Weston Dining Entrepreneur Plans Pizza Empire

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Sure it looks as though South Florida is recovering from the real estate meltdown that led to the region being labeled as one of nation's most troubled, but in the midst of panic came opportunities.

"Weston Town Center was struggling in 2008 and I started buying up all of the restaurants that were going bankrupt," said Jamie McDonnell, CEO of the Weston Dining Group.

The company's flagship seems to be DelVecchio's pizza. In late January it opened its fourth restaurant in Weston and is planning another in the next 45 days in Sunrise. It's eyeing two more locations in Aventura and Boca. McDonnell seems to be planning a small pizza empire- opening one store every 60 days for the next three to five years leading to 30-plus pizzerias - and one that could be sold for a hefty profit.

"It's all about building a foundation," he said. "Anthony Coal Fired Pizza opened one store on federal highway, grew to 30 stores and sold for millions."

So here comes another chain, but instead of an out-of-state carpetbagger this one is home grown.

McDonnell in 2011, according to the South Florida Business Journal, owned 15 businesses with a total of 593 employees. Not limited to just food, he owns everything from a plumbing company to and advertising and marketing firm.

The company took over a Weston Cheeseburger Cheeseburge spacer, turning it into gourmet burger shop Burger Zone in 2012. It also owns East City Grille, Las Olas Wine Café and UdderSweets, a vintage candy store that also sells house made ice cream by the pound. DelVecchio's is also the official pizza sponsor of the BB&T Center, an advertising spot which until recently was held by Papa John's for about $250,000 a year.

As hyperactive and bent on hitting it big, McDonnell also seems to have taken special care with DelVecchio's. He ditched the old owner's original recipe, saying they were using far too much dough and conveyor ovens that quick-cook pizzas at 500 degrees Farenheit for about 10 minutes. The result was similar to thick, chewy crusts you find when ordering pizza from a fast-delivery service like Dominos.

A trip back to Queens, where McDonnell grew up, and some haggling with the owners of VIP Pizza on Del Boulevard in Bayside got him a more authentic New York pizza recipe.

"The really good rule of the thumb is that for every inch of pizza there should be one ounce of dough," he said.

The resulting pizza is crispy, with a bit of chewiness from both the dough and cheese.

McDonnell also said he switched to using Grande Cheese, which in the pizza business is considered high end at $3 per pound.

"That's the most expensive ingredient," he said. "About 50% of the cost of the pizza is in the cheese."

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