Fans of Italian food, rejoice — popular Italian chain restaurant Spoleto – My Italian Kitchen is set to make its American debut at the Plaza on University early next year.
Spoleto currently only has locations in Brazil, Mexico and Costa Rica, but has recently decided to expand its realm to North America, starting with Central Florida.
Its first location is slated to open in early January at the Plaza on University, and from there it will expand to a second location in Winter Park, according to a press release.
"We chose the UCF area because it's a great demographic for us to reach and capture coming out of the gate," said John Velasquez, president of Spoleto USA, in the release. "Orlando is also a growing city that can propel our brand to future growth throughout the country."
What sets Spoleto apart from other Italian restaurants, such as Carrabba's and Olive Garden, is that it combines the speed of fast, casual service with the experience typically received from a favorite Italian restaurant, according to the release.
Nicolas De La Hoz, a junior international and global studies major, lived in Mexico for eight years and is very familiar with the Spoleto brand. He said it is bringing Italian food to a new level as far as being both affordable and competitive with places such as Moe's and Chipotle.
"This is the best way I like to describe it to people: Imagine walking into a Chipotle, but instead of burritos and tacos, you have the option of spaghetti, salad and other Italian foods," De La Hoz said. "The food is very good. It might come off a bit strange to have a fast, casual Italian food place, but it's very fresh and good-quality food."
Guests will be able to choose from a multitude of traditional Italian dishes, ranging from pasta and flatbreads to salads and soups, while simultaneously interacting with a chef to customize their meal. Average prices range from $9 to $12, with drink included.
De La Hoz said the chain has been around for a long time in Mexico and has done well, and junior marketing major Eric Farlow has also observed the restaurant's success in Brazil.
"I've done research on Spoleto because it's very interesting to me how they are a totally Brazilian brand and they are doing very, very well there," Farlow said.
Farlow, who works in public relations and marketing, said that Spoleto has only ever operated in Spanish-speaking markets, with more than 250 locations in Brazil, eight in Mexico and three in Spain. It also doesn't have a website or social media in English yet, he said, so it will have to translate its brand image to cater to the American market.
However, he thinks that Spoleto has also set itself up for success by choosing Plaza on University as its first U.S. location.
"I think Spoleto chose a great place to start off in the U.S. because of the prime location right across from the nation's second-largest student body. It will be interesting to see how well their branding translates from their origins in Brazil," Farlow said. "They're known in Brazil for having a very fast-paced experience where guests feel rushed and pressured to pick their pasta toppings, but the UCF market should be used to it because of its similarity to Chipotle's serving style."
De La Hoz said he hasn't eaten in a Spoleto in more than six years now, so he is highly anticipating the opening of its first U.S. location.
"[I might] call my mom and dad and have them come over to Orlando so we can go to Spoleto just like we used to when I was younger," he said. "I can't wait till this one opens to bring back some memories of my childhood, going with my family."