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Sharing the Pie 

The Original Italian Pie eateries are all neighborhood restaurants with décor that reflects the community each serves, such as this one at the corner of Veterans Memorial Boulevard and Green Acres Road in Metairie.

In just 11 years, The Original Italian Pie (4840 Bienville St., 483-9949; 5538 Magazine St., 894-0005; 5650 Jefferson Hwy., Jefferson, 734-3333; 7070 Read Blvd., 244-7200; 5217 Elysian Fields, 288-0888; 417 S. Rampart St., 522-7552; 901 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie, 832-1121; 3600 Williams Blvd., 469-4999; 1914 E. Judge Perez Drive, Chalmette, 278-0001, 5406 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie, 887-9977; 1530 Lapalco Blvd., Harvey, 362-3657; 4350 Hwy. 22, Mandeville. (985) 626-5252) has grown from a single restaurant on Bienville Street to a dozen in the New Orleans area and another dozen franchises scattered around Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and North Carolina.

CEO Tom Cangemi says the company, started by Musa and Fatima Ulusan in 1992, plans to have 30 restaurants open across the Southeast by the end of the year and two or three new eateries on the Northshore and Metairie in the next two years.

"Our strategic plan when I [joined] the company almost five years ago was to grow the company from a local chain to a regional chain," says Cangemi, a restaurateur who previously served as CEO at Ruth's Chris and Dobbs House, an airport restaurant enterprise. In just a decade, Italian Pie has spread to Raleigh and Durham in North Carolina; Pasadena, Texas; Jackson, Miss.; and Mobile, Birmingham and Huntsville in Alabama.

The most important factor, of course, is the food served at the restaurants, which all have the same menu. The interiors of the various stores, however, are imbued with personalities of their particular neighborhoods instead of having a cookie-cutter interior design.

"Our intent is to standardize the food quality and consistency in our menu, but to allow enough flexibility as we develop the new stores to allow some creativity locally," Cangemi says. "We want them to fit into the neighborhood. We don't necessarily want to put a New Orleans theme in other far-reaching areas. Some display regional area artwork to depict what people will recognize in that area."

Standardizing the food is quite another thing and one necessary to ensure the overall quality of The Original Italian Pie. "That's the key to success," the CEO says. "It's very good food, and we use the highest quality of products to produce it. The price-value relationship is very good; we have substantial portions for the price, and our prices are good."

Before anything new goes on a menu, it undergoes lengthy testing in the kitchen as well as among customers before it becomes a standard offering. The latest newcomer was wraps made with lavash bread wrapped around choices of roasted eggplant, chicken or spinach and artichoke. "It's a slow transition," Cangemi says of adding new items. "We have a lot of successful products on the menu. In order to put something new on, we have to take something off that's not been selling as well."

In addition to the wraps, Italian Pie offers all types of pizza in both traditional and specialty styles, an array of sandwiches, and entrees ranging from lasagna and manicotti to chicken cacciatora, shrimp pasta and lots of salads.


Homestyle Trade Show

TV's Trading Spaces host Laurie Smith and a whole lot of other home and garden experts will be available to speak to visitors who attend the Louisiana Home & Garden Show Sept. 5, 6 and 7 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

The event will feature more than 200 exhibits, some featuring as many as 20 booths in them, as well as hourly seminars on subjects such as faux finishes and renovations, frequent cooking demonstrations by local chefs and a $10,000 Backyard Paradise Giveaway featuring the creative magic of Oasis landscaping. There also will be a silent auction to benefit Make-A-Wish Foundation from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday.

"We'll have everything for your home inside and out, with quality ideas and products," says exhibition producer Frank Bergeron. Vendors also will introduce new liquors and wines to the local market and have tastings of margaritas made with Jose Cuervo.

Admission is $9; children 12 and younger get in free. The event is sponsored by Gambit Weekly, WVUE-TV and Entercom Radio Group.


Wedding Planning Made Easier

Weddings with Style magazine and several local businesses are staging a fashion show and wedding planning expo from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 21 at Generations Hall (310 Andrew Higgins Drive). The program, "Metropolitan Haute Couture," includes a fashion show at 1 p.m., featuring designs from names such as Vera Wang, Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta, Lazaro, Maggie Sottero and others carried by boutiques including Mimi, Perlis, House of Lounge and New Orleans Tuxedo. The Look and Salon du Beau Monde will show off the latest hairstyles and makeup. The exhibit, which features professionals ready to answer bridal couples' questions, starts at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $100 for a five-seat VIP balcony table, $25 for the fashion show and exhibit, or $15 for the exhibit only. Call 525-BRIDE (2743) for tickets or information.

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