Matthew Ptasienski owns and operates Windy City Pizzeria in Louisville, Kentucky. Located in an ailing part of the River City, about halfway between the University of Louisville and historic Churchill Downs, Windy City, as its name implies, offers its customers a taste of Chicago.
PT: You’re pretty much a one-man-show here, right?
MP: Pretty much. I’m the only one working. I only have one employee. I have a delivery driver who works evenings. He’s extremely competent, and he can do pretty much everything in the shop except cook. And he does. And I can do anything in the shop, so between the two of us he handles all the deliveries and I handle all the cooking. Everything else in between, whoever can do it … does it.
PT: You seem to have a lot of regular customers who either live or work in your neighborhood. Have you gotten to know most of your customers well?
MP: I may not know what everybody’s name is, but I know probably 75 percent of the faces.
PT: Why not hire servers? Do you not have the volume necessary for that?
MP: It’s strictly a business standpoint. In this economy, it’s extremely difficult for me to predict my business day-today. Every time I walk through this door, I have no idea whether I’m going to be slammed or dead. And there’s no rhyme or reason for it. There are very few people in this neighborhood who are willing to come in and work on a Friday, Saturday evening and have one day where they make $6 in tips and the next day they make 50 bucks in tips. There are few people who could put up with that unpredictability. If I hire them and in the first two days they’re here they make 8 bucks in tips in five hours, they ain’t gonna stick around. It’s impractical.
PT: How do you go about cultivating regular customers?
MP: My philosophy is that if I can get them in there the first time, I can get them back. We’ve got a real unique product. I think it’s a high-quality product.
PT: When you first opened, did you find that people in Louisville were familiar with Chicago-style pizza?
MP: No. It took a long time. I opened in the first week of November (11 years ago), and I didn’t start doing stuffed pizza until probably February (of the following year). It was a completely foreign concept to this neighborhood. This neighborhood doesn’t offer a whole lot of variety as far as dining, so it was completely new. Some people took to it really quickly, and some people were put off and didn’t like it at all.