Achieving global brand leadership through franchising.
The Story that Started in 1958
Thirteen years after the end of World War II, the majority of people living in Europe still viewed their neighbors as potential invaders. It was during this tenuous time that Signor Azario "Mario" Colombini left his home in Tuscany, Italy and traveled across the Alps to settle in the once quaint city of Lausanne, Switzerland.
Just after settling with his family, he began the journey of trying to find employment and realized that his greatest chance of success was to carry the authentic tastes of his homeland into a kitchen in his newfound city. Unfortunately, he was met with some resistance in trying to find a place to rent for his new restaurant, but finally was granted permission in a less than desirable location on the second floor of a downtown building. Little did he know that those second-floor windows would be revered decades later as a landmark to be visited by celebrities, heads of state, world-famous musicians and anyone else who could find their way to the table. Everyone wanted to come to the very first pizzeria ever established in Switzerland.
Chez Mario's Original Recipes
From the earliest of days, the signature smell of the landmark site came from the dough that was crafted in the bakery just below the restaurant. News traveled fast of the new delicacy of Switzerland and quickly the lines began to form for the tastes that were unique and remarkable. Demand increased in the bakery no longer could keep up, and thus Mario began reproducing the age-old recipe for the dough that continues to be used as the foundation for every pizza served to a customer.
The Writing On the Wall
Visiting a Chez Mario location for the first time is always met with wonder and awe from the time that a customer begins walking through the entrance. While they are being pulled in by the wafting smells of the delicious food, their eyes are always drawn to the tunnel of signatures that cover every surface. This graffiti is written in every color imaginable and with inscriptions in all languages. All guests are invited to add their mark to each location and join in the story that started so many decades ago.
As with most things that become legend, the tags on the wall also started from a customer who simply wanted to let everyone know that he had been there. After signing the wall with his personal story, it was so shocking to the waiter that he immediately shared the incident with Mario and told him that he would pay for the damages himself. Mario, in his brash, Italian manner, responded, "Leave it be! If this gentleman loves Chez Mario so much that he wants to leave his inscription on the wall as a sign of his affection, then it must not ever be removed. I really love this idea!"
It was from this point on, that the walls were quickly covered with texts and signatures from visitors all over the world and from every social, cultural and religious background. Over the years, some of the walls have had to be repainted because the signatures have taken up every square centimeter of wall, ceiling, ductwork, tables ... Everything. And yet, it never distracts the next customer who walks in to begin the legacy once again with pen in hand.
A Place for Everyone
Never before had there been a restaurant that drew people from every socioeconomic background. Yet, Mario made it a point to make sure that the poorest student could have access to authentic Italian pizza, whether it be a classic margarita for two francs or a Neapolitan for just two and a half. His commitment to share his passion spread quickly through the city, and it was common to see an antipasti cart, piled with delicious mushrooms, succulent cold cuts and radiant peppers being shared between students and famous personalities who may be sitting right next to them. Within just a few years, people such as Yul Brynner, Constantine of Greece (the King of Greece), Prince Victor-Emmanuel of Savoy and many others began visiting. Chez Mario ... "the home of Mario" ... has become a multicultural destination that people love to call home.
The Legacy of Mario
Azario "Mario" Colombini replicated his experience and concept in other cities in Switzerland in the 1960's, including Zürich, Baden, Bellinzona and Vaudoise. Many of his employees went on to carry his passion by starting their own successful restaurants throughout Europe. Little did he know that his model of growth would ultimately lend itself to providing restauranteurs around the world to expand his brand through franchising.
Mario died on September 8, 1993 in Lutry, Switzerland, and the press paid a heartfelt tribute to the one they affectionately titled "The Padre" for his sacrificial bringing together of the masses at a single table of joy.
Chez Mario continues in the spirit of its founder by aggressively expanding the brand throughout the world. Franchise opportunities now allow a new generation of passionate owners to bring together their communities through smiles, laughter and delicious food. And of course, to give everyone a chance to write their name on the wall.