Toni Calderone: COVID Can't Stop Me
  • Season 1
  • Episode 10

Since the moment I met Toni Calderone, I knew she was a force and COVID proved me right. Join me as I sit down with the restauranteur and CEO of O.N.E. Hospitality, to discuss how she is not just survived but thrived over the past several months and planning for the future.


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Jessica & Randall Hughes
Viscul / Fork & Lens

Toni Calderone
CEO, O.N.E. Hospitality Group

Quote from Toni Calderone
It really does help to have a team of very innovative thinkers so when we’re all in a room together, I’m not just bouncing ideas out there and hitting upon deaf ears. We all strategize and commit together, pulling off what looks like the impossible overnight, and it’s kind of effortless on our end.


Jessica Hughes: 00:00 Welcome to the podcast today. We’re excited to have Tony Calderone on. She is the CEO of O.N.E. Hospitality Group. She started out her career from very humble beginnings at McDonald’s, while growing up in Florida. She’s always found a home in the hospitality industry. It’s in her blood, too. Her grandfather is responsible for bringing the first pizza shop to York, Pennsylvania. And she has worked at several well-known restaurants, including Darden’s Seasons 52. In the late 2000s, she moved back up to York to her family’s roots. So Tony solidified her place in the industry when she opened Two Tony’s Restaurant in York with her partner, Tony, hence the two Tony’s. And since then she has created O.N.E Hospitality Group, which includes 11 food and beverage brands across York and Lancaster counties in Pennsylvania.

Welcome to the Fork and Lens Podcast, brought to you by Viscul. Oh, it smells delish.

So obviously, I’m very familiar with your background, but why don’t you tell us a little bit about O.N.E and how you got started, and how you built this empire that you have built in York, and you keep going. Even COVID couldn’t stop you.

Tony Calderone : 01:31 You’re damn right. I started with Two Tony’s Restaurant downtown, and actually before that, we were on a mission to open up a wine bar. Having that dream, that was the way that we were able to meet all of the movers and shakers that already existed in the city and saw this bigger vision with bringing in Koto apartments, we were one of the first tenants there. Then just being around this infectious, big thinking philosophy for the city, I kind of just jumped on board and wanted to be a part of it in any way and being a third generation restauranteur, daughter of a serial entrepreneur, I just kind of found my way and what that looks like.

So Two Tony’s is our fine dining farm to table scratch Italian kitchen. That was the first of its kind back in 2014 when we opened. We knew that we cornered a market, we had a niche concept. From there, I just kept having these visions as to what the city could use, and we did whatever we could to make it come to fruition. So, taste test was another example of us being forward thinking and going after some outside of the box concepts with my partners at the time and myself. We created a concept that was an incubator to other restaurants, restaurateurs in training, I like to call them, who kind of had an idea that they wanted to own a restaurant, but had no idea what it entails and the money that it would take to start up is something that is very impossible for all of us to come across, because banks just don’t lend to restaurants.

That was a way that we could have pop-up rotation of restaurants every weekend, pretty much at least every month. We had 28 different concepts come through and three or four remain, they stuck, and they got a brick and mortar somewhere. We were just always trying to bring the city forward and create a buzz down here. Then from there, I mean, I try to put this in the elevator speech as much as possible, but there’s so much that we’re doing at the company. That’s just the first five minutes. If you’re a concept driven person, what you see and the team that I attracted have experts in their fields and marketing and operations and financing and management and culinary world. So I just brought on experts in those divisions and collectively we’ve just been creating concepts and knocking them out.

It’s cool, right? Under our umbrella … I can’t do all this by myself. Everybody’s like, “How do you do it all?” I don’t do it all We have an amazing team who, we figure out how can we and not why can we not. We all have a can do attitude. And it just shows, it shows in our brand. So we have, I’m staring at the banner right now with our logo, we have one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11 logos under O.N.E. Everything from York City Trolley to a catering outlet that we have now and Presto, a wholesale pasta line. Pizza truck. We’ve got a lot going on.

Jessica Hughes: 05:15 You’ve got a lot going on. All right, so tell me a little bit, with all of those lines and divisions, how you have weathered the storm of COVID. And I know that it involves a food truck. I know it involves speed ramping, bringing some products to market that you’ve been working on for the past couple of years. So tell us about that.

Tony Calderone : 05:37 So COVID put us all, all of us, on a stand still, right? And it’s definitely a pivotal point in our lives, let alone in what we do for a living, that’s each and every industry. The restaurant industry has taken an extra hard hit because unlike other businesses, it’s completely cashflow driven. There are a lot of different variables and the money that we make each week has already been spent the week before. So it’s a momentum thing, and when the restaurants have to come to a complete stop and how some of us were able to pivot to take out and curbside, it’s not enough volume to pay the bills. So COVID allowed us to kind of freeze. But in O.N.E., we took that as an opportunity to completely pivot, and what we had under our brand is our rigatoni food truck. And I was actually watching a Netflix show in America where she was selling her hair cream products door to door, it’s a true story.

Jessica Hughes: 06:52 Yes. That was a great series.

Tony Calderone : 06:53 I was watching that. I couldn’t even finish it. I was so inspired. I was like, “Oh, my God. That’s the answer.” We’re kicking it, old school. We’re going door to door, that’s it.

Jessica Hughes: 07:04 I love it.

Tony Calderone: 07:06 Yep. Called up the team on a Sunday night, and I said, “Here’s, what’s up, guys. We know that this coming, we know that we’re not going to be able to do what we know. We know what to do is serve people inside of a restaurant. We’re going to be told to shut down, but this is a way that we can feed our community, still. Keep her engine going and practice safe, social distancing, because it would literally be at everybody’s driveway.”

Jessica Hughes: 07:30 Right.

Tony Calderone : 07:32 We already had our wholesale pasta line and we were already in the works of ramping it up for a wholesale line and retail line. So this was a way that we were going to focus all of our energy on making that happen. So with all of the restaurants being closed and running out of our commissary, still during pickup and delivery, we started doing grocery delivery, anything we could do to make a buck, just to keep our main guys paid.

Jessica Hughes: 08:00 Right. I mean, I don’t blame you.

Tony Calderone : 08:03 Yeah, it was crazy. And it literally all happened in a 48 hour period. We had a meeting of the minds at my mom’s house kitchen table on a Sunday night before work, and we said, “All right, here’s what’s coming,” because I have mentors in this industry from all around the country and they were kind of letting me know what the wave was looking like. We were, “Here’s what’s coming and how are we going to handle it?” I made the executive decision to shut it all down and run it out of commissary and then start running the food trucks with the pasta line. So from there, we now have three trucks on the roads that are doing the retail.

Jessica Hughes: 08:40 Right? Because you started with only one and you expanded it in this time period.

Tony Calderone : 08:45 Yep, 100%. So with this, [crosstalk 00:08:49], thank you. Thank you very much. That proposed challenges too, because the DMV was shut down and then the car dealerships were shut down. So how and where do you find this van? Well, you’re not going to stop me, a tidal wave’s not going to stop me. The pandemic couldn’t stop me. I mean, I lost my father in the midst of the biggest growth spurt I’ve had in my career. I think stamina would be a good word to describe the leadership that I have. We figured out a way to buy two more trucks, then I’ll be damned. We got them wrapped in 24 hours and on the road.

Jessica Hughes: 09:26 Good for you. I’m assuming since you expanded the line, that sales have been good with the food truck.

Tony Calderone : 09:35 Oh yeah. Thank God. What’s really cool about it is that we don’t have all the overhead expenses that it would take to run a restaurant.

Jessica Hughes: 09:43 This is so true.

Tony Calderone : 09:45 We’re just turning product and it’s product that’s helping us to gain more brand recognition. It’s a great product, it speaks for itself, fresh pasta. I mean, who doesn’t want fresh pasta? Cooks in three to five minutes, it sells itself, but we were just finding ways to get it to the people, which was my favorite part because you see these grown ass adults running out of their houses so excited like the ice cream truck was there. It was the coolest experience. So bringing happiness to people is the hospitality industry. It feels good to find a different way to be able to do that and at the same time, keep up the expenses that it takes to keep my main team employed.

Jessica Hughes: 10:30 That’s what I love about it, is, you stay true to yourself. You pushed the product that you already had in the works and just expedited it and brought it to the people where they were at. For us, where we live, they’ve been bringing in one or two food trucks a week. And that is like the sunshine in my week. I’m like, I don’t have to cook even though I love food, but it’s kind of like, I get to taste something different. I get to taste something new. I will tell you, there have been some bad eggs in that lineup.

Tony Calderone : 11:05 I bet.

Jessica Hughes: 11:05 There have been some good ones too, and I know just because I’ve been at your restaurants and I know the type of product you put out, anything that’s going to come out of O.N.E. is going to be amazing.

Tony Calderone : 11:16 I appreciate that. Thank you very much.

Jessica Hughes: 11:21 Yes. Let’s shift gears a little bit to the pasta line because you launched the pasta line on Amazon in all of this. So how did that work out for you? How did you navigate those waters in such a quick way?

Tony Calderone : 11:34 I know everything’s like, if it doesn’t happen overnight, I think we’re moving too slow.

Jessica Hughes: 11:38 Right.

Tony Calderone : 11:39 Like, what do you mean it’s not done yet?

Jessica Hughes: 11:41 I have to admit I’ve been the same exact way. I’m like, why isn’t this done yet? Everyone’s like, “Creativity takes time,” I’m like, “I understand that, but it needs to be done yesterday.”

Tony Calderone : 11:50 Yep, because tomorrow we have to be somewhere else. Amazon has actually proven to be a little bit more challenging. So they have a lot of stipulations and guidelines that we have to address before they make us an Amazon store. Part of that was the shipping of the product and uploading all of the codes and nutritional facts. There’s a lot of hurdles that we’ve been jumping. Brian, my COO, has been doing a great job at juggling all of the different things that we have opening up in the works and Amazon is a big responsibility because we don’t know what kind of volume is going to come through once we launch it. So we’re actually starting at a local level with what we’re launching in the next week or two with Two Tony’s flower shop meal kit. So your container just delivered us 2,500 corrugated boxes.

I started this ambassador program where we’re just going to get the word out by word of mouth, with our great fresh locally sourced products. Then you’re able to make these meals at home delivered to your door because even with the release and allowing people to dine out, you’re still going to get the general population who’s still going to be kind of cautious about when and where they go out to eat. So we still have to maintain the momentum and we’re just trying to be as creative as possible to create as many different streams of income in the new way of operating a restaurant right now. So Amazon will cater to just our noodle line, our pasta line. We’re looking to get that up and running as soon as we get the go ahead from them. Five surrounding States I think we’re going to start with shipping to.

Jessica Hughes: 13:41 Okay. That’s awesome. Like I said, it’s amazing to me how quickly you’re moving in this because you know, I’ve seen a lot of restaurant tours just kind of close up shop, sit at home, not do much. And then all of a sudden, like in the past two to three weeks, they’ve been opening their doors and saying, “Okay, we’re open for curb side,” and I’m like, “Ah, you’re a little bit behind the eight ball here.” It amazes me. I’ve known you for probably the better part of a year now, but it amazes me how quick you are in the sense of, let’s take this, let’s move it into this. And let’s take all of these things and revamp them, in the sense of all of your different restaurants, let’s revamp them into something that operates out of one main kitchen. We can do curbside from there. We can teach people how to cook from there. We can do all these different things and still make it work.

I don’t know what your books look like, but from the outsider perspective, from the marketing perspective, it looks like you’re doing a pretty darn awesome job and you’re remaining afloat and there’s not a lot of concern there.

Tony Calderone : 14:58 Well, thank you for that. That’s a big compliment and yeah, it was part of the keeping public persona going. You have to show that we’ve got this, your gift cards are going to be good by us when all this is over, thanks for your support, buying them ahead of time just to keep us afloat a little bit. It really does help to have a team of very innovative thinkers. So when we’re all in the room together, I’m not just bouncing ideas out there and they’re hitting upon deaf years. We all strategize and commit together, pulling off what looks like the impossible overnight, and it’s kind of effortless on our end. Knowing that we have a commissary, I’m a very strategic thinker, chess is like one of my favorite games to play. So I’m already thinking five moves ahead and whether we need to move to the left or right.

Strategically thinking, it just made sense with our main kitchen being a commissary. For me, it was a morale booster to keep us all in the same room instead of sitting in a dead space where it’s very draining of our artistic abilities to cook and serve, to sit in dead room. I’m sitting in Aviana’s right now, half the chairs are up, half chairs are down. It’s dark, it’s sad. Our life’s work is like a graveyard right now. So for me, I wanted to get my team out of that. Like, “Nope, we’re not even going to act like they exist right now. Just make sure we water the plants. Everything will be okay. We’re going to shoot to the commissary and we’re going to keep laughing. We’re going to keep listening to music. We’re going to have a good time. We’re going to bag pasta. We’re going to do this one noodle at a time and it’s going to be okay. You watch, just trust me.”

I’d go home and be like, “Oh my God. Oh my God.” I have five notebooks and I’m thinking, “Okay,” and I brought numbers, I crunched numbers. It’s not just on the whim. It’s very strategic. All right, so here’s how much we can make and this is how much volume we need to do in a week. So how do we get that volume? And then we come up with all the creative ways to get that volume. And then, “Here, chef, what can this team execute,” and he’ll be like, “Yes, yes, no, yes, no.” It’s fun for me to be able to have full use of everything that we built in our arsenal and the team just coming together. Then the community, community wants to see us supported and surviving. They also want food. You can only cook seven days a week for so long before you’re like, “If you don’t give me something else to eat,” you’re going to reek havoc in the town if people can’t eat food that they don’t have to cook. So we have a lot of responsibility to uphold.

Jessica Hughes: 17:35 So walk me through in a little bit more detail the strategic thinking behind the pasta line. Because you started selling fresh pasta at the local farmer’s market years ago. Obviously it’s grown substantially since then. One of the last times that we were together, you were showing me that the packaging mock ups and different things. You were getting ready to release Presto, which really brought that to the forefront, is the fresh made pasta. So walk me through your thought process of speed ramping that to market.

Tony Calderone : 18:05 Absolutely. So with Two Tony’s, what we knew we had was a very unique product and being that rigatoni noodles, linguine, fettuccine, the basic noodles, what I like to call them, they don’t exist at a large market scale. If you’re wanting fresh pasta, it’s usually the gnocchi or the stuffed ravioli’s or the spinach fettuccine, very specialty driven. Being a produce broker’s daughter, I was fortunate enough to be able to have a one on ones with people that he was doing business with. So the retail market, I had a conversation with one of the main buyers for the Albertson’s group, which is the biggest retail grocery line in America.

I’m talking to this guy and he puts Lidia Bastianich’s pasta on the shelves and he’s telling me that dry pasta was made in Montreal and shipped here and that the packaging costs are so expensive and the production costs, everything’s third party, Toni, it’s going to be impossible for you to get your pasta on the shelf. Because like you’d mentioned, we were already doing a retail line at a very small scale in our local market, but I always had ambition to bring it to the forefront. So we were testing our product, seeing how it’s sold, seeing how it held up on the shelf, we were doing research and development while making a profit off of our noodles. This conversation I had with this gentleman, his name’s Roger, and telling me how everything’s so expensive, I started thinking, “Okay, well now I have to become a factory, fine.”

So I actually partnered up with a packaging company, New York Container, locally we found a way to cut costs across the board on how we can become a wholesaler. So now these restaurants can also buy our product and get a three to five minute cook time, opposed to a 15 minute cook time on their regular dry noodle. And then also on the retail end, selling to the consumer who would like just a basic noodle to go with their sauce that isn’t dried and on the shelves for X amount of weeks.

So we kind of cornered the market with that and it took me awhile to find the right investment, to get the machines to the build the commissary that will also facilitate our pasta factory. Like I said, this pandemic has kind of been like a little blessing for us because we were able to take all of our attention and focus on what is going to be the backbone of our growth, because with you mentioning Presto, because we have this ability to cook noodles in three to five minutes, it made sense for us, again, another chess move, to create a quick service restaurant that allowed you to pick your noodle, pick your sauce, pick your vegetable and pick your protein. And within five minutes you have a perfectly fresh locally sourced, pasta dinner in front of your face. That doesn’t exist. That’s new, that’s unique.

Jessica Hughes: 21:11 Let me tell you, it’s better than a lot. I would say it’s better than every single quick serve restaurant I’ve ever been in.

Tony Calderone : 21:20 What? Thank you very much for that.

Jessica Hughes: 21:23 Yes. It is so good. Your staff is just so personable in that line, too. Usually when you walk into quick serve places, it’s like half of them are just reciting the lines that they were told to recite and you can tell that their heart’s not in it. That is not the case when you get to Presto, and I love it because of that, and the food, of course, always above par.

Tony Calderone : 21:46 Thank you. That means a lot, and that we strive. We’re experienced. Our brand slogan is “another unique experience”. So that’s what we strive for with Presto, too. I have every intention of taking that nationwide. I’m taking on a mentor in the present of Annie Anne’s. I met with her and she’s agreed to help me figure it out.

Jessica Hughes: 22:10 That’s awesome.

Tony Calderone : 22:13 We’re opening up our third location in the middle of this pandemic, actually at the old Brewster’s off of Carlisle in front of the Lowe’s in York, in west York. So that’s happening and that’ll be our first prototype for a drive through concept and what that looks like.

Jessica Hughes: 22:29 Oh, that will be interesting to figure out.

Tony Calderone : 22:32 Yep. Yep. Well, I look forward to it.

Jessica Hughes: 22:37 I will say, that is something that I’ve always admired about you because you and I sat down last fall and we were talking and I was exploring a couple of different things for our business. I said to you, “I don’t know how you do all of this.” It just blows my mind to watch you go, go, go, and still have the energy. What you don’t see behind the scenes all that often is the amazing team that is behind you. The fact that they’re supporting you and their commitment to you is as strong as your commitment to them. I think that is so important.

Tony Calderone : 23:16 Yeah, they’re my family. I told them before all this happened, I said, “Look, you’re my family and I will do whatever it takes to make sure that you can still provide for you and yours.” Because at the end of the day, that’s all, it’s about. We do this to be able to create the lifestyle and the opportunity that we want for our own families and for ourselves. I get it, this is about the paycheck, but at the same time, I need for them to feel that I’ve got their back. I don’t know, it could be the Sicilian in me or it could be the kind of leader I wish I always had, is someone who made me feel that, okay, yeah, they’re your goals and whatever, but you’re making this about me, too, and I appreciate that. So to give my staff, my team, my support, whatever I can to provide security in their own lives, that’s what drives me.

So I’m having them have my back through all this is very humbling. I feel like I can’t do enough to show them that. So whatever I can do, I’m willing to do, but it shows that in the output. Everybody has taken this on as their passion project too, now. Because it’s not just my vision anymore, it’s what the community loves. We’re seeing that the community is loving what we’re creating and there’s no better reward than a 30 second instant gratification of someone saying, “Thank you so much,” with a smile on their face. Where most industries, you have to wait six months before someone behind enough tells you that you did a great job and that it was recognized. Here, we serve the public. Our customers are our instant gratification. The thank yous and the good jobs this is what makes us want to do it again and again, and again and again. I was very lucky to find a lot of OCD, passionate people on this team, and I’ll tell you what they would make me look a real good. I call myself Tasmanian devil. I’ll come in and be like, wow, okay.

Jessica Hughes: 25:18 That’s what makes you successful though, is the fact that you’re humble enough to say that and to say, “This isn’t me, it’s a team effort.” On top of it, you’re also willing to seek out mentors in the areas where you’re like, “I don’t know how to navigate these waters on my own. Can you help me?” That’s something that I admire about you. I think all too often, whether you’re working for someone else or you’re an entrepreneur yourself, you kind of have this attitude of, “Well, I’ll figure it out. I’m not going to let anyone see me struggle. I’ll never admit that I don’t know.” That’s something that, you talked about Annie Anne’s, I know that you’ve had some conversations with Damon John and different things. You know, it’s one of those things that I think is really important. How do you seek out those relationships and network in order to give yourself the opportunity to have those conversations?

Tony Calderone : 26:17 That’s a great question. My dad would always say, “If you want to know what’s ahead of you, you ask someone who’s on their way back.” I’ve always been a very intrigued personality to want to be like, “Hey, how’d you get there? What’d you experience? What are your thoughts about this?” Based on advice from every industry, from every position, that’s kind of helped me to make my next decision. Even though I hate statistics, I guess I do like to create my own statistics and find out what people have done and what has worked and what has not worked for them. With my father being a serial entrepreneur, I always watched how he did it and then did what not to do based on how he did it. I took his experience and made it my own from a very young age.

That’s how I’m bringing up my son, too. Always being involved and learning from other people. For me and seeking out the mentors that I am attracted to, I read a lot of books based on people’s success stories and how they did it. Finding the restaurateurs that I would like to emulate and kind of digging and picking at their philosophies and creating my own. I liked the out of the box thinkers. I like the naysayers, the non-conformists. I like the colorful personalities who aren’t the textbook version of what we’re trying to be. Because at the end of the day, it can get ugly, it can get hard, it can get very discouraging. It’s hard, this industry very hard and it’ll beat you and it’ll keep you at your knees if you let it.

You just got to keep getting up, and the people who have become successful by that philosophy are the people that I’m drawn to. Mr. Wonderful on Shark Tank, yeah, he’s great and all but he’s not my type. My type is Damon John because he’s like, “Look kid,” like, real talk. The same thing with Joe Bastianich. I flipped through the first couple pages of his book and he dropped the F bomb like 10 times. I’m like, yep, this is my guy. And then Michael Solomonov, I interviewed him and he was very forthcoming about his previous drug addiction. And then now he came out of it, came James Beard award winning number one restaurant in America. These are the people that I am drawn to because to me, I like the land of the misfits. And Annie Anne, she’s a female CEO. Like I need to know how you do it. What do you do? And how do you do it? So the empowerment behind it, and then just following through with my own way, but knowing that you have a tribe, you find your tribe.

Jessica Hughes: 29:14 It’s so true. I think the restaurant industry is extremely hard. My father had a fine dining restaurant with his family when I was really young so I’ve seen how that can wear on a person. But just business ownership in general is a very lonely place to be if you do not surround yourself with a tribe and people who are going to invest in you. You can invest in them and have those very candid conversations.

Tony Calderone : 29:44 So true.

Jessica Hughes: 29:46 Well, thank you so much, Toni. I really appreciate you taking the time and providing your insights. Is there anything else you want to add?

Tony Calderone: 30:25  No, I just want to say thank you so much for thinking of me and wanting to hear a little more inside my brain.

Jessica Hughes: I hope you enjoyed today’s show. You can find Toni on Facebook and LinkedIn as well as Instagram. Also, check out her hospitality group and all of their offerings, including the flower shop at Thanks so much and have a great day.