He might not make it quite in time for National Pizza Day on Feb. 9, but director of operations Jonathan Schroeter is hoping for a Feb. 25 opening of Il Primo Pizza & Wings in North Port, in the former Uncle Maddio’s space next to Kay Jewelers and Chipotle Mexican Grill.
No chain, Il Primo is the 36-year-old brainchild of western New York founder Paul Conti, who tired of never finding pizza or wings made “the right way.”
“I had my own idea what pizza was supposed to be like,” Conti said in a 2009 interview.
He felt the same way about his Buffalo wings, insisting on fresh, never frozen, a distinctively crispy texture and the best Louisiana hot sauce he knew: Frank’s Hot Sauce. According to Schroeter, Il Primo continues to use Frank’s in all its hot sauces except Mild: Medium, Hot, Suicide, BBQ, Sweet Chili, and Buffalo Garlic.
In 1983, Conti opened three locations in Arizona, each making its own dough and sauce for hand-tossed pies with just the right amount of cheese and turning out wings with just the right Buffalo bite.
Around 1999, Conti and his family moved to Naples and began opening locations in Florida: three in Naples, one in Lehigh Acres, one in Cape Coral and one in Fort Myers.
After Conti’s death in 2013, his wife, Lucia, and son Mino took over the company and called on Schroeter to return and help run the family business where he had first worked in 2005. Today, he’s excited to be building Il Primo’s first new location since its founder’s passing.
Although there’s no shortage of pizza in North Port, expanding there made sense, said Schroeter.
“North Port is growing like crazy, with the Braves team going in there, and our concept, being very family-centric, will set us apart.”
There will be two TVs constantly playing G-rated Disney movies for kids to watch. And all Il Primo outlets have a character named Captain Black who visits each store on a specific day of the week from 5 to 8 p.m., twisting free balloon animals and doing face painting.
In addition, Wednesday is Kids’ Night at all the stores. At birthday parties and Kids’ Night, children get to make their own personal pan pizza with cheese, pepperoni and sauce. They also get a cookie and a soda.
Il Primo Pizza & Wings is a simple concept that evolved out of experience.
Back in Arizona, Conti had many more items on the menu and decided to cut back to pizza, wings, house and Caesar salads, and appetizers including beer-battered mushrooms, jalapeno poppers and mac-and-cheese bites.
Conti said he could have 100 different things on the menu and get it right 70 percent of the time, or stick to pizza and wings and get it right 100 percent of the time.
It’s also a self-serve concept, where customers go up to the front counter and place their orders.
Said Schroeter, “We go ahead and make each order, and call your name over the intercom, and you come pick up your food. The ovens run at 500 degrees, ensuring that your pizza comes out in 5 minutes, 10 seconds, flat.”
Most locations have about 120 seats in a 4,000-square-foot space, but North Port’s is a more compact at 2,500-square-feet. They’ll serve beer and wine, but without a designated bar area because they want as many seats as possible—84 inside and another 24 on an outdoor patio.
They plan to start out with 10 to 15 employees at the new location.
“And once we get North Port open, we’ll start scouting out some new locations,” hinted Schroeter.
Starting in late February, Il Primo Pizza & Wings, 16979 Tamiami Trail, North Port, will be open 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Delivery will be available through DoorDash.