Tonight, we’re heading to Papa Razzi for dinner with the kids. I’m actually really looking forward to it, even though it means eating super early by my standards.
On paper, Papa Razi is your “typical” family friendly Italian restaurant. They promote themselves with the very same cookie-cutter slogans found anywhere, like: “enjoy a taste of Italy without the airfare!”, or “whether it is a casual business lunch, cozy dinner for two, family gathering…Papa Razzi is the perfect choice”. This predictable positioning is enough to make me not set foot in such a place.
But Papa Razzi is actually a perfect place for a family. The booths are designed to accommodate 6 adults – so with a family of 4, the extra space means that there’s enough space for my wiggle worm daughter. And the white noise is always at the perfect decibel – loud enough to mute over our 1 year old, without interfering with the conversation at our table.
The first time we went to Papa Razzi for a meal was right after a trip to Italy. So we decided to put the authenticity of the place to the test by ordering the same dishes we had around Rome and the Tuscan area. Given that most restaurant portions are nowadays designed to feed titans, we decided to split the carpaccio, caesar salad, quattro formaggi (four cheese) pizza and the bucatini all’amatriciana (a Rome specialty).
We are never in a hurry when we eat – be it at home or out. And Papa Razzi “gets it”. We only like one dish on the table at any one time – we eat slowly, talk a lot, and once we’re done with a course, we like to wait a few before the next one. This is after-all, the Italian way. On this count, the service is exceptional – we’ve never felt pressured to wrap up, even on busy Friday or Saturday nights.
What about the food, you ask? Well, let me put it this way: that plate of bucatini all’amatriciana from Papa Razzi rivaled the ones we had many times in the most authentic restaurants of Rome – all for $14.99 split a few ways. The pizza? Excellent. Not quite signature Italy, but I’ve had way worse in Italy too.
We almost always have wine with dinner – but my first drink after work is always a cocktail. I am especially fond of cucumber gin martinis – and Papa Razzi has them (it’s no longer on their drinks menu, but they still make it for us). I’ve tried ordering this very simple martini elsewhere – only to be told over and over again that “we don’t have any cucumbers in the kitchen”. No cucumbers in the kitchen of a restaurant that serves cucumbers in their salads. Shocking.
So Papa Razzi is now our “go to” restaurant when we feel like having Italian for dinner with the whole family. We’ve been going there for years, and we always order the same thing. The ritual is identical every time – and I love it, as uncharacteristic as it is for me. Why spoil a good thing?
I think a lot about why this is the only chain restaurant that we go to. Is it because Papa Razzi is a small chain of “only” 12 restaurants spread out between Washington DC
and Massachusetts? Perhaps being small has allowed them to remain authentic. I’ve seen many places visibly cut corners during the tough past couple of years – but not Papa Razzi. Their food has remained consistently excellent and authentic throughout the years.
What makes Papa Razzi stand out from the pack is these seemingly “little things” that they do so well. But these aren’t little things at all – they’re the very embodiment of the fundamental principles of running a good business.
- Making the customer feel special: They always give us the booth for 6, even if it’s just the 4 of us – even on super busy nights. We are allowed to eat slowly without ever feeling rushed.
- Going above and beyond: The waitstaff always brings each one of us shiny clean plates and silverware after every course without us ever fussing about it (that’s over 12 plates in that sitting).
- Standing out: They made my cucumber martini, even if it was no longer on the menu – when no other restaurant would make the effort.
- Doing something different: When we walk in and out of the restaurant, the hostess always holds the door for us. It’s a pretty big deal when you have tired kids and their gear to carry back at the end of the night.
- Providing something of value: The food is excellent – and yes, it saves me a ticket to Rome to pretty much eat the same thing.
Papa Razzi doesn’t need to do a lot of the things that they do, but they do. And that creates loyalty.