Il Fornaio

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Il Fornaio
Industry Food and beverage
Genre Chain restaurant
Founded 1972
Founder Larry Mindel (founded restaurant concept in 1986)
Headquarters Corte Madera, California, United States
Number of locations
Area served
United States
Products Italian cuisine
Services fine dining restaurant
Revenue $120 million (2000)
Owner Roark Capital Group
Subsidiaries Corner Bakery Cafe

Il Fornaio is a chain of twenty-one (as of 2014) Italian-themed fine dining restaurants operating primarily in California (16 locations of its 21) in the United States.


The Il Fornaio brand was established in 1972 as a baking school in Barlassina, Italy (in the Lombardia region). It opened a retail bakery in Milan in 1975, and was licensed in 1981 to Williams-Sonoma as a retail bakery concept. Williams-Sonoma opened four locations in California before selling the business to private investors in 1983.[1] Initially unsuccessful, the chain was re-sold in 1986 to Larry Mindel, who had run local restaurant holding company Spectrum Foods and launched or bought a series of successful restaurants: Chianti in Los Angeles; Prego (one of the originators of California-style pizza), MacArthur Park, and Ciao in San Francisco; and Guaymas in Tiburon.[2]

The new owners opened a total of 11 restaurant-bakeries in California in late 1980s and 1990s. The first restaurant location and headquarters are in Corte Madera, California, the second in San Francisco. They then branched out to Las Vegas, Nevada, Colorado, and Virginia, opening a total of 22 by 2008.[1]

In 1997 the company became publicly traded on the NASDAQ stock exchange. By 2000 the company had $124 million annual revenues.[1] The company was eventually taken private again in a leveraged buyout.[2] Mindel sold most of his equity and retired from daily operations of the group in 2001 (his son, Michael, continued and is Senior Vice President of Marketing as of 2014), and in 2003 opened Poggio at the Casa Madrona Hotel in Sausalito as a personal project.[3] Headquarters is in Corte Madera, California.

Under the direction of Executive Chef Maurizio Mazzon, a native of Venice, the company launched a second concept, Canaletto Ristorante Veneto, at the Venetian in Las Vegas in 1999, with a second location in 2008 in Fashion Island shopping mall in Newport Beach, California.[4]

Roark Capital Group bought the company in 2011.[5]


Il Fornaio in Reston, Virginia

Each restaurant shares a core lunch and dinner menu created collectively by the company's chefs, plus signature dishes and specials at the discretion of each individual chef. Fresh pasta is made in-house daily and all sauces, soups and dressings are made from scratch. Many locations featured wood-fired rotisseries and grills. The restaurants also offer gluten-free menus and an array of vegetarian and vegan offerings. Housemade desserts complete many meals [6]

Overall, the company caters mostly to repeat guests at its 21 locations. Regular customers averaged 12.7 return visits per year (later reported to be 17), considered very high in the industry.[7] The company is known for its long-running "Festa Regionale" loyalty program promotion [7] Two weeks out of every month the restaurants promote dishes from a rotating schedule of Italy's 20 food regions with a special insert. The 10,000 promotion members receive a "passport stamp" from that region if they order one of the items, and those who collect each stamp receive a gift.[7] As an unintended benefit, the promotion became a vehicle for recruiting cooks and chefs, after tourism offices in Italy noticed the promotion and established relationships with the company.[7]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Our Story". Il Fornaio. 
  2. ^ a b GraceAnn Walden (2002-12-04). "Il Fornaio's Mindel looks to Sausalito for his dream". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  3. ^ Alan J. Liddle (2003-04-07). "Industry veteran Mindel adds Italian concept Poggio to resume". Nations Restaurant News. 
  4. ^ "Fashion Island to open exclusive Italian restaurant". Daily Pilot. 2007-11-09. 
  5. ^ "Atlanta's Roark Capital buys Il Fornaio parent firm". San Francisco Chronicle. 2011-06-14. 
  6. ^ Janet Fletcher (2003-01-29). "Masterful Gnocchi". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  7. ^ a b c d Margaret Littman (2008-07-01). "Il Fornaio Promotes a Passport to Italy". Chain Leader.