Giá Pronto Restaurants

Marco Lentini just opened the fifth of his Gia Pronto "fast casual" Italian food shops. Lentini, 31, is a prime example of small businesses who are creating jobs, which is exactly why he was chosen to introduce President Obama as new provisions for small businesses were unveiled in the economic stimulus plan last March.

"I opened my latest shop at the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, across from [the University of Pennsylvania's] Children's Hospital, 12 days ago. I hired 20 workers...Some of them were previously unemployed," he told the Philadelphia Daily News.

The son of two immigrant parents growing up in inner-city south Philadelphia, "not too far from the Italian market where Rocky used to run," Lentini achieved his dream of starting an all-natural foods company with the support of the Wharton Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in 2003.  

He spent months working with SBDC consultants on the business model for his restaurant, Giá Pronto.  With help from the SBDC he refined the details of his restaurant plan to work financially as well as to build a lasting customer base.  He also secured a chef, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, to prepare foods for the restaurant’s menu of healthy, Italian barista-style sandwiches, salads and snacks. An SBA-guaranteed loan was an important part of his business success, he testified. 

Lentini opened his restaurant on the University of Pennsylvania campus in the fall of 2004. The business took off because it offered fare distinctively different from his competitors in the area.

Sales in his second year were about 20 percent greater than those of his first year, evidence of the strong business model he created with help from the SBDC.  

Lentini then obtained a second SBA-guaranteed loan to finance a new restaurant location in center city Philadelphia. "The SBA waived certain loan fees and it saved me $26,000," Lentini said. "I took that and made it my 1 percent equity share for another loan."

By January 2006, the company had 25 employees, plus a food commissary in New Jersey. Lentini now employs 70 people in Philadelphia in his four shops and one kiosk. His staff has almost doubled as his chain has grown from just two shops in 2008. Lentini says that his growth is due in part to his tiny slice of an economic stimulus that the administration created last year.

“Each new restaurant we open employs approximately 20 people. These are people who in turn buy houses, make car payments and shop at our malls,” he said. 

Lentini believes some of the new SBA loan provisions in the stimulus bill “will provide a direct, measurable impact on our business by allowing us to invest in training our people, providing additional working capital, and also help fund future expansions.”

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Watch video of Wharton SBDC client Marco Lentini (right) introducing President Obama (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)