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ZaBella offers more than just “beautiful pizza”
Food service industry veterans Don Shaver and Mike Coutu didn’t originally intend to open a stand-alone restaurant. Now a concept that evolved from his idea for gourmet pizzerias in a grocery store is Florida’s hottest new Italian bistro.


Orlando, FL – On a weekday afternoon, ZaBella brims with activity. Guests anxious to try the new Italian bistro situated in a refurbished historic building in Winter Park savor flavorful entrees like Chicken Saltimbocca and Fusilli Arrabbiata, and gourmet pizzas topped with sautéed vegetables.


After reading the menu, one couple asks the waitress about eggplant parmesan. It’s not on the lunch or dinner menu, she explains, but if they want it, the chef will be glad to make it.


Don Shaver – the founder of ZaBella, which opened in May – understands that delectable cuisine and a comfortable ambience alone do not establish a restaurant where first-time customers become regular patrons. Impeccable service is the other key ingredient.


“Our intention is to create an atmosphere where customers feel like they are family,” Shaver explained. “That is why we will get them anything they want. If it’s not on our menu, but the ingredients are in the building, our chef will prepare it.”


Flexibility with the menu is just one example of ZaBella’s unique environment. To give customers an understanding of the atmosphere where their food is prepared, kitchen tours are available to guests. The chefs and patrons alike enjoy the interaction. There are no split charges, so if a small group wants to share a Whole Bibb Salad – which features crispy pancetta, cherry tomatoes, and toasted walnuts with a creamy pecorino dressing - it can. Wine is served at a proper temperature – between 58 to 62 degrees for reds and 45 degrees for whites – in coolers, so it will taste just right when poured into the glass.


Todd Holender is ZaBella’s executive chef. Formerly a chef at Enzo’s on the Lake and Primo at Marriott’s Grande Lakes Resort, he has established an exciting menu that offers variety rarely seen in an Italian restaurant. The 16-ounce, grilled pork chop – marinated with caramelized apples and served with roasted baby vegetables and apple thyme jus - is already a customer favorite. So is the harissa marinated lamb chop, which is marinated in garlic, fresh herbs and harissa – a North African chili paste.

ZaBella’s gourmet pizzas are prepared by pizzaiolo and culinary director Francesco Gaudino, who honed his craft in his grandfather’s restaurant in Naples, Italy and considers each pie his work of art. Before joining ZaBella, Gaudino owned and operated pizzerias in Italy, New York City and Florida. He studied culinary arts at the Seconda Universita degli Studi de Naples.


ZaBella’s dough, which results in a crispy thin crust, is made from the Gaudino family’s secret recipe. The toppings are a vital element to ZaBella’s pizzas. All ingredients are fresh. ZaBella does not use frozen products.


“Our toppings are sautéed in garlic-infused olive oil, and our dough is specially made for the high temperatures of the brick oven,” Shaver said. “This creates a crust with perfect texture and superior flavor.”


In the near future, ZaBella will start delivering about every item on its diverse menu, so customers who want specialty salads, pasta, dessert or entrees that feature chicken, fish, veal, lamb, beef and pork with their gourmet pizza – or just alone – can have it. This especially appeals to hungry professionals who have little time to leave their desks. ZaBella has already catered a large stable of lunch meetings at medical and legal offices.


A former foodservice sales executive, Shaver partnered with Paul Haire in 1993 to grow Allstate Food Marketing, which is based in Orlando and is one of the most prominent food sales and marketing agencies in the United States. Shaver could not resist another challenge, and pizza is what attracted the entrepreneur to his first restaurant venture.


“When most people name their favorite pizza place, it’s not a chain. Instead, it’s an independent – a beloved neighborhood pizzeria,” he added. “I thought there was an opportunity to bring the elements of an independent pizza restaurant to the mass market.”


Recognizing a void in the marketplace, Shaver developed an idea for a gourmet pizzeria which would be located in a major grocery store chain. He then hired a consulting firm composed of executives from the hospitality industry and led by Mike Coutu, a former senior vice president with Hard Rock Café whose leadership was instrumental in building the venue into one of America’s most recognizable restaurant companies.


“Early in the consulting process, I recognized that it was important to have a proven industry professional like Mike on my team,” Shaver said. “He saw the potential of what today is ZaBella and offered tremendous insight about creating a strategic plan to execute our vision.”


While searching for the ideal grocery store partner, Shaver and Coutu decided to open a stand-alone ZaBella restaurant to give Gaudino and his staff a forum for their talents. They hired a dynamic culinary team, headed by Holender, to develop the Italian bistro concept. ZaBella has been such a hit that Shaver and Coutu are planning to open another location in southwest Orlando in the next year. They are also looking for locations in Central Florida to open gourmet pizzerias.


ZaBella is located in a Winter Park building along Orange Avenue that formerly housed a Greek restaurant and has been refurbished to reflect an ambiance befitting an Italian bistro. On a crowded weekday night, Shaver and Coutu smile with satisfaction as they absorb the atmosphere at ZaBella, where customers dine on delicious cuisine in a setting reminiscent of an Italian bistro in a major metropolitan city.


“Our vision is to grow the number of gourmet pizzerias, and to develop the Italian bistro concept started at ZaBella in Winter Park,” Coutu explained. “We’re confident that both elements have a tremendous upside.”


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For more information contact:

Quantified Marketing Group