Photos by Josh Keown
Giovanni Di Palma, owner of Antico Pizza Napoletana in Atlanta, Georgia, has created the scenario many operators dream of. Most nights and weekends, a line of eager customers wrap around the parking lot and down the block.
Most Saturdays, Di Palma says, Antico sells more than 1,000 Neapolitan pizzas. The high-volume shop near Georgia Tech in the Midtown district generates $4.5 million in annual sales with no salads, pastas, other entrees or alcohol.
Pizza Today visited Antico during a midweek lunch in the spring to discover what drives this successful operation. Upon opening, the crowd has already lined up, extending out the door.
The shop, which opened in 2009, is split into two rooms. In the front area, two employees operate registers and fill carryout orders, which account for a stunning 35 percent of sales.
It’s Antico’s other room where all of the action takes place. Three Grande Forni ovens, weighing 10,000 pounds each, hand made from refractory Sorrento stone and shipped by sea from Naples, Italy, dominate the focus of the space. Communal picnic-style tables that sit on concrete floors fill the area. The Dough Room, literally a walled area with large windows to showcase the dough-making process, is captivating and manned constantly because of the sheer volume of dough needed.
There are a dozen employees flowing seamlessly through the open kitchen area fixated on their tasks at hand. They are center stage.
That’s intentional, Di Palma says, adding there is a theatrical component centered on the art of pizza making. “The experience and atmosphere are really second-to-none,” he continues. “That was important to me that people really see the artisan craft. They see us making dough. They see us crushing tomatoes…they are seeing everything while they eat.”
A communal approach also produces a “wow” factor as people wait, watching aluminum pans of Neapolitan creations atop brown paper arrive to neighboring guests. “They are seeing the other pizzas, so they are saying which pizza they are going to try when they come back,” Di Palma says.
The Margherita D.O.P ($18) is most popular. The San Gennaro with salsiccia, sweet red pepper, bufala and cipolline ($21), and Diavola with spicy sopressata, pepperonata and bufala ($21), have become famous and Atlanta cult classics.
Pizza makes up 78 percent of Antico’s sales. Though its calzone has won awards, Di Palma says, they don’t sell a lot of them. Another menu item Antico does sell a lot of is its cannoli — 2,500 of them a week.
But, Di Palma contends, it’s all about pizza. At Antico the product markets itself. “My pizza is extremely photogenic,” he says of the pizzeria’s social media buzz. “I let the customers do it for us. They take pictures and send it to everyone they know.” Add in celebrities tweeting the pizzeria to millions of followers and the word-of-mouth for Antico’s drives traffic. If fact, Di Palma says he has never bought any advertising.
“I’ve made price irrelevant,” Di Palma says. “I went to a terrible neighborhood…and I’m the most expensive pizza in the city of Atlanta…people stand in line in the rain and the cold for it. They want quality and that is why Neapolitan pizza is so wildly popular now and booming.” Di Palma goes to great lengths to showcase the craftsmanship he has created at Antico.
Growing up in New York in an Italian family, Di Palma always valued his Neapolitan roots. In 2005 he began a quest to learn the ways of his grandfather’s craft in the small village of Cimitile, just outside of Naples, Italy. He was amazed by the flour mills there — the variety of formulas and the freshness of the product — yielding a major difference that he saw between American pizza and Neapolitan.
Throughout his years of training in Italy, Di Palma sought answers to one question: “How can I do this in America?”
In addition to becoming a maestro pizzaiolo, Di Palma says, “I learned logistics and importing.” Di Palma goes beyond using traditional distributors. Antico has its own warehouse, which aids in importing products based on his criteria. “When I buy a product, it goes this way: quality first, freshness and logistics second and price third,” he says.
He buys direct from an Italian flourmill. He has bufala mozzarella and fior di latte mozzarella flown in from Naples once a week. Each fall, he travels to the fields of the Sarno Valley in Italy to look at produce first hand.
Food cost at Antico remains low, Di Palma says. “Our food cost is in the mid-20s because I am buying such massive quantities directly from the sources,” he says.
“What makes Antico’s so magical is having those products and the freshness of them and meeting very, very skilled people.”
Finding craftsmen to reproduce what he learned in Italy, consistently, Di Palma says, would take five years. Instead, “What I did was I broke myself down into five different skills and I teach one guy one skillset and that’s all he does,” he says, adding each person also trains a back up. Everyone has one specific task, whether it’s opening pizza, making dough, or working the ovens.
The Antico staff is a family, Di Palma says, adding that he’s loaned employees money and paid hospital bills. Each month he takes his 22-member crew and their families out for dinner. “Those are things that you have to do as an independent proprietor to stay successful,” he says, resulting in little to no turnover.
The final component of Antico’s is Di Palma. Guests get to see his passion for Neapolitan pizza and the energy he brings to the pizzeria. u
Atlanta's Little Italy
Giovanni Di Palma, owner of Antico Pizza Napoletana, knew that he wanted to open his pizzeria in an old bakery. When the former French bakery became available in Atlanta, he says: “When I saw it, I had a feeling this was going to be the perfect place.” Forget the fact that the location was in a dilapidated area that was notorious for its drug problem and crime. He saw the neighborhood for its potential. He purchased two city blocks around the pizzeria with the vision of opening an entire Italian village. The neighboring Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano recently opened. This summer, Di Palma is also set to open Bar Antico, a lemoncello bar, gelateria and café. Piazza San Gennaro will also join the project across the street from the pizzeria, featuring a fountain surrounded by pastry and pasta shops, along with Italian street carts — a Little Italy in Midtown Atlanta. It’s beautiful — revitalization centered on a pizzeria, he says.
Denise Greer is associate editor of Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
I love this business,” says Sean Kelly, co-owner of Buckhead Pizza Company in Atlanta, Georgia. “I love pizza…more, I love the dining experience.”
Sean Kelly, co-owner of Buckhead Pizza Company.
Kelly and partner Sam Abdullah have engineered the Buckhead concept around the dining experience. “It’s a fine dining look at pizza,” says Kelly, whose background is fine dining, while Abdulla previously owned a chain of New York-style pizzerias. “No ordering at a counter and we don’t do slice.”
Their vision has paid off with $4 million in annual sales generated from three Atlanta-area company locations. Pizza Today met up with Kelly in the spring at its Buckhead district location, an urban setting of high-rise office buildings, hotels and condominiums.
Walk into the Buckhead store and it becomes quickly evident that attention to detail is front and center. From its sleek sophisticated look to its flow from the waiting area (which features a half-wall separation from the open dining room that seats 130 to the bar area with high tables and dark stone tiled bar), every detail is thought out. A wall of windows backs the bar and opens to a large year-round patio that seat another 50.
A curved wall, that’s actually part of a parking deck, sets off the right side of the room and provided some challenges during the build out. But, in the end, it added to the contemporary design. As a bonus, the shape gave way for a private dining area in the back that is loaded with A/V equipment and able to seat 30.
The original Buckhead location in the Atlanta suburb of Buford, which is now a licensed store, opened in February of 2008, followed closely by a Cummings store six months later. In March of 2009, Kelly and Abdullah opened the Buckhead location. “We signed all three leases at the same time,” Kelly says. “Then we staged them so we could have time to get one staffed, trained and opened and then move on to the second one. It was ambitious.”
The partners were comfortable with the concept to move forward with all three locations, Kelly says, adding that the newest location opened in the Galleria district in June of 2011.
Kelly says they also had a lot of confidence in the product. Pizza makes up 60 percent of the company’s sales with another 10 to 12 percent coming from the remainder of the food menu. Buckhead offers regular, whole wheat and gluten-free dough for pizzas, calzones and flatbread. The Buckhead location produces 500 pounds of dough in house each day. Kelly found semolina to be beneficial to Buckhead’s signature crust for whole wheat and regular dough. “It gives a little more structure to the pizza — lets the bottoms get crispy, but still lets them stay elastic enough that we are able to hand toss them in a timely fashion,” he says.
No raw vegetables go onto pizzas at Buckhead. “All of our toppings, we sauté, roast or bake and season ahead of time,” Kelly says. The restaurant also makes its sausage and sauces in house at each location.
With more than 15 specialty pizzas, several are appropriately named after Atlanta points of interest, like the Piedmont Park, a veggie pizza with eggplant, zucchini, broccoli, yellow squash and sliced tomatoes (a medium for $17); the Smoked Midtown with marinated grilled chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, red onions, fresh basil and smoked mozzarella (a medium for $18) and The Chastain with roasted chicken, onions, capers, a light cream sauce and ricotta (a medium for $17.50).
Buckhead’s menu has been devised with upsell potential. Appetizers are broken down into two categories: small apps (hummus, bruschetta, mozzarella sticks, etc.) that are priced at around $5 and full appetizers (calamari, chicken wings, fried ravioli, etc.) that range in price from $6.50 to $14.95. The strategy was two-fold: it gives servers an easy sell with the small apps and it also provides a promotional avenue to offer a free small app. “I’ve only roped myself into these $5 items that my cost is a buck or $1.25, instead of saying free appetizer,” he says, keeping Buckhead from giving away a higher food cost item like chicken wings.
Kelly has introduced a $5 lunch menu. “That’s the starting point,” he says, and everything is an add-on, whether it’s proteins for salads or extra toppings on pizza. “The last time I looked, for January, our average lunch per person was $10.89,” he adds. The company’s locations are in prime areas to attract a business lunch crowd.
In addition to lunch, Buckhead tapped its business district for catering opportunities. Catering makes up one-third of the restaurant’s sales. Kelly attributes its popularity to not setting limits on a catering menu. “I try to tell people there is nothing that we can’t do,” he says, elaborating that they’ve even hosted a Caribbean luau with a Jerk chicken that inspired a popular Jerk Pork Pizza special on its regular menu.
Buckhead also hosts meeting, cocktail parties, and special occasions in the restaurants. Kelly says he works with a hotel chain based in Atlanta for store buyouts. With great audio/visuals and a comprehensive catering menu, Buckhead has positioned itself to capitalize on its neighboring business community.
Kelly has discovered an added attraction for groups: a pizza-making class. It started with offering kids the chance to make their own pizzas. Since kids loved it, Kelly looked for a way to package it for adults as well. Each Buckhead location offers two pizza making classes — The Allegro ($25 per person) that includes hors d’oevres, instruction and ample toppings and The Maestro ($35 per person) which includes hors d’oevres, instruction, ample toppings, dessert-making instruction and a wine tasting.
Meeting planners also sign up for its pizza-making class during business meetings at Buckhead. “When you can get up, stretch your legs, get your hands dirty, make pizza and have a fun time with coworkers…you are totally refreshed and open to the new information.”
Just as marketing to the business community is key to Buckhead’s success, the restaurant also relies on its returning patrons. At the Cummins location, with a main customer base of families, Kelly shoots to get them in the store a couple times a week, he says, “Whether it’s on Wednesday for trivia, Tuesday for kid’s night, on Sunday for brunch or on Thursday for martini night.”
Buckhead tries to gain as many impressions in the Atlanta market as it possibly can for the four percent of its annual sales that’s devoted to marketing. Kelly finds great value in the $400 to $500 he spends on mass mailers, as well as the expense for traditional advertising. He says even if it doesn’t prompt a visit, the mailers put Buckhead top of mind with consumers. “When we do that radio spot or billboard on the expressway, there is the second time and then when they drive by the restaurant and they see the signage, it all comes together,” he adds.
With several hotels in the area, Buckhead markets directly to concierge, valet and bell services staff. “We issue them all a gift card and I can add value to the gift card remotely,” Kelly says. “So every time we get a delivery to the hotel when they are on duty, they get $5 on their gift card.” He also gives them free small app coupons to hand out to guests. Kelly provides the same opportunity to shuttle, limo and cab drivers in the area and a similar program to pharmaceutical reps and meeting planners.
“Those kinds of things are a little off the beaten path, but are very specific and successful,” he says.
Kelly plans to continue these programs as the company grows. Within two years, he looks to add another Atlanta location, as well as one in a new market out of state.
Denise Greer is associate editor of Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
Today’s pizzeria customers are savvier than ever thanks in part to a growing trend in upscale options. Sure, pepperoni and cheese are still king in this industry, but customers looking for fresh, organic and locally grown toppings now have more choices than ever. Add in the rise of Neapolitan and artisan focuses, and the pizza scene has grown into a competitive landscape. We talked to 10 pizzeria operators across the country to find out the hottest new toppings for 2013 –– and how to use them.
Ingredient: Quail eggs
Pairs with: crispy soppressata, roasted potatoes, arugula
“They are perfect for Neapolitan pizza ovens because you can crack them on the pizza going in and they cook to a perfect over easy in 75 seconds.”
-Jay Jerrier, owner of Cane Rosso in Deep Ellum, Texas
Ingredient: Sweet Piquanté Peppers
Pairs with: goat cheese, pancetta, escarole, mozzarella
“The flavor and usage of peppadews is like no other topping. They are sweet, spicy, sour and tart. These peppers can pair with almost anything and can be applied fresh, whole, halved, stuffed, quartered, sautéed and come in different colors. It’s one of the most flavorful universal toppings I have ever used.”
- Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco, California, and Pizza Rock in Sacramento, California
Pairs with: provolone, onions, peppers, teriyaki, cashews, chicken, sausage
“We have captured the Asian market in this college town with this ingredient. It’s also funny to see some of the country folk around here order ‘that Kill-chee...Mim-chee...dag gum...just put some of dat spicy Chinese stuff on my pizza!’ ” Har har … it’s Korean!”
- John Gutekanst, owner of Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio
Ingredient: Hot soppressata
Pairs with: Grana Padano cheese, cherry tomatoes
“It’s the new upscale pepperoni. It has a little bit of kick to it and it offsets the freshness of the cherry tomatoes. The customers have really been taken aback by it and just love it.”
- Chris Lombardi, partner at New Jersey-based Tommy’s Coal Fired Pizza & Bar
Ingredient: fried chicken livers
Pairs with: super thin sliced lemon, Calabrian chili, olive oil, garlic & mozzarella
“Chicken livers have always been a favorite for me –– along with pizza. I love the texture and the mineral-ity of livers. We use livers from Plum Creek Farm in Burchard, Nebraska. The chickens are free range, antibiotic free, all natural, etc., which makes for super delicious livers!”
- Nick Stawhecker, chef/owner of Dante Ristorante Pizzeria in Omaha, Nebraska
Ingredient: roast pumpkin
Pairs with: salty ingredients, especially prosciutto, feta cheese or spicy sausage
“Our two most popular pizzas both contain roast pumpkin. ... We have a vegetarian pizza, which we use roast pumpkin, roasted garlic, spinach, feta zucchini and roasted bell pepper. The combination of flavors is perfect and people love it. It also looks amazing with the array of colors.”
- Adam Borich, owner of Lucifer’s Pizza in Los Angeles, California
Ingredient: Pistachio cream; walnut & pine nut cream
Pairs with: Pistachios go well with sweet Italian sausage & fresh mozzarella, while walnut and pine nut cream pairs well with coal-roasted zucchini and bufala mozzarella
“These flavors are one of our most popular new additions to our menu. They are delicate, yet flavorful. (They are) versatile and are not limited to traditional uses. Nuts make an exceptional and unexpected base for pizzas!”
-Mark Dym, owner of Marco’s Coal Fired Pizza in Denver, Colorado
Ingredient: smoked duck breast
Pairs with: gorgonzola, figs, walnuts, pistachios, red onion and pear
“We have a little smoker to house-smoke the duck breast in the wood oven. We then slice it paper thin.”
- Dave Brackett, owner of Pizzeria Rustica in Colorado Springs, Colorado
Ingredient: Conciato Romano
Pairs with: sugna, crushed black pepper, fresh basil, fresh oregano, extra virgin olive oil and fresh figs
“I was introduced to this cheese by the Lombardi family of the Agriturismo Le Campestre in Castel di Sasso, Italy. The cheese itself is considered one of the oldest cheeses in Europe dating 2,000 years to the time of the Roman Legions. It’s an aged sheep’s milk pecorino (six months to two years), and the pie itself (the Schiacciatta di Cinque Cento) is the creation of Franco Pepe of the pizzeria Pepe in Grani in Caiazzo, Italy. I love this cheese because it honors tradition and the artisinal process.”
- Jonathan Goldsmith, owner of Spacca Napoli Pizzeria in Chicago, Illinois
Ingredient: D’Anjou Pears >>>>
Pairs with: French brie, arugula, prosciutto, apricot-chili drizzle
“After 22 years in business we have a new No. 1 selling pizza: pear and Brie. Times have changed since the days of pepperoni and mushroom!”
- Peter Danis, owner of Figlio Wood Fired Pizza in Columbus, Ohio
There were countless highlights at International Pizza Expo 2013 in March. As I write this column, I’m still jet-lagged from the return trip from Vegas and still reeling from the success of the show. But of all the high points, none compare to the many great conversations I had with operators regarding Slice of Hope. After two years of building the national dine-out event that benefits breast cancer research, Slice of Hope is really starting to gain traction in the industry.
I’m pleased to announce here officially (in case you missed it at Expo) that Slice of Hope 2013 is scheduled for October 1-4. This year, we’re taking the traveling bicycle party to New England! The route will offer the cyclists the chance to challenge themselves in the idyllic, pastoral landscapes of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and western Massachusetts. We’ll conclude the event in Boston on Friday, October 4. That day has been designated National Pizza Party Day by Pizza Today and, as in years past, we ask our loyal readers to support the cause by pledging a percentage of that day’s sales.
We’ve once again partnered with the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation, a national charity based in Seattle. The Foundation’s promise is that 100 percent of the Slice of Hope money it receives will go directly to research. In fact, in 2013 the KMBCF made sizable grants to researchers at The Ohio State University, University of Washington and the University of Miami. The work done in these labs shows promise, and it couldn’t be done without your support. Plus, as a legal 501(c)3 charity, any donation you make to the KMBCF is tax-deductible.
In future issues I’ll keep you updated on Slice of Hope developments. In the meantime, please visit www.endthisdisease.org to learn more about the KMBCF.
Jeremy White, editor-in-chief
If you missed Pizza Expo or attended but could get to every seminar you wanted to hear, you can now access audiotapes and PowerPoints of this year's education programming.
Just go to the following website for an index of available downloads. You can also order the sessions on CDs, if you prefer.
There are seminars and panel discussions on nearly every issue facing today's pizzerias. Many are presented by pizza operators who willingly share their strategies for success in various aspects of running a business.
Through them, you can pick up some of the tips and techniques that abound during the Pizza Expo experience.
Photos by Josh Keown & Rick Daugherty
Pinpointing a focus in the marketplace that will enable a pizzeria to flourish even in a stagnant economy may not be immediately obvious. Sometimes it takes a little time and consideration for a concept to evolve.
That was the case for Pizza Patron, a chain with 95 locations in six southwestern states. When it opened in 1986, the first store in Houston was called Pizza Pizza, and the chain’s tight focus on serving the Hispanic customer had not yet been identified. By the time a few months had passed, founder Antonio Swad had noticed that a largely Hispanic clientele was patronizing the store. That’s when he changed the name to Pizza Patron — a word which roughly translates in Spanish to “a benevolent leader” in the community — and a brand geared to the Latin community was born.
“A little light bulb went off in his (Swad’s) head,” says Andy Gamm, brand director for Pizza Patron. “He saw an opportunity to serve an underserved, if not ignored, consumer.”
Establishing a strong brand and differentiating a pizzeria from its competitors is how the industry’s fastest-growing chains, including Pizza Patron, are succeeding despite fl at sales in 2008 and 2009 in the limited-service pizza industry, according to a recent report by Technomic, a Chicago-based restaurant consulting firm.
Pizza Patron was mentioned in the study because of its focus on the Hispanic community. Other large chains cited and the areas in which they stand out include Little Caesar’s in the value category, Pizza Fusion in healthy, zpizza and Red Brick Pizza in quality product/experience and CiCi’s Pizza for its all-you-can-eat buffet.
While large chains have advantages in making consumers aware of their brands, such as the money to wage advertising campaigns, Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic, says independent and smaller chains also can succeed by focused positioning in the marketplace, and developing a brand that customers will come to recognize. “I think, because of what large chains have accomplished, consumers have learned to differentiate among pizzerias based on such factors as the dining experience, the healthfulness or the quickness (of service),” Tristano says. “They use that information when deciding where to eat.”
Discovering or tightening a focus on brand may come about, as it did for Pizza Patron, from taking note of consumer behavior and acting on it. Despite their success, Gamm acknowledges that it is usually better to know your focus before you open a store.
“I think it is the first thing you have to decide rather than opening a store and then trying to figure it out organically,” Gamm says. For an operator already in business, asking customers what they like about the pizzeria can help them better discover their point of difference.
“You need to talk to customers, because when you look at yourself in the mirror you’re not as likely to see your flaws,” Tristano says.
Operators need to study what competitors are doing and also ask themselves some questions. “You have to look at your concept and ask yourself, ‘What do I do that’s different from my competitors?’ and, ‘Where do I fit in?,’” Tristano says. “You need to know who your customers are. Are you serving families or young males looking to get their fill of cheap pizza? What is your customers’ income level? And do your price points fit in?”
If the answer is quality, then Tristano says operators should leverage quality through how they promote the business. They need to use terms like gourmet or healthy in their marketing.
Gamm says once Pizza Patron identified its position in the market, it began using brand identity as a filter through which nearly every decision is made.
“Our entire brand is modeled to appeal to the Hispanic demographic,” Gamm says. “It dictates everything we do — from marketing and advertising, to what kinds of partners we do business with, to where we locate our stores. We don’t go into areas where there isn’t a significant Hispanic demographic.”
The company offers toppings such as chorizo that appeal to the Hispanic customer.
“We offer toppings that aren’t typically available,” says Gamm. “And we work with our manufacturer to make sure our chorizo has the color, flavor and spices that our customers expect.”
Catering to the Hispanic customer, Pizza Patron also developed a successful “Pizza for Pesos” marketing campaign that allows customers to purchase pizza using pesos. “That was a very successful campaign,” Tristano says.
“There was a lot of money laying around that customers couldn’t use, and Pizza Patron capitalized on that.”❖
Finding its focus was just as crucial to Toppers Pizza, which concentrates on the 18- to 24-yearold demographic. It has 25 stores in such Midwestern states as Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Minnesota. The company is slated to open 14 more stores in the next 24 to 36 months — and expects to have 100 by 2013.
Founded in 1991, Toppers has most of its stores in college towns like Madison, Wisconsin, which is home to the University of Wisconsin.
To reach the college-age market, Iversen says the company keeps stores open from as early as 10 a.m. to as late as 4:30 a.m. It also uses social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate with its customers and keeps its advertising fun and irreverent.
Being asked in 2006 to define their best customers helped Toppers find its identity. Says Iversen: “We were in an advertising meeting and they asked us, ‘Who loves you? Who’s fanatical about you?’ and it was easy. We said it’s the (young) people up late burning the candle at both ends.”
That answer has been a boon for the company, which is succeeding even in the down economy.
According to Iversen, projected 2010 revenues are $24 million and average per-store sales are about $950,000 (compared to the industry average of about $550,000 to $600,000).
Capitalizing on their point of difference “was huge” for the company, Iversen says. “We’ve found a niche that’s been ignored by the big guys.”
Annemarie Mannion is a freelance writer in Willowbrook, Illinois.
Photos by Josh Keown
When Chris and Kate Saville opened The Flatz Company in Wyckoff, New Jersey, about a year ago, they knew they wanted to use fresh ingredients. They just didn’t know where to find them.
“It took a lot of trial and error and calling people,” says Chris, who is from England and did not have foodservice experience in the U.S. “It was a puzzle in some ways.” He quickly found that he needed more than one vendor. Food distribution giant Sysco could source tomatoes, lettuce and other fresh produce from California, where certain items are available year-round. Seasonal fruits such as berries for smoothies would come from New Jersey. For gourmet items, The Flatz Co. buys from a specialty vendor.
Saville says he juggles various vendor contracts because offering fresh ingredients fits with the eatery’s mission to offer high quality, healthy, thin-crust pizzas. If people are going to spend $14 for a single serving pie, they want organic exotic mushrooms and bacon from heritage breed pigs. Also, he says, there’s a practical reason for offering fresh ingredients. “We have a tiny freezer space, and we can use it only for ice cream and frozen yogurt.”
As more customers demand fresh ingredients, even in the off-season, operators are responding. That means they have to look for the right vendors, get creative with the menu, and become experts at ordering.
For some, the challenge is not only how to buy fresh ingredients, but also how to find produce that is grown locally, answering another important consumer trend. Renee Kreager, who with her husband, Steven, co-own Eclectic Pizza in Tucson, Arizona, says they buy tomatoes from a supplier in Wilcox, Arizona. “They have a greenhouse, so we are able to get their tomatoes year ‘round,” she says. She buys soy organic cheese from a small business in Tucson and coffee from a local roaster. Another giant distributor, U.S. Foods, provides other ingredients.
Tomatoes aren’t the only ingredients that are grown indoors and are available year-round. Rob Beall, CEO of 100-unit Ledo Pizza, says the Annapolis, Maryland-based company buys mushrooms from a family owned farm in Pennsylvania. “We are family owned, we sell franchises to local families, and many of our vendors are family owned companies,” says Beall, who is third generation at Ledo Pizza.
Some operators change the menu as the seasons change. Troy Mains, executive chef at No. 10 Water Restaurant in Brunswick, Maine, says he buys produce locally. In February, for example, potatoes are available, as are brussels sprouts. So Mains, who offers Gourmet Pizza Night every Tuesday, offers thinly sliced potatoes and truffle oil on pizza. Another topping option is pickled brussels sprouts. “You have to get creative during winter,” he says. He adds that walking through the farmers market is also a good way to get information and recipe ideas.
Mains estimates that the fresh vegetables cost about double what the canned versions cost. His food costs at the high-end restaurant are 28 to 33 percent. “It works because of menu incorporation,” he explains. “If I buy 100 pounds of potatoes, we are using potatoes for other things on the menu.”
Expensive ingredients don’t always lead to high food costs. One way to keep food costs down is to limit waste. Kreager uses tomatoes in more than one recipe. Perfect-looking tomatoes are sliced for salads, where they can be showcased. “We really pride ourselves in our salads being super fresh,” she says. The less beautiful tomatoes are chopped as a topping or diced for salsa.
It helps to have a limited menu, says Saville. The Flatz Company offers 14 different pies, or customers can create their own from a short list of gourmet toppings. “It’s not like we have to order a vast array of different things,” he says. “It allows us to make sure we use everything, and not have anything laying around and not ever being used.” He offers one type of lettuce, romaine, for salads and as a pizza topping. (Yes, he says, lettuce is a popular topping.) Other ingredients that work well as pizza toppings and for salads include cherry tomatoes, bacon and fresh mozzarella.
Another way to reduce waste is to place small orders with vendors and have food delivered a few times a week instead of one large weekly order. Eclectic Pizza places orders to be delivered Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. If it looks like they still have a large amount of an ingredient heading into the weekend, Kreager calls and revises the Saturday delivery. She also makes sure she sees the orders when they arrive. “If I can see one tomato busted open, I know it will affect the tomatoes around it. So I can say, ‘these four are bad,’ and I either get a refund on them or they bring me new ones.”
If, after all the careful planning there is still too much of one ingredient, she finds a way to repurpose. For example, red peppers are not exactly the most popular pizza topping. So if Kreager ends up with too many, she roasts them and adds them to salads.
She says customers will pay more if they know the ingredients are fresh and high quality. “People do understand it is a costly thing,” she says. “What you’re paying for is great organic food for less than $20 dollars a head.” u
Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in food and business topics. She lives in Denver, Colorado.
Photo by Josh Keown
“Your pizza sucks,” signed an ambiguous online customer reviewer.
Most operators can relate to receiving a similar review on one of the many user-generated customer review Web sites. It’s just sitting out there for the world to see when someone searches for your pizzeria online.
There’s a buzz from owners who are finding online user-generated reviews frustrating and downright unfair. Others choose to ignore them all together. Big mistakes, says Kathleen Ion, Internet marketing consultant at WSI IM Solutions, LLC in Phoenix, Arizona. “You have an online reputation whether you want one or not,” she says.
With the popularity of mobile devices and apps designed to make reviewing quicker and easier, Ion says the use of online review sites is only going to grow.
Your online reputation encompasses more than review sites, it also includes comments on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, as well as the wide blogosphere.
Projecting a positive online reputation lies in your hands. As the saying goes, “The best defense is a good
offense.” There are a number of avenues you can take both on and offline. First things first –– claim your business on customer review sites, putting you in charge of those reviews by giving you the option to respond to positive and negative reviews. It also gives you the ability to post menus, photos and links to your Web address and e-mail.
Monitor your online reputation, whether you do it yourself, assign it to a crewmember or hire outside help. The first two may not cost you a dime. But if you choose to hire an outside monitoring service, prepare to pay. “It’s really comparable to advertising,” Ion says, adding that a proprietary system that monitors a company’s rep can cost $400 per month to several thousands depending on how aggressive they want to monitor.
If you’re handling it yourself, Ion suggest that you should visit Google, Bing and Yahoo daily to search your restaurant’s name to see what is popping up. She also suggests searching review sites, as well as Facebook and Twitter for comments about your place.
There is nothing wrong with asking your loyal customers to post reviews. “Institute a process or procedure for their wait staff — when customers are very happy — to ask them to post a review,” Ion says. If the occasional bad review occurs, Ion says, “if there is enough (positive) stuff out there about them, before long the good is going to outweigh the bad.”
Post QR Codes directing customers to review your restaurant on sites like Yelp, Urbanspoon, Google, etc., Ion suggests. Place flyers at the register and table tents requesting reviews.
It’s not tragic to have the occasional bad review, Ion insists. Operators can learn of areas to improve. She adds, “it makes things sound more believable instead of seeing nothing but five-star ratings.
So what do you do about a bad review? Respond. “If it’s someone you know, then by all means call them,” Ion says, explaining that the customer may pull down the review if you attempt to rectify the situation.
If your only option is to reply online to the comment, “Explain your side but don’t be contrived and don’t insult them…just be professional,” Ion says.
An area of concern for many operators is “fake” comments by competitors and former employees. In this case, you have an option to appeal to the review site itself. Have your ducks in a row with the information on the individual in question. Review sites require its posters to sign up so they do have some information regarding the person. Ion says in those cases sometimes the site will take the reviews down.
Los Angeles-based Fresh Brothers Pizza has a strong online reputation, with a four-star rating on most review sites. They stay proactive by receiving Google alerts, a free service that lets them know when the pizzeria is mentioned. When Fresh Brothers receives a bad review, owner Debbie Goldberg says, they “remain calm, cool and collected. We address the problem or complaint. We ask for their address so we can send them a gift certificate and then we encourage people to update their reviews.”
Craig Mosmen at The Couch Tomato Café in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, says the pizzeria’s online rep is important. “Our marketing feedback forms provide us with proof that many new customers find us online, and try us out because of our online reputation.” He personally checks his Web site feedback and comments left on Urbanspoon, Yelp, Menupages, Yahoo, Bing, Google,
Zagat, and Insidepages almost daily.
Melissa Ferriman of Crazy Dough’s Pizza in Boston is quick to respond to online comments and she’s noticed a trend. “I have found that if they know you are out there actually reading and responding to your online feedback, they will spend the time to give you real information that can help you improve your business and gauge how you are doing,” she says.
And sometimes, it’s just good to have a little fun with reviews. Staff members at Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco were brainstorming ideas for new crew shirts. “As a joke, they thought it would be fun to print bad Yelp reviews on t-shirts,” says owner Anne Stroll.
Ann chose the five worst reviews like “This Place Sucks!” and “The pizza was soooo greasy. I am assuming this was in part due to the pig fat.” The reviews were placed in large, white, all-caps lettering on black t-shirts. Staff members loved them and still continue to wear them today, she adds.
Not intended to be a publicity stunt, Pizzeria Delfina made local and national news for its staff’s ingenuity.
Just like other aspects of your business, have a plan to create a positive online rep.
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
Seasonal produce has a lot going for it — it’s generally less expensive than out-of-season produce, it’s at peak flavor and freshness and it represents a desirable set of core values. Seasonal walks hand in hand with fresh. And with local. And with quality. Those values may sound abstract, but they can translate into dollars when diners use them as part of their moral compass, pointing them toward where they should eat. The challenge then is how to incorporate seasonal vegetables onto pizza menus without rewriting the playbook. Pizza Today talked to two operators taking distinct approaches to the seasonal-pizza strategy, but each with the same successful result.
Pitfire Pizza is a micro chain worth a second look. Currently with four units in Southern California and two more slated for later in the year, this successful fast-casual concept serves what it calls “artisan casual,” keying into a California-born DNA of rustic, fresh and local. Pitfire, specializing in thin-crusted, wood-fired pizza, offers 10 pies on its standard menu. Diners seek out regulars, like Greens, Egg & Ham, sporting braised rapini, natural prosciutto and a farm egg. The Pepperoni boasts natural pepperoni, fresh mozzarella and torn basil. But diners also look to the marquis-styled specials board, which changes four times a year. Typically, the seasonal-special board offers three pizzas, a salad, a farmer’s market plate, a soup and a pasta.
“One of the strongest pillars of this business is my relationship with farmers’ markets,” says Paul Hibler, co-owner and co-founder of Pitfire. “Sourcing sustainable, local ingredients is who we are, so we focus our resources on making it happen.” Indeed, produce accounts for Pitfire’s largest purchasing fulfillment — greater even than its cheese purchasing. Pitfire doesn’t use a national grocer; it sources produce from a local company, buying direct. “We’re a 12-year-old company,” says Hibler. “We don’t do coupons. We don’t do marketing. We put all of our dollars on the plate.”
And those plates proudly host a celebration of seasonality. In the spring, diners may see an artichoke pizza with braised baby purple artichokes, blistered cherry tomatoes, local ricotta cheese, sautéed spinach and olives. Summer is all about heirloom tomatoes. At Pitfire, they slice them paper thin, air dry them, collecting the liquid from the tomatoes and making it into a basil-scented syrup. Dough topped with ricotta, Parmesan and heavy cream is fired, then topped with the cold tomato slices and drizzled with the tomato syrup. “The heirloom
tomatoes are beautiful and so fresh tasting,” says Hibler. “We like presenting it raw because it showcases the simple, perfect flavors really well.” In the fall and winter, diners anticipate a pumpkin pizza: roasted chunks of kabocha squash (Japanese pumpkin), braised Swiss chard, fontina, fresh mozzarella, pepitas, pumpkin oil and chili flakes, with a finish of brown butter and fresh sage.
Savvy cross utilization is key to managing the food cost of seasonal produce, says Hibler. “You have to be smart about it,” he says. “You have to find at least two uses for whatever vegetable you’re bringing in fresh.” The seasonal special board helps Pitfire with that, so asparagus might be featured on a pizza, but it will also pop up on the farmers’ market plate, perhaps grilled and dusted with Parmesan and panko breadcrumbs. He also manages food cost by using state-of-the-art accounting software, employing a kitchen manager in each unit and training the staff really well. “Independents can incorporate seasonality, too, even if it isn’t part of their brand,” says Hibler. “Go to farmers’ markets. Pick one seasonal vegetable and build a pizza around that. It’s doable — and today’s customers will appreciate it.”
That’s exactly what Zocca Cuisine di Italia at the Westin Riverwalk Hotel in San Antonio, Texas, does. It runs a pizza del giorno, changing it out to reflect both seasonality and creativity, says Jeff Foresman, executive chef at the hotel. The restaurant’s core list of pizzas features the always-popular Margherita pizza, as well as an Italian sausage pie and a wild-mushroom one. “We’re a Northern Italian restaurant, so we serve simple, rustic, flavorful food.” Pizzas here are hand-tossed and free-formed, which fits in well with its rustic, artisan sensibility.
Foresman has an interesting way of highlighting the specialness of seasonal vegetables on pizza. “We try to do something unique to the vegetable, so it stands out,” he says. So, for instance, on a summer-season pie that sports summer vegetables, such as zucchini and bell peppers from the farmers’ market, he’ll grill them, then cut them into chunks, say, rather than slices. “It gives them a different look and mouthfeel, and really highlights them on the pizza,” he says.
Or he’ll add character and menu interest in how he prepares the seasonal vegetable. In winter, a daily special pizza may feature escarole or kale braised in Barolo, a robust Italian red wine. He’ll use fontina to match the heartier greens. Or diners may see a root-vegetable pizza in the fall or winter at Zocca. Foresman thinly slices and caramelizes red and yellow beets, parsnips and sweet potatoes. He lays them over a very thin layer of housemade pomodoro sauce and then bakes the pizza. As a crispy finish, he adds fried spinach.
For more delicate vegetables, he highlights them as a finish on the seasonal-vegetable pizzas. In the spring, diners might see a pizza topped with roasted eggplant, caramelized garlic and Asiago cheese with a very light tomato sauce (diced tomatoes sweated with garlic and olive oil). He finishes the pizza with farmers’ market arugula tossed in extra-virgin olive oil. In the fall, a duck confit and local goat cheese pizza gets a finish of fresh figs. “Showcasing the best of what the season has to offer isn’t difficult,” says Foresman. “Pick a few simple, fresh ingredients and let those guide you.”
Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
//Seasonal \\ Veggies
Corn, Pears, Vidalia
/// SEASONAL VEGETABLES
5 Summer Pizza Toppings Corn
5 Fall Pizza Toppings
5 Winter Pizza Toppings
5 Spring Pizza Toppings
Is your bottom line being adversely affected by food costs? If so, Big Dave Ostrander has this to say:
“After I realized that I was leaving tens of thousands of profit dollars unaccounted for, I studied and achieved the perfect food cost month in and month out. The biggest breakthroughs I discovered were:
- Placing in-line portion control scales on my make line
- Pre-weighing cheese cups
- Placing portion size cheat sheets at eye level with my cooks
- Having high accountability for achieving food cost on my managers’ shoulders. This meant rewards and penalties.”
There you have it. Get started today.
A sticky dough can indeed create a sticky situation. There are a number of things that can cause the condition, therefore there are a number of solutions to the problems. Some of the more common reasons for sticky dough and the appropriate solutions are as follows:
Excessive Dough Absorption: This results in a decidedly wet, tacky feel. The only real corrective action is to reduce the amount of water added to the dough. I generally recommend making these corrections in increments of two percent (based on the weight of flour in the dough).
Under-mixed Dough: This has a sticky feel. Any dough that has not been mixed long enough to develop a smooth skin on it during the mixing stage will likely be somewhat sticky. Some people don’t find this to be a problem because they use a lot of dusting flour as a part of their crust’s signature.
Excessive Use of Malt: This can result in a sticky dough that just doesn’t seem to be corrected by any changes to the dough absorption or mixing time. The only corrective action is to reduce the amount of malt syrup added to the dough, or to change over to a non-diastatic (enzyme free) malt syrup. What is happening here is that the amylase enzyme in the malt syrup is breaking down part of the starch in the flour and converting it to fermentable sugars for metabolism by the yeast. Wen these starches are hydrolyzed, the water that they are holding is released into the dough and that, combined with the newly formed sugars, creates a decidedly sticky dough feel.
Every few years we hear about wheat that has sprouted while it is still in the field awaiting harvest. When the wheat sprouts, the enzymatic activity increases in a hurry, and when this wheat finds its way into your flour, it will result in a higher than normal enzyme activity in the flour. Here in the U.S. this is seldom a problem as the flour millers are diligent in keeping this from happening. But for readers in other countries, you may not be as fortunate. In this case, just be sure to put a light coating of oil on the dough before you remove it from the mixer. This should help to alleviate some of the stickiness.
Insufficient Salt Content: This creates dough stickiness that can easily be corrected by increasing the salt level to at least 1.75 percent of the weight of flour used in the formula.
Incorrect Hydration of Active Dry Yeast: When this is the case, some of the glutathione from the ADY is leached out. ADY should always be hydrated in warm water (105-110 F). If the ADY is hydrated in cold water, the glutathione that is leached out of the yeast can easily cause a soft, slightly sticky dough condition. In this case, it should also be noted that the dough performance will probably be less than ideal due to the impaired yeast condition. This can also happen with instant dry yeast that is hydrated in cold water.
In the end, if you find yourself in a sticky situation, just remember that application of oil to the dough is probably the single most effective action to take, regardless of the cause of the stickiness.
Photos by Josh Keown
Many restaurant operators treat beverages as an afterthought — an oversight that can show up in your bottom line, says restaurant consultant Annette Fazio, owner of York, Maine-based Using Your Noodle in Business.
Maintaining Pricing Accuracy
Looking at sales volume, costs and profit margins can help operators determine if they’ve priced correctly, says consultant Annette Fazio. Monitoring costs is especially critical for pricing accuracy, especially considering fluctuating commodity costs, says Aaron Allen, also a restaurant consultant. Because of the day-to-day fires popping up, operators often neglect to analyze as closely and as deeply as they should, he explains. Allen suggests establishing key performance indicators, monitoring them in real time. Other tips to ensure pricing accuracy include:
- Use the correct glassware, says Allen. Have recipes for everything.
- Calculate in things like refills on coffee, tea and fountain drinks, say both consultants, adding this is something commonly overlooked. Remember, when pricing beverages, people use things like cream, lemon, sweeteners and stirrers.
- It’s challenging to generalize about profit margins, says Allen, since different beverages — alcoholic, juices, water, sodas, bottled, fountain, and so on — all have different profit ranges, he explains. Fazio says for beverages as a whole, profit margins should average 20 to 25 percent. “Although if you’re a really upscale operation you should look at the competition,” she says. “Because even at 20 percent, you could still be charging several dollars less than the competition.”
“They should really take a look at beverages because this is where you can bring in a little more money and can do so without loading up your inventory and creating more work,” she says.
There are several factors restaurant operators should consider when establishing beverage prices, say Fazio and Allen. These are:
- The concept, format and clientele. Are you mainly dine-in, takeout or delivery? Fast casual, QSr or fine dining? Positioning is also important, Allen says. “Some may want to be perceived as higher end, some may want to be more value-added.”
“You have to know what your business is,” says Jeff Miller, who owns two extreme Pizza franchises. Both in Northern California, they do mainly delivery; dine-in comprises about 20 to 25 percent of the business. They serve beer, wine, soda, juices and bottled water. Beer and wine sales account for two percent of their overall sales; nonalcoholic beverages contribute six percent, says Miller, adding that his customer base is a mix of business, family and college students.
“I knew going in that beverages would be less than 10 percent of our overall revenue,” he says. “Our business model is gourmet pizza; we’re not a sports bar.” Then there’s Shorty’s. with two Georgia locations (in Atlanta and Tucker), Shorty’s offers full bars, plus live music and dancing in the Tucker restaurant, says owner Brian wilson. Beer/wine and liquor sales account for 20 percent and seven percent of the total sales respectively at the Tucker restaurant, which is in a suburban area.
The Atlanta restaurant is more urban, wilson says. Beer/wine sales are about 18 percent; liquor is three percent. There, thanks to a more business clientele, wine sales are higher. For both operations, nonalcoholic beverage sales are classified with food; at the Atlanta restaurant, food sales are just under 80 percent.
“This reflects our focus on food,” he explains. “even though we’re close to emery University, kids don’t go to a pizza restaurant to pound beers.”
- The competition. “Competitive analysis is important; we don’t want to charge more than the competition,” says wilson. “See what competitors are charging and don’t charge more; charge less if you can.”
- Compare concepts in the same tier as yours; like to like, says Miller.
- Be thorough, advises Allen. Check type, size, if refills are free and what incidentals and add-ons are provided.
- Consider your marketing and positioning strategy; the experience you’re offering guests, says Allen. If the experience is upscale or unique, you may be able to get away with charging a bit more. And keep your competitors confused; make your own signature drinks, says Fazio, and “you can charge more for these. Plus customers like them and it won’t be as easy for the competition to shop you.”
- Consider your costs. when wilson first opened, he priced on what the market would bear. Now, although he doesn’t want to charge more than the competition, he does factor in costs, raising prices if costs demand it (wilson’s end-of-month beverage costs run 30 to 33 percent).
“In the last couple of years we’ve gone up on our draft beer prices considerably,” he says. “People love craft beers and microbrews, so we’re completely comfortable the market will tolerate it.”
Miller runs his cost of goods at around 28 percent with beverages making up about two percent of that. “If my costs go up by five percent, I’ll evaluate if I can raise my prices,” Miller says. “I scout the competition first. But if they haven’t raised their prices I’d still raise mine if the cost of goods warranted it.”
Allen’s reluctant to generalize about costs, explaining these can vary based on the concept, and what’s being served and how. However, he says that on average, the combined costs of beer, wine and liquor should be around 22 percent; Fazio’s estimate is around 23 percent (including nonalcoholic beverages). Offering nonalcoholic beverage only? Fazio estimates costs should be no more than 18 percent, depending on type (fountain, bottle, juice boxes, etc).
Ultimately, all the above factors considered, pricing remains very individual, says Fazio. “You have to go with what you’re comfortable with and be able to defend it.”
Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelancer specializing in writing on topics of interest to all manner of businesses. She is based in Long Beach, California.
Well, I certainly hope not! But 99 percent of restaurants that shut down or don’t meet their sales expectations—those rosy prognostications made as the doors first open—do so because they haven’t developed a plan for success. And of course, not planning for success immediately defaults to planning to fail.
Most restaurants trudge along for years without having a sales-building marketing plan, and they take comfort in being just another average dining venue. When this happens, a competitive restaurant—suddenly and without notice—opens in the neighborhood. With a plan in hand, the newcomer soon dominates the marketplace.
It’s critical to not let this happen to you.
If having a plan is so important to the success of a restaurant, why do so many go without one? The answer is simple: No one ever took the time to teach you, a restaurant owner, how to write a plan—and if they tried, you were probably scared off. It’s hard to embrace marketing-speak terms like “objectives” and “strategies.” And you can’t be blamed for thinking that you’d have to write a lengthy “War and Peace” 100-page plan, one that could became obsolete the moment it’s completed. All of that is enough to discourage anyone from drawing up a plan—including me!
There are easy and fun ways to write a plan—and have your key staffers involved too—that won’t take you months and months of drudgery to complete. I’ll be conducting a pre-show Pizza Expo workshop on Monday, March 18, on how to fashion your own six-month sales building plan—and I’ll show you how to format it in less than 30 minutes.
If you’re mind is channeled to succeed, I would argue that having a plan can be the best thing you’ve ever done for your business and your personal life.
What Is a Plan?
A plan is a simple document that answers the following questions:
1. What do you want?
2. When do you want it by?
3. How are you going to get what you want?
4. Who’s going to hold you accountable for getting what you want?
Why You Need a Sales-Building Plan
1. Most businesses live in mediocrity, not reaching their full potential. A plan enables a business to reach for greatness.
2. A plan enables you to wake up each morning with an already-expressed knowledge of your goals and dreams. Then you can pursue them.
3. A plan enables you to know exactly where to go and what to do to grow your business, rather than scratching your head every day, guessing and hoping for the best.
4. A plan helps you get what you want and helps you fulfill your dreams.
5. A plan lets you work less and spend more time with your family.
6. A plan can clear your head of minutia and get you out of the daily firefighting mode.
7. A plan can tell you what you know and, better yet, what you have to learn to be more successful.
8. A plan gives you an advantage over your competition.
9. A plan actually gives you a say in how you want your life to be and your restaurant to work out.
10. A plan takes you out of the comfort zone.
11. Having a plan puts the fun back into your work.
12. And finally … a plan makes you UNSTOPPABLE!
The Baseball Stadium Workshop
At this year’s Pizza Expo, I’ll be presenting my Baseball Stadium Workshop—a session that teaches you how to write a sales-building plan using a baseball stadium as a template. You’ll have this easy-to-understand model completed in less than 20 minutes.
I’ve had restaurants use this plan and show sales increases of up to 22 percent over previous years.
Here’s a glimpse of how it works: With your restaurant at home plate, you’ll round the bases—with each base representing a critical marketing component about your restaurant. First base is your all-important first impression, and you may realize through this exercise that your customers aren’t visiting you enough simply because you’re not doing enough to get them to first base.
While the infield contains everything about your restaurant that will increase sales, increase the frequency of visits and encourage group sales, the outfield is where your most important and potential customers live, work and play. I’ll show you how to hit a home run with them!
The Baseball Stadium Workshop is a planning model that I designed five years ago. It is an exclusive—with material you won’t hear from anyone else. I’m excited to be sharing it with Pizza Expo attendees. It’s unique and energizing, and it delivers real results.
Joel Cohen (RestaurantMarketing.com) is a regular speaker at Pizza Expo on sales and marketing topics. He will present seminars at Expo this coming March on fine-tuning your marketing mix and word-of-mouth marketing, as well as moderate a Power Panel on social media marketing. His workshop described above, “A Custom 6-Month Sales-Building Plan for Your Pizzeria,” will be held during pre-show programming on Monday, March 18.
For more details on International Pizza Expo 2013, visit www.pizzaexpo.com.
Photos By Rick Daugherty
Tony and Harry Disilvestro aren’t your typical beach town residents. their company, ynot Pizza & italian Cuisine, doesn’t cater to the hoards of tourists who fill Virginia beach during the warm months. they don’t cater to spring breakers, and they don’t feature portraits of sandy scenery on their walls. what they do bring to the proverbial table is a taste of home –– the Jersey shore, about a 20-minute drive outside of New York, where they spent their formative years spinning pies before transplanting to Virginia beach in the early 1990s.
“We started as kids, you know, 15 years old (and) making pizza,” tony says. “A friend of the family just kind of roped us in at a young age, and we’ve been doing it ever since. We’ve just run the gamut from there –– fine dining, italian restaurants, pizzerias …we’ve probably (worked in) 20 different pizzerias.”
When the time came to open their own, “at first, we thought we were going to open up and people were going to come to the counter and order,” Tony adds. “The first customer came in and sat down at the table, and all of a sudden we have waitress service.”
The company was founded by tony and his wife, Cindy. Harry Disilvestro later joined the couple in the venture, which has since evolved to five pizzerias in the region with sales expected at more than $9.5 million by the end of 2012. “Our demographic is families, obviously,” says Tony.
“That’s where we like to be.” still the most recent location opened on the campus of old Dominion University, so they’re able to target both students and neighborhoods. Dine-in accounts for 50 percent of sales, with delivery at 30 percent and carryout at about 20 percent.
YNOT’s menu started with pizza and pasta but has evolved to include appetizers, chopped salads, pasta creations, plated entrées like veal Parmigiana and mussels marinara, cold and hot subs, gluten-free pizzas (up
to 70 a week) wraps and desserts ––including house-made gelato.
“We’re just constantly making sure that the brand is fresh and new,” says tony. “That’s very important to us. we don’t sit still well.”
Harry is quick to add that “we never jeopardize quality. it’s always been to improve quality and service.” “I think the second you start sitting idle, you’re in trouble,” Tony adds, “especially in this changing industry that we’re in today.”
Pizza accounts for 40- to 50-percent of sales, and they make as much in- house as possible, including dough, sauces, lasagna and soups. “obviously, pizza is our no. 1 item,” Tony says, and while pepperoni is an obvious choice, the white pizza with spinach and tomato ($15.50 for a 14-inch and $18.50 for an 18-inch) is popular.
They added chopped salads, which lend a healthier option to their menu to keep up with customer demand. (the Cindy salad, a greek salad named after Tony’s wife, is a favorite.) the chopped salad menu offers 36 different options from which to choose, “and it’s just opened us up to a whole different market,” Tony says.
“We started looking at other chains and seeing what they were doing and their positioning towards, say, women and athletes and helping people try to be healthy. it was pretty obvious that being in the pizza industry, we didn’t have that appeal.”
Since pizza already encourages customization, adding that create-your-own element to both their salads and pastas has allowed them a greater market share. “It really comes down to (the fact that) the customer has many choices and they’re not just stuck to a menu,” harry says. “you can truly create your own meal.”
Ynot has impressive display cases in its stores that show off their desserts, which includes cakes, cookies and pastries sourced from New Jersey, New york and local bakeries. They used to make their own because “when we first opened down here, we didn’t have the availability,”Tony says. “So now, with distributors consolidating as much as they are, it’s much easier to bring in product from New York and New Jersey.”
Beer, wine and a full bar are available but make up only about 10 percent of sales. Much of that is craft beer. with 40 different offerings from which to choose, “it’s just a huge niche market for us,” Tony says.
“For years, you paired wine with food,” harry says. “now it’s getting to the point where our servers are actually savvy enough to start pairing beer with certain dishes.”
While making so much in-house is labor intensive, “Tony and I are out there every day trying to find the best prices that we can get for the best product out there that we can get,” Harry says. “and that’s a big part of our job every week.”
they use their POS system to keep track of labor and food costs “and we apply that to our everyday business not only with us but with our managers at weekly meetings –– knowing where their food cost is and where the labor cost is,” Harry says. “It’s a daily conversation at our restaurants.”
Harry says utilizing their Pos system is key to keeping track of rising costs and encourages other operators to learn how to best utilize their own equipment. “I do think there are a lot of people out there who do spend a lot of money (on POS systems) and don’t get a lot of bang for their buck.”
Ynot also has one manager for every 10 staff members, “and they really keep a close eye on their scheduling and overtime predictors,” Tony says.
Management is open with the company’s 260 employees, and shares those critical food and labor numbers with them to foster a sense of awareness and responsibility. “in the restaurant business, that day-to- day operation can be overwhelming to the point where you’re not taking the time to look at those numbers,” Harry says.
Cross-utilizing products, such as using some salad ingredients on pizzas and receiving deliveries twice a week, ensures freshness. “We try not to keep (product) more than three days on our shelves,” Tony says.
And when it comes to getting the word out about YNot, they don’t shy away from marketing, “which is huge for us,” Tony says. “We do a ton of social media, e-mail blasts, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest … If there’s something new out there, we’re trying it.”
“Probably about four years ago we realized we were doing the same thing year after year and how quick everything was changing,” adds harry. they dropped more traditional marketing avenues, such as the local telephone book, in favor of more dynamic opportunities and they hired an outside company to manage most of their media. still, word of mouth remains their best marketing outlet. as part of their brand awareness, they hold events with local college and sports teams, participate in the special olympics and charity walks and even host their own event, known as the Ynot Pizza olympics (contestants attend qualifying events similar to those at the world Pizza games at international Pizza expo at each store before competing at a local italian festival.) “that’s the kind of branding that we do,” Tony says. “we’re all about the community.”
E-mail blasts have been successful –– packed with videos from their events –– and online ordering adds $2 to $3 to each guest check. “retaining e-mail addresses is a huge part of our business,” Tony says.
The DiSilvestros own the majority of the stock in their restaurants, with three franchised by long-term employees. “expansion is coming from our employees. it’s coming from within,”tony says. “these people have been standing beside us for 60 hours a week for 19 years and when you put them in their own store, they know the business, and they know it well.”
Says Harry: “I think you always hear about owners who start multiple locations and spread themselves out too thin. with all of our other locations, there’s peace of mind knowing somebody’s doing the right job on the other side of town.” they’ve had locations with partners in the past but found it difficult to control brand consistency. Franchising with their own employees seems to work and a sixth location is under negotiation, but “we’ll never expand faster than our crew,” tony says. “Our expansion plans are just to continue growth and to control growth.”
The focus, say the Disilvestros, is quality over quantity, and they’re not out actively selling franchises just for the sake of expansion. “we could stop now if we wanted,” harry says, “but as long as these employees are coming up and they’re willing to march on with us, let’s do it.”
Mandy Detwiler is managing editor of Pizza Today.