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
Watch the full story: wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather
ServSafe, a food safety and beverage safety training and certification program administered by the National Restaurant Association, offers criteria for delivery temperatures. For ServSafe guidelines, click here.
Read WAVE3’s full article here.
With blazing hot summer months upon us, it begs the questions: Are your receiving managers trained to check temperatures of all incoming food?
Click here to flip through Time’s slideshow.
What have been the most influential pizza innovations for your pizzeria?
3D-printed food? NASA has awarded mechanical engineer Anjan Contractor a $125,000 grant to build a 3D food printer prototype that will start by creating pizza. The goal is to provide astronauts with the popular meal on long-distance space travel. This space-age plan has aspirations on this planet to cut waste and aid in food shortages around the world.
The idea is that the cartridge in the 3D printers will consist of replaceable powder units that will print a pizza in layers, starting with the dough, applying powdered tomato sauce that has been mixed with water and toppings. The printing process will cook the pizza. Cartridges will last 30 years. Within a few weeks, a prototype will attempt to print a pizza. It’s an out-of-this-world idea. What does the pizza industry think of the idea?
Check out the full story: NASA is funding a 3D food printer, and it'll start with pizza
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
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.
Photos by Josh Keown
Keeping an even staff level throughout the year is a great thing. You know your employees, they know their roles and staff turnover is steady and predictable. But for some pizzerias, that’s not an option. Summer comes on strong, and with it, a huge spike in demand. Pizzerias in tourist areas have to bring in large numbers of temporary workers. Pizzerias in college towns can see half their workforce packing up and heading home for the summer. But how can you find good seasonal employees — and how can you train them efficiently?
Terry Perrella has found a way to avoid the problem entirely. The owner and manager of Sammy’s Pizza in downtown Duluth, Minnesota, is definitely familiar with the summer rush — he goes from eight tables a night in winter to around 30 on a busy summer evening. But to avoid the time and expense of training temporary workers, he asks his staff to work more instead. Since school is out for the summer, his part-time workers are able to work extra hours, and they’re often glad for the opportunity. “I got high school and college kids, they don’t work more than two shifts,” Perrella says. “In the summer they want to work five shifts.”
Giving your workers extra hours is a simple solution, but it’s not always an option. Many employees want time off for travel or vacations, and college students from out of town may go back home for the summer. This can leave gaps that are difficult to fill. As the co-owner of Bulldog Pizza and Grill, a Duluth pizzeria sandwiched between two colleges and a high school, Sue Wright has a lot of experience with student employees. She says that when graduations and summer plans start to shrink her pool of workers, she just takes out her Rolodex.
“When we’ve been in a bind we’ve called people who are former employees, who left on good terms,” Wright says. “These people who are leaving to go to college, they’re always welcome back if we feel they’re doing a great job.”
Of course, not everyone wants to come back. Dave Coleman is a founder and co-owner of Prospector’s Pizzeria and Alehouse and two other restaurants near Alaska’s Denali National Park. The three restaurants together go from seven employees in the winter to 200 in the summer, and only 25 percent return from previous years. “You really want to retain the best employees summer after summer, (but) a lot can happen in eight months,” Coleman says. “That’s what’s so challenging about seasonal hiring.”
Coleman and his partners start screening applications on January 1, and they conduct two rounds of phone interviews. They look for people who are truly determined to get the job, because those people are motivated to keep it.
“Eighty to 90 percent of all our hiring is done in those first couple weeks in February,” Coleman says. “The earlier hires usually are ones that have already determined they want to come here. What is key is getting the staff motivated.”
Motivation is especially important for seasonal employees, who are hired specifically to deal with thick crowds and long hours. For this reason, it’s important for owners to vet temporary employees themselves.
Brian Hutchinson has learned this the hard way. As manager and part owner of Pazzo’s Pizza, a three-unit chain in the mountains of Colorado, he’s seen his share of ski bums and the generally unmotivated. But some of his worst workers have come from a temp agency. “Last year I ended up with a couple of real duds,” Hutchinson says. “They started in November, they weren’t very good workers, (and) they wanted to leave in February. From then on I said, ‘I’m not hiring until they get here.’”
Even after you find motivated workers, you have to train them. Howard Cannon, CEO of Restaurant Consultants of America, recommends that operators keep training tightly focused for their temporary employees.
“Don’t cross-train the employees,” Cannon says. “Just hire them for one area in one specific time slot.”
Hutchinson, however, says that even temporary employees should have a full understanding of the business. His approach is trial by fire, and he expects short-term workers to know nearly as much as veterans.
“Just give them the standard training program,” he says. “If they’re not great in a couple days, we can kind of tell.”
A third option is group training. David McCarthy, also a founder and co-owner of Prospector’s Pizzeria, says that they’ve refined a system that allows them to train 200 one week before they open for the season. You probably won’t have the luxury of a dedicated training week, but you can apply the principles behind it. By providing hands-on training, matching less experienced workers with more experienced ones, and printing out step-by-step instructions for each and every position, you can give your temporary employees a chance to excel from their very first day.
“When guests show up, the No. 1 compliment we receive is ‘this feels like this has been open all year,’” McCarthy says. “That is the secret to success of a seasonal business.”
Robert Lillegard is a freelance writer in Duluth, Minnesota.
Photos by Josh Keown
Imagine your customers ordering their pizza not by the inch –– but by the pound. And the goal? Getting them to polish it off in-house for a chance at t-shirts and cash but best of all, glory.
Such is the idea behind eating challenges popping up in restaurants across the country. Televised events, such as the Travel Channel’s “Man vs. Food” and Nathan’s Famous July Fourth International Hot Dog Eating Contest have made competitive eating a sport, and it’s one that our industry can –– and should be –– cashing in on.
At The Original Graziano’s Pizza in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Monster Pizza Challenge features two-and-a-half pounds of dough, one-and-a-half pounds of sauce, and two pounds each of mozzarella, meat and vegetables. That’s a whopping 10 pounds of pizza, and if two people conquer it in 45 minutes, they win the cost of the pizza, two free pizzas and t-shirts. The pizza is priced at $48 and runs a food cost of about 30 percent.
Owner Paul Otto says he came up with the idea about three-and-a-half years ago as a conversation topic for his guests “and something that would be sort of a ‘wow’ factor when people came in the restaurant,” Otto says. “We already had started serving this 24-inch extra-large, giant pizza on our menu, so we just thought, ‘Why don’t we double the size and make it over 10 pounds and make it a contest?’
“It has been a huge topic of interest and we have huge display on our wall of people who have tried it –– we have the Wall of Shame and the Wall of Fame.” Graziano’s created a logo and had signs made advertising the Monster Pizza Challenge and “anyone who comes in or out of the restaurant sees it,” Otto adds. “People just immediately got to that wall and say, ‘Wow! I can’t believe how big that pizza is! I can’t believe anyone can possibly eat it.’”
Only two teams out of more than 60 have been able to finish the challenge. “We encourage people to let us know in advance, especially if it’s going to be on a busy night, but if people want to just come in off the street, we’ll take care of them then and there,” Otto says –– including setting up a table and signs at the center of the restaurant, making an announcement and taking before and after photos. “We try to make a big deal out of it.”
Christopher Palmeri has owned The Naked City Pizza Shop in Las Vegas for less than a year and has been advertising the Frickin’ Huge Pizza Challenge for the last couple of months. Two competitors have just 30 minutes to devour one of the company’s signature Buffalo-style sheet 18½ by 24-inch sheet pans of pizza topped with at least four ingredients. He created the challenge, which he recently added to his Web site, as a result of customer demand.
“They’ve got a little disclaimer they have to sign and it’s got a list of toppings they can choose from,” Palmeri says. “Basically, everything when it’s laid out –– before its cooked –– weighs 10 pounds.” The pizza is priced at $37.50 and runs a 20- to 25-percent food cost, but winners receive commemorative shirt, recognition on an awards wall and the pizza for free. Only one team has completed the challenge at press time. “They completed it in 16 minutes,” Palmeri says. “It was pretty horrifying to watch.”
David Walton’s Fox’s Pizza Den in Athens, Georgia, sits in a college town, and Walton’s has had 11 teams try to best Fox’s The Big One Challenge, but to no avail. The 30-inch, three-topping hoss is cut into 52 slices and priced at $50 (without the challenge, it’s $39.99 for a cheese with $5 per additional topping). Depending on toppings added, the food cost is around $15. “Three people have up to 52 minutes to complete the entire pizza,” Walton says. “They have to eat everything, and they can’t take breaks.”
Winners receive t-shirts and spots on the “Wall of Fame.” Although no one has yet to finish, a couple of teams have gotten within five pieces of completion. Walton plans to take his competition one step further –– the first team to complete it will become the score to beat until there’s an eventual grand champion.
To market their contest, Graziano’s adds it to their fliers, boxtoppers and print materials. “That’s kind of our tagline –– ‘Home of the Monster Pizza Challenge.’ Says Otto: “We have a nice little logo drawn up, and we’ll put that on all of our advertisements, whether it’s print or e-mail. Most of the advertising is through word-of-mouth.” In April, Naked City’s Pizza Shop’s traffic began picking up thanks in part to additional information on its Web site and “I’m big into all the social media,” Palmeri says. “We use Twitter and Facebook a lot and we’re going to start using YouTube to start taking small videos of it.”
Fox’s has offered the 30-inch pizza since it opened, but the challenge was only added in the last few months. “We’ve added a Facebook page, and we’re marketing it as the biggest pizza in town,” Walton says. The pizza is available without undertaking the challenge, and Walton has done deal-of-the-day Web site offers to advertise the pizza. “That started creating some awareness for it.”
If you’re considering creating a challenge for your own operation, consider these tips:
Draft a waiver that releases you from liability. Create a list of rules and stick to them. “The biggest rule is that no one can get sick,” Otto says. “If you’re sick, you forfeit the challenge. It’s not supposed to be a gross-out fest!” Create a press release and submit it to Web sites that follow competitive eating as a sport. Otto says there are three or four Web sites that list eating contests in cities across the country.
Contact local news outlets, including television stations, newspapers and alternative magazines. “If you have the tools to do it, then do it,” Palmeri says. “It’s just another tool to get your pizzeria’s name out there, and that’s the struggle for any business.”
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza 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 Rick Daugherty and Josh Keown
Have fun with this “five-course” summer special: appetizer, salad, pizza, pasta and dessert. I have a lot of recipes to cover, so let’s get right to it. Each of these recipes can be scaled up in direct proportion. ❖
Mozzarella Cheese Puffs
These golden puffs are flavorful and fun. Kids, especially, love these. You just might have to move them from a special to the regular menu.
Makes 12 puffs
2 cups fl our
½ teaspoon salt
8 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 pound shredded mozzarella
Combine the fl our and the salt. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter. Fold in the mozzarella cheese. Add the fl our mixture and combine thoroughly. Shape the mixture into small balls (around the size of a golf ball) by rolling them in the palms of your hands and place on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the balls puff and are golden brown. Serve with a warm marinara dipping sauce.
Bean and Tuna Salad with Radicchio
A cool, light and refreshing salad that works particularly well in the summer months. Put layers of thinly-sliced fresh tomatoes on the plate to form a flavorful and colorful base on top of which you can portion the salad.
Yield: 4 servings
2½ cups canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups coarsely chopped radicchio
1⁄4 cup red onion, chopped
2 tablespoons fl at-leaf parsley, chopped
1 cup water-packed Albacore tuna, drained, flaked
1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar Salt and pepper, to taste
In a medium-size bowl, combine the beans, radicchio, onion, parsley and tuna. Toss gently to combine. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar until completely blended. Add salt and pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss gently. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.
Pizza alla Funghi (Mushroom Pizza)
Earthy, flavorful, delicious. Call it a “Mushroom Lover’s” Pizza if you care to.
Yield: one 14-inch pizza
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ pound shiitake mushrooms
½ pound portobello mushrooms, sliced about 1⁄4-inch thick
½ pound cultivated (white domestic), sliced about 1⁄8-inch thick
2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 14-inch pizza shell
8 ounces shredded mozzarella or combination of mozzarella and Provolone
In a large sauté pan set over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil for 1 minute. Add the garlic and the mushrooms and cook and stir until the mushrooms give off their liquid, about 4 minutes. Add the oregano and combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn the mushrooms out of the pan and reserve (can be made several hours ahead). Spread the mushroom mixture evenly over the pizza crust. Sprinkle on the cheese. Bake.
Baked Macaroni & Cheese
Mac ‘n’ Cheese is one of the hottest dishes around, and this is my version of this classic dish. I use a combination of cheeses instead of the usual sharp cheddar. But the all-important flavor kicks — dry mustard and cayenne — are still included.
Yield: 6-8 servings
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1⁄4 cup all-purpose fl our
4 cups milk
1 ½ teaspoons dry mustard
1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
1 Pound cavatappi or similar corkscrew shaped pasta
1⁄4 pound shredded provolone cheese
1⁄4 pound shredded Asiago cheese
1⁄4 pound shredded mozzarella cheese
1 1⁄4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoon dried oregano, crumbled
In a heavy sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the fl our and cook, whisking, for 3 minutes. Add the milk in a steady stream, whisking steadily, and bring to a boil. Add the mustard, cayenne, and salt, and whisk to combine. Whisking the sauce, simmer until it thickens, about 2 minutes. Set aside. Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until it is almost al dente. Drain well. While the pasta is cooking, preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a shallow 3 to 4-quart baking dish. In a large bowl, stir together the cooked pasta, white sauce, provolone, Asiago, mozzarella, and 1 cup of the Parmesan, then transfer the mixture to the buttered baking dish. Smooth off the top with a spatula. In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, oregano, and remaining 1⁄4 cup Parmesan and sprinkle it evenly over the pasta. (This recipe can be prepared several hours in advance, covered and put in the cooler. Bring to room temperature before baking.) Bake the pasta in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is golden and the cheese is bubbling.
The standard trinity of Italian desserts consists mainly of tiramisu, cannoli, and gelato, so maybe it’s time to think outside the box. Here’s a quick and easy dessert that offers relief from that boring old box.
This is a dessert you can count on for whipping up (no pun intended) real fast. Creamy and rich-tasting with a mousse like consistency, it’s one that adults and children alike will enjoy. If you don’t have espresso in-house, simply use strong black coffee (or even instant espresso coffee).
Yield: 4 servings
2 cups ricotta cheese (not low-fat)
3⁄4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1⁄4 cup espresso or strong black coffee, cooled
2 tablespoons sambuca (optional)
½ cup finely chopped pistachios
Put the ricotta, sugar, coffee and optional sambuca in a food processor or blender and process until creamy and thick. Spoon the mixture into tall serving glasses and refrigerate, covered, for at least 2 hours, until thoroughly chilled.
Just before serving, sprinkle some of the chopped pistachios on top of each serving.
Another option to jazz up this dessert would be to fold mini-morsel chocolate chips into the cheese after it has been chilled.
Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.