East Side Mario’s was first opened and rolled out in mid-1980s in both the U.S. and Canada. The restaurant concept was a casual dining restaurant, marketed as “A taste of Little Italy” (referring to the Little Italy in New York). The original logo was the Statue of Liberty holding a large tomato in place of the torch. The menu and cuisine were a mash up of American and Italian cuisine, with a lower Manhattan look and feel.
The first East Side Mario’s in Stouffville opened in 2003 on Main Street, in the current location of Symposium Restaurant. By then, the concept was nearly 20 years old; the initial allure was beginning to slide. Around 2008 a redesign and re-branding effort was launched for the chain. The Statue of Liberty had been replaced with a tomato, and the American side of the branding and cuisine was downplayed. Instead, healthy ingredients, a promise of no trans fats, new sauces, and improved pizzas were introduced, and more traditional Italian décor was added.
However, in 2014 the Stouffville East Side Mario’s closed its doors. It wasn’t a one-off occurrence: Saint John, Brockville, Sydney, Kamloops, Charlottetown, Saskatoon and others fell as well. In 2015, the chain underwent a more extreme makeover. This time, the marketing gurus from Toronto named Jump Branding + Design were brought in by to work alongside corporate offices. They are the brains behind branding/re-branding of companies such as Yogun Fruz, New York Fries, Crabby Joe’s, Yogurtys, Creemore Springs, St. Louis Bar & Grill and Death in Venice Gelato Co.
Together with Barret Architect Inc. (Toronto), Jump Branding set out to ‘inject youthful fun into the environment’. They developed new artwork that captured the spirit of “Italian Lifestyle” with kids having fun with food and ingredients upon eclectic art walls. There are random walls that partition and create space, raised seating areas, high chairs and low chairs, wall-sized messages, bold tomato-inspired colours, product displays, and an overall look and feel of being in an Italian Marché. Even the outside of the building is fresh – eons ahead of the chain’s Statue of Liberty era. It looks sharp, feels fun, and is fitting for the young family of today.
Just before Christmas 2018, East Side Mario’s returned to Stouffville at the corner of Mostar & Main. At the helm is Vinny Bahri. Vinny is young and intelligent. He was raised in Scarborough where his family operated a restaurant for 18 years. Vinny attended University of Toronto to earn a degree in Health, with complimentary emphasis in Anthropology and Biology. He’s newly married to a teacher at the York Region District School Board named Leena Tanna. Leena enthusiastically helps in the restaurant at the front of house on weekends.
Vinny strives to be a hands-on owner. He is at the restaurant everyday. Already, East Side Mario’s has sponsored local sports teams, joined the Stouffville Chamber, provided pizzas to the Hummingbird Hub for drop-in events, and hosts local community groups for games and food. He feels that community connection is an essential part of doing business successfully.
East Side Mario’s is partnered with Scene Points and provides delivery through Uber Eats and Skip the Dishes. The restaurant offers many daily promotions. On Friday an Saturday nights, Vinny sometimes hires a magician to walk the restaurant floor, providing added entertainment for families.
With all the ups-and-downs, the chain has maintained its grip, with about 70 East Side Mario’s located in Canada presently. We expect the new East Side Mario’s to be a part of the Stouffville landscape for a long time to come.