How the Rugiero family continues to overcome the odds in the restaurant business
“The restaurant business is one of the most difficult businesses to run and sustain in the business world,” says Anthony Rugiero, CEO, President, Antonio’s Cucina Italiana. The Rugiero family and their team have faced both difficulties and successes by gracefully putting community and people first and serving them authentic, fantastic food, for over 57 years.
It all began in 1964, when Antonio Rugiero, Sr. purchased a small pizzeria in Dearborn, and named it Roman Village Cucina Italiana. By 1990, the space had doubled and the menu greatly expanded. At that time, Mama Rita could be found daily creating amazing cuisine in the kitchen with their boys as well, learning the business.
In 1992, the family opened another location in Dearborn Heights, named Antonio’s Cucina Italiana after Antonio Rugiero, Sr.
The second Antonio’s Cucina Italiana came to Farmington Hills eight years later and with it, a new look and more expansive feel for the brand.
In 2007, the third Antonio’s Cucina Italiana opened in Canton. This flagship location accommodates 400 seats, with private dining rooms, large banquet rooms, and a beautiful veranda, that draws crowds to this day. Then, faced with the 2008 recession, the restaurant faired remarkably well, feeding the community with reduced pricing and offering great value.
In 2017, Antonio’s Piccolo Ristorante was born with a new look and streamlined approach that had the same great food and service on a smaller scale in hopes to expand with more locations into the future.
And in 2020, COVID hit and has been a game changer for all.
The restaurant immediately took a page from the 1964 playbook and pivoted to carry-out. Despite customers’ anxiety and confusion over some of the new protocols, the team continually circled the wagons and adjusted to meet the needs of their community. Says Rugiero, “We have been blessed to have such a loyal customer base that has supported us through one of the most difficult years in business. We were in wartime survival mode, and their generosity made it possible for us to keep the doors open and our staff earning a living.”
The restaurant also leaned into non-profit charity work to keep staff working while supporting the front-line heroes via a partnership between Rugiero Promise Foundation, and Food 4 the Front-Line, whereby hundreds of meals were provided to over 20 hospitals daily at a discounted rate.
“Great ideas are created during some of the most difficult times,” said Rugiero. They launched a Take n’ Bake program, selling food that families could take home and bake when needed. This proved to be a great concept and is still working well today. In fact, the business is preparing to add a small market at the Canton location that will include many of the products that are sold in the restaurant for carry-out and Take n’ Bake.
After the second reopening of restaurants in February, 2021, the Rugiero family created Staff Appreciation Day, and donated 50% of all proceeds from the day to staff members in recognition of their dedication and loyalty.
Today the effects of COVID are still present in their daily operations and the new policies are still in effect. Says Anthony, “Our mantra is Tiriamo Avanti™ which means to always move forward. We have been blessed to have a great management team supported by a great workforce who have been loyal and professional and have honored their responsibilities at the restaurants.”
When asked what he finds most gratifying now about the day to day business, Anthony says “Seeing our long-time customers return for dinner and express their gratitude for the service that we provided to the community throughout these trying times.”