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What you need to know for 04/23/2017

Mazzone's vast operation growing stronger, smarter

Mazzone's vast operation growing stronger, smarter

Angelo Mazzone doesn’t compare his business interests to an empire.

Angelo Mazzone doesn’t compare his business interests to an empire.

But he could. With a portfolio that includes the Glen Sanders Mansion in Scotia, Angelo’s 677 Prime in Albany, Aperitivo Bistro in Schenectady and the Hall of Springs in Saratoga Spa State Park, Mazzone and his teams of managers, chefs, bartenders and wait staff are well represented in the Capital Region.

“I never see it as an empire,” Mazzone said recently, sitting down to discuss success and philosophy with son Matt, Mazzone Hospitality’s chief financial officer, and nephew Sean Willcoxon, chief operating officer for hospitality. “I think that’s why we are where we are. It’s not much different than going to work at Peggy’s.”

Peggy’s, in Schenectady, was Mazzone’s first business. He opened the restaurant on State Street in 1980.

“At Peggy’s, I did a lot more operations, but I still worked the same amount of hours, the same amount of time, putting in as much time as I needed to,” he said.

Mazzone and company are still putting in time as the area’s largest caterer, and it shows. In November, his staff began food services at the Empire State Plaza. October’s big news was the official opening of 90 State Events in downtown Albany, Mazzone’s new banquet hall inside the former National Savings Bank building.

The company is currently consolidating catering operations to a central location on Pierce Road in Clifton Park. A $2.4 million expansion will put the company’s warehouse, catering operations and bakery in one place and eliminate the need for catering deliveries to several locations.

Mazzone employed about a dozen people at Peggy’s. Now, he has 800 on the payroll, a total that will hit 1,000 with summer work shifts. He said he remains hands-on and knows people in the kitchen and on the serving lines as well as personnel in the front office.

“I can never be that undercover boss,” he said, laughing.

Mazzone Hospitality did $34 million in business last year. As owner, Angelo Mazzone wants to keep the momentum going.

“I’ve said this forever: It’s easy to get to the top, it’s hard to stay there,” he said. “Everybody’s out there taking punches, everybody wants to see us fail. The thing that hurts me most is when people say, ‘Well, it’s not as good because they got so big.’ I answer it by saying we’re continually striving to do the best we can. If there’s something you don’t think we’re achieving, you let us know.”

Matt Mazzone said the company roasted 623 whole turkeys on Thanksgiving and served 20 meals from each. That’s more than 12,000 meals, he said, and if anyone complained about chopped apples in the stuffing, the company cheered them up with a complimentary gift card. And

See MAZZONE, page 43

And asked them to try the holiday meal again next year.

Growing smarter

There’s never been a concern about growing too big.

“We’ve been over this a lot lately,” he said. “We don’t have a strategic plan for growth. Some of these big companies, they’ll say, ‘OK, this year we’re opening 15 new restaurants.’ We don’t look at our sales growth that way. We look at [return on investment] and how much more money we’re going to make next year on what we have.”

If people bring opportunities to the company’s attention, Team Mazzone will consider them. That happened to Matt Mazzone when the 90 State property was on the market.

He was on a catering operation, and like other top people with the company, was working side-by-side with the lowest ranks.

“You have this humility thing, that no matter what, we’re all going to do the work,” he said. “If the meatballs are out, we’re filling the meatballs.”

A woman saw him on the floor and said she was hoping to talk to a company official about the property.

“He said, ‘Let me wipe my hands, I can help you,’ ” Angelo Mazzone said. “She said, ‘No, I probably have to talk to the CFO or the owner,’ and he said, ‘Well, that’s me, so let’s start talking.’ And we opened this incredible facility at 90 State in downtown Albany that’s probably going to be one of our biggest banquet facilities.”

Mazzone can seat 300 for weddings at the space, 400 for corporate events. The company doesn’t consider investment in urban centers a risk.

“Urban revitalization and urban event centers are kind of a national trend,” Matt Mazzone said. “People are gravitating back to the downtowns because everything is right there — it’s one of the things the brides at Key Hall love. You’ve got this world-class facility, and the other thing is when they’re done with their reception, they can walk next door and there’s a hotel. They can go across the street and there’s Bomber’s [Burrito Bar]. Before the wedding, they can go to Aperitivo for a drink before they come in. It’s more of a one-stop shop; when they come downtown everything is right there. Brides are kind of liking that.”

Brides also like some of the extras that come with the area. Matt Mazzone said Key Hall is booked for the next two years for the mid-November holiday parade. Wedding women like the option of ducking outside during their receptions for a peek at marching bands and Santa Claus on State Street.

“It’s like the fireworks show at Jumpin’ Jack’s at the Mansion,” Angelo Mazzone said. “They say ‘When is that show going to be? We’re going to get free fireworks at our wedding.’ ”

While the Albany and Schenectady halls are still new, he said business dining is one of the company’s largest areas of growth.

“In the last month, we’ve opened the Empire State Plaza, we’re doing all the catering down there,” he said. “We’re over in the cafeteria, that’s quadrupling our projections of what it was supposed to do. GlobalFoundries keeps building and building ... we’re opening three new locations.”

Symbiotic business

Willcoxon said different parts of the company support each other, so it’s a happy coincidence the company’s three slowest months — January, February and March — are the Plaza’s three busiest months.

“We can utilize and help retain staff in those three months by using that facility, and when that facility slows down, when we’re really crazy in June, July and August, that staff will come out of there and help support us,” he said. “So the business dining is awesome for that opportunity, but it’s also great because it helps us retain those staff members we might have lost.”

Nobody at the company wants to lose staffers. That’s why Mazzone Hospitality has decided to leave places like Chicago, New Orleans and Philadelphia alone.

“In our business, family is still at the core,” Matt Mazzone said. “When we look at expanding geographically, one of our goals is, we want to be able to have the ability to come home every night. We’re not looking to have that branch out in Chicago, where we have to go manage for three or four days a week and then come home. I think our core strength is the relationship we have in the community, as well as the relationship we have with the people around us. It’s important for us not to hurt that.”

Mazzone crews still travel to places such as Lake Placid and Cooperstown. And management would still like to advance the catering brand in other spots around the Hudson Valley.

“From a strategic standpoint, we want to be the large ‘wow’ event company, that if it needs to be over the top and it needs to be someone who can really execute, that’s our goal — to be that company,” Matt Mazzone said.

Angelo Mazzone said people at the core of his business, top execs, have been working with him for 20 years or longer.

“They understand my philosophies and understand who we are and how we are,” he said. “Pretty much all our restaurants have one of those original people in it running them. But the bigger we get, the harder it is to get that. So we’ve been attracting very, very good talent from out of the area that have come back to this area.”

The family, community and personal service ideas and ideals Mazzone holds dear must also be held dear by the staff.

“They’ve got to drink the Kool-Aid,” Angelo Mazzone said. “If they don’t drink the Kool-Aid, it’s not going to work. We’ve gone through tons of people in upper management who just don’t believe in what we say or how we do it.”

Nobody’s perfect

When people see the Mazzone brand at corporate events, wedding receptions and in its restaurant line — and perhaps think the company has never miscalculated — Angelo Mazzone said there have been difficulties.

“I think the toughest thing was when we tried to bring Prime Bar and Grill to Clifton Park,” he said of the company representation at the Hilton Garden Inn. “If there was anything we were going to give up on, that would have been it. People had a whole different perception of what it was. They walked in and thought it was 677 or Saratoga National. It took a long time to get them to realize this is a place you come before the movies to get a sandwich. It’s not a tablecloth restaurant.”

Matt Mazzone said closing places is not part of the company game plan.

“We’re never going to give up,” he said. “We’re just a tenacious group of guys. We’ve had a lot of challenges from our organization. We look at those challenges and say, ‘How are we going to overcome them?’ ”

The Mazzone purchase of Classé Catering in early 2013 — then Mazzone’s chief competition for off-premises catering — also came with challenges.

“I’ve been an off-premises caterer at heart my whole life,” Willcoxon said. “I felt I was very strong in my urging of Ang and Matt to purchase the Classé Catering business, and it was without question probably mentally the hardest year of my life trying to combine those two companies. Our company values were so opposite end of the spectrum — we lost 80 percent of the [Classé] staff because they didn’t drink the Kool-Aid.”

In Schenectady, Key Hall and Aperitivo are benefitting from the city’s downtown revival. Angelo Mazzone believes success has come because people from different agencies and government offices have finally worked together.

“I never thought I’d live to see that day,” he said. “After leaving Peggy’s [in 1988], I said, ‘We’re never going to open in downtown Schenectady again, I don’t care what they say.’ It was so hard back then; nobody worked together.”

Multiple restaurant options in a relatively small area presents another challenge to Mazzone management.

“We’ve added more slices to the pie,” Matt Mazzone said. “We have to consider more ways to grow the pie. How are we going to encourage those diners from Clifton Park or the other areas to choose Schenectady as that dining destination? We have to figure out how to drive more people downtown. We’ve grown, and we’ve seen some really good restaurants, but we haven’t grown the pie proportionally to the number of new outlets.

“You have to have a niche,” he added. “For us, we look at it from that tenacious stand and say, ‘How do we stand above and beyond the rest of them?’ ”

There are days when both Mazzones and Willcoxon wish they were back in the kitchen.

“I haven’t taken a party in years,” said Angelo Mazzone.

All three can joke about running a small bakery or a pizzeria. It wouldn’t work, because the corporate rule is to present the best — and that would mean time and trouble for minor fare like chocolate chip cookies or slices of pepperoni.

Both Matt Mazzone and Willcoxon will lead events and work as site contact manager with clients.

“That’s the core of it, what you do,” Willcoxon said. “You’re in the business of making people happy, and when you get to do that directly and be in touch with the client, there’s nothing better.”

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at wilkin@dailygazette.com.

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