I recently had a request for a vegan pizza. What do you suggest?
Hi John. I did a little research in veganism and found the definition from a quick Google search. A vegan (pronounced VEE-gun) is someone who, for various reasons, chooses to avoid using or consuming animal products. While vegetarians choose not to use flesh foods, vegans also avoid dairy and eggs in their diet.
If this definition is spot on, dairy (cheese) couldn’t be on the pizza. Analog cheese doesn’t melt. I wouldn’t eat it, so I wouldn’t sell it.
This is not pizza. Yet, the vegan movement is on the upswing. If you can sell enough of them a week, then maybe it is worth considering. It boils down to your particular market. For me, if an entrée (specialty pizza) doesn’t meet a minimum monthly menu mix percentage, it is a loser. It’s not popular enough to be on the menu and must go away. Read up on menu engineering and you’ll understand why it‘s better not to have too many menu options.
I once offered a seafood pizza on my menu for about three years. I loved it. It had fresh garlic, shrimp, crab, Alfredo sauce and a few complimentary veggies. I finished it with a sprinkle of lemon pepper. It was delicious, but I only sold three or four a week, mostly to my doctor and my mechanic. I threw out as much of its ingredient inventory as I sold, so I finally had to discontinue it.
When my doc came in to order his weekly Seafood De Lite, I regretfully explained that we had to drop it from our menu. He pressed me on what led to that decision. I turned the questioning back to him. I asked him if he had studied the clinical treatment of Leprosy in medical school, and if so could he treat it? He said yes, but he would have to refresh and review the treatment options. Then I asked him if he could make a living treating the disease in our town. When he told me that there was zero demand for specialists in the USA, I let him in on the why of my decision: no demand, no profit, no hard feelings.
Then I made him feel special. I told him if he would go to the grocery store and buy a bag of frozen shrimp and a couple of cans of crab I would store the ingredients with his name on them. He would be the only one in Oscoda who could order a Seafood Pie. When he was about to run out, I would remind him to restock. He was very happy. After a couple of months it went away on its own. I gave a similar explanation to my mechanic. He brought in his private stash once and then never restocked.
The takeaway from this story? I saved the customer and made him feel special. Customers don’t want to hear the word no. Figure out how you can say yes to the vegan and he might just tell everyone.
Big Dave Ostrander owned a highly successful independent pizzeria before becoming a consultant, speaker and internationally sought-after trainer. monthly contributor to Pizza Today.
November and December bring the holidays, and there’s no better time to be thankful. What are you thankful for? If your business is operating and turning a profit, you’ll probably start your list right there considering what we’ve had to endure as an industry over the last several years.
I’m thankful for a number of things: my family, my health, my success at Pizza Today, etc. I could write a novel on each of these subjects. But this month I want to take the time to thank the roughly 200 pizzerias who supported Slice of Hope, the industry-wide charity initiative Pizza Today put together and spearheaded in 2011.
The idea behind Slice of Hope was simple enough: partner National Pizza Month and National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (both lay claim to October) in a way that would bring our industry together like never before. The vision was grandiose: to point America’s pizzerias in the same direction, for just one day, in an effort to better our communities.
From May through October, Pizza Today asked America’s pizzerias to donate a percentage of their sales from Friday, October 7th, to the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation. To garner support and to secure press, we announced that myself and a small team of cyclists would bike from Portland to Seattle October 4-7 to raise awareness for the upstart Foundation.
We spent 10 months organizing and planning Slice of Hope. We promoted it in six issues of Pizza Today. We shouted about it on Twitter and Facebook.
We didn’t know what to expect. We had no idea how many pizzerias would take part. After all, the economy is still beating up our industry. Many pizzerias were telling me that sales were actually up, but profits were down and they simply did not have any money to give, regardless of how powerful the cause happened to be.
That’s understandable, and that’s what makes the actions of the aforementioned 200 pizzerias so impressive and laudable. These pizzerias (see them listed next month) banded together and collectively donated thousands of dollars to the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation through Slice of Hope. In fact, at the time of this writing, more than $84,000 had been raised — and the checks were just starting to come in.
Talk about making a difference where it matters most. (Once a final total is available, we’ll publish it for all to see.)
The pizzerias that took part in Slice of Hope not only did a good thing for society, they also raised their profiles in their respective communities. For one night, they were heroes to their customers — and they also welcomed many first-time patrons through their doors. Next month, we’ll share some of the success stories from Slice of Hope, as well as detail the bike ride from Portland to Seattle. It’s amazing to hear how many of the participating pizzerias took the seed of an idea Pizza Today provided and managed to turn it into a blockbuster local event that increased sales and generated priceless goodwill from their respective neighborhoods.
The pizzerias that supported Slice of Hope deserve a standing ovation from this industry as well as society in general. Please allow me to be the first to say “Thank you.”
If you took part in Slice of Hope, e-mail me your success story as well as some pictures from your event. Also, let me know your thoughts on this question: wanna do it again in 2012?
Jeremy White, editor-in-chief
Q: On my flour bags it says: “bleached, enriched and bromated.” What does this mean?
A: The bleaching of the flour is done only to remove its yellow pigments, making it brighter and whiter in color and appearance. Aside from that, there is no other importance to bleaching the flour. Today, much of the flour is being milled without bleaching as there is a preference for the yellowish color — some prefer as they feel it makes the baked product look more natural and richer.
“Enriched” means that a vitamin and mineral enrichment has been added to the flour to provide the same nutritional value as it would have if it were milled as whole-wheat flour. Enrichment of flour has been a standard practice since the time immediately following World War II. Aside from the nutritional aspects, enrichment has no other impact upon flour or its performance.
Bromate is added to provide strength to the performance characteristics of the flour. This effect is especially evident during baking where bromated flours may exhibit improved rise, or oven spring characteristics. This can be an important performance feature in bread production, but in pizza production it has little or no benefit, and in fact, it can even induce a negative performance as it may contribute to increased dough memory or snap-back characteristics, thus potentially making the dough more difficult to open and maintain size/diameter during baking. I try to avoid the use of bromated flour in pizza production if I can.
Additionally, there are some rather specific health concerns regarding the use of bromate in flour as demonstrated in California’s special labeling requirements for foods made with potassium bromate, as well as Canada’s ban of its use in all foods. My own personal take on bromated flour is that it is safe as used, but I like to try to avoid it if at all possible. We now have some good substitutes for bromate in applications where bromate might be considered a highly functional and important additive.
Q: Does it really make any difference if I mix my dough in first or second speed on my mixer?
A: No, not really, since pizza doughs made in pizzerias are seldom ever mixed close to anything even resembling full gluten development. It is under-mixing the dough that provides a good part of that nice open, “airy” internal crumb structure that helps to develop that desirable crispy bottom crust characteristic. When mixing at low speed, most dough seems to be sufficiently developed after about 15 minutes of mixing. Longer mixing times serve little purpose, and are just harder on your mixer — bringing you just that much closer to inviting your local mixer repair man out to your store for a friendly, but costly visit. When mixing at second or medium speed, the total mixing time is usually reduced to something in the 8- to 10-minute range. The objective in dough mixing is to just mix the dough long enough to develop an extensible skin on the surface of the dough. This skin will make scaling and rounding/balling of the dough a lot easier as it will not feel as sticky at the bench.
Q: We recently got a dough press that has a heated head for forming our pizza skins, but the dough keeps shrinking back an inch or more as soon as the head is raised. Aside from increasing the dough weight, what can we do to eliminate this?
A: All dough presses are notoriously dependent upon the use of some type of reducing agent/dough relaxer to reduce or eliminate this characteristic of a pressed dough skin. The reducing agent most commonly used is PZ-44, which includes L-cysteine in its formulation to relax the dough and reduce or even eliminate the snap-back. Another additive that can be used with equal effectiveness is what is commonly referred to as “dead yeast” available from most yeast suppliers or manufacturers. The dead yeast product contains an amino acid called glutathione, which is very similar to its first cousin amino acid –– L-cysteine –– and they both work with equal effectiveness. Just make sure you use the product of choice within the manufacturer’s recommended use level range since an excessive dose of either product can quickly turn a dough into something more closely resembling a batter, with more than a little pronounced stickiness.
Aside from the addition of a reducing agent, it may also be beneficial to use a warmer than normal dough if your dough management procedure doesn’t call for refrigeration of the dough. We have found that dough temperatures of 90 to 100 F will press out much more easily, and without as much snap-back as colder dough temperatures, but these doughs can be problematic in handling and don’t have a very long useable life on the bench. If you happen to be one of those making par-baked crusts, this might be a trick that you can incorporate to reduce the amount of reducing agent used in your dough formulation.
One last thing to keep in mind when using a dough reducing agent is that, for the most part, the addition of a reducing agent to the dough will pretty well limit the life expectancy of your dough in the cooler to about 24 hours. If you hold it much beyond this the dough will become excessively soft and difficult to handle.
Q: We make pan pizzas and we use margarine in the pans, but what would the difference be if we used soybean or olive oil instead?
A: Assuming that the margarine you’re presently using is flavored as well as colored, it will impart a slight dairy hint to the crust as well as a slight yellow color to the outside of the baked crust. If you were to change over to soybean oil there would be essentially no flavor or additional color imparted to the baked crust. The olive oil would not impart any additional color either, but it would impart some of the characteristic olive oil flavor to the finished crust. Also, the margarine might be helping to hold the dough in place in the pan, making it easier to fit the dough to the pan, while the soybean oil and olive oil would have no effect on the way the dough adheres to the pan, thus possibly making it a little more difficult to fit the dough to the pan.
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
Is Just Around the Corner!
We are pulling out all the stops to make sure next year’s Expo is the largest and best show ever! We’re offering you more than 80 pizzeria-boosting seminars to choose from, as well as our new daily Power Panels and an expanded pre-show seminar day designed for the new operator and first-time attendee. In fact, we’re designating Monday, March 12, as “New Operator Monday.” The best part is this intense 6½ -hour educational program is FREE to registered attendees. We’ve also lined up several new speakers, developed new topics and planned new events to make this the ONLY show you’ll need to attend all year to find out new trends in the pizza industry. You’ll have an opportunity to learn about hot-button topics such as social media marketing, employee retention methods, menu design and labeling, dough dos and don’ts and many others.
Did you know we’re giving away over $50,000 in cash and prizes during Pizza Expo? The best news is there may not be an easier way to win $20,000 in Las Vegas than playing the show-closing Great MEGA BUCKS Giveaway. If you’re looking to increase your odds of winning some additional cold hard cash, then you should make plans to play or enter the New Exhibitor Treasure Hunt, World Pizza Games, International Pizza Challenge™ or our newest competition, the Great Pizza Box Challenge. Send us your box or bring it with you to Expo to see where it stacks up against the competition and whether you’ll go home with $500 and the title of the 2012 World’s Best Pizza Box.
At International Pizza Expo® you’ll have networking opportunities with some of the best and brightest pizza entrepreneurs and consultants.
With all the choices available to you at Expo, it’s a good idea to start planning your show strategy now. Map out a list of educational seminars you want to attend and start thinking about questions to ask at the Beer & Bull Idea Exchange®. Take a few minutes now to review the attendee brochure with this issue of Pizza Today magazine for a list of exhibiting companies, seminars, demonstrations and workshops. If you’ve ever seen or read about a product or service you’d like to have for your pizzeria, then chances are you’ll find it and just about everything else you’ll need for your pizzeria on the Pizza Expo show floor.
After a smashing success in 2011, we’re bringing back Master Pizziaolo Tony Gemignani for a second year of hands-on tutorial spread over three days –– Going to School With Tony Gemignani. A 10-time World Champion and certified instructor from the Scuola Pizzaioli in Caorle, Italy, he trains and certifies pizza makers from around the world in styles from Italy and the U.S. Come see why Tony’s pizzeria was recently named best pizzeria in America by Great American Bites.
If you haven’t already registered to attend International Pizza Expo, the “World’s Oldest and Largest Pizza Show,” you should stop reading this now and call 800-489-8324. Or better yet, pre-register online at www.PizzaExpo.com and save $10. Our combined staff at Pizza Today and Pizza Expo has been working for well over a year to produce the biggest and best show ever! In fact, we’re so sure that attending Expo will be the best business decision you’ll make this year, we’re guaranteeing it. If you’re not satisfied with your experience at Pizza Expo, simply outline your thoughts in a personal letter to me and I’ll see to it that you receive a prompt refund of your registration fee.
It’s all Pizza and it’s all for YOU!
Executive Vice President
Submit your letters via email [ firstname.lastname@example.org ]
or Facebook keyword search: Pizza Today
Slice of Hope
Friday was such a great success for Slice of Hope here at my restaurant. We had been advertising for roughly three weeks and the turnout that our community showed was tremendous. I will be sending a check for the amount of $465.04 to the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation today. On behalf of my employees and myself, I want to say thank you to Jeremy White for coming up with this wonderful idea. We had a great time Friday and our community here in Clare, MI, showed how supportive they are by making Slice of Hope a success.
Once again thank you and we look forward to doing this again next year!
Shari Buccilli, owner
Sharon, thank you for helping to make Slice of Hope a first-year success!
Making a Difference
Just wanted to pass along our thanks for sponsoring Slice of Hope. We here at LaPizzeria Restaurant in Huntsville Ohio are happy to say that between our 10% of sales, our T-Shirt purchases and individual donations collected during the event we were able to raise approximately $1,000.00. We will be forwarding you a check for $760.00 for the donations, as we have already paid for the T-shirts.
My lead waitress, who is also my sister, is a breast cancer survivor of 2 years.
Thank you again,
Randy Henson and the Crew
Randy, thank you! And congratulations to your sister for beating this deadly disease. We wish her, and your entire crew, continued health, happiness and success.
Pizza, Cookies, Community …
What’s Not to Love?
Greetings from Vincent Caltagirone, owner of Golden Crust Pizza in Red Lion, Pennsylvania. For Slice of Hope, we had a GREAT day & night despite our power outage for about an hour or so towards evening around 5:30 p.m. It happened on our prime time, but power was restored finally around 7 p.m. I did pledge 10% of my bottom line in FOOD sales & we managed to raise over $500 towards this deadly disease despite the power outage. I hope we made a difference in helping to fight this disease through our participation in your event on Friday October 7, 2011. The servers worked very hard to help raise the money for this event & we even decorated the dining room in pink balloons. Our customers also received throughout the day FREE cookies made up by the cooks with pink chocolate morsels baked on top & they were yummy! We even had a few of our customers make personal donations towards the event & on top of it all we all had FUN doing it for the Foundation & Pizza Today.
Good luck with the upcoming results of the other fine pizza restaurants that also participated in the event & I can hardly wait to see how much was collected in donations. Thanks again & it was a pleasure hosting this event.
Vincent Caltagirone, owner
Golden Crust Pizza
Red Lion, PA
Vincent: we are proud to say that you did in fact make a HUGE difference with your contribution to Slice of Hope. Thank you very much for all you did on that day. Like you, we can’t wait for the total amount raised to roll in. We’ll publish the figure once it’s available to us from the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation.
It’s great when your phone is ringing off the hook, but I have a feeling your heart sinks every time the voice on the other end offers to “feature” you on their daily deal Web site. If you haven’t received one of these calls, it’s only a matter of time before you do. The basic gist is that the site offers an amazing coupon for your business — usually 50 percent off — to thousands of subscribers. You get plastered on their site for a day or two, and everyone on their email list is forced to read the name of your business (unless they click delete). There are no upfront costs; you just have to split the remaining 50 percent with the deal site.
I had the opportunity to work with one of the biggest group buying companies a couple years ago, just as they launched their site in New York. We did a big discount on my walking NYC Pizza Tour, and I had no idea what to expect. Daily deal sites were still pretty new at that time, so it was unchartered territory for me.
Sure, people were paying half price and I was only getting part of the remainder, but the influx of new customers was incredibly valuable — or so I thought. Most of the buyers had either never heard of my business or never cared enough to purchase a ticket.
The best part about my deal was that most of the new customers were local — and you know how powerful local clientele can be. If they like your business they’ll tell their friends, bring family members, write online reviews and help steady your customer flow. I’ve even had some customers who signed up for a tour after seeing it listed on the past deals page of the deal site. All in all, the deal ran pretty smoothly.
Now for the bad news. As soon as I ran my deal, scores of other companies started calling to offer similar “features” on their Web sites. Of course I didn’t want to run too many deals as I did not want to run the risk of devaluing my product. I also had to consider the chance that bargain shoppers could take up all the space on my tour, preventing full-price customers from signing up. From your point of view as a pizzeria owner, the last thing you want in your restaurant is for your tables to be filled with coupon-toting diners while your regular customers wait outside in the cold.
The way I see it is that it’s dangerous terrain, to be sure, but you can make it work if you navigate carefully. When preparing your deal, be sure to schedule it right before your slow season so you can attract new crowds when you need them the most. Lots of businesses complain about daily deal sites because they have been burned as a result of improper deal management. Don’t fall into this trap; plan your deal intelligently and train your staff to deal with the influx of new customers.
Once I walk into your restaurant with my daily deal coupon, it’s your job to convert me into a lifetime customer. Make sure I know about your mailing list, Facebook page, Twitter feed and Web sites so I can stay in the loop. You can even use the daily deal model on a micro level to feature one of your under-performing menu items for half price during a slow lunch. If you win me over, I’ll probably jump at the chance to stay connected to your business — even for full price.
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.
How can I make money without doing anything? Author Michael Phillips says that “Money will come when you are doing the right thing.” The right thing could mean following the Golden Rule. As restaurateurs we can give our guests what they want and make a healthy profit at the same time with gift cards. “From a purely mercenary perspective, gift card redemption is never 100 percent. Industry estimates suggest that approximately 10 percent of gift cards are never redeemed, meaning that the more gift cards the pizza shop sells, the more they gain from unredeemed cards,” says John Heaney of SparkBase, a leading gift cards program provider. I like the sound of that.
Gwen Lahrs, senior marketing manager of Pizza Ranch, a 159-unit chain in the Midwest, asserts that “gift cards make an excellent, affordable and flexible gift choice. They are available in any dollar amount, from $5 to $500, and they are re-loadable.” Making them even more appealing to the consumer is that while you may not know precise selection of the intended recipient, a gift card is still personalized, as it is redeemed for their meal of choice.
An interesting phenomenon in gift cards is that they are not just for gift giving. Jeff Lipp, executive director of Heartland Payment Systems’ Gift and Loyalty program, says: “Many consumers are buying them for themselves instead of just for others. If one of my local pizza places offers to give me $10 on the house if I put $40 on a card, I am stretching my money and earning a reward for consolidating my pizza purchases to a single location.” The message? We can offer guests easy shopping and rewards for doing good.
How do operators benefit? Lahrs states that gift cards help build relationships with new guests and strengthen relationships with existing loyal guests as they increase the frequency of their visits. Personally, I have built many meaningful relationships through script programs and found that the typical gift card holder will spend more than the actual amount of the card and usually brings others to dine with them.
Lipp encourages operators to strategize when offering gift cards. “Gilliano’s Pizza & Ice Cream Parlor in Woodland, Washington, rewards customers for loading a minimum of $30 onto their cards by adding an additional 25 percent onto the card,” he says. “When you set the minimum amount to receive a reward higher than the average ticket, you will see customers load more just to receive that reward amount. In the last year, over 40 percent of Gilliano’s gift card purchasers loaded an amount on the card high enough to receive the reward. Sixty-five percent became repeat visitors.”
How do we market this win-win offer? Pizza Ranch dedicates an entire page of its Web site to gift cards and promotional deals. To further guarantee guests are aware of gift card offerings, Pizza Ranch staff is fully trained on how to field any questions guests may ask. Visibility and awareness are crucial. Heaney advises that operators should “Have cards visible with tabletop and countertop promotions,” he says. “Customers need frequent reminders that gift cards are available.”
Also, have your staff equipped with a list of suggestions for when gift cards can be given — they aren’t just for the holidays anymore.
Gift cards increase frequency, average ticket and attract new customers. They are not a lazy gift … they are the right things to give. Let’s help our customers figure that out.
Scott Anthony is a Fox’s Pizza Den franchisee in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He is a monthly contributor to Pizza Today and a frequent guest speaker at Pizza Expo.
STELLA ROSSA PIZZA BAR // SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA
To begin to try and define what makes good pizza might take years of in-depth research, highly elevated arguments and countless caloric consumption. And after all is said and done, you would still be where you started. Pizza varies from region to region, city to city, and even street to street. The best part about this is that everyone thinks that they have it correct. I remember sitting down with my partners and discussing what Stella Rossa Pizza Bar should be. We listed ideas, inspirations and goals on sheets of paper. Some were eventually crossed out, some were underlined and others highlighted. The end result? We created our own philosophy and style. Much of it was rooted in our own traditions and values, while leaving the door open for new.
While much of the pizza industry is traditionally associated with red checkered tablecloths and chianti bottles with slow burning candles for centerpieces, we set out not to recreate the pizzeria, but rather put our own spin on it. From the restaurant design to the food served and down to the vibe created, each part of Stella Rossa was intentionally thought of and then tested and retested. We wanted to create an approachable atmosphere that would not only be inviting to large parties of friends looking for great drinks and delicious pizza, but welcoming to first dates and single diners. We desired Stella Rossa to be a destination restaurant while still being your neighborhood joint. Ultimately, we strived to serve the best pizza we possibly could without any gimmicks and show. Needless to say, we had a lot of ambition.
I have taken an approach to pizza that I cannot say is absolutely original or unique, but is grounded in the years of experience I have had working in fine dining. This doesn’t mean that I’m creating pizzas with foie gras or caviar; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. I crave simplicity. It’s the hardest form of cooking that I have found or practiced. Simplicity means that there is nothing to hide behind. Each bite and every flavor needs to be at its best. We have gone to great lengths to pursue this idea. We have taken the time and energy to locally source quality ingredients, such as our flour, which is grown and milled nearby, and build relationships with local farmers. We have experimented and perfected our mixing and resting process for our dough, a process that takes about 30 hours. Additionally, we place our dough into individual containers to proof. This allows each of the boules to proof separately, consistently and to be the best it can possibly be each time a pizza is made.
I’ve spent much time thinking about what sets Stella Rossa Pizza Bar apart from other pizzerias and it keeps coming back to hard work and quality. Each day we have one goal in mind –– to take one thing and make it better. This goal has no parameters and can range from the food, to the service. If we keep this in mind, imagine what we will be in the years to come. However, the bigger question may be –– have we broken the mold from the everyday pizzeria? To answer this question is simple. We never started with a mold. We had an idea and we worked hard on it, and continue to do so. Our restaurant represents our values –– to make great food.
When it comes to scheduling, it must seem as if the skills of a magician are called for, especially when it comes to waitstaff. In this case, there are numerous things to consider: how many tables to assign to servers; the number of people needed on the floor at a given time; how to keep employees busy when they’re not serving and ensuring fairness so as to avoid complaints of favoritism, just to name a few.
Doing it well is a “thought-provoking exercise,” says Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of foodservice strategies for WD Partners, a Columbus, Ohio-based integrated design, operations and development firm.
“It’s a balance between what the restaurant needs against the availability and requirements of the employees’ needs,” he explains. “For example, you can’t ask an employee to come in for just two hours, but that may be all you need. So the question becomes, how do you keep that employee busy for six hours?”
Efficient scheduling is crucial to the bottom line, Lombardi adds. “Labor is generally the most expensive cost to a restaurant, so there’s an awful lot of profit that can be made or lost depending on the scheduling.”
That’s not all. Poor scheduling creates a host of other concerns. Understaffing can result in fatigue, increased accidents, order accuracy problems and diminished customer experience, Lombardi says. Overstaffing not only undermines profitability, but it can cause higher turnover as servers leave because they can’t get enough tables. It is also the case if servers feel they’re always ending up with the least desirable tables or hours (and the complaining they’ll do before leaving won’t exactly enhance staff morale).
As challenging as scheduling is, getting a handle on it and keeping staff humming along harmoniously is entirely possible but first, accept the reality that scheduling, like life, is rarely fair, says Tom Bianco, CEO of Atlantic Consulting, Inc., an Atlanta-based restaurant operations and marketing firm.
“If you’re an operator that has great servers and weak servers, the better ones will get the better shifts and sections; that’s only fair to the business,” he says.
Suzette Megyeri, owner of Bambino’s Italian Eatery in Colorado Springs, says her schedule is based on ability and seniority. Megyeri, whose dining room seats 200, has
Most of her servers, who handle seven to eight tables apiece at peak (a load made possible by bussers) “own” their schedules, says Megyeri, who relies on a scheduling manager. The work schedule doesn’t change much, especially since turnover is quite low.
Megyeri references her “holiday guide,” a historical compilation of every single event and holiday and the associated traffic, to determine staffing requirements. If unexpectedly caught short, “waiters in waiting” (bussers that can also serve) pitch in. Thus over or understaffing situations are rare.
Claire DiLullo, owner of Joseph’s Pizza in Philadelphia, uses historical data and cross-trains staff to step in when needed as well. DiLullo has 30 employees; her dining room seats 80. On Friday nights —“definitely pizza nights,” she says — there are four servers, two runners and two hostesses on the shift. Each server handles about five tables; hostesses seat and clear tables.
DiLullo’s turnover is also low. Consequently, the schedule “runs itself” and is determined by the crew. Managers become involved only if there’s a conflict, which seldom occurs.
One issue Megyeri says they’ve faced is when servers clamor to leave early because of dwindling customer traffic. To prevent this, the scheduler notes what time waitstaff can leave for the day.
“And they can’t leave earlier than this,” she says. “There are certain nights we make them stay on the floor (giving them other tasks to do) even if it looks slow, because we’ve gotten caught short before with a late-night rush.”
Megyeri believes in the early identification of potential schedule disruptors by recording in an “expectations log” those employees who exceed expectations and those who fall short, such as calling in sick even if they do cover their shifts as required. This, she explains, alerts her to an employee who might be becoming a problem and provides a better record than memory.
Other sanity-saving scheduling strategies include:
Historical data is useful, but if the schedule is the same week after week you run the danger of overlooking what is unique about the current week, cautions Lombardi. Actively manage the schedule, responding to real-time variability.
Server abilities being equal, you can make it standard practice to rotate waitstaff so everyone gets a busy and a slow night if this has become an issue, says Bianco. Use platforms like e-mail, Facebook, Twitter or your Intranet to facilitate communication between employees, suggests Lombardi. This makes it easier and faster for staff to cover their shifts, to have this approved and to make everyone aware of the change.
Realize that reducing scheduling issues/complaints starts at hiring and continues on through training, says Bianco.
“When I was an executive chef and manager I was told to first hire nice people, that you could teach them to do everything else,” he says. “Nice people get along with one another so scheduling doesn’t become an issue.”
Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelancer specializing in writing on topics of interest to all manner of businesses. She is based in Long Beach, California.
Dallas might be known more for its Cowboys, barbecue and Southern charm than its pizza scene, but a handful of upscale operators are set on turning that around. Among them is Joseph Palladino, a restaurateur who –– with two other concepts under his belt — seems to be hitting all the right buttons with his four-store Coal Vines. This pizzeria is more than just a slap-a-slice-on-a-plate operation. Palladino, a former New Yorker, wanted to marry sophisticated food with an affordable and interesting wine list –– and it worked. With $10 million in sales, Coal Vines has quickly established itself amongst Dallas’ competitive and growing upscale dining scene.
The concept is part of a restaurant group that includes a steakhouse (opened in 1999) and a grill (opened in 2009) and employs 150 people. Pizza “was something that I’d been looking to do for a while,” Palladino says. “Back when we opened up in 2006, there was this wine craze starting with a lot of boutique wine restaurants and wine bars. … To me, (Dallas) was also missing good pizza. I didn’t feel the pizza was up to speed here in Dallas, and that’s something I grew up with. I’m from New York, born and raised. I’m a retired New York police officer, and I grew up with pizzerias on every corner. It was something that I missed.”
The first Coal Vines opened in uptown Dallas with just 1,600 square feet. It expanded two years later when the business next door vacated the premises. Palladino says he researched coffee giant Starbucks’ concept as an upscale experience but he also wanted that “Cheers” neighborhood environment. “I would say that’s what we accomplished here,” he says.
Important to the brand are its display kitchens, giving customers a full view of prep and baking. But Coal Vines takes its décor to another level –– there are plush drapes on the walls, Ralph Lauren fabric-covered seats, full shelves of wines and stemware on the tables. “It’s sexy,” Palladino says. “I guess the best way to explain it is (that) it’s a casual elegant setting.” Coal Vines appeals to families in the early evening, but at night it becomes a great date spot “that’s very adult driven” he adds.
The idea hits a high note in Dallas. Coals Vines now has four locations and expects to open a fifth this month. As with any concept, “once I felt that the restaurant itself was sound and that I thought that the longevity of this concept was not going anywhere, that I can remove myself from it and try it in another location, that’s when I knew” the brand could support a second store, Palladino says. “Being in the industry a long time, I have a pulse on where we are operationally … creating an institution in town. I believe we are there, and in our industry, I think that’s probably the hardest thing to achieve.”
With two successful non-pizza concepts, Coal Vines added touches not normally found in a typical pizzeria –– namely presentation and menuing upscale dishes that transcend pizza and breadsticks. Head chef and Co-owner Samir Dhurandhar, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, has been instrumental in the growth and development of all three of the company’s concepts and has managed to infuse Coal Vines’ menu with items like the Smoke Salmon Tartare (featuring salmon, goat cheese, avocado and pomegranate vinaigrette) and Lemon Sole Piccata, a fish dish in a lemon white wine sauce with capers and sautéed spinach. “Everything has a culinary twist to it,” Palladino says. “What we want to do is exceed everyone’s expectations.”
Pizzas are baked in a gas-assisted coal oven that cooks at 675 F. The bottom of the oven is heated with infrared, and the oven can bake eight larges at 2½ minutes each. “I was the first person in Dallas to have the original coal oven pizza, which I am familiar with in New York City,” Palladino says, quoting NYC staples Patsy’s, Lombardi’s and Arturo’s as his inspirations. “I just think it makes for a better pie.”
They haven’t changed their price points since the restaurants opened, and Palladino says sales have only increased since then. “I think people are still choosing to dine” despite the economy, he says, “and they want to go where there’s value and maybe at the same time, exceed their expectations. I think that’s why people come here.”
Part of what separates Coal Vines from its competitors –– pizzerias and upscale eateries –– is its list of more than 100 wines. Since the restaurant does a high volume both by the glass and bottle, distributors are more likely to offer them a discount. “If I do a million (in sales), $400,000 of it is going to be in wine,” says General Manager Jeff Ganji. “We do that much.”
Dallas’ wine scene was growing in 2006, and marrying pizza and wine gave Coal Vines a leg up. “In pizzerias, there’s a limitation on revenue,” Palladino says. “Everybody loves wine. Having pizza be the core competency of the brand, (we also) have a full menu as well. I wanted to make it recession proof (with) good price points.
“The wines are very heavily discounted from what you’d normally see. I also made the wines very mainstream names where I think (consumers) could appreciate the value in the wine … The wines, at this price point, I think raises everyone’s palates. People who normally spend $30 on a bottle of wine, they get an opportunity –– for the same money –– to pick up a bottle that’s normally maybe $50 or $60. They maybe even order a wine that’s a little more expensive because normally it’s out of their price range.”
Beer is available, but none of the locations sell hard liquor because Palladino says it brings in a different crowd.
As for marketing, Palladino says they don’t do any advertising except for a billboard they have in town that advertises their brunch. They opt for great customer service that generates word-of-mouth. “If we want to allocate dollars to marketing or advertising, we really do it within the restaurant,” he says. “We give it to our guests. We know where it’s going, and we feel we benefit from it that way.
“That doesn’t mean I’m right –– but it works well for us not just for this concept, but for all of them.”
There’s more to Coal Vines’ success than good food and a killer wine list, however. “Having key people in each location has been a real luxury,” Palladino says, crediting his partner, Dhurandhar, and general managers like Ganji for easy operations.
Future growth for the pizzeria concept will be done through licensing agreements, and two have been sold –– one group is slated to build 10 in Texas and a second in Kansas City.
There is still room to grow in Dallas as well. “There’re still pockets here that I don’t think we would cannibalize ourselves,” Palladino says. “It’s important that the integrity of the concept remains the same, but like anyone else that does licensing agreements, these are challenges that we face. But, we feel we have enough support, enough infrastructure, to make sure that the quality doesn’t change in any way.”
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
Olive oil can be your best friend in the kitchen or your worst enemy. Using a first-rate olive oil can elevate the flavor and goodness of any food — pizza, pasta, sandwich or salad. Using an inferior olive oil can lower a dish to a level that is less than acceptable by any standard of good taste. With that in mind, allow me to point out a few facts and some of the differences between quality olive oils and those that are sub-par.
Olive oil is made from different varieties of green olives, with the resulting quality, color and flavor affected by the weather, soil, producer and geographic location –– a series of events not much different than that which occur in producing wine. Let’s look through the processing terms and different grades of olive oil:
Extra-virgin. All olive oil produced by the first pressing of the olives through a method known as cold-pressing (as opposed to using heat to extract the oil) and is less than one percent acidity is called extra-virgin. This is the BMW of olive oils; however, keep in mind that being labeled “extra-virgin” does not always relate directly to quality and taste. Those two factors link back to what I stated earlier about the olives, producer and location. Clean and fruity are the two major taste characteristics of this oil.
Virgin olive oil. This type is produced in much the same way as extra-virgin (but the olives might be slightly riper). The main difference is that virgin olive oil has a higher level of acidity (one and a half percent or more), and that relates directly to a less appealing flavor than EVOO.
Pure olive oil. Generally labeled simply “olive oil,” this type comes from the second extraction of the olive mash left over from the first pressing. This oil is lighter in color and has a less interesting flavor than EVOO or virgin oils. But for all-purpose general use, and lower cost (much lower cost), this “commercial grade” oil is perfectly suitable for all-around use –– sautéing, for example.
Refined olive oil. This type is made by the further processing of virgin olive oil (thus practically eliminating all of the clean, fruity flavor found in EVOO and virgin olive oil). Also, the acidity level rises to an unsuitable 3.3 percent. Frankly, this oil does not have much going for it at all; and, if you were to do a smell test of this oil and EVOO, you would immediately notice the vast difference.
Bottom line: Use exra-virgin olive oil for vinaigrettes, salads and stand-alone appetizers like a Caprese salad (fresh mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, fresh basil). Use virgin olive on pizza, pasta and salads where the distinct taste is less noticeable. Use pure olive oil for deep-frying. Use a combination of butter (preferably unsalted) and pure or virgin olive for sautéing. Taste and taste again to get to the level and style of olive oil that works for you.
When it comes to storage, remember that olives are fruits. In effect, this means that olive oil is a fruit juice, so over exposure to heat, light and air will cause olive oil to turn rancid. Store olive oil in tightly sealed containers — tinted glass, stainless steel or porcelain are the best — in a cool place and away from light and heat (in other words, not on the shelf above the oven, grill or fryers). The ideal temperature range for storing olive oil is 60 to 70 F. Do not store olive oil in plastic or reactive (aluminum, for example) containers.
Refrigeration does not harm any grade of olive oil lower than EVOO. Protect that expensive EVOO in every way possible. Condensation can develop in the bottle and that will affect the flavor. Refrigeration will extend the life of the oil, but it will cause it to congeal and turn cloudy. The oil will return to its original state once it comes back to room temperature.
When infused olive oils are used on various dishes — pasta, salads or pizza — they can elevate that dish to a level that can be quite incomparable, so try one of these methods. Use caution, however, because herb-infused oils should be treated with care and do not have a long shelf life. One important tip is that after washing the herbs dry them thoroughly (in a warm oven or in paper toweling), because excessive moisture will affect the final flavor.
Herb-infused Oil >>>>>>>>>
Yield: Two cups
(scale up in direct proportion)
1 cup tightly packed, torn fresh basil leaves
2-3 sprigs fresh oregano
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
Wash and dry the herbs. Place the herbs in a large jar (I use a Ball-Mason jar or canning jar with a tight lid). Pour the oil into the jar. Use within 2-3 days.
Use the oil to brush on a pizza crust before adding pizza sauce. Use the oil to toss with cooked pasta, also on salads and appetizers.
Yield: one cup
(scale up in direct proportion)
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled, thinly sliced
Heat the oil in a small saucepan, over medium heat. Add the garlic slices and cook gently until the oil is fragrant and the garlic is a toasty brown (about 4 minutes). Remove the pan from the heat and let cool. Cover the pan and let the oil steep for about 1 hour.
Strain the oil into a sterilized jar (again, I use a Ball-Mason jar or canning jar). Use within 24 hours.
Note: increase the amount of garlic to taste.
I use garlic-infused oil in any number of ways: to make pasta aglio e olio, toss cooked spaghetti or another long pasta with this oil. Add crushed red pepper flakes. Garnish with chopped flat-leaf parsley. Simple dish, yet terrific. Add cooked shrimp to the pasta for an even more impressive dish.
Use the garlic-infused oil in combination with balsamic vinegar as a dipping sauce for bread.
Brush a pizza crust, including the edge, with garlic-infused oil when making a garlic-lovers pizza.
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.
Our restaurant isn’t just for adults. Bring the kids and let them enjoy awesome food from the kid’s menu! bit.ly/qtToHR
Why it works: Our Twitter feed is full of beer and football right now –– bravo for taking the time to tweet to parents! We love the fact that Venezia’s added a link to their menu right in their tweet, encouraging parents to check out their offerings. We especially like the kid-friendly emphasis –– great for tired working parents who don’t want to cook after a busy day.
Are you a Pizza Picasso? Build your own Specialty Pizza starting at only $8.49 for 5-toppings! What will you create tonight?
Why it works: This clever Tweet encourages customers to order custom pizzas that go beyond the specialty line-up on Chanello’s menu. There’s more to life than a supreme or pepperoni pizza, and Chanello’s wants to create it for you. Want to add grilled sirlion to your anchovy pizza? No problem. They’re happy to oblige.
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MacKenzie River Pizza For your tastebud’s pleasure, try a bowl of our creamy, made from scratch Cheddar Broccoli Soup today - pair it with a salad and fresh baked breadsticks for $7.75....All you can eat!!!
Why it works: MacKenzie River does a good job of advertising that they offer more than pizza –– and the fact that their soups are homemade. This is the perfect time of year to offer soups, and when paired with a salad and breadsticks appeals to diners who may not be in the mood for ’za.
Bella Napoli Italian Restaurant PASTA NIGHT!!! Monday night, best deal in town. By one pasta entree and get the second one for only .99 cents only at Bella Napoli Italian Restaurant. Also, don’t forget to ask for and try our award wining cream of crab soup. Grazie e Buon appetito.
Why it works: Bella Napoli grabs attention on a typically slow night –– Mondays. This affordable special is sure to bring in diners, and it also spotlights that the restaurant has a full menu of entrées as well.
With three corporate pizza behemoths in her backyard — not to mention a dozen other independents, Jeannette Magaro, owner of Mia’s Nikoli’s Pizza in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, knows creative and strategic marketing is a must if her eight-year-old shop is to secure customers and profits.
The “big boys,” as Magaro calls them, can splash their national name on television during Penn State football games and prime-time shows, offering promotions and prices Magaro’s outlet cannot match. Rather than concede, however, Magaro has kicked her marketing into overdrive, touting Mia’s Nikoli’s neighborhood vibe and local roots at every turn; it’s the surest way, marketing experts say, to counter the big boys’ power.
With her husband, Ricci, running the store’s operations, Magaro focuses her efforts fully on attracting business. She makes regular visits to local hotels, often with a pizza in hand, to curry favor with staff and fashioned a cross-marketing venture with a local sports memorabilia store in advance of Super Bowl Sunday.
“You need to have that personal touch the large chains can’t have,” Magaro says.
Mia’s Nikoli’s 2010 “Fall Sports Campaign” stands as Magaro’s most inventive, revenue-generating turn to date. The restaurant provided sports-themed water bottles, outfitted with the pizza shop’s logo and info, to fall sports teams, cheerleaders and band members at Trinity High, a 600-student school located three blocks away. For 30 cents, the wholesale cost of the water bottle, students can fill their bottle with a beverage. The program immediately exceeded Magaro’s expectations, as dozens of students patronized the pizzeria for their refill and food.
“We have students in here every day buying pizza and subs. We’ve gotten close to 100-percent participation from the band alone,” says Magaro, who has recreated the program with Trinity High’s winter and spring programs as well.
While restaurant owners have long been advised to divert two to five percent of sales to marketing efforts, a benchmark more the result of habit than any proven formula, Kip Knight, head of California-based KnightVision Marketing, urges single-store operators to focus less on percentage and more on desired outcomes.
“Regardless of the money you have, think about the goals you have, the competition you’re facing, and the metric you’re trying to push, whether that be the average ticket, increasing the customer count, or referrals,” Knight says.
With a goal in mind, operators can then explore the creative ventures capable of producing results. While every operator will have his or her own goals, these three cost-effective, strategic avenues can maximize the single-store’s marketing dollar and give the local shop an edge:
Reward existing customers. Consider consumer perception of cell phone companies. While many carriers devote exhaustive efforts to securing new business with introductory offers, customers repeatedly express discontent with the company’s follow-up, which drives customer dissatisfaction. Pizzeria operators shouldn’t make the same mistake, particularly with their most profitable, dedicated customers.
“Incentives are the way to show you care. That keeps customers loyal and prompts the word-of-mouth marketing that is gold,” Knight says.
Pizzerias should capture testimonials and encourage a referral system, says Jon Schallert, a Colorado-based marketing consultant. Simplified by technology and social media, restaurants can gain credibility and resist the urge to react to competitors. “It’s as simple as saying, ‘Forward this to a friend. You’ll get A and they’ll get B,’” Schallert says. “Set up a system in which the loyal customers get rewards for repeat visits and encouraging others.”
Resist giving away margin or money, but rather something of perceived value, such as complimentary bread sticks. Whenever possible, defer the reward to a future visit. And don’t be shy about throwing in the occasional surprise.
“The element of surprise can bond a customer to your store,” Schallert says. “Not only will they come back, but you can bet they’ll talk about you.” Seek publicity. Studies show that consumers believe newspaper, TV and radio well above paid advertising. Devote time to pitch your pizzeria’s unique or quirky qualities to the media, specifically local outlets. The publicity translates into free advertising.
A Lakewood, Colorado pizzeria, for example, has collected mounds of media attention for its food challenge: eat an 11-pound, 28-inch pizza in two hours and earn $1,000. In creating a signature item, people remember the pizzeria’s dare and spirit. “Ask yourself: ‘What’s newsworthy in my business?’ Then, tell people about it,” Schallert says. “The big chains won’t do this because they’re on the corporate program. You’re not.”
Value face-to-face opportunities: Never afraid to ask someone to try her product or to pursue a potential partnership, Magaro mingles with places that host children’s parties, such as pottery studios, to create beneficial relationships.
“If you don’t open your mouth, you don’t know what you can come up with,” Magaro says. “The face-to-face interaction is hard work, but so much more effective.”
Such opportunistic, personalized ventures, Knight says, are those that swing considerable favor into the independent operator’s direction.“There’s no reason the single-store operator can’t be strategic and cost-effective at the same time,” Knight says. “As marketing’s evolved, he who has the most money doesn’t win the war.”
Maximizing Social Media’s Pull
Marketing’s version of sweat equity, social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter can be tailored to a specific market and engage customers with the restaurant. Operators can invite customer photographs, highlight promotions, or champion charitable causes, all of which cements customer interaction.
For ideas on best utilizing social media, visit Facebook’s Marketing Solutions page, which features dozens of real-world case studies from business owners using Facebook to their benefit, as well as mashable.com, which offers a range of social media resources and guides.
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
Hundreds and even thousands of people pass by your pizzeria on a daily basis. What message are your windows sending?
How to approach window signage and advertising varies from pizzeria to pizzeria. Westshore Pizza in Tampa, Florida, has large, wide front windows facing a busy thoroughfare. Operations Manager Tyrell Reed says, “We like to give patrons a positive impression of Westshore Pizza before they even step foot inside our restaurants — clean design, good food, fair pricing.”
Reed says they accomplish that message by providing clean, appealing vinyl graphics in vibrant red and checkerboard white and black.
Westshore’s windows display the pizzeria’s best deals, like an 18-inch one-topping pizza with a pitcher of beer or soda for $11.99, and highlight favorite menu items, like the Philly Cheese Steak. “We constantly change the specials and pricing to stay relevant and competitive,” he adds.
While Westshore Pizza takes a window graphics approach, Sweet Tomatoes in Newton, Massachusetts, applies a minimalistic strategy to its windows. Of its three locations, one restaurant has bare windows. Owner Hedy Jarras says that decision was intentional. It is in a historic building with a small paned window. “Nothing goes on that window,” she says, explaining that window graphics wouldn’t fit the establishment. Instead the pizzeria relies on its quaint building signage to draw customers in.
The two other Sweet Tomatoes locations have a single piece of vinyl signage — the pizzeria’s logo and “Neapolitan Pizza” written underneath. “I’m just very into the clean look where people can look in and out,” Jarras says.
The placement of the Sweet Tomatoes logo was strategic for Jarras. “I don’t want them straight in the middle because people can’t necessarily look in,” she says. “So I have them closer to the bottom. We are at a main intersection so you hope that everyone can see it.”
There are only a couple of items that may appear on Sweet Tomatoes’ windows: an occasional “Now Hiring” sign and a banner advertising their Matzo Pizza for Passover. The Matzo Pizza is the perfect example of a promotion Sweet Tomatoes has where “I really need to draw people in immediately,” Jarras says. “That’s a big draw for us.”
Scott Anthony of Fox’s Pizza Den in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, agrees on the less-is-more tactic. “Windows should be considered part of your four walls marketing,” he says. “I feel this space is just as important and useful as any. It is a view into your ‘world.’”
He offers some “Dos and Don’ts” when it comes to windows. “Windows provide a view of a restaurant with satisfied customers eating inside a clean restaurant and happy employees working inside,” Anthony says. He advises not to obstruct views inside.
Covering the windows with posters, banners and signs also may pose security risks. “Someone could have entered your establishment and no one will ever see them moving around,” Anthony says, a lesson he learned first hand.
The information you provide is crucial to passersby. He says must-haves include an open sign, store hours, phone numbers and web address. “We use window-scapes and die cut graphics,” Anthony says. “These are informational, plus give the benefit of allowing a view in and out. They are also reflective so they show up great at night.”
Whether you go for bold dominating statements on your windows or minimal coverage, remember to keep it clean, appealing and in pristine condition.
Vinyl is King
Many operators are drawn to a common window product — vinyl. There is an abundance of options for vinyl graphics to place on your storefront windows. What do you look for when you need new vinyl or need to replace worn out treatments? There are new products hitting the market constantly and it can get a little confusing at times.
Sam Cassel, vice president of Cassel Promotions in Spokane, Washington, shares what drives new window graphics. “When someone comes out with a new product that is a breakthrough product, generally it’s a price breakthrough that they are trying to hit price points that this product performs better than another, but it’s half the price,” he says
“They come out with vinyls that perform a little better, meaning they are easier to install and vinyls that will accept a richer, more vibrant image,” he adds.
When shopping for vinyl, consider that high-end products may run $8 to $9 per square foot, with lesser expensive products running $4.50 to $5 per square foot. Using full-color graphics and even high-resolution photography is common. Also, most graphics companies do not charge for cutting shapes in the vinyl.
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
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