Johnny Di Francesco’s latest pizzeria venture, Gradi, has just opened its doors in the prestigious, riverfront location of Crown.
“It’s got a different look and a more spacious feel, but we’ve kept true to what we do. We didn’t say, ‘Oh it’s Crown, let’s put our prices up,’” says Di Francesco, founder of the original 400 Gradi in Brunswick East, 90 Secondi in Docklands and the new Crown sister restaurant. You can still enjoy the iconic Margherita Verace (which won first place in the international Italian Campionato Mondiale Della Pizza competition earlier this year) and, what’s more, you can have it to go. Some extra dishes have also been added to the extensive Gradi menu.
Di Francesco admits to feeling uncertain in the initial stages of opening up at Crown. “I think a lot of people have the wrong perception of Crown, as just a corporate giant. But for the past year, I’ve been working with a lot of the people who drive this complex and their passion for quality has really blown me away.”
For the record, Di Francesco was approached by a dear customer of his original pizzeria about opening at Crown. “A lot of people say, ‘So did you get asked to come to Crown because you won the best pizza in the world?’ and I say, ‘Far from it, that happened after!’”
The large space caters to 330 patrons and more than 70 staff at full capacity. This dramatic upscale, compared with 400 Gradi, has proven to be the biggest challenge. “We’re not a fine-dining restaurant, but we still want to give that same level of service,” says Di Francesco.
Walking around, patrons can seamlessly transition through the different dining areas Di Francesco has created. “I didn’t want people to feel like they were in a big restaurant when they sat down at their tables,” he says. Gradi has a bar, a traditional cicchetti bar, an area with communal tables, private function spaces, secluded nooks and a large, open kitchen which puts on display the Napolitano art of pizza-making.
Di Francesco has his sights set on yet another Gradi identity to open up in Essendon sometime next year.