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Rhino-mania spurs theme restaurant

A veteran restaurateur and local soccer personality has opened a soccer-themed Italian eatery, with plans to host live “Soccer Sam” TV and radio shows amid the pasta and pizza.
Salvatore Fantauzzo-also known as Soccer Sam-last week opened Soccer Sam’s Pizza Pasta Cafe in Penfield. He claims to be the first in the country to have a soccer-themed restaurant.
“No one else is crazy enough to do it,” said Fantauzzo, 38, who 22 years ago founded the Salvatore’s Pizza operation. “Everything I do for soccer is to promote the sport.”
He aims to start broadcasting his weekly radio and television soccer shows from the eatery as early as next month.
Since 1994, Fantauzzo has been Soccer Sam, portraying a 12-year-old soccer nut who co-hosts a Saturday morning soccer show on WHTK 1280 AM with Jeff DiVeronica. He also hosts the Rochester Raging Rhinos post-game show on WYSL 1040 AM, and serves as host for a television soccer program that runs April through September on cable channel 26.
“I love soccer and the food business,” said Fantauzzo, who employs 25 mostly part-time staffers at his restaurant.
Fantauzzo has spent $250,000 on renovating and equipping the 3,000-square-foot space located at 2045 Empire Blvd. With a seating capacity of 50, his goal is to serve some 200 patrons a day.
Theme restaurants are part of a business school philosophy to find a niche and exploit it, said Eugene Fram, J. Warren McClure research professor of marketing at Rochester Institute of Technology.
“It sounds like these people have thought it through carefully,” Fram said. “They tied it to a growing sport and are riding the crest of the wave of Italian food.”
Italian food has been extremely popular for roughly the past decade, he added.
Soccer Sam’s is decorated with soccer memorabilia that the restaurateur has been collecting since he was 12. The dinning room looks like a soccer field, complete with scoreboard and nets. Plans call for nine large televisions showing everything from the latest soccer matches to business and kids’ programs.
The menu includes items such as Soccerball Pasta-chicken sautŽed with garlic, scallops, tomatoes, basil and mushrooms served with soccer-ball-shaped pasta.
Douglas Lockwood is Soccer Sam’s executive chef. He most recently worked at Mario’s Via Abruzzi.
In addition to the live broadcasts, the thin-crust pizza differentiates the restaurant from a host of competition, including chains and independents, says Fantauzzo. The crust is made mostly with pasta dough instead of flour dough-a recipe the owner got at a pizza convention a decade ago.
“It gives you a very thin, crispy crusted pizza like you’d get in Europe,” he said.
The pizzas have names such as Totto Calcia-Soccer Sam in Italian-with prosciutto, artichoke hearts and olives, and Vic “the Squid” Calamari, with calamari and baby shrimp on a pesto sauce base.
The menu also will feature creative pasta dishes for $10 or less. Seafood Juvenuts is shrimp and scallops sautŽed with artichoke hearts on a bed of angel hair pasta.
Soccer Sam’s is open daily for dinner until July 15, when Fantauzzo expects to have his grand opening and extend his hours to include lunch. He also is considering extending hours to cater to the coffee crowd.
This is not the entrepreneur’s first venture involving pizza.
In 1978, at age 17, Fantauzzo started Salvatore’s Pizza, which evolved into a nine-location chain.
He sold the venture in 1990, the same year he launched Rochester Pizza Products Inc., which bids each year to supply pizza to school districts. The company employs 12 staffers and delivers pizza to almost every suburban school district, he said.
Fantauzzo only wants one Soccer Sam’s location, but he does hope to add square footage to the restaurant in the future.

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