Piccolo Forno owner to open his first fast-casual spot in Pittsburgh

More than a decade after his family opened Piccolo Forno in Lawrenceville, Domenic Branduzzi is opening his fourth establishment in the neighborhood — and his first fast-casual restaurant.

By the end of the month, fried chicken and empanada spot Ki Pollo will debut at 4407 Butler St. in a follow-up to the new Ki Ramen he opened in partnership with Roger Li of Lawrenceville’s Umami Izakaya. But this time, Mr. Li’s wife, Claudia Moyano has signed on as a managing partner and chef — and in many ways, she’s the inspiration for the place.

Originally from Mendoza, Argentina, Ms. Moyano learned to make empanadas from her family. People like them so much that Mr. Li had been considering where and how he could help his wife find a platform to sell them.

When the space that had been Restaurant Hana became available during the build-out for Ki Ramen, Mr. Branduzzi, Mr. Li and Ms. Moyano fine-tuned their ideas into what’s going to become Ki Pollo. 

The 20+ seat counter-service spot will offer a lunch and dinner menu of those handmade empanadas, variations on Korean fried chicken, bao buns, and red rice and beans. Though the team is finalizing the menu, it has been testing various dishes at pop-ups..

As the growth of fast-casual restaurants hit a peak nationally, Mr. Branduzzi says the space more than the moment shaped the decision to open a counter-service place. Just as the two-level, 90-seat Ki Ramen with an option to serve liquor calls for full-service dining in the neighborhood’s first ramen restaurant, the smaller space for Ki Pollo seems better suited for counter service, he says. It will cut down on the number of employees needed to run the place while affording an opportunity to open a place serving international street food that hadn’t been part of the Ki Ramen duo’s long-term plans. 

Speaking of street food, “there definitely will be a sandwich,” Mr. Branduzzi says, perhaps served on pillowy Japanese milk bread they’d make in house. 

Mr. Branduzzi says his Italian heritage, curiosity, and his experience in his family’s restaurants compel him to make things from scratch — like Ki Ramen’s noodles crafted from a Japanese noodle machine, which is an unusual step for most ramen restaurants.

“We want to offer something new for the neighborhood,” he says, “and step it up.”

Melissa McCart: mmccart@post-gazette.com.


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