At 41, Fouad Qreitem has spent three-quarters of his life working in the restaurant industry, starting with his family’s French continental-themed Black Orchid in Annandale. By 26 he rejected the ideals of fine dining and opened the mostly delivery-based Paisano’s Pizza, now with 27 stores.
In what would seem like a competing venture, Qreitem, along with partners Pierre Garcon (Washington Redskins wide receiver) and Norm Chirite (former Redskins counsel) give Northern Virginians another pizza option: Spinfire.
Customers pick ingredients assembly-line style and pizzas emerge from a 1,000-degree oven in 90 seconds. At press time, the first location is expected to open in September at One Loudoun in Ashburn, with a second in Rosslyn due in February 2015. By the end of next year, Qreitem expects to sell 30 Spinfire franchises, including ones in China and Dubai.
But Qreitem insists his second pizza concept won’t interfere with his first. “I would open one in the same shopping center.” —Stefanie Gans
First Restaurant Job
It was long hours. We were 11 years old and me and my cousins would work the coat room. But once you hang them all, the majority of [the customers] don’t leave until 11 p.m., midnight. I can remember—I shouldn’t be telling you this—I can remember taking naps on people’s coats.
Lessons from Fine Dining
Today anybody can go out and spend a couple hundred dollars on dinner and still be a nice person. A lot of [customers at Black Orchid] were nice people, but a lot of them were very demanding.
Back then, when they were spending—in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s—$300, $400, $500 on dinner, they were usually really well-off and some of them were extremely arrogant. I just didn’t like it. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.
I hated the fact that as good as you treated people, some of them still wouldn’t treat you well. I didn’t like the concept, as weird as that sounds. Money doesn’t make you the person you are.
I honestly don’t drink today because of what I grew up with in that [fine dining] environment. I can share the story with you, but I can’t share the person.
We used to get a lot of executives that would come in for lunch. They would have lunch and martinis and sometimes they would carry on from lunch to happy hour to evening and by 10 o’clock that night they’d have an accident on themselves. You’d find them on the floor in the bathroom and it really turned me off on the whole alcohol thing.
I have literally been drunk maybe five times in my life. I don’t like to do anything that I lose control.
A Life of Cheese
Unfortunately, I eat pizza a lot lately because we’re testing. Every day I walk into the conference room and eat samples from 10 different pizzas.
When we’re not in the testing phase? I [eat pizza] probably once a month. Keep in mind, I got pretty sick of pizza.
I ran my first store for eight years and ate lunch and dinner there six days a week.
Favorite Pie at Paisano’s
The white pizza with garlic.
My daughters are not interested in the restaurant business. My oldest always jokes around and tells me, ‘I’m going to run the company.’ [But] I’d tell them to walk away. I took the beating for them. They need to go to school and work on their education and pursue their dream as anything they want.
Oh gosh. That’d be a disaster. I’m about as dumb as it gets outside of the restaurant business.
My mother opened a time capsule from sixth grade and she opened it 15 years after sixth grade and it said in there that I want to be in the restaurant business.