The former Osteria Toscana underwent a significant change last month, but mostly in name only.
The Torre Group restaurant was renamed Trattoria Romana, christening the fourth location for the popular Rhode Island eatery that also has footholds in Tiverton, Wakefield and Lincoln. General manager Dan Cardella said the reason for the switch is simple – to stay in line with surrounding businesses and establish consistent branding for all of the restaurants.
“People were still not even realizing we were a part of the same company, but also aside from that, aside from the marketing aspect of just having all of the restaurants being consistent with each other, is when you’re able to have all of the restaurants running the same menu, you’re able to have more buying power for those particular items,” Cardella said during an interview at the new Trattoria Romana last Friday.
While the menu remains in tact, eagle-eyed patrons will notice that the prices have dropped significantly. Hours have been expanded, too, as Cardella said he allotted four additional lunch shifts and opened up the restaurant on Tuesdays.
“When people go out to eat, they want to feel they got what they paid for,” Cardella said. “I know when I go out to eat, I want to feel I got what I paid for. If I go to a place and I’m paying $10, I go to a place and I’m paying $50, I just want to walk out feeling like I got what I paid for. Here, in particular, you’re going to walk out and get more than what you paid for.”
Cardella said the approach has already started to pay dividends just a few days after the makeover. He recounted a story of some new customers who had been to the Lincoln location and decided to stop in for lunch.
They just happened to be driving by, and if it weren’t for their relationship with the Trattoria Romana name, they might have kept going on their way.
“I had some customers come in yesterday, saw the sign on the road. Never been here before,” Cardella said. “‘I’ve been to one of their restaurants before, so let’s try here.’ They came in, and they had a great experience. They said, ‘We’ll be back.’ I probably wouldn’t have gotten those people last week, when the restaurant had a different name because they weren’t familiar with the brand.”
Very little has changed about the restaurant cosmetically. The “OR” logos that used to hang inside the establishment were replaced with “TRs,” while a lit sign bearing the new name has been installed on the facade. A new awning has also been added for outdoor seating.
“If you had come in here last Sunday and then came back in on Tuesday, some people don’t even realize we had changed the name,” Cardella said. “Then they open the menu. We’re getting the same response from people saying, ‘You know what? Before, I used to come twice a month. Now, maybe I can come three times a month.’”
The formula is simple for Cardella – opening up more hours plus reducing the prices creates an irresistible allure that will keep customers coming back for more. When he told his plan to the stable of regular customers he’s built up over the years, they all said the idea made sense to rebrand.
He was hoping to reach the customers the restaurant wasn’t able to lure, though, and that’s where his formula comes in to play.
“It was those people who, for one reason or another, weren't coming in. Whether they felt we were too expensive or were not familiar with the branding, thinking we were maybe an independent restaurant … some people, it’s hard to get them to try new things,” Cardella said. “Now we’re not asking them to try something new, because they’re already familiar with the name because we have a location in Wakefield, we have a location in Lincoln, we have a location in Tiverton.”
Cardella unsurprisingly loves Italian food, but there is one dish he refuses to order anywhere else. He said Trattoria Romana unequivocally has the best bolognese.
“I will not eat it anywhere else,” Cardella said. “I refuse, because I just know it’s not going to be as good. It’s not going to be what I want. I’m a big bolognese guy. Pasta bolognese, simple. It’s a meat sauce. It’s to die for.”
As for specials, it doesn’t get much better for Cardella than the ossobuco. He quipped that one of his best friends owns a restaurant, and the ossobuco and bolognese are off limits when he steps through the door.
After all, he said he’ll usually opt for something not on the Trattoria Romana menu, or an item that’s a “base recipe.”
“He’s one of my best friends in the world, but I’m never going to order that at [his] restaurant,” Cardella said. “He does other things and I’ll do something else. It’s hard – I love Italian food. My father’s from Palermo, Sicily, and of course sometimes when people want to go out to eat, my family, my friends, things like that, where do they usually want to go? Oh, let’s get Italian food.”
Despite his fondness for bolognese and ossobuco, Cardella is full of recommendations for vegetarian and fish dishes as well. Just come on down to 1571 Atwood Ave., and he’ll rattle off his favorites.
“I’ll have to give them a couple of choices because not everyone eats meat anymore,” he said. “People are less likely to eat meat. You get a lot more vegetarians and things like that. So I always give them other options. It’s always my first response to them, but then I’m like, ‘What do you like?’ If you want fish, then I have to break off into what’s my favorite fish dish.”