Carlo Distefano

The San Carlo story began in Sicily with the birth of Carlo Distefano. He arrived as a 17-year old in Britain in 1962 and the business launched thirty years later with the opening of a restaurant on Temple Street in Birmingham. Here RLI speaks with his son Marcello Distefano, Managing Director of San Carlo Restaurant Group to discuss how the brand has grown and how it has fared during the recent turbulent times.


In a world where restaurant chains are all around and centralised kitchens are the norm, the San Carlo restaurant group remains an independent entity. Each of the award-winning Italian restaurants is headed up by its own team of skilled chefs and management who work with only the very best Italian seasonal produce. All of this is underpinned by one key value and that is passion, a passion for great food, service and style.

A family business that spans two generations of the Distefano family, the San Carlo group of award-winning contemporary Italian restaurants has grown to become a restaurant empire that spans 21 locations in the UK, three sites in the Middle East and one in Asia, with three more set to open in the Middle East next year.

Given the current conditions in the market, the San Carlo group has been focused on minimising any losses in these uncertain times whilst still remaining on the lookout for opportunities in the market once this period passes.

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When the time came to re-open their restaurants, the company invested heavily in making their locations Covid-19 secure, which had a positive effect on both their teams and customers and they improved their daily audits of KPI’s in the business so they could react quickly to the ever changing environment.

Three quarters of the San Carlo sites re-opened in July to better than anticipated footfall, however in London, which is traditionally their strongest market, numbers have been low as the city has been hit badly through lack of tourism and regular office employees working from home.

When the time came to re-open their restaurants, the company invested heavily in making their locations Covid-19 secure, which had a positive effect on both their teams and customers and they improved their daily audits of KPI’s in the business so they could react quickly to the ever changing environment.

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When the time came to re-open their restaurants, the company invested heavily in making their locations Covid-19 secure, which had a positive effect on both their teams and customers and they improved their daily audits of KPI’s in the business so they could react quickly to the ever changing environment.

Three quarters of the San Carlo sites re-opened in July to better than anticipated footfall, however in London, which is traditionally their strongest market, numbers have been low as the city has been hit badly through lack of tourism and regular office employees working from home.

With the current portfolio now back open and operating, attention turns once again to expansion, with plans to grow the Cicchetti and Signor Sassi brands in the Middle East ongoing, with one eye also fixed on taking the Cicchetti brand to the US.

When asked about how San Carlo develops new products, menu items and initiatives to stay at the cutting edge, Distefano commented: “We develop new ideas and initiatives by consistently staying close to the original source of everything we do – Italy. It is important to us that we stick to original and authentic cooking. Italian food relies on great ingredients and that remains at the heart of everything we do. In terms of design and presentation, we look to all areas for influence, including art and fashion.”

Social media has in recent times become the company’s most powerful marketing tool and their focus in the last two years has revolved around Instagram and Facebook. These platforms allow them to target current and future customers more directly than ever before.

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“More than that, we now understand our customers more than ever. The difficulty remains in breaking through the ‘noise’ and standing out amid all our competitors. Therefore, there is a constant focus to be innovative in the way we present ourselves on social media,” explains Distefano.

In all its years on operation, the San Carlo restaurant group has never forgotten about the traditions of what a restaurant can be. Distefano maintains that it must have a soul and a personality, and whilst anyone can design a menu or a restaurant, many sites come and go whilst others remain in place for decades and he believes the keys to this longevity is the personality of the restaurant and the people who work within it.

“Our success has been driven by the passion of people in our business. We are forever looking to evolve, to learn and provide ourselves with the best tools to create an amazing customer experience.”

The company is mainly focused on the short term and Distefano admits the next 12 months will be difficult, however he is adamant that when this period passes, people will embrace more than ever what it means to be social and people will go out, eat out and travel more than ever.

“This year has been the greatest challenge we have ever faced, and I have learnt more in the past six month that I have in the preceding 15 years! We are positive about the future; we just need to jump this hurdle first.”

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