Flagstaff Business News spoke with Mark Belsanti.
He owns The Hungry Italian Restaurant
FBN: Why did you decide to open this type of a business?
Belsanti: Da Vinci Realty LLC is a commercial real estate company that specializes in commercial brokerage. With a passion for commercial real estate, we acquire investment properties as well. In 2006, we bought the property (Sunnysie Marketplace) and leased it back to the previous owner. Once the lease expired, we inherited the business. At this time, my son Jack moved to Flagstaff from Phoenix to run and operate the convenience store. The first thing we did was to stop selling gas which was not able to compete with Safeway and Fry’s.
Then, after learning the aspects of the convenience store, we began to look for reasons to attract additional customers to our family store. I had been cooking for my family and friends for years and love to eat and share the Italian recipes that I grew up with in Chicago. Jack had studied with a Master Chef in Sedona and was excited about the possibilities the busy convenience store had to offer.
FBN: How have people in the Sunnyside neighborhood reacted to the Hungry Italian?
Belsanti:The reactions have been amazing! People, not only from the Sunnyside neighborhood but from around Flagstaff, who have grown up in Chicago and the east coast have said that they have come to the store in hope of finally finding a sandwich that was as good as the ones they used to have and they found one that may even be better! Those who have never tasted these delicious recipes, everything from an authentic “Italian Beef” and “Homemade Meatball Sub” to a “Philly Cheese Steak”, come in wanting to try every sandwich on the menu to find their favorite. The local businesses have been extremely supportive and with the central Flagstaff location they like that they can call their order in and come pick it up and it’s ready to go. As local business owners, we appreciate local support and return that support by buying locally.
FBN:Many Northern Arizonans have several business ventures simultaneously. How has it been for you to add an eatery in your convenience store?
Belsanti: By adding the kitchen, we have been able to give customers something they can’t get anywhere else in Flagstaff. We have also been able to share family traditions that we are very proud of.
FBN: What advice would you give to someone else considering becoming a business owner?
Belsanti: Make sure that you are well capitalized because even if you have a great idea, you want to be able to hang on until it catches. Also, give your customers something they can’t get anywhere else and then make sure you give them quality every time.
FBN: How do you see the Hungry Italian and your real estate business evolving?
Belsanti:The Hungry Italian will do well and as the economy improves. We would like to add more buildings on the property to lease space and add additional investment income.
Address and phone number of The Hungry Italian (inside Sunnyside Marketplace) 2214 N. West Street (corner of 6th Ave & West), Flagstaff, AZ 86004 (928)779-1576.
In photograph: Jack Belsanti and The Hungry Italian