Markers in the channel of success The Red Nun owners add Knockout Pizza to their offerings

Filed Under: August 2018 Issue

By Deb Boucher Stetson
What began as an intimate dining experience in Chatham 15 years ago has led to an additional location plus a whole new business farther west in Dennisport. The Red Nun, opened back in 2003, now has a successful – and larger – satellite on Main Street, Dennisport that opened in 2014. And this year, co-owner Mike Giorgio and his business partner, Tim Farley, have launched a new pizza restaurant just down the street in Dennisport, called Knockout Pizza. Opening the Red Nun in Chatham back in 2003 was a lot simpler than opening its sister location in Dennisport 11 years later, Giorgio says. With his first restaurant, “We didn’t have a business plan,” he recalls. Two friends made an offer on the building, it was accepted, and they went for it – and Giorgio, who at the time was interviewing for a job in North Carolina, came back to the Cape to launch a restaurant. They didn’t even have a name for the business until after they bought the building. “The building was red, and we didn’t have the money to paint it, so we were trying to think of a name with red,” he recalls. “Someone said why don’t you call it the Red Nun,” after the triangular buoys that mark the right side of channels. With a casual menu, an intimate dining room and outdoor seating in summer, the Red Nun became popular with both locals and visitors, and began staying open year-round – something Giorgio says is a huge benefit in terms of retaining valued staff. Although the restaurant did well, the partners felt there were limited opportunities for expansion in that village. “Chatham is not on the way to anywhere,” he notes. Although they had been toying with the idea of opening a second location, they weren’t really looking, Giorgio says. He first learned of the availability of a different space in Dennisport – actually the one next door to where they eventually opened, which is now home to Power Yoga of Cape Cod. But after that space didn’t work out, the owner of the building came to the Red Nun in Chatham to ask Giorgio if he would come look at the space next door. “It needed a lot of work,” Giorgio said. Initially leasing the building with an option to buy, which they later exercised, the partners completely renovated the space. They removed a drop ceiling to reveal an original 1950s tin ceiling, and sandblasted layers of paint off a now beautiful brick wall that runs the length of the restaurant, with booths tucked against it. The brick made an excellent canvas for a whiteoutline silhouette of Cape Cod, with the two Red Nun locations marked with red nun buoys, right across from the large, u-shaped bar. | August 2018 | Cape & Plymouth Business 31 Feature Story Dennisport’s Main Street has been undergoing a revitalization in recent years and Giorgio says the village is thriving. “It’s doing great,” he says, reporting that the Red Nun gets a lot of repeat business and stays open all year. A strip that at one time had many vacant storefronts is now home to a number of successful ventures, including West Bend Music, Hot Diggity, and Buckie’s Biscotti, an early success. Giorgio is so confident in Dennisport’s future that he and his partner, who is his brother-inlaw and lives in California, decided to open up a pizza shop just down the street, in the building that for years housed BZ’s Pizza. It is now Knockout Pizza, and specializes in New York style thin-crust pizza – following the model of the two Knockout Pizza shops Farley owns in the San Diego, California, area. The new pizza place has seating but no table service, and does a lot of takeout business, Giorgio says. Having sent his chef to California for training in the art of making New York-style pizza (a process that includes using speciallyfiltered water), Giorgio says his biggest challenge there has been hiring enough staff. Eventually, Giorgio says, Knockout Pizza will be open year-round, but this winter it will close to allow further renovations on the building. The Red Nun’s Dennisport location has a staff of close to 30 people year-round, and that doubles in summer. At the smaller Chatham location the staff is much smaller but swells to about 40 in the summer. One staff member is devoted to social media, which Giorgio says is his main form of business promotion. Both Red Nun locations are open all year. While the Dennisport location serves both lunch and dinner, the Chatham location is dinner only except on weekends during the summer, when it also serves lunch. At 5,500 square feet, the Dennisport restaurant is much larger than its parent location in Chatham, which is about 1,800 square feet. In addition to the extensive renovations, the Dennisport location required more planning. “With this one, I had to get some investors, so we had to have a business plan,” Giorgio notes. Giorgio, who lives in Harwich with his wife, Kathleen, and their four children, says he has been spending the bulk of his time in Dennisport these days, getting Knockout Pizza up and running. The Red Nun is known for its burgers, which are prominent on its menu, but the yoga studio next door inspired something different. “My wife was teaching a class there, and she came back and said you have to have something for the people who aren’t into burgers. So we came up with the Buddha Bowl.” A healthy and tasty mix of quinoa with roasted vegetables, kale, garbanzo beans, and tahini dressing, the Buddha Bowl is one of the Red Nun’s most popular dishes. The menu also includes a Buddha Burger in addition to the Nun Burger (sautéed onions and mushrooms, bacon, cheddar and red onion), the Fire & Ice (avocado, ghost pepper cheddar, lettuce and tomato), the High Thai’d Burger (spicy Thai peanut sauce), and more. The Red Nun also has live music all year, with a focus on local bands because “that’s what people want,” Giorgio says. Especially in the off-season, he says, “You