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Plant City, PVDonuts, Louis owners discuss food industry

Food establishment owners describe dynamics of Providence food scene

The owners of an Instagram-darling donut shop, a plant-based food ‘city’ with four restaurants under one roof and a 5 a.m. diner once featured by Guy Fieri convened yesterday to share their stories and discuss entrepreneurship.

The Food in Providence panel, hosted by the Brown Entrepreneurship Program and moderated by Jennifer Nazareno, assistant professor of behavioral and social sciences, brought together local food establishment owners in the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship Monday evening. The foodies discussed small-business management, the utility of social media and quirks particular to Providence’s food scene.

Lori and Paul Kettelle, two panelists, are the co-owners of PVDonuts, an artisanal donut shop started in 2016. Lori Kettelle grew up in New Jersey, but Paul Kettelle is a Providence local. They cater everything from weddings to divorce parties, they said at the event.

Kim Anderson, another panelist, is the owner, creator and founder of Plant City, which opened in Providence in June. She also runs a fund called Everhope Capital that invests in plant-based foods and renewable energies to hedge the climate crisis. Plant City is her first foray into the food industry, although she previously invested in Chopt Creative Salad.

Plant City has been open for five months and has since become a popular destination for many Providence locals. Within 72 hours of opening, they had served 13,000 people. And within three weeks, their staff size had grown from 90 to 220, according to Anderson, who shared stories about managing that intense increase in scale.

The fourth panelist, John Gianfrancesco, owns Louis Family Restaurant along with his brother. He is part of the third generation of his family to work in the culinary industry and the second generation in the restaurant. He described a time when 18 members of his family worked within the building on Benevolent Street. Now, on days he works, Gianfrancesco wakes up at 3:57 a.m, fields a call at 4:17 a.m. from one of his waiters, Kenny, and then starts to set up for the restaurant’s 5 a.m. open time.

“We used to be very busy in the mornings. People would stay up studying,” he said. “Or partying.”

The panelists fielded questions from the room, which seated about two dozen students. They asked about profit margins, sustainable environmental business practices and benefits they give to their employees.

David Lu ’22, the director of the Special Events team for Brown EP, chose the selection of local entrepreneurs based off of perceived student interest.

“I really liked all the speakers,” Lu said. “They came from diverse backgrounds. Kim worked in funding companies before, Louis is a classic, it’s a multigenerational business … Of course, Providence Donuts has their great Instagram game.”

With the exception of Gianfrancesco and Louis, each panelist highlighted the role of social media in bolstering their customer base. For PVDonuts, which has 93,400 followers on Instagram, the app brings in a significant percentage of their business, Paul Kettelle said.

Anderson described how Plant City maintains an active online presence. She encourages customers to “let their phone eat first,” and spread the word about the restaurant through social media. She also monitors online comments about the restaurant. “Those recommendations, when somebody writes a biting one, it hurts,” Anderson said. “It can hurt your business.”

“I know nothing about this stuff!” Gianfrancesco chimed in to the social media discussion.

When it comes to other restaurants in Providence, the Kettelles recommended Bayberry Beer Hall in the West End. Paul Kettelle likes it for the variety of food and beer, community emphasis and friendly owners.

Anderson admires Nick’s on Broadway, and used to go to The Grange all the time. She hopes that Plant City will raise community awareness of plant-based companies and lead to a spill-over of plant-based eaters that will support other businesses.

Gianfrancesco, on the other hand, said he rarely finds time to eat out given his early and demanding schedule. “I don’t go anywhere,” he said.

All business owners said they enjoy working in Providence.

“People are willing to try anything,” Lori said. “We’ve done the most ridiculous donuts.” PVDonuts once had a cheeto donut special, and enjoyed a line out the door during the weekend it was offered. “I just think everyone in Providence or Rhode Island is looking for the next coolest thing to do.”

Anderson said she likes the size of the city. “If you’re on a street corner in New York, which maybe someday we will be, that’s such a transient community, there’s no chance for relationships,” she said. “It’s about building relationships and making friends, and you get a chance to do that in a city like Providence.”

And, for Gianfrancesco, it is simply home. “It’s my town. It’s home. Everytime I go someplace I’m so happy to be back.”


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