Ynot Pizza on the corner of Colley and Spotswood avenues in Ghent, photographed Aug. 12, 2010. (David B. Hollingsworth)

Ynot Italian, founded in Virginia Beach 28 years ago, announced plans to expand in Hampton Roads and other markets by franchising both full-service restaurants and “express” models to independent owners and operators.

Ynot would like to expand to the Peninsula and other Virginia markets like Richmond and Charlottesville, founder and CEO Tony DiSilvestro said, along with key markets in North Carolina, Maryland and Florida.

“I just believe this is an opportunity. I think in the next 10 years, the country will have exponential growth,” he said. “I think it’s a great time opening up restaurants right now coming out of a pandemic. People are going to want to go out and have that experience again.”

The company’s first express store — for takeout and delivery only — opened April 15 at 1115 Independence Blvd. near Haygood Road in Virginia Beach, he said. The menu is the same as at full-service restaurants.

The goal is to open three express locations and one full-service restaurant this year and then open roughly two full restaurants and five to 10 express locations a year.

The coronavirus pandemic proved the viability of the smaller express concept as all of Ynot’s six restaurants operated without dining rooms and with curbside pickup and delivery, he said. The concept had been in development for about four years, pre-COVID.

Ynot is known for homemade Italian food from family recipes including pasta, stromboli, calzoni, hand-tossed pizza, meatballs, soups, sandwiches, custom chopped salads, and desserts like gelato and cannoli. The menu includes gluten-free and vegan options. What makes Ynot different is all menu options can be personalized to order.

DiSilvestro founded Ynot with wife Cyndi by opening a restaurant in the Great Neck area of Virginia Beach in 1993. His brother Harry joined as a partner a few years later. The company gets its name from Tony spelled backward, and was the founder’s childhood nickname.

As a franchiser, DiSilvestro is ready to support business owners as he runs a coaching business and has been a mentor for entrepreneurship to Old Dominion University and Virginia Wesleyan students.

About 11 years ago, Ynot began opening locations by franchising from within, or partnering with longtime employees who co-own and operate restaurants. Over time, the company worked out the kinks and developed the training, processes and resources needed to support owner-operators. Now, the company is ready to support independent operators, including franchisees looking to take on multiple restaurants.

“It’s a great opportunity for people interested in getting into business,” he said.

Chico Ortiz, 31, started as a Ynot line cook, worked his way up to become general manager of the Great Neck Road restaurant and helped the company train and open new locations before becoming a co-owner and operator in the Landstown Commons restaurant when it was built more than four years ago. He said he took it as an opportunity to invest in himself and grow with the company.

Ynot is looking for franchisees who are similarly community-centric and will interview for that, DiSilvestro said. That means sponsoring sports teams and giving back, like how the company found ways to help feed front-line workers and those in need during the pandemic. Franchisees can take a page from the Ynot playbook by vending in stadiums and arenas and operating food trucks.

Franchisees need to have restaurant experience along with sufficient net worth to invest about $250,000 for a 1,500- to 1,700-square-foot express location or about $500,000 to $980,000 for a 6,000-square-foot restaurant, according to the announcement. The figures include a $49,900 franchisee fee for both. For more info, visit

Ynot is also hiring and needs to add more than 100 employees to its workforce of 400, he said.

“We’re absolutely ready to become the dominant player in the Italian food franchise industry,” DiSilvestro said.

Tara Bozick, 757-247-4741,