently launched an Instagram account, which feeds into their Facebook page, to keep patrons apprised of daily specials. Melanie said showing people what they have to offer has been a real boon for business as of late.
As Windsor continues to experience a surge in business growth, the owners of Lucky Italiano are hoping their continued focus on providing quality food for a fair price will pay off.
“I've accumulated a lot of knowledge over the years and I was just sort of sitting on it and going forward, we want to have more special things... a bit more flair in the food,” said John. “More local stuff.”
Chef John Francis is a guitarist in the seven-piece Halifax-based ska band known as The ConquerAlls. They will be performing May 26 at 8 p.m. at the Deep Roots Apple Blossom Boogie in Wolfville.
If you go
Where: Lucky Italiano, 23 Water St., Windsor, N.S.
What: Restaurant serving a variety of soup, pizza, fresh pasta, focaccia sandwiches and homemade desserts.
When: Typically open daily for lunch and supper except for Sundays.
Contact: 902-798-5999; on Instagram: luckyitalianons