Fresher Than Ever

Rob Kalesse

After 15 years and five stores, PureBread is running with the big dogs, and its commissary is keeping it near the head of the pack

Drive along most major roads in the Delaware Valley and you’re likely to be inundated with lunchtime options, ranging from sit-down restaurant to fast food joint. If you’re in the mood for a sandwich, the choices are virtually unlimited; it’s hard to blink without seeing a spot that proudly claims it serves the best subs, steaks, hoagies, hot dogs, burgers, etc.

It appears, however, that some of the classic, family-owned sandwich shops are becoming harder and harder to come by, what with the onslaught of national chains like Panera and Quiznos, and regional behemoths like Wawa. Multiple locations, kiosks for quick service, and even the addition of fuel service (particularly at Wawa) make them difficult to resist.

In 2001, when Mike Nardozzi opened his first PureBread location, he knew the battle against “Big Sandwich” would be uphill. Fifteen years later, he’s quietly challenging the chain locations with his five stores (Pike Creek, Greenville, Christiana, Wilmington, and Glen Mills, Pa.). His recipe for success calls for fresh-baked breads and house-roasted meats, all served with a friendly smile and a connection with customers that keeps ‘em coming back.

Building a Loyal ‘Bread Base’

Nardozzi opened the first PureBread location in September of 2001, but his love for working in the front of the house at restaurants goes back to his post-college days in the mid-1990s. After graduating from Clemson University in 1995, he went to work at a southern dining institution: Waffle House.

“Waffle House was one of my first jobs out of college, when I was living in Marietta, Ga.,” Nardozzi says. “I learned so much about the great system they have in place there; it really made an impact. Then I wound up playing in a golf outing with the CFO, and after that day, I was hooked.”

He soon moved home to Delaware, where he found work with the Shemp Restaurant Group (Scratch Magoo’s, Tyler’s). Shortly thereafter, he and a co-worker began brainstorming a new business. A dog lover at heart, Nardozzi wanted to use man’s best friend in the name and marketing for the restaurant, and thus, “PureBread” was born.

He quit his job in April of 2001, worked on a business plan, and opened the doors to the first PureBread in Pike Creek just five months later. Ever since, the menu and restaurants have featured a dog theme, with sandwiches named after breeds and photos of regular customers’ dogs decorating the walls.

“Our fall menu, which we just revamped, has 25 different dog-named sandwiches, and even our culture follows the notion of being friendly and loyal, a lot like dogs are,” Nardozzi says. “When we hire people, we expect them to adhere to our values. I really think it’s our friendly service and the smiles you see on our employees’ faces that brings customers back again and again.”

While most restaurants might save their mission or keys to satisfying guests for the employee training manual, PureBread features it proudly on posters and table tents. Five rules, covering quality products, accurate orders, legendary service, pure hospitality, and cleanliness, are posted throughout the restaurants. As Nardozzi says, “Our values and keys to guest delight are right there in plain sight. If we don’t fulfill them all, the customers will know it.”

Greenville resident Beth Friedman has visited all five restaurants, but frequents the PureBread closest to her house several times a week. She’s been going since it opened, mostly for the consistent product and cheerful employees behind the counter. Even a slight mix-up in her order years ago impressed her.

“They used to put a pickle on every sandwich and, well, I hate pickles,” Friedman says. “There was a pickle on my platter, and it was not good. I barely mentioned it, and they didn’t even blink. They insisted on making it right, immediately. No roll of the eyes, no attitude. Within a minute, I had a new sandwich. I’m not sure you get that kind of service at a lot of places.”

Commitment to service and making each store “achieve excellence” is a big reason Nardozzi hasn’t considered offers to expand downstate or farther north along the Main Line. He says he’s too focused on the five stores he already has, and with a newly built, half-million-dollar commissary in Newport, proximity to the five PureBread locations is key.

Food for 15,000

Plenty of sandwich shops rely on Boar’s Head or Sysco to provide their meats, cheeses and other delicatessen side dishes, but Nardozzi wanted to go the proprietary route with PureBread’s own recipes, roasting techniques, and homemade dough. While other places are figuring out how to cut costs, he says, PureBread added the commissary and is using better ingredients.

“Quality is everything to us, so we spent $500,000 on this new commissary that opened in January,” Nardozzi says. “We used to have bakers at all the stores, but it just got inconsistent. Everything is now from scratch, and is delivered to each store by midnight for service the following day, including our house-roasted chicken.”

Director of Operations Linda Morel says the Newport facility is a well-oiled machine despite less than a year of operation. Between five and seven employees are on hand at any time, making the dough from scratch and hand-chopping and mixing side salads like the popular coleslaw.

“Our delivery drivers—who work as mailmen during the day—come to the commissary every evening,” Morel says. “By midnight, all five stores are stocked with all the supplies they need for the next day. It’s the best solution for guaranteeing that everything is always fresh at each store.”

Nardozzi says the bakers typically churn out between 400 and 500 muffins a day, in addition to all the loaves of bread and bagels they make. On average, all the meat, vegetables and bread the commissary pumps out is enough to fully stock the five stores with food for about 3,000 guests, or 15,000 people a week.

Smile. Be Kind. Do Good.

Just as commuters might see hundreds of dining options out on the local roads, it’s also easy to spot one of PureBread’s best marketing tools. Any time you see a “Lend a Paw” car magnet, look a little closer while at the next stop light, and you’ll see the PureBread lettering in fine print.

“It’s part of a program we’ve had here for years, where we set money aside for employees who have fallen on hard times, and allot that money to a deserving individual,” Nardozzi says. “We’ve bought cars, furniture, helped pay bills, you name it. We see it as part of that whole pay-it-forward philosophy we impart.”

While the Lend a Paw magnets are still popular, the company’s mantra has changed to something just as meaningful, according to Nardozzi: “Smile. Be Kind. Do Good.” The change was implemented about two years ago, when former employee Phillip Bishop died as a result of a hit-and-run accident on Brackenville Road near Hockessin. The 27-year-old was pedaling his bicycle home from a shift at the Greenville location when he was struck and killed.

“You probably remember reading the story in the paper, but it was devastating,” Nardozzi says. “Phil had worked for us for about two years and was so genuine, so full of life, so willing to listen and take time with each guest; when we lost him, we felt it was necessary to keep his spirit going.”

Nardozzi says Bishop’s mother, Johanna Bishop, was quoted after the funeral as saying, “We have to live life now … according to Phillip’s principles, which was just to be kind and do good.” That motto has been featured on PureBread posters and in their corporate email response since soon after the funeral, and is now part of the company’s mission. “We just want to be positive and genuine, like Phil was, and hope our customers see and feel that when they walk in our doors,” Nardozzi says.

The Lend a Paw program still exists, as does PureBread’s Pups Calendar, featuring photos of customers’ dogs, for $25. Proceeds from the sale of the calendar go toward the fund that helps employees overcome financial hardships. The calendar includes $175 in PureBread coupons, and will be available at PureBread.com and in stores by early November, in conjunction with the new menu roll-out.

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