Jonesboro restaurant Lazzari Italian Oven changes hands

by George Jared (gjared@talkbusiness.net) 1,003 views 

Jerry and Sue Flynn were considering a major change. For decades, their Jonesboro-area restaurant, Lazzari Italian Oven, had been a staple along the heart of Caraway Road. The couple thought that maybe a new building might better suit their needs, so they brought on their nephew and Lazzari General Manager Michael Davies.

As they inspected a different building, the conversation quickly turned from them moving the business to moving on. Jerry asked Davies if he and another manager, Paul Bass, wanted to take over the business. Davies and Bass talked it over and they took the reigns during Easter weekend.

Davies told Talk Business & Politics he’s worked for the business off and on since 1998, and he doesn’t plan on making any significant changes in the foreseeable future.

“We’re not going to change the food,” he said. “We aren’t going to do any major remodeling. We are going to freshen the inside up a little bit.”

The restaurant sector is one of the largest economic sector’s in the country. The restaurant industry is expected to generate $863 billion in 2019, and there are more than 1 million restaurants across the country, according to the National Restaurant Association.

More than 15 million workers are employed in the industry, which is about 10% of the U.S. workforce. The industry is projected to create 1.6 million by 2029. That trend could be fueled by a growing desire among consumers to eat out more, according to surveys conducted by the trade group.

At least 42% of adults say they are not eating on premises at restaurants as often as they would like. In addition, 49% of adults say they would like to be using takeout and delivery more frequently.

In Arkansas, there are more than 5,200 eating and drinking locations. The restaurant and food service industry provides 121,100 jobs, and that number is expected to spike by 9% during the next decade to 132,100 jobs.

There were almost $5 billion in restaurant sales in the Natural State during 2018. It’s estimated by the association that for every dollar spent in the table service segment of the industry, it contributes $1.72 to the state’s economy. Every dollar spent in the takeout or limited service sector, contributes, $1.55 to the state’s economy.

The top challenge in the industry is the labor market. Long-term, robust economic growth has tightened the jobs market, and the number of teenagers in the workforce as a percentage is projected to drop to a 65-year low this year.

Davies’ path to owning Lazzari’s was a more than 20-year journey. He started in 1998, making pizzas and bread. Within a year, he was promoted to kitchen manager and it wasn’t long after that he took over the separate Lazzari Pizza operation.

By 2003, Davies decided he needed a change. The former Army veteran decided to re-enlist, and by 2005 he was back in the infantry. He served three tours in Iraq. One of the few enjoyable parts of his work in the Middle East was giving food and water to suffering children in the war-torn region.

Once, he gave provisions to a young woman who was moving her family’s camel herd near the American military base. She was badly burned from the first war in Iraq.

“I really enjoy helping people,” he said.

After his Army term was done, Davies eventually found his way back to Jonesboro and back to Lazzari’s. At first he only worked part-time, but slowly but surely he began to become more and more involved in the operations.

The restaurant employs up to 70 workers at any given time and finding quality help is always a challenge. In the kitchen, many of the cooks have worked there for 10 or more years, but servers and hostesses can be harder to find, he added.

There have and will be some changes with the ownership shift. The traditional Italian fare will stay the same and recipes will remain including the pastas, bread and sauces that are made from scratch on site.

The lighting has been improved and a lot of the décor, including the many plants, has been changed. The table cloths are now black. A few updates will be done to the bathrooms, but there won’t be wholesale changes. The family has spent many years building the customer base and the food and atmosphere don’t need to be fundamentally altered, he added.

“I enjoy giving our customers a great dining experience,” he said. “We like to make good food at a reasonable price.”

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