Authentic, affordable, and addictive. Three words that perfectly describe Levetto from the mouth of CEO and President, Kam Zahedi. Along with his business partner Shahir Massoud, they have created an extremely successful recipe for success. With Kam’s business sense, Shair’s creativity, and their combined passion of good food, came the birth of Levetto.
In the bustling market of pizza franchises, Levetto offers something different. They have a unique Romana style dough that’s 85% water and seems dense, but in actuality, it’s crispy and light! It’s distinct to Levetto, and people can’t seem to get enough of it.
Sometimes fast can translate to frozen, but that’s not the case of Levetto. For every location, they share one important quality: their pastas, pizzas and salads are all made fresh from scratch daily! Quality and taste are never sacrificed in the environment of fast casual dining.
Each location shares the same menu, offering unique takes on pasta, pizzas, and salads but differing locations also have their own specials. Given Toronto’s notoriety for offering a diverse culinary scene, Levetto’s Chinatown locations offers an exclusive pizza: Peking Duck Pizza. Tailored to its neighbourhood, Levetto’s distinct Romana style dough is generously topped with a delicious blend of Peking Duck, Hoisin sauce and scallions.
Doing what you love has considerably contributed to Kam and Shahir’s Levetto success, but hard work and a keen business sense have significantly aided in exceeding their goals. We sat down with CEO and President Kam Zahedi, and spoke about how Levetto has exponentially grown their business and continue to work at their goals.
Levetto – a place where people can get classic Roman pizza, freshly made pasta at a reasonable price. What sparked the idea for this concept?
- I was a small business lender at RBC who primarily dealt with SBL (Small Business Loans) sponsored by the government for start-up restaurants. I had the privilege of dealing with many fast food businesses in the pizza and pasta realm. I came up with the idea with my investor partner because we felt there was a huge void in serving fresh pizza and pasta from an expert culinary standpoint.
Your background is in finance, and you had minimal knowledge of the restaurant industry outside of funding. What pushed you to take the jump and open Levetto? What drew you into the restaurant industry?
- I believe that in life if you believe in something, do not be afraid to go for it. You have to plan and explore all options ahead of time. Never give up, stay the course and fight for quality and creativity that you truly believe in ….my drive and persistence in keeping this dream alive led me to Shahir. Both of us worked day and night for 6 months in the first location at Dufferin… the rest is history :)!
Levetto first opened in 2015 and in a short span of two years, there are now 7 locations open and growing. What kind of factors have contributed to your success?
- I think that providing great comfort food at a reasonable price has really resonated with people. We also strive to provide exception customer service, every day, and I think that’s helped to maintain and build loyal customers.
Is there anything you would do differently? Were there any lessons you’ve learned along the way?
- … Not really …. You need to believe in your staff and surround yourself with people who care. Our core team has always been the same. Those individuals that started with us on day one have excelled and moved up into management positions. We have just signed our 9th store deal. We have over 90 people working in the stores. This is a huge achievement to grow jobs for Canadians.
“You need to believe in your staff and surround yourself with people who care.”
What are some things you wish you knew or did prior to starting your business?
- Tough question, it would be easy to turn back time and undo all the mistakes we made. But I think you need to make mistakes to become better. It’s a journey and I don’t regret anything :).
What is the most important metric you follow in running a successful restaurant concept?
- Set a plan and set goals. Follow them religiously. In order to reach the final goal, you need to implement trial and error. People who don’t strive to be better will never push ahead. Never feel that you have hit targets, keep setting them higher!
In terms of running a success business, do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? What are some key traits they should have?
- Never give up. Keep your focus simple and stay the course. Do not let people dictate what you should do … take good advice, but apply to the goals in a structured manner. Build a road map and a business plan and stick with it.
How do you ensure that new and returning guests receive quality service and consistent food?
- We hire great people and train them all extensively. Keeping the menu simple and having a person like Shahir oversee creativity and quality is key. Passion has to be at the forefront. People who join Levetto need to respect the food and have the ability to replicate what we have created.
“Passion has to be at the forefront.”
What do you consider one of the most difficult aspects in running a successful business?
- People, people, people. This is a team effort and with people working together for a common goal we can accomplish amazing things!
What kind of factors do you look for when opening a new location?
- The person who is franchising the store. We have opened in the worst areas that have no visual aspect or close to high traffic zones. These locations somehow turn into destination places since the passion and drive of the franchisee will draw many patrons. I believe in the person rather than the property.
What’s your current favourite dish on the menu?
- I love ❤ them all… hard to say :))
We imagine running a successful business, on top of being a first time father, can be hectic. What are some spots where you go to relax and have a drink? What’s your drink of choice?
- If time permits, a glass of Chianti wine…watching Season 7 of The Walking Dead … love that show in the living room while the kids are asleep.
With a growing restaurant concept, how do you ensure that all your locations offer the same standard of food and service you pride itself on?
- We have an extensive training program and amazing managers.
We’ve read that Shahir is an instrumental part of Levetto, not only in terms of providing delicious menu items, but also in building your business and
brand. What kind of qualities are important in finding the appropriate business partner?
- I’m very lucky to have Shahir as a partner and the Executive Chef of Levetto. He’s an amazing chef and very creative – also, a great personality, which helps for building the brand! I think someone who shares your vision and is as hard working and dedicated as you.
In the age of social media, the reputation of a restaurant can be easily tainted with a simple Yelp or Trip Advisor review. What’re your thoughts on the platforms, and how do you collect and deal with customer feedback?
- True! We monitor these daily and take all concerns (and praise!) very seriously. We feel very fortunate to have maintained high Yelp and TripAdvisor ratings for all locations. We love these platforms as they help people share their love for Levetto with the world, and also allow us another vehicle to interact with customers directly.
What’s next for Levetto? It has almost been two years since the first location opened, and you’ve expanded quickly and successfully…Do you plan on opening franchises outside of Ontario?
- Continue to grow with great partners as franchisees. Hopefully by end of next year, we will be at 15 stores in Ontario. We need to master our own domain before we can expand to the States or another province. I always say, “build your dream one franchise at a time!”