Carbone Coal Fired Pizza doesn’t like to recycle old concepts.
When it opened its first location on Taylor Avenue in 2011, it was the first coal-fired pizza restaurant in Canada (and still is).
When the owners were looking at adding a second location, which opened in late May, they decided to completely rewrite the rules again, this time challenging Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries to accept a new idea.
Once 27-year-old managing partner Benjamin Nasberg could get an in-person meeting with the Crown corporation, he was able to sell them on self-serve beer taps, a first in Winnipeg.
“The selling feature for them is probably how regulated the system is,” says Nasberg.
“Customers have the option of pouring a half beer and paying for a half beer.”
Beer is charged by the .1 ounce under the self-serve system – which makes tracking inventory a breeze and gives customers control of their intake and budget by the minutia as well. At least up until their third glass.
When customers opt for the self-pouring system, they’re given a “button” that activates the screens and taps, and tallies their purchases. They can pour two full glasses of beer before the system prompts the server to permit the customer another two rounds, or end the transaction.
“Pretty much the same thing which would happen with a pitcher,” says Nasberg. If a party wants one bill, it will be prompted after the equivalent of two rounds per person.
Once the system had Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries approval, underground beer lines had to be worked into renovations of the St. Mary Avenue location, and the self-pour system had to be sourced from outside the country.
But construction delays were worth it; the reaction has already been positive toward the taps.
“It’s interactive; it makes it a good atmosphere,” says chef and co-owner, Joseph Paletta. “We’re getting a lot of tables interacting.”
Down to your first introduction to the server, where you can opt-in to the self-pour system, get a button assigned to you (with your name – a dream for servers administering a table) and get a quick lesson on bartending, the lounge breaks the ice quickly between staff and patrons. “The server will be here for your first pour to make sure everything’s cool,” says Nasberg. “It’s kind of like you’re teaching them something right off the hop.”
On weekends, a communal table in the lounge opens up as a self-pour station. The seats are pulled away and patrons are able to walk up and serve themselves from the four taps, exchanging pouring tips with other visitors. Other self-pour stations in the lounge have two draft options which differ from table to table.
Carbone downtown is decidedly more nightlife-friendly with DJs playing late-night sets on Fridays until 2 a.m., and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons beginning in July.
“People haven’t really associated Carbone with the whole loungey atmosphere,” says Paletta. “We wanted downtown nightlife, for sure. We want you to be able to make your evening out of everything out here. We want things to kind of progress throughout the night.”
Carbone hopes to create a unique experience for diners to stick around after dinner for their nightlife fix.The owners loved the opportunities the downtown location presented, like the 3,000 police they’ll be able to offer lunch to across the street at the new headquarters; the Stevenson Group employees they share a building with; and the voracious Winnipeg Jets crowd sure to flood their 2,500-square-foot restaurant/lounge on game nights.
The restaurant can hold 100 people, and a 50-seat patio will be complete in July.
The successful young business owners are confident in their distinctive product and their ultimate goal is to grow Carbone to have seven locations in Winnipeg before they branch out across Canada. They’re taking advantage of Winnipeg’s notoriety as a test market and want representation in more suburban areas in the city going forward.
The young dynamos come from experienced hospitality backgrounds and an impressive culinary resume.
Throughout his high school and university years, Nasberg worked in restaurants and found he knew what guests were looking for and what the Winnipeg market was after. “We feel we know our city probably as well as anyone could,” says Nasberg.
Nasberg initially set out to pursue a career in medicine, keeping in the back of his mind that he would eventually invest his earnings in restaurants.
He graduated with a bachelor of science, wrote the Medical College Admission Test, applied to med school, and didn’t get in. Then he repeated the process again to no avail.
One summer, before he planned to give med school another go, a friend’s brother-in-law presented him with the option of investing in Carbone. “I wanted med school, but I saw that even if I went to med school, I’d want to be investing in restaurants,” he says. He hasn’t looked back.
Joseph Paletta studied Culinary Arts at Red River College and went on to work in kitchens in Italy for three years. “After culinary school, my goal was to work in a Michelin Star restaurant, and I did.”
Michelin stars are awarded by a prestigious European hotel and restaurant reference guide, the Michelin Red Guide, which honours very select establishments.
Paletta, now 28, expected to lend a hand when Carbone was first conceived but ended up diving right in. He was hooked on the coal-fired oven which brings out the flavours of fresh ingredients and takes highly trained people to operate.
The powerhouses behind Carbone are all under 35, including the third partner, Sean Dollinger, 33.
The owners intentionally make young hires so they can sculpt their training to meet their needs.
The general manager at the Taylor location was a server who started at the restaurant just two years ago, and the kitchen manager started off as a dishwasher. “We’re young; we want young people to be here, and we know what it’ll take,” says Nasberg.