Photos by Mandy Wolf Detwiler
At 23 Round Table Pizza restaurants in northern California, regular equipment maintenance remains central to the organization’s culture. Managers and employees complete routine tasks daily to stave off future fiascos.
Round Table GM John Boyle says the company is “pretty ritualistic about maintaining equipment. If our equipment is down, then we can’t serve the customer, then we’re not going to serve our best product. Those are issues we don’t want to face.”
Though the pizzeria world holds more electrifying duties than scrubbing an oven or cleaning refrigeration coils, few tasks save so much cash, support customer satisfaction, appease the health department and protect product integrity.
“Maintenance is a non-glamorous issue. Most operators would rather bag the next school contract than clean their oven,” says Jim Kovacik of Northern Pizza Equipment in Dexter, Michigan. “But smart operators know the benefit of a strong maintenance plan.”
That’s because equipment maintenance impacts the bottom line. Preventative maintenance curbs the cost of extensive repairs and stimulates an efficient operation; it also lightens energy consumption. Randy Thompson, owner of Pizza Primo in Temperance, Michigan, reports savings of $50 to $100 on electrical bills immediately after his bi-annual oven cleaning.
“That’s money in my pocket,” he says.
While some operators are mechanically gifted and attack equipment maintenance, others plod forward knowing the value but dodging the work. For many, intimidation interferes; equipment can be complex and demand time. For others, it’s the cost, particularly at independent operations faced with manpower struggles or the uneasy expense of outsourcing the work.
“Penny wise and dollar foolish,” Middleby Marshall’s Lester Nowosad says. “So many operators know preventative maintenance will extend the life of their equipment, but take it for granted.” In the pizzeria world, maintenance work revolves around one word: cleaning.
At Boyle’s Round Table locations, ovens, the heart of any pizzeria’s kitchen, receive a comprehensive cleaning each week. The oven is disassembled, parts are soaked in water, and the unit is scrubbed. The weekly process, Boyle says, has preserved the performance of his ovens and the integrity of his brand.
“We have 25-year-old ovens in our system that look brand new,” he boasts. For the oven, Nowosad advises daily maintenance that includes an exterior wipe down as well as the cleaning of crumb trays, cooling fans, and grills. Each month, the fingers and belt assembly should be removed for a thorough interior cleaning. Every 90 days, take a Shop-Vac, a handy tool in one’s maintenance arsenal, to the blower motor and surrounding compartments. Every six months, lubricate the bearings.
“All of this adds up to catching problems before it turns into downtime and lost revenue,” Nowosad says. Particularly with the moving parts of conveyor ovens, which tend to be more temperamental, cool electronic components are vital. Routine inspection of the unit’s cooling fan, which often needs to be replaced every 1 to 2 years, can be accomplished by placing a piece of paper over the fan to make sure it sucks in air.
“Much of what destroys electronics is a nasty relationship with heat, so controlling temperature is half the battle” Kovacik says, reminding that the conveyor belt should be brushed daily and its tension examined regularly.
Though sometimes “out of sight, out of mind,” proper ventilation and exhaust contribute to a pizzeria’s efficiency by promoting air fl ow. Hood vents should be cleaned regularly as should filters inside the hood canopy. Each month, operators should also check the fan belt, replacing brittle or cracked belts immediately — and having a second belt on reserve for emergencies.
While modern refrigeration systems maintain a reliable record, keeping the units cool and clean helps preserve their life and ensure working order. Dust and flour, particularly if the pounding table is adjacent, can easily get sucked into the unit and stir trouble. Tim Costello, a consultant to Avanti Restaurant Solutions, recommends taking a thin comb to the radiator coils or blowing out the coils with compressed air on a regular basis.
In walk-in coolers, ineffective door gaskets and strip curtains can lead to increased energy use. Once a week, enter the cooler and turn off the lights; if outside light seeps in, there’s a problem. At Pizza Primo, Thompson checks the cooler temperature twice daily, both ensuring the unit’s proper functioning and placating the health department.
“If the refrigeration’s working too hard, we’ll see it in the pocketbook,” Thompson says.
Pizza prep tables, wear-and-tear targets from hefty use, should have filters changed weekly and coils cleaned on a regular basis.
“This can be a (health department) citation in waiting,” says Jerry Kraushaar of Burkett Restaurant Equipment. Though rugged and reliable, mixer oil levels should be checked every three months. At the same time, clean and lubricate the bowl lifts while tightening bowl locks. Once a year, change the gear oil.
Too often, equipment doesn’t receive attention until it falters; by that time, damage can be well beyond the original issue, thereby accelerating repair costs. While mechanical sputterings are a certainty, a thoughtful maintenance plan can do much to repel drastic consequences.
“Good operators make a point of understanding the equipment and its maintenance needs,” Costello says. “They recognize that maintenance will help the bottom line.” ❖
An Inside or Outside Job?
Much of the preventative maintenance work on equipment, namely clean and checks, can be performed by in-house staff.
Operators can create a checklist of the top 10 items in their kitchen that warrant attention. Each week, at the same day and time, staff can complete the necessary maintenance tasks, such as cleaning refrigeration coils or examining the exhaust’s hood, fan, and belts.
“Develop habits and a fixed routine,” Kovacik urges, suggesting higher volume restaurants be more aggressive with their efforts. “Pay attention to the items and be methodical, which is the surest path to protecting the equipment and saving money.”
Still, some issues are better left to the pros. Major operations, such as electrical troubleshooting, changing gas components, and replacing the motor blower might be better outsourced to licensed professionals. Most markets have contractors available for preventative maintenance (PM) programs.
“Ultimately, each operator has to determine his own level of confidence,” Kovacik reminds.
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
Photo by Josh Keown
It was surreal. All that was missing from a scene from the Soprano’s were the candles and violins. I was being inducted into the management family of a growing pizza chain in Detroit. At 18 years old, I had earned my bones by running a very high volume delco while a senior in high school. The pizza bosses had noticed and voted on me. In broken English I was given the recipes and sworn to total secrecy and the promise I wouldn’t compete with any of the chain’s operations, for life. Those who forgot or didn’t take the ceremony seriously were often the recipients of very bad runs of luck.
My, how times have changed. With the explosion in information technologies, there are very few recipe, procedural or operational secrets. What used to take months of research, bribes and work can be researched in a few hours on the Web.
Twenty-five years later, I started conducting informational and guerilla marketing presentations for my peers throughout the Midwest and then nationally. It seems every time I assist a client in improving the status quo, I learn from them also. After close to a million miles and hundreds of assignments later, I have picked up dozens of pearls of knowledge.
I have been collecting these pearls for as long as I’ve had a computer. When I’m working on location with a client, I boot up my laptop and scroll through my hard drive. When I hit a topic that is relevant to the assignment I often transfer the file to a jump drive and give the information to my client.
If you’re attending International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas next month (the show is scheduled for March 2-4 at the city’s convention center), you’re in luck. I’ll be passing out many of these pearls of wisdom!
I recently have been talking to many of the featured speakers scheduled for this year’s Expo. They are all going the extra mile and promise to over-deliver more useful, real life solutions to help you cope and grow your businesses.
I can assure you that I will be hacking my laptop’s hard drive. I’ll be downloading the best of the best good stuff. I’m designing a paperless handout that will allow you to tap into my personal 40-year career.
Don’t miss it.
See you in Vegas! ❖
Big Dave Ostrander owned a highly successful independent pizzeria before becoming a consultant, speaker and internationally sought-after trainer. He is a monthly contributor to Pizza Today and leads seminars on operational topics for the family of Pizza Expo tradeshows.
Q: My mixer broke down and I got in some emergency frozen dough balls. Here’s the catch: customers really love it. My mixer will be fixed next week. Should I keep the dough that people are complimenting?
A: It sounds like your dough recipe needs adjusting. That’s what I’d focus on. I’ll always choose making my own dough anytime over buying frozen. Since you already have the mixer, get it fixed along with your dough recipe. The Dough Doctor has given plenty of advice and recipes on the PizzaToday.com Bulletin Boards at www.pizzatoday.com. Check it out!
My partner and I are opening a pizza shop. We’ve got 1,600 square feet with seating for about 24. We’re planning on a lot of takeout and delivery. We’re not sure exactly how many staff to hire. What’s your opinion?
Your volume will really dictate your staffing needs. What’s important to know is that you have a manager or shift leader on at all times and that you have enough people to handle the high-volume times. That includes drivers as well. You generally want to over staff slightly during an opening for two reasons. The first reason is to get the job done properly and put out a great first impression. The second is you must understand that you will lose a few staff members. Make sure you have each station staffed: phones/front, pizza station, sandwich/ salad station, driver, someone for the dining room and dishes. Make sure you have enough staff to cover vacations and call outs. You’ll probably end up with 12 to 20 staff depending on whether you hire full- or parttime. Always be looking for future leaders among your other staff members.
Do you think the lit up car toppers are worth the investment for our drivers to have on their cars while delivering?
I do think so. It gives you a lot of exposure. I am a fi rm believer that any way you can show your logo and remind the community of your “brand”, the more business you will generate. The only time I think it’s a bad idea is if you are delivering in a high crime area. Keep in mind that it’s important to somehow monitor your drivers to ensure that they are not unplugging the topper out of embarrassment. I’ve seen that many times.
I have a casual setting in my pizzeria where my staff wears black t-shirts. Staff have been asking about shirts with logos on them, but I wonder if that’s a waste of money?
Having a uniform look is important and professional. It sounds like that’s what your doing. Folks eating at your place know where they are and don’t really need to see it on your staff’s shirt. However, it does help create branding and can get embedded into their memory. Screen printing on T-shirts is fairly inexpensive. Making shirts available to customers or giving them away for birthdays is another way to get your name out there. ❖
Jeffrey Freehof, owner of The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia, is Pizza Today’s resident expert. Send your questions to: Ask Chef Jeff, c/o Pizza Today, 908 South Eighth Street, Suite 200, Louisville, Kentucky, 40203.
Photo by Rick Daugherty
Employees may not pay much attention to that little handbook you give them when they’re hired. But just because they aren’t all that interested in their employee handbook doesn’t mean you can toss it together haphazardly, or, worse, skip it altogether.
“Handbooks are very important, almost crucial to the livelihood and the survival of a company,” said Atlanta-based consultant Pat Reda, owner of P.J. Reda and Associates Inc. “How can you hold employees accountable if you don’t tell them what you are holding them accountable for and the guidelines for employment?”
Minnesota-based Green Mill Restaurants requires all of its franchised restaurants to give out an employee handbook at orientation, and for a trainer at the restaurant to go through the handbook page by page with employees. “Every single employee, down from general manager to the dishwasher, has a copy of the handbook,” said Barb Walters, Green Mill director of training. The company has 28 restaurants in four states.
Store owners may add to the handbook, particularly to address state and local rules and regulations, Walters said. The handbook is reviewed periodically and revised if needed.
Mary Jule Erickson, chief financial officer of Green Mill, said the company’s handbook is about 15 pages long, and it has become increasingly important in recent years. “It’s becoming more and more critical to have more information more clearly defined for the employee,” Erickson said. “Sexual harassment is just one example of an issue that has become big nationally that has to be addressed in handbooks.”
The most critical element of an employee handbook is a statement that the handbook is not a contract, said Marcy Frost, an attorney who works in the employment law arena for Minneapolis-based Moss & Barnett, a law firm. Frost advises clients to state “This is not a contract” on the first and last pages of the handbook. “You aren’t guaranteeing anything,” Frost said. “You want the handbook to be a resource of what generally takes place, but you want to leave yourself enough flexibility that you can deviate from it if you so choose. There are cases in Minnesota courts where the employee sued a company for deviating from its disciplinary policy. The company said in its handbook it would issue a verbal warning, a written warning and then final written warning before termination. In one case, the employer didn’t do that, and the employee claimed that action violated the company’s own handbook — and the judge agreed.”
The next most important item to cover legally in a handbook is the company’s anti-sexual harassment, anti-retaliation and anti-discrimination policies, Frost says, to ensure that all employees know their rights and to discourage violations. Also, a restaurant with more than 50 employees may want to include a Family and Medical Leave Act policy. Federal law requires that those businesses that qualify give employees a copy of an official notice of their rights under FMLA upon hiring. “You either have to give it to them when you hire them or put it in your handbook,” Frost said. “It’s easier and makes more sense to me to put it in the handbook.”
Pizza restaurants that offer delivery services should include a driver’s policy that covers behavior on the road and issues such as insurance. If your restaurant doesn’t cover drivers on the restaurant’s insurance, make that known to your employees who drive for work purposes. Restaurants are open to a large amount of liability if drivers are speeding to deliver food on time and not properly insured, Frost said, and some policies can specifically disallow coverage while a person is working in a delivery job.
A few other elements of the employee handbook cause some disagreements among experts. While Frost doesn’t advise her clients to have a progressive discipline policy or a list of prohibited actions in the handbook or an explanation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Reda said she recommends all three items to her clients. Frost believes that a list of actions a person cannot take while working — such as stealing or sleeping — will inevitably leave some action out, leading to confusion on the part of employees. Reda said she usually advises clients to include a list so that employees know concretely what is allowed and what is not.
Frost believes that ADA matters are covered by an anti-discrimination policy, and that most ADA accommodations are specific for a situation, so there is not a good way to describe how an employee would be accommodated until the disability is present.
Employers need to be specific, both Frost and Reda said, about what happens to vacation days when someone leaves the company. Be aware that law on this issue varies from state to state, Frost said. A sick leave policy should also be established in the handbook.
Once a handbook is written, it should be reviewed by an employment law attorney, said Reda, and periodically updated. Keeping the handbook updated is worth the hassle.
“A good employee handbook can mean the difference of a labor court ruling in your favor or in an employee’s favor,” Reda says. “A good handbook sets everyone up for success.” ❖
Robyn Davis Sekula is a freelance writer living in New Albany, Indiana
I rarely dine out without ordering an appetizer. Typically, I’m pretty hungry when I arrive at a restaurant. Not only do I want to get something in my stomach ASAP, but I also know the appetizer menu is the best introduction to the restaurant’s kitchen. The starters set the stage for everything else to come.
Sadly, for many pizzerias the appetizer menu either doesn’t exist or is limited to breadsticks and wings. Don’t get me wrong — I think you’re crazy if you don’t offer a variation of both of those. I also think you’re missing out if you don’t branch out. Appetizers are not only popular — they’re also profitable. Most starters carry a low cost of production and offer high margins.
Most of them are simple to make. From toasted ravioli to fried calamari to Caprese flatbread, the right number and mix of appetizers can add thousands of dollars to the bottom line each year.
In this issue, you’ll find a host of articles on appetizers. From recipes to sales tactics, we’re looking at appetizers like never before. Here’s hoping you’ll do the same.
On another note, International Pizza Expo 2010 is just around the corner. I hope you’ll join me, the collective staff of Pizza Today and Pizza Expo and approximately 10,000 of our pizza industry friends at the Las Vegas Convention Center March 2-4. The show promises to have much to offer, as always. For a closer look at what’s in store, check out Mandy Wolf Detwiler’s preview on page 77.
If you do make it to the show, please stop by the Pizza Today booth to say hello and let us know what’s on your mind. See you in Vegas!
Jeremy White, editor-in-chief
Photos by Rick Daugherty
Dips definitely have a place on your appetizer or bar menu, so don’t look down on them as being a food that has lost it edge. Those tasteless dips (most made with onion soup and all that) we had been urged into trying at a party might have left a bad taste in our mouth and given dips a bad rap. But I am here to correct all that. The dips I am talking about are those that I like to call “delicious dips for today.” All have a creative edge. These are dips that you just want to, well, keep dipping into –– dips that your customers will rave about.
There are hot and cold versions. Generally speaking, cold dips are easier to deal with than hot dips. Cold dips go together without too much fuss (generally, all it takes is a food processor to complete the recipe) and have a longer shelf life. On the other hand, hot dips come across as being a lot more creative and have a livelier taste profile.
Consider seasonal aspects –– availability of fresh produce and herbs, cold weather, hot weather. I really enjoy hot soups in the winter, but not so much in the summer. And the reverse, cold soups (gazpacho, for example) in the summer. But that’s just me. Dips –– cold or hot –– have no season.
Here is one example of a creative approach to dips. Recently, I was at a wine bar/restaurant in Chicago, where I live. One of the appetizer choices was actually four dips in one. It was called “Taste of the Mediterranean.” Arranged on a small oval platter were an eggplant spread (baba ghanoush), an olive tapenade, hummus, and a cucumber/yogurt spread (tzatziki). A bowl filled with small pita triangles became the carrier or “dipper” to scoop up the various dips and spreads. So you see, a dip doesn’t have to be one dimensional.
On the subject of what can be used to scoop up a dip, you probably already have it in front of you: Pizza dough. Simply roll or stretch your basic pizza dough. Dock it, brush it with olive oil, bake and cut into squares or triangles. Serve your “pizza chips” on the side for your customer to use with your tasty dips.
I would recommend that you dip your toe in the water with a cold dip or two. Then fl ex your idea muscles and try out a hot dip. And don’t forget to work out an attractive presentation, which is very important to give your dip appetizers an up to date, modern feel. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Italian Bean Dip
I suppose this could fall into the category of that Middle Eastern dip/ spread known as hummus (which is made using chickpeas). In this bean dip version I use cannellini beans. And it all goes together simply and easily. The only variable is the olive oil. Too little olive oil and the dip might come out too dry; too much oil and the dip will be too runny. You want this dip to have enough body to cling to the bread or pizza chip or whatever you are using. Use discretion as you add the olive oil.
Yield: about 5 cups of dip (scale up in direct proportion)
4 cups cannellini beans, rinsed, drained
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
¼ cup fl at-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon (or to taste) crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (about)
In the work bowl of a food processor, combine the beans, garlic, lemon juice, parsley and red pepper flakes. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until the dip is creamy, not runny. The flavor profile of this dip is at least two hours. Serve with triangles of toasted bread or pizza chips.
Roasted Red Pepper Dip
If you are using canned or jarred roasted red peppers, be sure to pat as much moisture off the peppers as possible or the dip will be too watery.
Yield: about 3 cups (scale up in direct proportion)
2 cups roasted red peppers (from jar or can or roast your own), patted dry
1 cup ricotta cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the peppers, ricotta and Parmesan. Process until a smooth and creamy purée is formed. Add salt and pepper. Serve with toasted Italian bread or pizza chips.
Pizza Fondue Dip
The idea with this dip –– which as the name implies is a hot dip –– is to use what you already have on your prep table. Serve the fondue part in some type of attractive heatproof bowl (metal or porcelain). Put the bowl on a large plate; put the dipping bread around the perimeter of the plate. The purpose of the mozzarella is not only to add flavor interest, but body and texture to enhance the dipping process.
Yield: about 5 cups of dip (scale up in direct proportion)
½ pound cooked lean ground pork or sausage meat
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 cups pizza sauce or tomatoes (whatever you are using for your pizzas)
1 teaspoon each dried oregano and basil
2 teaspoons crushed or ground fennel seeds
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella
In a large pot, set over medium high heat, combine the pork, garlic, pizza sauce, oregano, basil and fennel seeds. Stir to combine. When the sauce has reached a simmer (not boiling), swirl in the Parmesan. Wait a few minutes then stir in the mozzarella if you are using this portion size right away. Alternately, to complete the serving process: Keep the dip warm in a water bath or steam table. Hold back the mozzarella and add it to order, just before ladling out a portion relative to number of people to be served.
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.
Pizza Fusion offsets 100 percent of its power consumption at each of its restaurants.
3139 South Bown Way
Boise, Idaho 83706
Few concepts have caught our eye like FCO. This wine bar and pizzeria is a rare commodity in the U.S. because it has been verifi ed by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association. Pizzas are baked in communal 900-degree wood-fi red ovens and served in its three upscale locations. Here, you’re able to purchase the most classic offering available: a breath-taking Margherita featuring fi or di latte, pomodoro and fresh basil. Salute!
223 4th Street
Des Moines, Iowa 50309
We have to admit we’re a little unsure about this fl edgling pizzeria’s concept, but it is unique. Located in a former Chinese restaurant, this pizzeria is a fusion of Chinese, Oriental, Polynesian & Italian with a 1940s and 1950s feel. Say what? Check this out: pizzas have a distinctive Asian fl are, like the Moo Shu Pork pizza (house and hoisin barbecue pork, vegetables, cabbage and mozzarella) and the Crab Rangoon pizza (a crab Rangoon base with surimi, green onion, asiago and mozzarella cheeses topped with crispy egg roll strips and a sweet chili sauce). Sounds perfect for the undecided diner!
501 Cadmium Lane
Cape Girardeau, Missouri 63701
The heartland of America is known more for its rolling wheat fi elds and small towns than its cuisine, but at Pizzeria Adagio, you’re able to fi nd both. The company hand presses its dough into a perfect deep dish offering. We think The Full Symphony makes beautiful music with Italian sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, ground beef, bacon crumbles, bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, black olives, green olives, onions and cheese. Now that’s deep!
Photos by Josh Keown
Q: Do you have any suggestions for making a very quick and easy dessert item?
A: Here’s one that I’ve made since the late 1960’s very successfully. It’s based on the calzone concept, except it is made with a fruit filling. Use your regular pizza dough and cut it into either six- or eight-inch diameter circles, wet the edge of the circle with water and spoon some pie filling or canned fruit into the center of the dough piece. Fold the top half down over the bottom half and crimp the edges tightly to seal them. As you pick the pocket up to transfer it to a baking screen or peel, push the top down onto the filling to distribute the filling throughout the pocket.
Use a sharp knife or scissors to cut a couple vents into the top of the roll for steam to escape, then lightly brush the top with whole milk and sprinkle with coarse sugar. When the crust turns a rich, golden brown in the oven, the “dessert pockets” are done and are ready to be served.
Note: If you are baking these on a screen or baking tray, be careful so as not to get any sugar onto the screen or tray. With time, the melted sugar will char and build up, making a mess out of your screens/trays (unless they have a non-stick finish — in that case, don’t give it a second thought.)
Can you give me some ideas for different types of breadsticks to go with my pizza?
There are any number of variations of breadsticks that you can make to go with pizza. Here are a couple of my own personal favorites.
Cheese-filled Breadsticks — Use a 2- or 3-ounce dough piece and shape it into a hotdog (some call this a string or rope). Set aside on a lightly floured surface to rest from an hour to three hours. Be sure to cover with a sheet of plastic to prevent drying. Flatten the dough piece to form a rectangle about 3 inches wide by 6 or 7 inches long. Wet the bottom edge of the dough piece with a little water, place a 5- to 6-inch long piece of string cheese onto the dough and roll the dough up around the cheese, rolling the dough towards you. The wet edge will form the seam, sealing the rolled dough together. Press the dough down slightly to help seal the seam on the bottom, then transfer to a baking tray or screen, brush with olive oil, and top with a pinch of shredded Parmesan cheese. When the breadstick comes out of the oven, brush lightly with garlic butter and serve.
Pepperoni Breadsticks — These are made in essentially the same way as the cheese filled breadsticks, except that slices of pepperoni are shingled across the top 1/3 of the dough piece. The dough is then rolled, jelly roll fashion, and sealed in the same manner. Again, I like to brush the roll with a little olive oil and sprinkle on a little shredded Parmesan cheese.
We seem to get a lot of requests for gluten-free pizzas. Is it worth the effort to make glutenfree pizza?
My own personal take on this is no, it’s not worth the effort. Now, before you start sending all those cards, letters and e-mails challenging me on that statement, allow me to pose my point of view. Then you can decide if you want to get into the gluten-free pizza business or not.
Making gluten-free (GF) crusts at your store will be somewhat problematic as many of the ingredients are difficult to obtain from our regular suppliers, so purchasing ready-made GF crusts might be the preferred way to go. Add to that the fact that your store is already heavily contaminated with fl our dust containing wheat protein (gluten) and the probability of a customer getting a “gluten-free” pizza cross-contaminated with your regular fl our is very high, if not a sure thing. Think of it like this: the fl our dust is in the air, on every utensil, on all surfaces, on your body and on your clothing. The opportunities for cross contamination are endless. Then, if you talk to your insurance agent, you may find out that all bets regarding your liability insurance are off if you begin selling GF pizzas. You may need to ante up for special, additional coverage.
Roughly three percent of the U.S. population is sensitive to gluten. Let’s say another three percent of your customers will ask for GF pizza as well — that means 94 percent of your customer base is not asking for it.
Ask yourself if it’s really worth the effort, risk, and cost to dabble in GF pizza. That’s my personal take, anyway. ❖
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
International Pizza Expo® is just around the corner. If you haven’t already pre-registered to attend, you better start making plans now! International Pizza Expo continues to be the premier industry event for education, new products, networking and sales.
Have you ever heard the saying “education is the key to success”? We feel so strongly about continuing education that we’ve decided to expand our pizza-specific educational component to include more than 70 seminars, workshops and demonstrations. We’ve also added several new industry speakers to our lineup as well, who will tell you what to do and how to react to the challenges and issues facing our industry today. Our team of experts will educate you on how to survive and prosper in today’s economy, as well as how to retain your core customers, attract new customers, improve customer service and create dynamic and meaningful marketing campaigns that really drives profits to your pizzeria.
Or, maybe you’re just looking for a few new menu ideas. If you are, then the International Pizza Challenge and Demonstration Area is the place for you. The International Pizza Challenge™ has become so popular that we’ve decided to expand the competition. This year, approximately 120 competitors from across the globe will battle it out in the “Pizza World Championships”. Better yet, you’ll have the opportunity to watch and learn from the top two finishers of each category (traditional and non-traditional), who will go head-to-head in our blind-box competition. What could be more exciting and spontaneous than watching four of the World’s best pizza makers competing to see who’s the “Best of the Best”?
Do you want to party? Then attend the World Pizza Games® Finals and Rockin’ Party, which is free to all registered attendees. We’re pulling out all the stops this year to make sure this is the biggest and best party ever.
The bottom line is, there will always be winners and losers, but only those pizzeria owners that arm themselves with industry knowledge and are willing to take action towards positive change will have the ability to position their business for future growth and success. Last but not least, remember attending International Pizza Expo® is a tax-deductible working vacation. It’s all pizza and it’s all for you!
Bill Oakley, Executive V.P.
Photos by Josh Keown
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there is a cell phone app that lets you find select appetizers in some restaurants. Appetizers are the hot ticket in restaurants. Owner/operators have learned (what took so long?) that appetizers are the calling card that announces the rest of the menu, and that appetizers can be real money makers. I point to fried calamari as one example. Not too many years ago, squid was looked upon as nothing more than fish bait. Today, fried calamari (and grilled calamari as well) is one of the most ordered appetizers in restaurants (and not only Italian restaurants).
The next hottest appetizer idea to surface in the past few years has been the salumeria –– a selection of salumi (Italian cold cuts), namely, slices of capocollo, mortadella, Genoa salami, prosciutto and so forth. Dress up the platter with some olives, roasted red peppers, giradiniera, etc. and you have a “wow!” factor that is hard to beat. Don’t confuse a salumeria selection with that appetizer known as the antipasto platter. I would like to think you could kick it up a notch or two beyond that (call it “antipasto misto”).
Take a similar approach with cheeses in a “Formaggi Italiana.” Arrange a platter with various cheeses that have been cut into slices, triangles or strips (Anything except those party cube cuts). There is a wealth of cheeses to draw from: provolone, mozzarella, chunks of Parmesan and Romano, slices of Asiago and fontina. Dress up the platter or plate with grapes and a chiffonade of radicchio and you have an appetizer that will add taste and quality to your restaurant’s name.
Appetizers can be as broad and complex as the salumeria or cheese platters or as simple and interesting as a selection of olives, dressed with extra-virgin olive oil, lemon and rosemary. And to push the flavor profile up, wrap the olives and herbs in foil, give them some oven heat and serve warm.
I say build a better appetizer and the customers will come. OK, so in the past few years, the idea of listing a group of food on the menu as “small plates” came into play. Small plates are just another name for appetizers, and you can do with that what makes sense for you to do. Here are a few more ideas to get your appetizers a lot more appetizing.
Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms
Yield: 8 servings (3 mushrooms per serving)
24 large white domestic mushrooms, stems removed, caps brushed with a damp paper towel, stems trimmed and reserved
2 teaspoons olive oil
¾ pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
2 cloves garlic, crushed Stems from the mushrooms, chopped
½ cup chopped onion
4 large slices Italian or French bread, coarsely chopped
¼ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
1 cup (about) shredded mozzarella
In a large sauté pan, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage. Cook and stir and break the sausage into small crumbles. Add the garlic, the chopped mushroom stems and the onion. Cook and stir until the sausage has lost any trace of pink. Drain excess oil from the pan. Add the bread and the Parmesan cheese. Cook and stir until the bread is combined with the sausage. If the mixture appears to be too dry (think moist stuffing you would use with a turkey) at this point, add some water or chicken broth. Let the stuffing cool. (Recipe can be made to this point and held. Finish to order.)
Fill each cap with some of the stuffing mixture. Arrange the caps on a baking sheet. Sprinkle some mozzarella over the stuffing. Bake in a hot (450 F) oven until the caps soften and are tender and the cheese has melted. Serve.
You can list these on your menu to order in groups of 3, 6, 9, 12, relative to the number of guests. A party of one might order three, a party of two would order six and so on. Keep in mind that the bun on each slider is small. Families with kids love the slider idea, so this is a winner you can run with. If making your own meatballs is too much to deal with, you can order pre-made and precooked meatballs from any number of quality purveyors.
All of this recipe can be prepped well ahead. Make the meatballs and the sauce. Keep chilled and covered until ready to use.
Yield: 18 meatballs or 6 servings (3 to a serving)
¾ pound ground beef
¾ pound ground pork
½ cup panko
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
4 tablespoons grated Romano cheese
1 Extra-large egg
¼ cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
In a large mixing bowl, combine the beef, pork, panko, fennel, Romano, egg, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly to combine. Wet your hands a little and form the meat mixture into balls, about 1½ inches around. Then using your palm, press down gently on each of the balls to flatten them slightly (this makes it easier for them to stay in the bun).
To Finish: 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 tablespoons olive oil 4 cups pizza sauce or all-purpose ground tomatoes 18 small rolls (mini-rolls used for sliders), split horizontally
In a large sauté pan, warm the oil mixture over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Working in batches, if necessary, fry the meatballs, turning them frequently, until they are browned and cooked through. Drain excess fat from the pan.
At this point you might have to transfer the meatballs to a large pot. Add the tomatoes to the meatballs in the pot. Add seasonings –– basil, oregano –– if needed and bring the pot to a simmer. All of this can be prepped early in the day for lunch and dinner service.
To order, open the roll, pluck a meatball and some sauce from the pot and slip it into the roll. Sprinkle some grated Romano or Parmesan cheese over the meatball. Add a touch more sauce if necessary. Serve with a garnish of olives or giardiniera.
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.
Kevin Polito owns three Polito’s Pizza locations in Wisconsin. Polito says business has been booming due to the company’s day-to-day operations, its marketing tactics and its ability to fi ll a niche in its community.
Q. You’ve opened three stores in two-and-a-half years. That’s pretty aggressive growth for a startup. Have you had any growing pains?
A. They all pretty much took off from the start. The (Steven’s) Point store, we opened up on a day when they had the street closed off for what’s called Crazy Days –– they have food outside and shops set up. We opened on that day and a lot of people that wouldn’t have known we were there found out about us right away. I had a lot of real good managers. We just kind of went from there.
Q. You have the ingredients to create more than 150 different types of specialty pizzas ranging from a macaroni and cheese pizza to a chicken quesadilla pie. What are you doing to control waste with so many options?
A. Sometimes, we order different products because when you sell by the slice, you can pretty much throw whatever you want on there. It helps with waste because if a product is getting dated, we can just throw it on the counter and it usually sells right away.
Q. You offer a 28-inch, 12-pound pizza and two contestants have one hour to finish it for a $500 grand prize. How does it help in your marketing strategies?
A. It creates a lot of buzz around town and it gets a lot of people coming in. A lot of people ask about it. They’re serious about the $500. We sell it for parties and games. Also, customers can enter in a drawing to win a “Monster Pizza Party.” The winner of this drawing gets a free Monster Pizza and drinks, as well as our fried cinnamon knots. The best part about this drawing is that we teamed up with a local limousine service to pick up the 10-person party and bring them to our pizzeria to eat, and then take them for a ride around town before returning them to their final destination. At our Oshkosh location, we have a drawing for a free Monster Pizza and a keg of Natty Light beer.
Q. You do a lot of promotions with the local high schools and universities as part of your marketing campaign. How does this work for you?
A. For our “Polito’s Fan of the Game” promotion we deliver pizza to two lucky fans at half time during the high school football games and before the third period at the university hockey games. We also have free slice and pie giveaways at baseball games and during free-throw competitions at the high school and university basketball games. We sponsor many local youth sports teams and sometimes deliver pizzas to the field after the games as a treat for our team and the competition, at no cost, just to say thank you for making us a part of the community.
Q. You have a promotion pairing pizza and a logo t-shirt. Since you don’t make money on the shirts, what’s the hook?
A. It works really well for us. We sell a ton of t-shirts. … A deal for two slices and a t-shirt for $10? People can’t resist. They’re getting two slices, which would be about $6.50. Why not throw the extra money in and get a t-shirt? They’re good quality t-shirts and they’re logoed on the front and the back. We see a ton of them around town. We don’t make any money off they T-shirts but the customers love the deal and it’s very rare that I go through a whole day without seeing someone with a Polito’s shirt on.
Photos by Josh Keown
When International Pizza Expo closed its doors at the Las Vegas Convention Center last spring, the staff breathed a sigh of relief –– then quickly delved into the 2010 show planned for next month. This year’s show brings the most informative speakers, the best products on the market and knowledge-hungry attendees together, all with one mission –– to make the pizzeria and Italian restaurant industry a knockout amidst ailing economic times.
And, it seems to be working. Last year’s show attendance registered at 5,900 attendees, and show management expects this year to be no different. At press time, the 2010 show was shaping up to be another sellout with 400 companies registered and just under 1,000 booths on the show floor.
“This year, we’re pulling out all the stops to make sure International Pizza Expo is the biggest and best show ever,” says Bill Oakley, executive vice president of Macfadden Protech LLC, parent company to Pizza Today and the Pizza Expo family of tradeshows.
“We’re expanding our educational program to include more than 70 business-boosting seminars and demonstrations. We’ve also added several new industry speakers who will address the hot issues facing pizzeria operators today.”
Pre-show workshops begin Monday, March 1, and cover topics ranging from catering to profitability. Kamron Karington and Big Dave Ostrander are back with their marketing and pizzeria-launching seminars, respectively, on that day. This year, show management brings its first all-day pre-show workshop hosted by Donald Cooper. This “boot camp” style event is designed to help business owners and managers take their businesses to the next level.
The show officially opens Tuesday, March 2, with a general session keynote address by industry insider Tony Gemignani. Gemignani, a familiar face at International Pizza Expo, is the co-owner of two successful pizzerias in California and is a nine-time World Pizza Champion in both acrobatics and pizzaiolo skills. Gemignani is also a master certified instructor from the Scruola Pizzaioli in Italy and has opened the International School of Pizza in San Francisco.
The keynote address on Wednesday, March 3, is headed by Dave Brandon, chairman and CEO of Domino’s Pizza. Brandon, who has ushered in a year of dramatic changes for the 50-year-old company, appears in his fi nal week at Domino’s. He has spent a decade in the public’s eye with the company and is moving on to serve as the athletic director at the University of Michigan.
There will be some familiar faces amidst the concurrent seminar schedule, but you’ll fi nd some new speakers as well. Cindy and Steve Berson own Pie in the Sky pizzeria in Vermont and will offer their experiences on being life partners and business partners. Industry veteran Ostrander will host two new seminars covering back office management skills and easy, cheap sales tactics to use in rough times. Californian Ken Whiting is also new, offering his experience on managing today’s young workforce.
This year, organizers have created a session module for senior level management and Pizza Expo veterans. “This is something that people who have been coming to Expo for years have been asking for,” says Linda Keith, vice president of meetings and conferences for Macfadden Protech LLC. “It goes beyond the basic levels.” Topics include managing today’s commodity markets, branding, the importance of client-vendor relationship, estate planning and others issues that go beyond daily operations.
And the educational opportunities don’t end there. Demonstrations continue on the show floor covering everything from homemade dressings and creative salads to creating the perfect Neapolitian pizza. Gemignani and former International Pizza Challenge winner Graziano Bertuzzo will hold a world pizza-winning demo. And Chef Lou Petrozza, first runner-up on Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen” reality cooking show will battle the chef who bested him on the show’s fourth season, Christina Machamer, during their joint cooking demonstration.
“The one thing that really separates International Pizza Expo from all of the other general foodservice shows is our educational component, which we are expanding this year,” Oakley says. “There’s not another food show around where you’ll find 70-plus seminars and demonstrations devoted to a single industry except International Pizza Expo. In fact, I like to think our pizza-focused seminars and demonstrations alone are worth the price of admission.”
The popular International Pizza Challenge is back this year with one major change –– no previous winners from last year will be allowed to compete. The reason? In the last several years, the same winners have swept the categories.
“It’s a rule we had in place with (the previously held Pizza) Festiva! and now that we’re in our fourth year, we have enough history with the Challenge that we felt it was time to make the change,” Keith says.
At press-time, all of the 60 slots in the non-traditional category (anything goes here) had been filled and nearly all of the spots slated for the traditional category were taken. In this division, operators create a pizza using no more than two toppings from a pre-determined list.
Contestants bake in regional heats and those selected move on to the final challenge on Thursday to compete against each other and winners from Pizza Expo sanctioned events held earlier in the year. Following the completion of each division final, the first and second place winners will compete in the 2010 Pizzaiolo of the Year contest, a blind-box bake-off. That winner claims the title of World Champion Pizzaiolo and assorted prizes.
The show-stopping World Pizza Games are back as well, facilitated by the World Pizza Champions. As last year, the highly charged freestyle acrobatics competition has been divided into masters and first (amateur) divisions. Competitors will also line up for the largest dough stretch, fastest dough, fastest box folding and the longest spin. The events culminate on Wednesday night, March 3, at the World Pizza games Finals & Rockin’ Party, with food sponsored by three show exhibitors.
The Beer & Bull Idea Exchange will be hosted by Pizza Today Publisher Pete Lachapelle and the Pizza Today staff. Here, attendees can sit back, enjoy a brew, ask questions and share ideas. It’s an open forum and anything goes. Find out what topics operators across the country are grappling with and learn solutions to problems ranging from marketing to creating repeat business.
Finally, the show ends on Thursday, March 4, at 2:45 p.m. with the $20,000 MEGA BUCKS giveaway. Winners are selected among those who visit sponsoring booths and turn in their game cards to the designated area. As always, you must be present to win.
There’s still time to register. “Attending an industry trade show –– even during an economic slowdown — is the best way to obtain new industry knowledge, insight and ideas that can help you position your pizzeria for future growth and prosperity,” says Lachapelle. “Another good reason to attend Pizza Expo is this: as an indepedent pizzeria owner, you may be under pressure and worried about how you’re going to survive in the current business climate.
“The fact is, you may need to slow down in order to speed up your business. You may also need to do some creative thinking and brainstorming to come up with some new, innovative marketing ideas to boost your business.” Visit www.pizzaexpo.com or call (800) 489-8324 for more information.
Photos by Josh Keown
Appetizers come first in the meal, but do they come last on your priority list? They shouldn’t, because if you put as much attention into your starters as you do your main dishes, your bottom line can benefit. “Appetizers are an opportunity for us operators to potentially increase the check average per person,” says Don Bellis, CEO and co-founder of The Rock Wood Fired Pizza chain in Washington. Scott Anthony, a pizza industry marketing expert and owner of Fox’s Pizza Den in Punxatawney, Pennsylvania, adds that the profi t margin on appetizers is usually a little more than that on pizza, making them even more attractive to savvy operators.
Appetizers are more than deep-fried (or woodfire baked) money-makers — they can also serve as a way to test out products for the main menu, and they help create a positive experience for diners who are looking to treat themselves. Want to get started with starters, or revamp your appetizer selection? We asked pizza restaurant owners who are doing it right to share their tips.
How many appetizers should you offer? The answer is whatever works for you: The Rock Wood Fired Pizza has 10 on the menu; Panhandler Pizza in New Braunfels, Texas, has four; and Villa Fresh Italian Kitchen restaurants, which are in several states, have five. Villa Enterprises’ director of marketing, John Drinkard, says: “We like to have 18 percent of our entire menu mix be appetizers. It’s a little bit industry standard, and a little bit of us knowing our concepts and our customers.” For the operators we interviewed, the number of appetizers fluctuates, with some new starters being introduced and less popular ones dropping off the menu. “If it’s less than three percent of your sales, get rid of it unless it’s something that’s really versatile that’s going to be in other menu items,” advises Anthony.
Take into consideration your restaurant’s “food personality” when drawing up an appetizer menu; for example, because The Rock Wood Fired Pizza is a full-service restaurant that offers burgers, chicken, and other dishes as well as pizza, the appetizer menu is varied: Cajun popcorn shrimp, French fries and cheese fries, garlic-mozzarella bread, chipotle wings and mini-calzones. And Bellis likes to give dishes a unique spin, so The Rock’s wings are cast-iron baked as opposed to deep fried, and diners can get the garlic mozzarella bread with brown sugar sprinkled on it for what Bellis calls “a maple sugar-like sweetness.” As another example, an upscale pizzeria might skip the mozzarella sticks and instead serve up two other popular starters: calamari and toasted ravioli.
You can get double duty out of your appetizers if you choose ingredients that you already use in other dishes. For example, “If you’re going to have kids’ meals, then chicken tenders and mozzarella sticks would be excellent appetizers to add to your menu because those are really big for kids’ meals,” says Anthony. Steve Swindell, co-owner of Panhandler Pizza, agrees. “We’ve attempted to limit our appetizers to products that are using the same product mix (as in main dishes), meaning still using pizza dough, and still using products that go on our normal pizzas,” he says. For example, his restaurant offers garlic cheese sticks that are made from a pizza dough round topped with garlic butter and mozzarella cheese –– all ingredients used in main-dish pizzas –– and cut into strips. Serving double-duty appetizers is about more than stretching ingredients you already use –– it’s also smart because if your customers love what’s on the main menu, they’re likely to love appetizers made out of those same foods as well.
It makes more sense to get crazy with an appetizer than to try mad scientist experiments with more costly main dishes. “The appetizer venue allows us the opportunity to literally try products,” says Swindell. “It’s almost like our research and development department.” For example, Swindell noticed that many diners dip their pizza in ranch dressing, so he’s rolling out an appetizer pizza that has ranch instead of marinara sauce — with a container of marinara on the side for dipping. If the concoction is a hit, Swindell can add it to the menu as a regular pizza.
In the end, keep in mind that when people dine out, they don’t just want food. They want a total experience, including things they can’t (or don’t want to) whip up in their own kitchens. Appetizers help to create that experience. Offer a delectable selection of starters that matches your restaurant’s personality and your customers’ wants, and watch your check average rise. ❖
Make it a meal deal
Many pizza restaurant operators have noticed that in today’s mushy economy, diners are trying to cut costs by deep-sixing appetizers. To combat this trend, John Drinkard, director of marketing for Villa Enterprises Management, suggests putting together combo platters that give the diner a good deal. “We’ve been doing a decent amount of them and getting a nice reaction because two or three people can jump in on them,” he says. “They might get a nine-dollar sampler split between three people, so it’s only three bucks. It’s not like it was a year or two ago, when nobody had any issue with getting a six-dollar appetizer.”
Linda Formichelli is a freelance writer living in Concord, New Hampshire. She covers a wide variety of topics and has authored several books.
Photos by Josh Keown
Here at Pizza Today, we’ve had a lot of great work trips that allow us to mix business and pleasure. Rarely, however, have we had as much fun as when Brad Edwards, managing partner of America’s Incredible Pizza Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma, handed us two of its signature game cards and turned us loose in the 68,600-square-foot pizzeria and game room. Art director Josh Keown and I looked at each other and it was ON!
And there was plenty of fun to be had. This concept pairs a buffet with themed dining rooms adjacent to an amusement center. In all, most of the 18 AIPC locations average about 40- to 50,000 square feet. The Tulsa location is its largest –– it’s here that the company focuses its training efforts. “For the size we are, and the location we have, we’re kind of like Tulsa’s Disney World,” Edwards says.
Former Gatti’s Pizza franchisees Rick and Cheryl Barsness founded the company in Springfield, Missouri in 2002. Today, there are 18 AIPC units in the US and Mexico. Edwards says the Tulsa store averages more than $7 million in sales annually with most of the stores operating autonomously. Of the 18 existing stores, five are company-owned. Sales company- wide weigh in at more than $60 million.
The 1950s themed dining rooms –– a darkened drive-in theater design, a high school gym, a retro diner and a homey family room –– all feature movie screens or televisions showing family entertainment. (There are also 10 party rooms available.) Each store also features a 1957 Chevy as an added effect.
On the afternoon Pizza Today visited, we saw not only kids dining with their parents, but also a group of construction workers, a team of office professionals on their lunch break and an elderly couple enjoying the buffet. With such a varied clientele, the buffet goes beyond pizza to include a salad bar, a pasta bar and homestyle favorites like mashed potatoes, hot dogs and even enchiladas. The result? On a busy Saturday in January or February, they’re apt to do in one day what its competition average in a month. “I’ve had to hold the lines on Saturdays and not let anybody else in,” Edwards says.
“I’ve been in the restaurant business all my life and to go from a day like this, where I’m lucky to do $5,000 –– which to most restaurants is probably really good –– to having a Saturday where I might do $40- to $60,000, those are extremes.”
Edwards is quick to point out that “we’re not a kids’ hangout,” he says. “Just like our motto says, we’re about family and friends. We bring family and friends back together.”
To increase traffic during slow periods, the restaurants don’t always require purchase of the buffet, requiring non-diners to wear the bands and hold keys or an ID as collateral. To receive their item back, they have to have the wristband intact.
Still, specials increase dine-in, though each store differs. For example, “Thursdays, if you buy the buffet and put $25 on the card, we’ll double it and make it a $50 card,” Edwards explains. “Sunday evening used to be very slow for us, so after 4 p.m., if you buy a $5 card, it gets you unlimited attractions until we close.”’
Many of the specials are available via e-mail marketing, and the company has recently increased its social media presence as well. In new markets, AIPC does some television advertising. “We focus on word of mouth and we focus on our e-blasts,” Edwards says.
With so much going on in-house, it’s easy for the food quality to get lost amidst the neon lights and ringing bells. How important is food quality? “No offense to Chuck E. Cheese –– a lot of people take their fi ve and under there, but they’re not going there for the pizza. They’re going there for the birthday parties and the games. A lot of people qualify us to be like a CiCi’s Pizza, a Chuck E. Cheese –– they think we’re the same thing. Then all of a sudden they come here and they say, ‘Wow! I didn’t realize they had such good food.
“Originally, we didn’t have all of what we call the pizzazz –– from the hot dogs, to the taco bar to the green beans, the corn, the homemade mashed potatoes. We didn’t have all that, but we started adding it. … Rick (Barsness) and the founders were very big on the quality of food. They thought that was very important. That’s what’s going to get a family in, too. If Dad has to go to a party, he at least wants to eat something that’s good.”
The pizza buffet covers the gamut of offerings, from the kid-friendly plain cheese to jalapeños and hearty meats.
Baked goods, such as the company’s signature cinnamon rolls and cookies, are made in-house, as is its pizza dough, bread pudding and soups. (They used to make pizza sauce in-house as well but now have a vendor create its proprietary recipe.) Employees are trained to work at various stations, with the opportunity to move up over time. “On a Saturday, I can guarantee nobody puts out more food than we do,” Edwards says.
Aside from the dining portion of the restaurant, the game room is its biggest draw. Sure there are arcade and redemption games, but AIPC takes it further with an XD Theater (a 3-D motion ride), a bowling alley, miniature golf, bumper cars and its biggest attraction –– go-karts.
“To me, what makes us better than other family entertainment centers is that we have high standards,” Edwards says. “We have high standards in our food (and) we have high standards to our cleanliness. We have high standards in keeping our games up. We have a tech who works here in the store just like a manager and if I have more than two games down, I have a problem. The same applies to my go-karts.”
It’s a continual circuit for the managers walking the floor who are looking for problems. Many times, says Edwards, it’s as simple as consumers not understanding how to use the attractions’ game cards. Each of the games and attractions operate using the cards and have variable prices ranging from 35 cents to $4.50 for the go-karts, which is AIPC’s top seller. (Second is the Big Bass Wheel –– diners spin a wheel much like that on “The Price is Right” and receive redemption tickets according to their winning spin.)
AIPC’s game cards are reloadable (and stations in the game room make that a breeze). Collection stations near the exits encourage recycling.
Current expansion plans are varied. They’ve looked at property in Davenport, Iowa, as well as Utah. “I just got a call from one of my VPs and they’re bringing in a potential franchisee from Australia,” Edwards says. One unit is located in Mexico, with more planned in the future.
“Rick and Cheryl are real good at picking the right location,” says Edwards, who says that his store is located at the busiest intersection in town. He adds that the company is open-minded enough to all them to fi t operations to their own needs and communities.
“Rick is very much the vision and the dream of our concept,” Edwards says. “He has an immense passion, and it’s very contagious. To be honest with you, to work with us, I think you have to have a lot of passion. A lot is expected of you. … I’d have a hard time investing $6 to $8 million of my own money and not be in my own store every day.”
The managing partners act as district managers of their own stores, overseeing salaried directors in the game room, the kitchen and the front of the house (some locations include a party director as well). Those are backed by teams of hourly assistant managers. Edwards started as a game room manager and within two years was a managing partner of his own store. He has a 22-year-old assistant director who came on as a busboy and is being groomed for his own store in the future.
“If you have the opportunity to relocate,” Edwards says, “the opportunity is there.” ❖
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
We knew we’d stumbled onto something good when both our waiter and the hotel valet put a hand over their hearts and each proclaimed, “Oh, I love Hideaway Pizza!” And with that, we set off to find out what makes this Tulsa mainstay such a heartfelt favorite.
Darren Lister and Brett Murphy own 10 Hideaway locations. Founder Richard Dermer initially sold the rights to three of his former managers with no franchise fee, and the first autonomous Hideaway opened on Tulsa’s Cherry Street in 1993. (Dermer still operates his own independent Hideaway Pizza in Stillwater, Oklahoma, serving up his thin-crust pizzas.) Current owners Brett Murphy and Darren Lister bought the company in 2006. Sales for 2010 are predicted at $20 million company wide and Hideaway employs roughly 500 people.
Each store has its own independent look and feel that corresponds with its neighboring community, and despite the company’s growth, “we’re trying to stay away from the corporate look,” Lister says. “We try to keep it as joint-y as we can.”
At the company’s newest location in Broken Arrow, the restaurant’s ceiling glitters with tiny twinkling stars in the roomy waiting area. It’s a replica of the night sky on the day the store opened –– complete with three shooting stars.
At the rear of the restaurant is a large picture window that offers customers a glimpse of the kitchen’s behind-the-scenes work. “The way we laid this out, it’s centered around that,” says Murphy. “We had to rearrange the kitchen from the old (designs) so we could display this more. It’s been a huge hit. (Customers) will be four-deep just watching them.”
Adds Lister: “We take it for granted because we get to make pizzas all the time!”
There’s a small carryout area, and “if anything, this is too small,” says Murphy. Up to 40 percent of the restaurant’s business is carryout.
The original Stillwater location’s dough remains intact, but a traditional hand-tossed was added to the menu two years ago to add versatility. Adds Murphy: “Other than that, we try to keep it as seamless for our customers as possible.”
Delivery is not available because “we’ve both been in the delivery game. We used to own Mr. Gatti’s franchises,” says Lister, “and you train your customer on couponing. It’s who’s on the door the most, wins. It cheapens the product. We don’t want to cheapen our product. He and I firmly believe –– and we stand on this and always will –– you’re going to get your best product here in the store. It comes out of our oven to your table in just a few minutes.”
Five years ago they added catering and a fl eet of nine catering trucks. In all, catering comprises three to four percent of sales, and once the newest location’s fl edgling operations are set, they plan to add a tenth delivery truck there.
Beer and wine are available and comprise eight to 10 percent of dine-in sales.
Specialty pizzas are king here, with cleverly titled pies ranging from the top-selling The Around the World, or The ATW for short (the company’s signature red sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, diced green bell peppers, diced red onions, black olives and fresh sliced mushrooms) to The Big Country (red sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, polish sausage, hamburger and cheddar cheese). A large specialty pie is priced at $20.19. New menu items are sourced creatively –– each store holds its own internal pizza contest and the winners face off against one another. “If they make it on to the menu, they’ll bump (another item) off onto what we call the bench,” Lister says, “but we’ll still make it forever and if you come in and have your favorite pizza we’ll still make it.” The move keeps their menu from becoming overwhelming.
This year, however, they did a Twitter promotion that brought in hundreds of potential menu items. The winning pizza, dubbed The Tweetza, hailed from Oklahoma City resident Ryan Shimp and features pesto sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, sun-dried tomatoes, minced garlic, artichoke hearts, chopped basil and is topped with feta cheese. It will become a permanent addition to the menu this year.
Two doughs are made in house, a thin crust and their chewy traditional style, and sauce simmers on the stove for a minimum of three hours daily. And, yes, they even grate their own cheese. As an added convenience for their customers, they’ll even do a half-and-half for undecided diners.
“There’s some difficulty to it,” says Lister, “but you know what? We give our customers what they want.”
Aside from its pizzas, the company is known for its Famous Fried Mushrooms. They’re breaded in-house using a special machine, fried until just golden on the outside and served with red sauce and homemade ranch dressing. “We only sell like a hundred thousand pounds a year,” says Lister.
What has factored into Lister and Murphy’s decade of success and growth? “I would have to say that we’re hands-on, hardworking and we pay a lot of attention to detail in our operations,” explains Lister.
“We listen a lot to our employees and our customers,” adds Murphy. “We go out in the field. It really is a bottom’s up approach. They are with our customers every day. Who else better to tell us what’s going on out in the marketplace than our employees? We’ve tried to instill, since we bought the company, a conduit through which they can communicate. So many restaurant companies operate from the top down. We’ve tried to reverse that.”
Lister says that store managers are given liberal control of day-today operations and have decision making opportunities. “We would actually like to train them and prepare them for a (future) managing partner program where they could open some stores and be partners with us,” he says.
Lister and Murphy hope to open another location by the middle of 2010, and they may branch out into another community in the near future. Lister says keeping them within the easily managed 90-mile Oklahoma City/ Tulsa markets allows them to be more proactive and hands-on, and they have two directors who oversee each market. A director of operations ensures consistency across the brand. “We haven’t changed in 53 years, and we don’t plan on changing,” he says.
With 10 stores already, Murphy says they’re getting close to saturating the market, but “Tulsa is kind of unique in that this store is in Broken Arrow, we have one on Cherry Street which basically draws off of downtown and the central part of Tulsa –– we’ve just gone to different trade areas of the city. Has there been a little bit of cannibalization? Sure. You’re going to lose 4 to 5 percent because people coming to Broken Arrow were going to Cherry Street or they were going to Fontana. In the end, we’re still doing more than we began with.”
Fifteen stores total are projected for Oklahoma, and they may look at building smaller models of their business plan in communities of less than 30,000.
And as they grow, keeping a finger on the pulse of their clientele will hopefully keep their customers from considering them as “just another chain.”
“We’re going to try to stay away from that,” Lister says. “We’re not going to be on every street corner. We’re really more of a destination place. … We’re special. People drive to us. You listen to some of our testimonials and we have people who drive from Wausau into Tulsa all the time. It’s 18 miles, but they’re going to drive here to get good pizza. … If you have one on every corner, it takes the specialty out of it.” ❖
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
If Luke Bailey’s Davison, Michigan, pizzeria is suffering in the wake of America’s collapsing auto industry, his 2009 sales don’t show it. His delco store, The Pizza Company, is located next door to Flint, Michigan — home to a host of financially hobbled suppliers, such as Delphi.
“We’re up 7 percent on the year, and that’s great,” Bailey says. “But you can believe that’s coming from going at it hard as an owner-operator. Sales are up, but I make a good profit when I’m doing the cooking.”
After 20 years in business, Bailey is learning a lot about his business and where he could improve. This year he bought a serious POS system whose detailed reports revealed some shocking information: Despite 2009’s top-line increase, his appetizer sales are way off compared to ’08. “Our ticket average has dropped considerably, by at least 10 percent. And of that, I’d say appetizers are off about 30 percent.”
Bailey uses the new system to prompt phone workers to suggest onion rings, fries, breadsticks and especially low-food-cost dipping sauces. But he admits he needs to do better.
“Without the POS prompts, I think we’d have seen a 50-percent decrease in appetizer sales,” he says. “It’s just that tough on people right now.”
Fortunately, Michelle Burt is telling a different story about appetizer sales at Spanky’s Pizza in Freemont, Michigan. Her store sells an average of 130 orders of breadsticks a day, partly “because they’re so good, and partly because we mention it to every table,” she says.
Be it a phone call to the restaurant or a server’s visit to the table, customers are asked, “Have you ever had Spanky’s breadsticks before?” If they haven’t, servers say, “Well, I’m going to treat you to a half order of breadsticks today. I promise you’ll love them. And if you want to bump that up to a full order, it only costs two bucks.”
Says Burt: “You’d be surprised how many people say, ‘I’ll take the full order.’ We do the same thing with our wings. If they’ve never had them, we say, ‘I can give you five for free, but if you want to up it to 10 for two bucks more, you can do that.’”
Diana Coutu calls that whole or partial giveaway a “freemium”: guests get a free taste now that may entice them to buy more now or on a return visit. Coutu did that when conducting a trial of mini-pizzas at her shop, Diana’s Gourmet Pizza, in Winnipeg, Ontario, Canada. The appetizer-sized pies were designed for snacking rather than for meals, and they’re significantly smaller than her well-known, thicker-crust pizzas. “Not everyone’s into a big meal all the time, so we wanted to see if they’d buy something smaller, like an appetizer,” she says.
Cassano’s Pizza King in Dayton, Ohio, is doing much the same to promote some new wing flavors, says vice president Chris Cassano. Customers who spend the extra money on a large Deluxe pizza are treated to a pound of free wings.
“People don’t mind paying for things that they know, but they don’t want to try things they’re unfamiliar with,” Cassano says. “That way they buy the Deluxe, which is good for us, and they get free wings. It works for everybody.”
Operators say anyone can suggestive-sell appetizers, but more often than not, customers buy when the sale is done with some gentle and friendly finesse. Suggesting someone buy an order of cheese sticks in addition to what they’ve already requested bears the ring of an add-on because it’s presented by itself. But when bundled with a large pizza and a soda, however, it becomes a bargain rather than a ticket booster.
Cassano says some customers just want to get a pizza and get off the phone, but most are open to some friendly persuasion. “If you can make them feel like you’ve got their best interests in mind, they’ll listen,” he says. “If you say, ‘I bet an order of hot wings would go great with that pizza,’ it’s a whole lot better than saying, ‘Want wings with that?’”
Though his customer service reps are well trained using basic scripts, Chuck Thorp wants his staff to personalize their sales pitches.
“I don’t like a ‘machine’ approach where it sounds rigid or all the same,” says Thorp, CEO of 54-unit DoubleDave’s Pizzaworks in Austin, Texas. Like Bailey, Thorp also reports soft appetizer sales over the past year. “People either call in or order at the counter, so I like to encourage (our employees) to have personality when they interface with the customer.”
Most every operator said they use incentives, such as contests, to encourage suggestive sales. But while those challenges are helpful to some, they can be demotivating to others.
“When we do contests, we post people’s rank so they can see how they’re doing through the week,” says Cassano. But when one phone sales ace (who’s no longer with the chain) kept beating his peers, “all the other employees are looking at the rankings and thinking, ‘I’ll never catch him. Why try?’
“We’ve tried to change that some by doing it in teams, and that helps. But, really, we want them to do it as part of their job.”
(Try bundling an appetizer with a large pizza and soda. Your internet ordering system may already offer add-ons, but customers often percieve bundles as a bargin.)
When menu consultant Greg Rapp hears operators complaining about customers ordering appetizers instead of entrees, he knows they’re not looking closely at their numbers. Rapp says many fail to understand the importance of gross margin per customer and instead look only at the total ticket.
For example, if a table of four shares a $20 pizza that has a 20-percent food cost, the gross profit per customer is $4. But if three guests share a $15 pizza (with the same food cost, thus netting the same $4 per customer), and the fourth gets a $7 appetizer with a 25-percent food cost, the gross profit for that customer is $5.25 — a 12.5 percent increase for the whole table.
“In a lot of cases you do better to sell someone an appetizer than an entrée when the margin is better on that item,” Rapp says. “Print out a list for your staff of the highest-margin appetizers you have, and encourage them to push those. It’ll boost their checks and tips, and it’ll increase your profits.” ❖
Steve Coomes is a former and a freelance writer living in Louisville, ticket editor at Pizza Today Kentucky.
Photo by Josh Keown
Call toasted ravioli a pleasant accident. The year: 1947. The location: St. Louis — in the restaurant known today as Charlie Gitto’s “On the Hill.” As the story goes, a chef accidentally dropped ravioli into breadcrumbs. Rather than clean or toss the breaded ravioli away he deep-fried it and presented it to the restaurant owner. The owner enjoyed it so much that he added it to the restaurant’s menu. An iconic appetizer was born.
Toasted ravioli is no longer prepared accidentally at Charlie Gitto’s’ locations. Rather, handmade raviolis filled with veal, pork and beef are roasted with vegetables, breaded and deep-fried. At service, raviolis receive a dusting of Parmesan and arrive with a side of tomato sauce. Its so popular diners often receive free samples when they’re faced with long table waits.
“Since it was created here it’s become our claim-to-fame dish,” says Charlie Gitto, Jr., CEO of Charlie Gitto’s “On The Hill” and Charlie Gitto’s “From the Hill” at Harrah’s Casino in Maryland Heights, Missouri. “Everyone serves toasted ravioli now, especially in this area. It’s caught on because of its unique flavor.” Gitto estimates that the food cost for one $9 portion is $2.30, about 25 percent.
Kay and Tim Esposito learned just how important toasted ravioli is to the St. Louis community when they opened a Fox’s Pizza Den in Ellisville, Missouri, in May 2006. “Before we opened, Tim and I knew that this was one product we needed to have on our menu. Every other local restaurant carries them. It’s a St. Louis tradition and is well liked by most everyone. Since we had all the other ingredients we just had to purchase the raviolis from a local distributor,” says Kay Esposito.
Most toasted ravioli are fried in a deep fryer. Operators who don’t own a deep fryer can easily prepare the dish using oven-ready versions. Esposito purchases beef-filled, pre-fried, oven-ready toasted ravioli. The raviolis remain frozen in the freezer until an order comes in. Then, depending on the order, either six or 12 are placed on a baking sheet and sent through the pizza oven. She serves the ravioli with a side of marinara and sells them for $3.99 (half dozen) and $6.49 (dozen). Esposito estimates the ravioli has a 12-cent apiece food cost. “It’s a good seller, second in line with my wings,” she says. “It’s a nice change from the usual appetizers.”
Toasted ravioli may have originated in St. Louis, but it’s not limited to the Midwest. At the Buffalo, New York-based Marco’s Italian Restaurant, chef/owner Mark Sciortino serves hand-breaded, deep-fried ricotta-filled ravioli alongside house made tomato sauce. He estimates the food cost is 97 cents per serving, with eight ravioli per order. The appetizer sells for $6.50. “A good price point for toasted ravioli is $5.99 or above,” Sciortino says.
The toasted ravioli were originally offered as a special, but became so popular that Sciortino added them to the menu permanently. Fast forward 15 years later and toasted ravioli remains Sciortino’s No. 2 selling appetizer.
“Operators should consider adding toasted ravioli to their menu for the profit margin and moveability,” Sciortino continues. “It’s a fast seller and a consistent item.”
Rolf Wilkin, president of Eureka Pizza in Fayetteville, Arkansas, agrees, adding: “Toasted ravioli is a simple, easy item to prepare that is popular.” Wilkin menus both cheese- and beef-filled toasted ravioli at all nine Eureka Pizza operations, where frozen toasted ravioli bakes in conveyor pizza ovens.
Another benefit of toasted ravioli, says Wilkins, is the low food cost. Philip D. Pagano, director of foodservice at Louisa Food Products, which produces pre-fried and oven-ready toasted ravioli, isn’t surprised. Pagano says that toasted ravioli are approximately 10 cents apiece and sell for about 50 to 60 cents apiece showing an 18- to 20-percent food cost. “This makes them one of the most profitable items over any other item on an end user’s menu,” he says.
Fresh or frozen — operators have options when it comes to toasted ravioli. Fresh ravioli demands more labor, but it can also demand a higher price-point. As Gitto points out: “You can tell the difference between handmade ravioli and frozen.” However, Esposito adds that frozen ravioli has virtually no labor involved. “It is the most low cost, easy appetizer I have. It really is a nobrainer for me,” she says.
Toasted ravioli served with marinara sauce may have a fan base, but why not serve it with ranch dressing or pesto, garlic/butter or cheese sauce? In addition to beef and cheese filled ravioli, other fillings run the gamut from nacho cheese and jalapeño to spinach and artichoke — even duck. Sure, toasted ravioli is viewed as an appetizer, but it could be tossed into pasta or atop a pizza or salad. No matter how you cook it and serve it, toasted ravioli remains an easy-to-prepare, profitable item. ❖
Yield: 1 serving
½ cup cold water
½ cup milk
8 2-ounce cheese raviolis
1 cup fl our
1 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil, as needed Grated parmesan and parsley, for garnish
1 cup tomato sauce
In a bowl combine water, milk and eggs. Whisk.
Dredge ravioli in fl our. Add to milk and egg mixture. Then dredge in breadcrumbs.
Heat vegetable oil to 375 F. Fry ravioli until golden brown.
Serve with a side of tomato sauce. Garnish with fresh grated cheese and parsley.
Recipe courtesy of Mark Sciortino, chef/owner, Marco’s Italian Restaurant, Buffalo, New York
Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky. She covers food, business and liefestyle trends.
Photo by Rick Daugherty
New Year’s Eve rang in more than a fresh year. It also rang in the ascent of the “Net” generation (they’re the ones wielding Blackberries). They now outnumber Baby Boomers — and your marketing will need to adapt quickly.
In a recent conversation with Eric Qualman, a social media expert and author of the book Socialnomics, I was bombarded with reams of undeniable statistics, all of which pointed to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for nimble business owners.
For example, radio took 38 years to arrive at 50 million listeners. TV hit that same milestone in 13 years. Shockingly, the internet added 50 million in 4 years, while Facebook added 100 million users in just 9 months! If Facebook were a country, it would be the fourth most populated country on Earth.
Check out these stats:
❖ 96 percent of 18 to 34 year olds belong to some type of social network
❖ 1 out of 8 marriages in the U.S. last year were the result of meeting “online”
❖ 86 percent of purchases are influenced more by friends than by advertising.
Broadly speaking, if you have 1,000 customers, half of them are most likely “Generation Y”. Of that number, 96 percent of them –– or 480 — belong to a social network of some kind. Most likely Facebook, Myspace or Twitter.
The average Facebook member has 120 “friends.” Here’s where it gets interesting. 480 customers on Facebook x 120 “friends” = 57,600. Your reach is staggering. Now, certainly there will be a lot of overlap. Many of your customers share the same friends. But still, these numbers should give you goose bumps.
Keep in mind that Facebook and Twitter are not venues on which to advertise. Social etiquette is key. You’ll kill the opportunity by using “offline” advertising. Instead, understand “why” people are on Facebook and Twitter.
Your Facebook page, for example, should be more about you and a little bit about your restaurant. It’s “Bob” who enjoys skiing, has three kids, two dogs and loves to cook. That’s why you opened “Bob’s Pizza” over on Main Street. Get it?
People love doing business with people they know. It actually makes people feel important to “know” the owner. They could really care less about the “business.” They are on Facebook to socialize with you.
Then there’s YouTube. A whopping 70 percent of 18 to 34 year olds watch TV on the Web, and YouTube is now the second largest search engine in the world. At last year’s Pizza Expo, I scanned the audience with a camcorder and then broadcast the video to them from YouTube within 5 minutes. They marveled at the ease and rapidity of going “live” to the world.
How would you use this? Simple. There’s a children’s party at your pizzeria. You take a few minutes of video and post it to YouTube. But you also embed the video on your Web site. Then you walk out with a laptop and show the kids. What will those kids do the minute they get home? That’s right: text every single friend they know and send them to your Web site.
The internet has unleashed the biggest revolution in mass communication since the advent of the printing press. This year, the balance of marketing power tilts quietly back to the small business owner. As Qualman puts it: “This is the biggest shift in the human experience since the industrial revolution.” ❖
Kamron Karington owned a highly successful independent pizzeria before becoming a consultant, speaker and author of The Black Book: Your Complete Guide to Creating Staggering Profi ts in Your Pizza Business. He is a monthly contributor to Pizza Today.
Photos by Rick Daugherty & Josh Keown
If eyes are the windows to the soul, then windows are, well, the windows to the business’ soul. What is unique about your pizza, your menu, or your restaurant? What is new or hot or special?
Window advertising in the forms of cling, which are signs printed on a material that “clings” or sticks to glass, decals or signage like banners or neon signs, is a great opportunity to market what is going on in your restaurant and grab a customer’s attention and business.
“We encourage people to think of it as a channel,” says Marcus Miller, president of AdWise Group, Inc., an advertising fi rm in Carrollton, Texas. “There are three major channels: paid media, non-paid (a reference in a news article), and owned media (Web site, window cling).”
According to Miller, window space can be used to promote new items and current promotions, and if the restaurant has a lot of walk-up traffic, the space can highlight certain items or specials.
“If they have a visible location, use the space to build the brand; use it strategically, just like any media,” Miller says.
According to Corey Nyman, director of operations of The Nyman Group, a restaurant consulting fi rm in Arizona and Las Vegas, many elements affect window advertising. “In our experience, it traditionally works best in urban locations with foot traffic versus street/highway units, as signs aren’t as noticeable to cars driving by. Instead, we have used larger banners strategically placed on building exteriors,” Nyman explains.
Roc-A-Fella’s, a pizzeria that serves New York style pizza in Beavercreek, Ohio, hangs an exterior sign visible from the sidewalk and street boasting key menu items of pizza, sandwiches and pretzels.
Window advertising can be very effective in getting potential customers’ attention as long as the message is short and sweet.
“In today’s marketplace, there needs to be a clear sales message that makes consumers react quickly. Signage should include a few ‘impact-full’ action words or direct sales price that drives consumers to react and buy now. … The day of image campaigns without an accompanying sales message is almost unheard of considering the budgetary constraints brought on by today’s economic climate. Bottom line is that consumers need to be pushed to spend money these days, so talking to them directly is always best,” said John Csukor, president/ CEO of KOR Food Innovation, a restaurant consulting firm in Ashland, Virginia.
Once the message is determined, putting it out there can be done in several ways. “The marketing messages can be done as window clings that either mount on the inside or outside of the window, depending on whether they are tinted or clear. If they are clear, a reverse cling is done,” says Bob Merto of World’s Best Banners, located in Lake Forest, California. He adds that double-sided clings can be effective, as well.
Other window advertising options include a window perf, which is mounted on the inside of the window. It is transparent from the inside. Window posters or banners are available as well.
“Most of the window advertising displays current specials which vary from month to month with most retailers. Graphics should have contrasting colors to grab readers’ attention,” Merto said.
To ensure window advertising hits the mark, Nyman stresses the importance of developing a concept.
“Decals or clings all depend upon the concept and value that the operator is trying to project to their customers or guests,” Nyman said. “Quality of signage is often not taken into full account by the stores, and unfortunately, the signage can potentially come off as cheap or not appealing.”
With so many options in window advertising, the cost can be great or small. “The cost is about four to five cents per square inch, as a rule of thumb. It depends on how big you want your sign,” Miller said.
“Production of the signage, monitors, etc., is driven by size, design and number of pieces you would need to adequately fi ll your window space,” Csukor said.
Csukor adds that “vinyl or sheer cloth banners can be very effective featuring bold food photography that makes your mouth water and well-thought key words that drive passersby to think about your product.
“A more expensive but expressive window (ad) may come through graphic monitor screens that allow you to change messages as often as you desire. Think of it as your own billboard with rotating and changing messages that drive a fast-paced society to make a quick decision to buy now. From the distance most see from the street anything more than four to seven words is overkill, so get the message out, dead on. Talk flavors, talk value, talk quality.”
Windows are prime real estate for operators who want to put their business, their promotions, or their specials out there for the world to see. Whether the design is simple, like a sizzling slice of pizza with dancing pepperonis as a feast for the eyes or a sign that shouts “Medium pizzas, two for $20,” or the claim to fame, “Voted Best Pizza in 2009,” windows are the clear choice in getting potential customers’ attention — and, most importantly, their business. ❖
DeAnn Owens is a freelance journalist living in Indianapolis. She specializes in features and human interest stories
Photo by Rick Daugherty
Call them chicken tenders, chicken fingers or chicken nuggets — they all sound good to diners. According to Technomic’s Appetizer Consumer Trend report (March 2009), two-thirds of consumers polled say that they order chicken strips “sometimes” or “more often” when they eat out at restaurants. That same report illustrates how operators are responding to that perennial demand: Chicken tenders are one of the leading appetizers menued at the top 250 full-service restaurants.
If it’s a given that chicken tenders should be a part of a restaurant’s menu mix, the questions to address are: fresh or frozen chicken, breadcrumbs or fl our, deep fry or bake? The answers, of course, depends on the operation, so we rounded up insight from folks who boast fabulous chicken tenders (evidenced through their sales), but employ different methods in achieving them.
At Junior’s Pizza Grille in Worcester, Massachusetts, the homemade chicken tenders fall in the top three — and the eatery has a whopping 12 appetizers on the menu. The tenders are cut from fresh chicken breasts and battered in house. They are coated in fl our and seasoning, then dipped in a mixture of egg and whole milk before being tossed in more fl our. After being deep-fried, they’re dressed in Buffalo sauce, Thai peanut sauce or barbecue sauce. “I use fl our for the batter because it gives a smoother coating,” says Joel Stockdale, chef at the 68-seat shop. “The smooth texture lets the sauce grab on a bit better.” Diners get five tenders for $8.99, and he runs a food cost of 17 percent. The Buffalo sauce is the most popular, and tenders coated with it are served with a dipping side of bleu-cheese dressing.
At Vista Grille Restaurant in Sparks, Nevada, chef/co-owner David Powell opts for a crispy coating, using panko breadcrumbs on his chicken tenders. Served as an appetizer or entrée, he starts with frozen chicken tenders and then breads them in-house. He rolls the tenders in seasoned fl our then coats them in an egg-buttermilk mixture. He then rolls them in panko and holds them fresh, cooking them to order. After deep-frying in canola oil, he serves the chicken tenders with a dipping sauce of house made ranch, chipotle barbecue sauce or honey mustard. Ranch is the most popular dipping sauce, made with buttermilk, mayonnaise, chives, bacon bits and proprietary seasoning.
“The buttermilk thins out the egg, giving it a lighter, crispier crust,” says Powell. “We use panko breadcrumbs because they have more body to them. They’re not ground into a fine product.” The chicken tenders are among the top-five best selling appetizers at Vista Grille, where the menu includes wood-fired pizzas. They sell for $7.99 as an appetizer, $9.99 as a lunch entrée and $12.99 as a dinner entrée.
Lovers of chicken tenders can find them in a few different ways at 46-unit Nancy’s Pizza, based in Tinley Park, Illinois. From an entrée of Chicken Parmesan, featuring breaded chicken tenders, rigatoni, marinara sauce and baked mozzarella to the Breaded Chicken Salad, with chicken tenders topping a mixture of greens, tomatoes, green pepper, black olives, red onion and mozzarella, the restaurant offers what it calls “Chicken Tender Nirvana.” There’s also an appetizer available that pairs spicy chicken tenders with a proprietary barbecue dipping sauce.
Nancy’s, a subsidiary of Chicago Franchise Systems (which also operates Al’s Beef), sources frozen, fully baked, breaded all-white chicken tenders from its supplier. Prep is minimal, with the tenders going from freezer to the oven, then to the customer. Why a frozen, breaded product? “There’s no cost savings. It’s more of a safety issue,” says Dave Howey, president of Chicago Franchise Systems. “We don’t want to handle raw chicken, frankly. We obviously have to be very aware of safety issues, so we went this way. You have to choose your battles.” ❖
Parmesan Chicken Tenders
1 cup buttermilk
1½ boneless, skinless chicken tenders
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
Pesto mayonnaise for dipping *
Place the buttermilk in a large bowl. Add the chicken tenders, turning to coat; let stand for 20 minutes. Mix the Parmesan, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper in a dish. Dredge the chicken tenders in the breadcrumb mixture; coat completely. Arrange the coated chicken tenders in hotel pan, spacing evenly. Bake in 500 F oven. Bake until cooked through and golden brown, about 13 minutes. Turn once at the half-way mark. Serve with a dipping sauce.
* Pesto Mayonnaise Dipping Sauce
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup prepared pesto
Stir ingredients to combine.
Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.
Photo by Josh Keown
Giving a pizza a Mediterranean spin is as easy as saying “tomatoes, olives and anchovies.” But, then that would be giving short shrift to so many other flavors that make up the colorful portfolio of delicious Mediterranean ingredients. For example, we could paint the pizza crust with a pesto sauce and that would bring various regions of Italy into the pizza. We could next add chopped Kalamata olives and crumbled feta, so now we have added a few flavors of Greece to the pizza. And if we were to add anchovies, Spain has taken its place on the pizza. You can even add herbs –– oregano, basil, fennel — to the dough to up the flavor ante even more. I am not suggesting that those ingredients would make the best pie around, but you get where I am going here: The possibilities are endless.
So as I thought it over, I came up with a compromise –– a Sicilian Pizza, a pizza in the style of Sicily to represent the very idea of a Mediterranean pizza. Why Sicilian? Considering the fact that Sicily has seen many countries and cultures come and go over the centuries: Arab, French, Greek, Spanish — Mediterranean countries, all. And all of those countries, in one fashion or another, had an influence on the cuisine of Sicily.
This pizza might require a bit more prep work than usual, but the end result is worth it 10 times over. As you will see from the method part of this recipe, the combining and cooking of the main ingredients –– eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, etc. –– can be done well ahead and kept at room temperature (or refrigerated for later use). And then to order, it’s simply a matter of adding the rest of the toppings, with a final touch being an optional shower of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.
Yield: Two 14-inch pizzas (scale up in direct proportion)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed or minced
2 cups pizza sauce or all-purpose crushed tomatoes
¼ cup Kalamata or other Greek black olive, pitted
2 tablespoons capers, drained, rinsed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 14-inch pizza shells
½ pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
Optional grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
In a large sauté pan set over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil for 1 minute. Add the eggplant and garlic. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, olives, capers and oregano. Simmer the sauce until it is reduced slightly, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Allow the sauce to cool for at least 20 minutes (can be prepped well ahead and held).
Stretch or press the two pizza shells to suggested size. Ladle half the sauce over each shell. Divide the cheese equally between the two pizzas. Sprinkle some Parmesan over each pizza. Bake. Cool slightly before cutting.
Alternatively, the dough can be pressed into a rectangular pan and then cut into squares after baking.
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.
Let Your Tables Do the Talking
Sure you can toss some salt and pepper shakers on the table, but let’s really get your customers talking. Create a signature sprinkle by blending herbs and Parmesan and fill shakers. Keep bottles of olive oil and cracked pepper on the tables. It adds an upscale air to your pizzeria and offers customization for your guests.
Have a kids’ menu? It’s always wise to reprint the children’s offerings in the adult menu. Parents hate wrestling kids’ menus out of busy kids’ hands to decide on an entrée. Want to become kids’ favorite restaurant? Offer a kids’ night in which kids get to make a personal-sized pizza that is then baked and served to them. And take a page from the fast food chains by offering kids’ meal deals that include a drink, an entrée and a dessert for one fixed price. Kids love their own special dinner and parents love the value.
Lose the Laundry
If you’ve got the space, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t add a small washer/dryer to your establishment. Depending on the amount of linens you use, purchasing your own can pay off in as little as two months. Encourage staff to place all dirty towels and aprons into a basket at the end of their shift so they’re not laying around. Have a staff member toss them into the washer at the end of the night and another to throw them into the dryer the next morning during prep. The savings really adds up quickly by not outsourcing your linen laundry.
If you’re serving menu items made with zucchini, you have the potential for big sales. It’s a versatile vegetable that can be used as appetizers, edible garnish, on pizza and in many dishes. Here’s an easy appetizer to try: slice zucchini into thin strips and coat with fl our. Fry until crisp in EVOO. Lightly salt and top with a sprinkle of grated Parmesan. Serve with warm marinara. Appetizers don’t get any easier than this!
Photos by Josh Keown
You can add a new twist to your wine program by providing customers with more affordable options to drink wine than by the glass or bottle.
At most restaurants, a standard wine glass pour is five ounces. And in this tightening economy, the customer on a budget might not order more than one or two glasses.
Two-ounce pours of wine, priced at under $3 each, can help customers decide on a particular wine before they invest in a glass or a bottle. The pours can either be ordered solo or incorporated into a wine flight, which is between three and five pours and typically costs between $10 and $15. Your customers might view spending $15 on wine a real value simply because they are introduced to five wines instead of a sole option as they might be with one glass.
“They get a chance to try a few wines and if they want, they can order more of a wine they like,” says Lisa Ruzicka, manager of Humble Pie in Scottsdale, Arizona. At Humble Pie a flight costs $10; it includes three glasses filled with two-ounce pours, all different wines and ones selected by the customer from the wine list.
Wine flights are attractive not only to a customer new to wine (yet eager to explore); it’s appealing to the winesavvy customer who enjoys evaluating wines side by side.
At Bin 239, a wine bar and pizzeria in Prescott, Arizona, high-end wines are poured at a price that’s easier to swallow. The “First Class Flight” of wines ($65) contains highly regarded, but expensive, picks from wineries like Duckhorn Merlot and 100 Acres. “If you don’t want to buy the bottle, you can taste it this way,” says Karen Keller, who co-owns Bin 239 with her husband Kelly.
Having an approachable wine program that’s also affordable can turn your dining room into the kind of place customers will want to visit more than once in a while. “You can make it more of a place where people can come in with their friends and family on a regular basis,” says Angela Scott, owner of Sogno di Vino in Paulsboro, Washington. “We want to make it more fun. There’s always been this stigma about wine tastings, that they’re snobby and pretentious.”
Since opening in May, wine has been featured as prominently on Sogno di Vino’s menu as pizza. “They kind of go hand in hand,” says Scott. Bottles can be purchased from a retail wine shop inside the restaurant and the customer’s choice poured at the table –– with no corkage fee. Scott estimates there are about 100 rotating selections sold in the shop. In addition to 20 wines available by the glass (with a special focus on Italy, the Pacific Northwest and California), Scott developed six signature flights.
Typical restaurant mark-ups on wine range from 200 percent to 300 percent over the wholesale price. “You can’t continue that kind of mark-up in this economy anymore,” says Scott. “Our mark-up (on wine) is more like what you’d find in a store.” She says her current wine-pricing model is more profitable than at restaurants she previously ran in San Diego where she employed a traditional markup.
Keller expanded the food menu at her restaurant to also broaden the possibility that customers will order several wine pours. Her wait staff is coached in how to offer recommendations, such as a Sonoma Valley Sauvignon Blanc with an appetizer, a different wine with salad and a heavy red to drink with pizza or steak. “It’s fun,” she says. “They can have an array of different flavors without ordering a whole bottle.”
Pizzerias with successful wine programs have also figured out how to steer customers towards the wine list and not have it interpreted as an afterthought. One option is to feature specials on wine throughout the week. Humble Pie features a $5 glass of wine during its Happy Hour each evening.
Wine tastings at Bin 239 cost just $14 –– it consists of four wines “and comes on a lovely platter,” says Keller. Because weekday evenings are not as busy as Friday and Saturday nights, tastings are held during those times. Staff are not as occupied and can learn about the wines poured or pass their knowledge on to the customer. “It’s a nice little wine school,” says Keller. “People come in just for this. It’s an education every day.”
Every other Wednesday Sogno di Vino hosts a wine tasting. For a cost of $20 per person, five wines are poured and appetizers served. In December, Scott organized her first wine dinner where the winemaker was present and talked in depth about the vineyard’s wines.
Getting the word out about your wine program is important. Without an aggressive marketing push, you can’t reach regular customers –– or new ones either. A sign-up sheet is circulated at Sogno di Vino wine tastings with the intent to collect email addresses. Sending out emails is the best way to advertise wine events and tastings, says Scott. ❖
Want to add your own wine flights to the menu? It’s a great opportunity to fl ex some creative-marketing muscles.
Wine flights are either organized by grape varietal –– but from different producers and regions, such as a Chardonnay flight that includes selections from Santa Barbara County, California, and Hunter Valley, Australia –– or have something else in common. The commonality is often abstract and at the discretion of the person writing the wine list, such as “little-known white grapes,” “bold reds” or “lots of bubbles” (could be sparkling wines that range from Champagne to Cava).
Give each flight a quirky, memorable name. An example is “Bad to the Rhone” at ENO, a wine bar in Chicago, where a few Rhone varietals are presented in smallersize glass pours (about two ounces each). Developing a cheeky name (and accompanying description) can help attract your customer to the wine list. And recounting the experience to his or her social circle will be much easier if there aren’t wine names to easily botch.
Kristine Hansen is a freelance writer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Photos by Rick Daugherty & Josh Keown
Cheese bread is an unfussy name for a pretty straightforward appetizer, and it seems diners like it that way. It does have fancier offshoots — from housemade French bread stuffed with Gruyère to pretzel bread twisted with fontina cheese. Different cultures lay claim to the cheese bread, making it their own with local ingredients and infl uences. In Brazil, pão de queijo (bread of cheese) is made with manioc fl our and queijo de Minas (similar to a queso fresco). In the Republic of Georgia in Eastern Europe, kachapuri is made with fl our, butter, yeast, eggs and yogurt, and stars a creamy salted cow’s milk cheese that is best described as a blend between havarti and mozzarella. Italy’s small town of Recco in Genoa gives us foccacia di Recco, two layers of very thin dough sandwiching a rich, creamy fresh cheese called crescenza. In the U.S., cheese bread is most often bread spread with butter or olive oil, sometimes infused with garlic and herbs, and then topped with cheese or a blend of cheeses. Turning cheese bread into a signature appetizer comes in through technique and choice of cheeses. Operators we spoke to say that a simple cheese bread, executed well, makes their customers happiest, and menu distinction is achieved through recipes that call for more than the expected mozzarella melted over a slice of bread.
Lou Malnati’s, with 30 units in the Chicagoland area, serves a Three-Cheese Bread with a dipping sauce of housemade marinara for $5.25. “It’s a family-sized portion, so it’s a great communal appetizer,” says Jim Freeland, corporate chef and principal at Malnati’s. He starts with French bread infused with proprietary spices. He cuts the bread, then spreads garlic, along with a blend of several different fats, over the bread. It’s topped with mozzarella, Parmesan and cheddar and bakes in the oven until the bread crisps and the cheeses melt. “It is a pretty simple dish, but it’s important to do it well,” he says. “We use really soft French bread, and it crisps up beautifully in the oven. We get a nice contrast of flavors with the three cheeses, so you have several things happening on your palate. It’s really popular because it’s good. It’s not just mozzarella melted on a piece of bread,” he says.
At Palio’s Pizza Café in Mansfield and Ft. Worth, Texas (with other units throughout Texas owned by different franchisees), they make both a cheese bread and a Greek bread, offering them in two portion sizes. For the cheese bread, they start with a hoagie roll, cut it in half and slather it with housemade garlic butter. That gets topped with mozzarella and then toasted. Once pulled out of the oven, it gets finished with Parmesan cheese and parsley. A small order is six slices, and runs at $3.99. The Greek bread sees the hoagie roll slathered with pesto, then topped with mozzarella, feta and tomato, as well as a bit of olive oil. It sells for $4.99. “The Cheese Bread is more popular, but the Greek one does well, too,” says Seth Johnston, manager. “I think it’s at an easier price point for people, plus it’s familiar. We add our own touch to it with the Parmesan and parsley.”
At C.R. Gibbs in Redding, California, the Garlic-Asiago Cheesebread sees mayo in the cheese mix. By adding mayonnaise to the recipe, the chef brings in a binding element and is reduces the cost of the cheese. Mayo also cuts the strong flavor of the Asiago, mellowing it out with its neutral tone. To make it, the chef combines grated Asiago, mayonnaise, chopped garlic and chopped green onion. He blends them, then chills the mixture so it sets. He then spreads it on cut sourdough sticks and broils them in the Salamander until the cheese melts. The appetizer is served with a marinara dipping sauce. “The bread actually stays relatively moist because of the mayo. We don’t need to add butter or oil to the bread first,” says Jennifer Baird, a line cook at C.R. Gibbs. “The mayo also helps us manage the cost of the cheese. The trick is to cover all of the bread with the cheese blend, so you don’t get any burned parts.” The Garlic-Asiago Cheesebread, at $2.99 an order, is second only in appetizer sales to the fried calamari.
Cheesy Garlic Bread
1 large loaf French bread
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons butter, softened
¼ cup of grated mozzarella cheese
1/8 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 cup fontina
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley
Marinara sauce for dipping
Cut the loaf of bread in half, lengthways. Mix the garlic with the softened butter; spread the mixture over each half. Sprinkle mozzarella generously over both halves. Top with Parmesan and fontina cheeses. Combine herbs; sprinkle them over the bread. Place bread on ungreased baking sheet; bake in 375 F oven until bread is golden brown and cheese is bubbling and melted (about 10-15 minutes). Serve with a side of marinara sauce for dipping.
Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.
| Keep up with the latest trends, profit making ideas, delicious recipes and more. Delivered hot
and fresh to your email every Wednesday.