WEST BRADENTON -- Danny Fernandes hopes patience pays off when it comes to growing his pizza shop.
The owner of Danny's Pizzeria, in the Publix-anchored Beachway Plaza at 7220 Manatee Ave. W., has expanded his dining room with more than 50 seats this month after being open for four years. He says he wanted to take a "smart and patient" approach.
"I didn't want to get too big too fast," Fernandes said inside his shop. "So many people have a successful business and they expand too quickly and wind up closing after a couple years. I waited as long as I could until we were forced to expand."
Before the expansion, Danny's could fit about 15 to 20 inside, where lunch rushes were typically at capacity with diners elbow-to-elbow chowing down on garlic knots and chicken parm.
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His wife, Joan Fernandes, appreciates the breathing room.
"It gives the customers a more pleasant experience. It's not as crowded," she said. "Our goal is to keep it the hometown pizzeria. It's a family-friendly place, and I think we've definitely accomplished that."
The expansion has allowed Fernandes to hire more servers and upgrade his kitchen by moving the ice machine and other equipment into the new dining room. He bought a new double oven and burners to help with their new menu and added specials like catfish and tilapia.
"It's fun to keep things off the menu rather than put everything on there. You can do different things every night," he said. "And it's good because I want people to call and ask 'What's your special tonight?'"
Fernandes has spent most of his life in pizzerias. He started working when he was 14 at a New York pizzeria, working his way up to opening his own shop in 1989 in Mahopac, N.Y., a small town west of Danbury, Conn. In 1996, he opened a second location in nearby Stormville, N.Y., then packed up his family and moved to Ellenton in 2008. His West Bradenton shop opened in September 2010.
"Basically I just want
ed to get out of New York and come to nice weather," Fernandes said.
Fernandes said he's seen a steady increase in business and started thinking about expansion after two years in business. He wanted to stay in that plaza with Staples, Publix and Kmart, and couldn't get in to his spot next door until a bank's lease ended -- despite the bank moving. A solid summer in 2013 confirmed Fernandes's wishes that it was time to grow.
"Sure we do tourism, but we have a good local, steady clientèle," he said. "Season -- that's all bonus stuff now. We do very good here with our locals. When season does start, we do draw people off the island."
Fernandes couldn't estimate how much more potential revenue the new seats might bring in, but he doesn't expect it to be a "crazy" increase.
"I do expect an increase just like every year we've been here, it has increased," he said.
Diners will notice that the restaurant's theme continues with more license plates and first responder badges from throughout the U.S. adorning the walls. The badges all started back in New York when he stuck his father's badge from the New York Police Department on a wall with a thumbtack, following his dad's retirement. The badge and license plate art grew there, then even more so in Bradenton, thanks to the area growing in new residents from out of state.
"People kept bringing them in," he said. "I never thought of myself as a collector of them, and I kind of turned into that. That's pretty cool. People come in all the time looking for theirs."
Fernandes is big on quality ingredients, grating his own cheese and making his own dough. That dough is extra special.
"It's a true New York pizza," he said. "When I first moved here, I heard you couldn't make good pizza in Florida because of the water. First thing I did was bought a top-of-the-line water filtration system just to make sure I have the best possible water I can have here."
Between the water, and adjusting the yeast for the humidity, Fernandes believes he has everything down to make a pizza survive in Florida... until diners get their hands on a slice of pie.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-795. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.