Jay Jerrier of Il Cane Rosso on Guy Fieri, Naples and Making Peace with Yelp
In one quick year, Il Cane Rosso has become the most esteemed pizza joint in Dallas. Owner Jay Jerrier discovered this style of Neapolitan pizza while on a trip in Naples with his wife in 1995 and has worked diligently to bring the same pizza experience to Dallas. Recently Guy Fieri and the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives crew stopped by to film an episode, which will air early next year. Recently Jay sat down with us to talk about Fieri, the Dallas food scene and why he's always yelling at his Neapolitan pizza man.
Joy Zhang Jay Jerrier (left) in pizza pit at Il Cane Rosso.
How does a guy with a career crunching numbers at GE Capital get in the pizza business?
Working for GE Capital gave me a really good foundation for running this business. It's all about what gets measured and managed. It taught me about attention to detail, like knowing what our unit cost is for all our pizzas. We measure cost down to the gram. There's a lot of passion that goes into our food, but there's also a lot of science in why we do what we do. GE also taught me about continuous performance improvement and constantly staying ahead of the curve. We knew that everyone liked our pizza, but I brought Dino in (the pizza maker from Naples) because I thought we could be better. Instead of just sitting back, we look ahead. That's a GE thing.
Did you ever envision that it would take off like it has?
No. Obviously this is ridiculous. We're under a lucky star. We love what we do. I think that's what makes this work is that I'm always here. People can come in here and talk to me.
What other factors contribute to the success of this place?
We were very careful about things. I walked away from so many spaces. I looked at every vacant restaurant in Dallas. From Plano, Frisco, East Dallas, Preston Hollow and Fort Worth. Someone always told me, "You need to be willing to walk away." Then, it goes back to GE -- it's got to make financial sense. I had seen restaurants that had overbuilt spaces and were undercapitalized, and I did not want to be in that situation. I didn't want to stress about, "Oh my God, we gotta be open for lunch or we're not gonna make it."
But, down here in Deep Ellum the landlords were willing to do a lot of really cool stuff for us and I love the architecture down here. I was so tired of looking at generic aluminum storefronts with glass windows. I came in here and I loved the brick walls and exposed beams in the ceilings. The landlord made a great deal and so it was great.
Luckily, starting the catering company first, we already had a built in fan base. And I just love the neighborhood, the residents, and neighborhood organization; it's like an actual neighborhood. We have a lot of locals that are regulars.
Previously, you made no bones about the fact that you aren't crazy about the suburbs. Did you catch any flack about that?
From a few people, but I live in a suburb. The thing is, most people just want as much pizza as they can get for a little as they can get it. And I had verifiable data to prove it -- the demographics look amazing on paper, but it was at a $5 per person average check, because four people come and they split one large pizza and four waters. And they sit there for two hours. At one point some guys up there showed me some research that the number one restaurant people wanted up north was a Cracker Barrel and I was like "I'm done."
At the end of the day Dallas is really provincial. I have people that live in Preston Royal and it's a seven minute drive down here and they won't come down here.
Does that mentality hurts Dallas?
I wish people would take more chances. I think it's hard for small independent restaurants to thrive in the suburbs. And the people in the suburbs aren't willing to drive.