Pizza with pizzazz: Russo’s Italian empire is eyeing Destin market

Jessica Coker
Russo's Coal Fired Italian Kitchen offers a wide variety of Italian favorites.

First-generation Italian Anthony Russo grew up in an Italian kitchen — where marinara sauce runs through the veins and Sunday dinner is more than a polite invitation, it's a way of life.

Branching out from their family tree and leaving the familiarity of Italy in 1962, Anthony's parents immigrated to New York to start their new lives in America. Anthony's parents parlayed their passion for cooking into a business, opening restaurants with nothing more than moxie and dozens of family recipes brought over from their homes in Sicily and Naples.

Working in the family business most of his life, Anthony — with his eyes on the pies — has become a successful restaurateur in his own right. And now he is setting his sights on Destin.

The ever-evolving and expanding Russo's Coal Fired Italian Kitchen and Russo's New York Pizzeria already has a strong presence in South Florida and that success is fueling their growth north.

"Because of the market in Destin, we think Russo's Coal Fired Italian Kitchen and Russo's New York Pizzeria would both do well there," according to the franchises public relations representative Jason Gilbreth of All Points Public Relations in Chicago. "Destin is about family — and so is Russo's."

The tradition of fresh, simple, ingredients with a hint of flair and pizzazz is exactly what Anthony had in mind when opening his first pizzeria in the early '90s in Clear Lake, Texas.

With seating for less than 50 diners, the humble location quickly gained a Texas following with its New York style pizza.

Now, Anthony's original restaurant has morphed, creating two separate but equally delicious and successful restaurant franchises with more than 30 locations across the country, with additional locations "in the pipeline, including some overseas," said Gilbreth.

Russo's also sells olive oil and frozen pizzas in more than 1,000 stores worldwide.

The elder Russo — Anthony’s father‘s— favorite phrase was, "If you can't make it fresh, don't serve it!"

He said the same would apply to a Destin restaurant, which company officials estimate would employ around 20 people.

Anthony was set to visit the Destin area sometime this month to view possible properties that could one day house the franchise.

"Plans are still in the very early stages," said Gilbreth, adding that the company would like to add up to three new locations in the Destin area in the months ahead.

For more information or to learn about franchise opportunities for Russo's Coal Fired Italian Kitchen and Russo's New York Pizzeria visit

"Eating at either restaurant is like going to your grandma's house for Sunday dinner," Anthony told The Log, adding that it will always be about family first. "For now, my three-year-old triplets are a little too young to work in one of the restaurants, but they like to help Daddy make pizza at home."