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Natural Awakenings Indianapolis

Puccini’s Celebrates 25 Years Committed to Healthier, Happier Eating

We recently spoke with Don Main, who—with co-partners Brooks “Digger” Powers and Tom Main—founded Puccini’s Smiling Teeth Pizza & Pasta on March 13, 1991. The original location, and still one of the busiest, is at the northwest corner of 86th Street and Ditch Road, in the Greenbriar section of Indianapolis.

It’s been 25 years since you opened your first Puccini’s. What are you and your partners reflecting on this period?

It’s slightly surreal. In the beginning, we were nervous and so busy trying to get by. The 70-hour weeks folded into themselves until we hit the point where we could let the great people we’d been working with take over more responsibilities. I know I sent my kids off to college, looked in the mirror and said, “What happened to all those years?” Mostly, Digger and I are just super grateful. We feel fortunate to have been received so well for so long.

Restaurant work is notoriously demanding. What made you want to give it a try?

Desperation. Seriously! The three of us were all at a crossroads in our lives. We were all unemployable, so what choice did we have?

Smiling TeethThe words “Smiling Teeth” are part of your name, and they’re a striking theme in the artwork that hangs in your restaurants. How did that get started?

We were naming the restaurant and we thought of Puccini’s—opera, Italian food—and it just made sense. But the name had a fancy, white-tablecloth feel to it and we were setting out to create a more casual, family-friendly environment. Somewhere in there we thought of how it feels to eat something really good—it makes your teeth smile—and there we were: Puccini’s Smiling Teeth. The artist Chris Pyle played a big role in that—creating that great art with all those smiling teeth.

Was there ever a moment early on when you were afraid your restaurants—like most restaurants—would fail before they had a chance to succeed?

Maybe a little, but not much... We had taken in an investor and borrowed money from my close friend, and our backs were just plain to the wall. So we got to work and sweated every detail and kept our heads down... and it worked.

Your brother, Tom Main, was a founder. He's gone on to launch Tinker Street, which is one of Indy’s hottest restaurants that places great emphasis on high-quality ingredients. What values do the two enterprises have in common?

We come from the same basic starting point, having a restaurant where we truly enjoy eating the food. We didn’t begin our restaurant thinking about profit; we thought about how we wanted our food to taste. After we got that right, we figured out the rest. Even though Tom eventually moved on to other projects, he still loves Puccini’s. He takes our mom, who is 91 and healthier and happier than most 60-year-olds, to eat at the Clearwater location every week or so. Digger and I really enjoy eating at Tinker Street and are super proud of Tom and happy for him and his partner, Peter George.

Don and Family 2001

What role does healthy, natural eating play in your family life? How has that affected the food you want to offer your customers?

It’s really important to us. Digger has always been into nutrition and fitness, and my family doesn’t do fast food at all. We have had some health issues with a family member where diets have been extremely restrictive, and we believe in making food a centerpiece for a healthy life. Our families eat at Puccini’s all the time, too, and we know how it is for people with health concerns to eat out—we take that responsibility very seriously.

Any idea how many customers you have?

I can make a guess. At all the stores combined, we serve a little over a million people a year. So, my best guess is... there are 10 really hungry people who each eat with us over 100,000 times a year. Sorry—bad humor alert! My best guess is that we have 60,000 to 80,000 “regular” customers who dine with us anywhere from three times a week to three or four times a year.

Smiling TeethWhat’s been the most rewarding thing about running Puccini’s?

It may sound hokey, but here’s the truth: It’s the people. It’s meeting a lot of nice customers who enjoy what we do, and it’s seeing the members of our Puccini’s family grow and blossom from kids to great adults who do their work with integrity and pride and care as much as Digger and I do about serving people good food.

What changes do you see ahead for Puccini’s that might be exciting or interesting to Natural Awakenings readers?

The Natural Awakenings staff is going to begin holding their monthly lunch meetings at Puccini’s in the nude. That’s a joke—I think. Truthfully, like Natural Awakenings and its readers, we believe in food that is fuel for healthy living. That was the driver for us when we began offering an entire gluten-free menu a few years back. We plan to keep evolving on this road, right along with you.

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