If you live in McKinney, there is a very good chance you have already heard of Italian Garden. Nestled in a small strip mall on the northeast corner of Virginia and Custer, you will find people happily waiting to enjoy some of Besfort "Benny" Polisi’s fresh, homemade Italian cuisine most any night… except, of course on Sundays when they are closed.
Trained at a very young age by his Grandmother back in his home country of Albania, Benny infuses every dish he creates with his extensive knowledge and passion for perfection.
Customers were all too happy to share about their experiences at Italian Garden. Jane Morris, a longtime customer, told us “I’ve eaten here almost every Wednesday night for nearly 6 years." She added, “it’s the best Italian food in town!”
Sergeant David Rodriguez, McKinney Police Department said, “The food is always great. The company is always good and the owners are always here and attentive to your needs. They are family.” In addition, he said that not only does Italian Garden offer a discount to McKinney Police, that they always donate food for the department when asked.
Who are you and what is the name of your business?
I’m Benny Polisi and the name of my business is Italian Garden.
What inspired you to start your business?
I started Benny’s Pasta and Pizza in Leanord, Texas back in 2002. By 2007, we moved and opened the first Italian Garden in Bonham, Texas. In 2010 we came to McKinney because Bonham was too small for our growing family. Me and my brother both wanted a store but we needed to expand to make more money. So I said, “Let’s try McKinney.”
The space we are in had had businesses that closed several times and it had a reputation for being a bad location and we weren’t doing well here in the beginning. But after a while, me and my family worked hard and went around to churches and the Chamber of Commerce and the community and started giving out food to them so that they would try us and want to support us. And that’s how we got our start in McKinney.
What services or products do you offer?
We have fresh Italian food. One of our most popular dishes is the Chicken Murphy, which is chicken breast sautéed with fresh red peppers, mushrooms, onions and jalepenos in a white cream sauce with a touch of marinara, served over spaghetti. Another favorite is our lasagna. The most popular soup is the tortellini soup. Every dish is made order by order.
We have a daily lunch special for dine-in customers which includes an entree, drink, soup or salad, and rolls for only $8.95
Before starting the business we decided we would provide food that was as fresh as possible. For example, we cook a fresh tray of bread every 30 minutes.
We also do catering. We cater to pretty much all the schools in McKinney. We also cater to Frisco and Prosper ISD. Every week we have at least one or two catering orders.
What is unique about your business?
What’s unique about this business is the quality of the food. I don’t care about saving as much money as I can. I want to make people happy and I only go for quality. Quality always speaks.
We are also BYOB, so you can bring your own wine or beer to enjoy with your food.
How does your business give back to the community?
Firefighters, police officers, schools, military we give a 30% discount and we donate to events. For instance, we recently donated to an event when the police were training kids to be police. They called and said I need 30 pizzas for this day and I said, “just come pick them up.” I love to help the community
What obstacles did you have to overcome to get to where you are today? (or: What challenges have you faced in running your business?)
The location here was a bit challenging. When we opened the restaurant, the road was still being built here and there was a lot of construction. But by treating the people right, giving them good quality food and making them feel at home kept people coming in the door.
What methods have you used to grow your business?
We just keep getting busier and busier and we decided there was a need for a second location. We just opened a Benny’s Café in Colleyville. In October, we will start building a second Italian Garden and a second Benny's Cafe at opposite ends of a strip mall at Coit & Eldorado.
What is the secret to keeping happy customers?
I can’t tell you… it wouldn’t be a secret. Seriously though, it’s just about working hard and being here. For example, it doesn’t matter if I treat you like family, but you order spaghetti and your order comes out 40 minutes later you probably aren’t going to come back to see me.
You have to be good to the employees as well. You have to make them happy to work with you. I have the same cooks, the same crew, working for here 10 years since we opened. From 2010 until now the cooks are the same – they haven’t changed. They are my family as well.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
My Uncle Victor. He owns a restaurant in Tyler, Texas. That’s where my brother went to learn about food. And he’s been in business since 1990.
What is your most/least favorite thing about your business?
My favorite thing about running this business is that when I walk into the door, customers ask "where is Benny?" and they want to see me. That’s what makes me happy. They want to see me and hug me. I enjoy seeing them and talking to them. It makes my night go so fast… just by sitting down with them and getting to know them.
When I first opened this business, I was nobody. This business has made me somebody. It’s bringing food to my family. Even though I wake up at 5 in the morning and work from 5:30 to 3:00 at the breakfast café and then I come here to make sure things are good and that things stay the same, I love it.
My least favorite thing is paperwork. I do all the paperwork. Also, I don’t like it when the equipment breaks down.
Where do you see your business going in the future?
My goal is to open 50 restaurants by the time I’m 50. I’m 33 now so I have 17 years to make it happen… Benny’s Café and Italian Garden. I’m headed that way - I have 3 now and will be at 5 when I open Coit & Eldorado in October. I’m thinking franchise.
To what do you attribute your success?
What’s the best advice you would give someone thinking of starting their own small business?
The best advice I gave my brother. I told him to start the business we have to communicate together and we have to agree on things together. That’s how we have to run the business. It’s not going to work out just because we are family. Mama works here, he works here, I work here… I told him one of us has to run things and we all have to agree. Either you get to lead, mama gets to lead or I get to lead and the others step back. That’s been the way we’ve run the business
How are you involved with the Chamber and what affect has it had on your business?
The first week we opened the business we met at Saltgrass for LINKS. We paid $1 to talk. After that members started coming to eat here and supporting me. That grew my business and gave me a name. They were talking about me to other people and not letting me down.
What’s the best advice you would give a new chamber member to get the most out of their membership?
I would just tell them to get with the Chamber and they’ll point you in the right direction.
Italian Garden of McKinney is committed to serving only the finest foods, made with the freshest ingredients.