We had the good fortune of connecting with Michael Merendino and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Michael, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
My original thought process is very different than the one I have today, 14 years later. My original thought was to open a small little Pizza & Italian restaurant where I can cook scratch Italian food, have fun serving guests and get to enjoy all the “restaurant things” I grew to love up to that point in my life. Today, I get to enjoy things much differently as there is a whole business part of it that I was not prepared for. I went into opening a restaurant blinded by serving food from the years of being a waiter and a line cook in my previous jobs. With that said, I wouldn’t change a thing.. I love what I do!!

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I have always had an entrepreneur heart and mind but I never knew how to apply this to a real business. Opening up a an 1800 sq ft restaurant in 2007 came with so many challenges of business practices that I was forced to learn on the fly. As I expanded through the years with little to no money and insufficient funding I was doomed for failure unless I changed my ways of operating. I did have success at satellite locations at Salt River Fields and The Phoenix Convention Center but these were non traditional restaurant atmosphere and were a good revenue stream to grow my company and start understanding the importance of operations and systems. It was sometime in 2016 when I had the wrong team working with me. Our visions did not align, I was having no fun at all, and the restaurants besides not making money and being ran terribly, I had managers literally stealing from the company.  My restaurant career was in a tough spot. I contemplated closing the business many times around 2017. Instead, I regrouped, I took a 100% pay cut, borrowed money from mom to pay my mortgage and started building Crust back like I did when I first opened. Once the right staff and leadership was back in pace, things started to fall in position. By 2019 Crust had our best year from the 12 previous years. 2020 came with a new set of challenges that my team and I handled and we are still fighting through. But if we did not have the challenges previously, I would not have been set up mentally or had the experiences to fight through the pandemic in the way we did. I am proud to say that we not only survived but are now growing our company with expansion on the horizon.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
So I would spend at least one night down in The Ostrich, under Crust Chandler but I am bias! But for sure would do that and then walk around to the some great little gems in downtown Chandler like the Hidden House, Spirit House and Brickyard.

A night in Scottsdale would consist of starting for drinks at Olive & Ivy on the patio and then head over to City Hall for dinner and ending the night and Toca Madera for some night life.

The next day I would need to go to the Mission for their brunch!

I would do definitely do a night in the Quarter and Kierland and have drinks and appetizers at Dominick’s, and probably pop into a few other places while I was up there. See how the evening goes…

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
So I have 3 notable mentions: The first, is a man named Dennis Mastro from the amazing restaurant group that he and his sons grew to a house hold name of luxury in the Steak and Seafood world.  Dennis, has spent many cups of coffee with me guiding me on details of restaurant and life but more importantly his tone and advice in addition to ideas, next steps and growth was talking about his mistakes and him explaining each one to me so I would not follow in them. A great story I have with him was two weeks before I opened my first restaurant in 2007, I showed him my new menu that I was so proud of. He took a black marker to half of it and crossed it out.  He broke my heart at the time, but it was the best thing I could have done. He told me to focus on the best things I did, and I move forward with his advice.

The second, is a man named Russ. His way of going about things was against the grain and his tough love was constant, but he thought me many ways to problem solve and advance. I use many of his practices today. Working with Russ for about a year was so impactful that he needs to be mentioned.

Last, and obviously not least is my Dad. His constant and still to this day continued education is unwavering. He still shows me a better way of doing everything in and out of the restaurant. Working with him as I grew up in his pizzeria was the best restaurant education I could have ever dreamed of. His passion for my success is why I try so hard to make Crust Restaurants flourish.  This amazing man is never short on new ideas or creativity and getting to talk “shop” with him is something I am truly so grateful for.

Website: www.crustresturants.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/crustrestaurants/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CrustRestaurant/

Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/crust-simply-italian-chandler

Image Credits
Jacqueline Hanna McDonald

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutArizona is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.