Cary eatery finds a new way to save money: a garden

CorrespondentJuly 2, 2013 

Mike Ferstler tends the garden at Michaelangelo's Pizza.


— Mike Ferstler knew he had to come up with a way to cut costs at his restaurant, Michelangelo’s Pizza.

So the 35-year-old native of Long Island, N.Y., came up with a creative solution. While farm-to-fork restaurants have become trendy, Ferstler is taking a different approach: Call it parking-lot-to-fork.

Inside six conspicuously placed wooden pallets behind the Northwoods Shopping Center, Ferstler planted a garden filled with banana peppers, jalapenos, tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs.

Each week, the pallet harvest gives Ferstler fresh toppings for his pizzas – and leaves him with a little extra cash.

“My costs were just out of control,” he said. “I had to do something.”

Ferstler, who bought the Cary eatery from his father two years ago, said he was spending about $1,000 a month on produce.

Shrinking revenues and rising food costs were a recipe for disaster, and he hopes the garden cuts the produce bill by 80 percent.

“It just can’t keep going like this,” he said.

Still, the 6-week-old garden is giving Ferstler hope.

“I really shocked myself with this,” he said, pointing to his thriving plants. “We would love to add to it in the future. I don’t know. We’ll just see how it goes. This is all new to me.”

And it’s new to Michelangelo’s regular customers.

“They love it,” Ferstler said. ”A lot of people just want to go back and see how the garden is doing.”

With strip malls still popping up all over the Triangle, Michelangelo’s faces plenty of competition from other pizza joints. Ferstler hopes his garden will give him a needed boost.

“We added the buffet, and a lot of places are doing that,” he said. “People are always looking for a good deal. It’s easy to lose someone to the next place.”

Donald Ferstler opened Michelangelo’s 27 years ago – without any prior experience in the pizza business.

“We’re not even Italian,” Mike Ferstler joked.

The store established a local following, and by the 1990s, people lined up for the New York-style pizza.

But as the economy faltered, business tapered off.

“This is something unique for this kind of establishment. If people want fresh, you can’t get any fresher than this,” Mike Ferstler said as he watered his garden. “My dad is impressed. This is so far from what he’s used to. But times are changing.

“This will help,” he continued. “Too bad I can’t grow my own flour.”

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