Cocozza Group

Cocozza Group picCocozza Group worked through unique challenges to hand off its latest project, Italienne, a French/Italian fine-dining restaurant.

By Stephanie Crets

The fast-paced world of retail and restaurant construction energizes Cocozza Group and has allowed the company to grow substantially every year since its inception. Founder and President Dan Cocozza fell in love with the work early in his construction career and decided to strike out on his own in 2012.

“I love the fast-paced nature of those projects; they’re all two to three months long, instead of two to three years long, which is what I was previously working on,” he recalls. “I love that each project is so unique, especially in New York City. We got our first project in January 2013 and we’ve been really fortunate to be going ever since.”

Cocozza was motivated to start his own company also because many clients in the retail and restaurant world were lamenting their lack of positive experiences with builders. “Construction is a hard business, with complicated work and a lot of people involved,” he says. “For me, it’s about the relationships. I focus on building relationships with everyone involved and [we] work together as a team to try to deliver this crazy construction job in a way that’s enjoyable.”

The company subcontracts nearly 100 percent of its work to avoid much overhead, and that makes building relationships from the client and the designer to the subcontractors and vendors a priority. “My approach is to develop a relationship, form a partnership and build these projects together, and eventually we’ll make money in the long run; not try to make as much as we can on one job,“ Cocozza explains. “You’re only as good as the guys doing the work, so those relationships are most important.” Cocozza box

Cocozza’s approach ties into the company’s overall vision and its values of honesty, transparency and communication. Cocozza Group strives to treat people with respect and create an environment where issues are minimized and everyone is on the same page for projects.

“My background in engineering has helped me become a better problem-solver in this world,” Cocozza says. “I try to work with people who are like-minded thinkers and problem-solvers and try to create this family environment where we’re all working together as a team.”

Fine Dining

Cocozza Group’s project sweet spot is to have two to four projects running at once, all in different development stages. One of the projects the company is about to hand over to the client is one of its largest to date: a high-end restaurant called Italienne that features the wine, cuisine and spirits of northern Italy and southern France.

Chef and client Jared Sippel spent more than a year developing the menus, taking research trips to Europe and assembling an all-star team for Italienne’s opening in early July, with the private dining opening in the fall. “It’s a really unique project for us because not only is it a large restaurant but the finishes were high end, and we got to work with a lot of great subcontractors and vendors,” Cocozza says.

The company worked with more than 20 different subcontractors and vendors providing a variety of finishing touches including decorative steel, antique mirrors, leather banquette seating and the restaurant’s logo etched in limestone. “It captured everything we’re capable of doing as a team,” he adds. “We got to work with a lot of great people from the chef/client to the high-end designer, Tree House Design, who designed the interiors, the mechanical engineer for the systems and the owner’s representative Branded Concept Development. I’m really proud of this job and the team we got to work with.”

The front area of Italienne is a bar/café combination with a shared menu. Cocozza Group installed a carrara marble bar with antique distressed oak wood finishes on the bar, ceilings and wall. The back of the restaurant is tailored to sit-down dining and includes a different menu. “We created these full-window settings with high-end antique mirrors,” Cocozza notes. “Instead of a window, it’s a mirror with decorative trim.”

Cocozza Group built a large kitchen with a 30-foot long custom hood over the cooking equipment to ventilate the cooking equipment. This is one of the unique challenges the company encountered and a trend in New York City restaurant construction. The restaurant is housed in a 12-story building, so the company had to run a kitchen exhaust line from the restaurant to the roof.

“We were challenged with running the kitchen exhaust ductwork up 12 stories to the high roof for the exhaust fan, as well as running the power and refrigeration up to the HVAC condensing units,” Cocozza explains. “We had to hire a company that specializes in kitchen ventilation. People had to hang over the side of the building to install this work – it was quite fun. We also had to install a lot of structural steel work on the roof to install this equipment and get it up and running. It was a fun challenge.”

Cocozza Group finds that all restaurant and retail projects have their own challenges, in addition to requiring his team to work under tight timelines. For Italienne in particular, Cocozza says the challenge was magnified 10 times because there were so many complex finishes and details. “We work hard on coming up with a submittal process to get everything signed off by the team before we purchase it,” he says. “We learned a lot in terms of how we manage a project with this level of detail and continue to move the project forward and deliver on time.”

Thanks to this project, Cocozza Group has perfected this process and can apply it to future projects, which Cocozza says will make the company more efficient and prevent issues with material procurement. In addition, he says he’s glad to be in this niche market and hopes to perfect it with every new project Cocozza Group takes on.

“I’m someone that’s motivated, not by finance or money, but because we have a rare opportunity to create value for people that they get to use every day,” Cocozza says. “I’m getting chills because I’m thinking about how I can walk down the street in New York City and see projects we’ve completed as a team that the people of this great city get to use every day.

“In something like this Italienne project, it will bring so many people joy,” he continues. “Plus, the chef put his life on the line for this as his first restaurant in New York City. These projects are people’s lives and what they live for. To bring that all together and create that value, it’s such an amazing thing for us.”

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