Photos by Josh Keown
Keeping an even staff level throughout the year is a great thing. You know your employees, they know their roles and staff turnover is steady and predictable. But for some pizzerias, that’s not an option. Summer comes on strong, and with it, a huge spike in demand. Pizzerias in tourist areas have to bring in large numbers of temporary workers. Pizzerias in college towns can see half their workforce packing up and heading home for the summer. But how can you find good seasonal employees — and how can you train them efficiently?
Terry Perrella has found a way to avoid the problem entirely. The owner and manager of Sammy’s Pizza in downtown Duluth, Minnesota, is definitely familiar with the summer rush — he goes from eight tables a night in winter to around 30 on a busy summer evening. But to avoid the time and expense of training temporary workers, he asks his staff to work more instead. Since school is out for the summer, his part-time workers are able to work extra hours, and they’re often glad for the opportunity. “I got high school and college kids, they don’t work more than two shifts,” Perrella says. “In the summer they want to work five shifts.”
Giving your workers extra hours is a simple solution, but it’s not always an option. Many employees want time off for travel or vacations, and college students from out of town may go back home for the summer. This can leave gaps that are difficult to fill. As the co-owner of Bulldog Pizza and Grill, a Duluth pizzeria sandwiched between two colleges and a high school, Sue Wright has a lot of experience with student employees. She says that when graduations and summer plans start to shrink her pool of workers, she just takes out her Rolodex.
“When we’ve been in a bind we’ve called people who are former employees, who left on good terms,” Wright says. “These people who are leaving to go to college, they’re always welcome back if we feel they’re doing a great job.”
Of course, not everyone wants to come back. Dave Coleman is a founder and co-owner of Prospector’s Pizzeria and Alehouse and two other restaurants near Alaska’s Denali National Park. The three restaurants together go from seven employees in the winter to 200 in the summer, and only 25 percent return from previous years. “You really want to retain the best employees summer after summer, (but) a lot can happen in eight months,” Coleman says. “That’s what’s so challenging about seasonal hiring.”
Coleman and his partners start screening applications on January 1, and they conduct two rounds of phone interviews. They look for people who are truly determined to get the job, because those people are motivated to keep it.
“Eighty to 90 percent of all our hiring is done in those first couple weeks in February,” Coleman says. “The earlier hires usually are ones that have already determined they want to come here. What is key is getting the staff motivated.”
Motivation is especially important for seasonal employees, who are hired specifically to deal with thick crowds and long hours. For this reason, it’s important for owners to vet temporary employees themselves.
Brian Hutchinson has learned this the hard way. As manager and part owner of Pazzo’s Pizza, a three-unit chain in the mountains of Colorado, he’s seen his share of ski bums and the generally unmotivated. But some of his worst workers have come from a temp agency. “Last year I ended up with a couple of real duds,” Hutchinson says. “They started in November, they weren’t very good workers, (and) they wanted to leave in February. From then on I said, ‘I’m not hiring until they get here.’”
Even after you find motivated workers, you have to train them. Howard Cannon, CEO of Restaurant Consultants of America, recommends that operators keep training tightly focused for their temporary employees.
“Don’t cross-train the employees,” Cannon says. “Just hire them for one area in one specific time slot.”
Hutchinson, however, says that even temporary employees should have a full understanding of the business. His approach is trial by fire, and he expects short-term workers to know nearly as much as veterans.
“Just give them the standard training program,” he says. “If they’re not great in a couple days, we can kind of tell.”
A third option is group training. David McCarthy, also a founder and co-owner of Prospector’s Pizzeria, says that they’ve refined a system that allows them to train 200 one week before they open for the season. You probably won’t have the luxury of a dedicated training week, but you can apply the principles behind it. By providing hands-on training, matching less experienced workers with more experienced ones, and printing out step-by-step instructions for each and every position, you can give your temporary employees a chance to excel from their very first day.
“When guests show up, the No. 1 compliment we receive is ‘this feels like this has been open all year,’” McCarthy says. “That is the secret to success of a seasonal business.”
Robert Lillegard is a freelance writer in Duluth, Minnesota.
I’m experimenting with how many ounces of dough to use for a stromboli and calzone, as well as 10-inch, 12-inch, 14-inch, 16-inch, 18-inch and 20-inch pies. Can you please help me out?
Syracuse, New York
Hi, Josh. Here is my rule of thumb for dough ball weights: multiply the area of the circle (square inches) times 0.11. Let’s do an example for a 14-inch pizza. You find the number of square inches in a circle by taking pie (3.14) times the radius (half of the diameter, which would be seven in this case) squared. That comes out to 153.86 square inches. Round that up to 154. Now, take 154 and multiply by 0.11. That equals 16.94. Round that up to 17.
So, I use a 17-inch dough ball for a 14-inch pizza. This produces a nice medium thickness. If you want it thinner, drop the multiplier to 0.1. If you want a thicker crust, raise it to 0.13.
As for calzones, they generally use less dough than pizza. Start by using a small dough ball for a large calzone, then experiment from there until you get it the way you want it.
I just read an article in Pizza Today about making your own dough. I am making the transition from frozen dough balls to making my own dough and I have a question for you. Can you provide me a starter recipe to work from? I am using a 30-quart mixer and need a little direction. Can you help me?
Sean, if you aren’t familiar with baker’s percent, it’s time you familiarize yourself with it. Recipes presented in this format can be easily adapted for any size mixer. So if you change sizes you are still guaranteed a consistent product. Just remember that flour is always 100 percent. The other ingredients are based on flour weight. Let’s say you were using 50 pounds of flour. When you see water listed at 55 percent, that means you take 55 percent of 50 pounds, which is 27.5 pounds. That’s your flour weight. Repeat the process for each ingredient.
Here’s the recipe:
Flour, 100 percent
Water, 55 percent
Oil, 2.2 percent
Salt, 1.5 percent
Sugar, 1.25 percent
Instant Yeast, 0.16 percent
One final helpful tip. It’s much more accurate and easier to utilize this recipe if you convert pounds to ounces. Remember, there are 16 ounces in a pound. So that 27.5 pounds of water, based on the example with 50 pounds of flour, checks in at 440 ounces.
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.
You’ve got questions … our expert has the answers. Submit your questions via e-mail to Jeremy White (firstname.lastname@example.org) — make sure to put “Ask Big Dave” in the subject line. We’ll pass the best questions on to Dave each month for his highly sought-after advice.
Photos by Josh Keown
As the pizza category shows its resilience and continues to pick up steam, there is little doubt that Domino’s Pizza has had a heavy hand in igniting the industry-wide turnaround. The company’s bold product revamping and hugely effective advertising platform has drawn the interest of the public and Wall Street alike, and the result has been a renewed enthusiasm in the world of pizza.
Patrick Doyle, chief executive officer of the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based company, says that 2010 will go down in Domino’s history as one of the most important years for the pizza brand.
“It was a breakout year at Domino’s,” he says. “Clearly the domestic side of the business had an extraordinary year. We had phenomenal results.”
The company finished 2010 with a same-store sales increase of 9.9 percent for its U.S. units. International stores, meanwhile, enjoyed a 6.9-percent rise in comps. Sales totaled $6.7 billion.
And those numbers were key drivers that led to Domino’s being named Pizza Today’s Chain of the Year in 2011. This marks the second consecutive time the company has won the award, and the third time overall (2003).
“We were really cheering for 10.0 for the year in December,” Doyle says of the near double-digit growth Domino’s enjoyed last year. “We were about eight pizzas short!”
The stellar financial performance, as Pizza Today reported in last year’s June issue, is a result of the company’s willingness to examine its product line and make changes that resonate with American consumers. According to Doyle, the relationship with customers has been overwhelmingly positive since Domino’s revamped its pizza recipe.
“We have a connection with our consumers better than we’ve ever had, and the feedback we’ve gotten from them … has been absolutely terrific,” he says. “I think people care about this brand more and have more of a connection to this brand than they ever did before.”
Lynn Liddle, executive vice president of communications and investor relations, says the company has also seen renewed enthusiasm from franchisees.
“Our relationship with our franchisees, in general, has been pretty good over the years,” she says. “But I would say it is at a high point. “The most important thing to the franchisees is that they are making money. And the franchisees, at least domestically, made more money this year than they did the year before. So the direction is going the right way.”
After impressing the foodservice sector with a 14.3 percent first-quarter jump in 2010 and 9.9 percent increase overall, one has to ask when things will slow down. Doyle believes Domino’s is in position to continue capitalizing on opportunities that could result in increased market share in the future. He puts it in perspective like this:
“The fact is I just see huge opportunity for this business. This is a brand that, as much success as we’ve had, we only sell about one out of 10 pizzas in the U.S. While our delivery share is a lot higher, this is a really big category. We’re selling 10 percent of those pizzas, so there’s clearly a lot of room to grow.”
Considering that Domino’s has nearly 5,000 stores operating in the United States, how many more markets can the company realistically expect to enter?
“While there are no markets that we’re not in at all, there’s still a lot of room for growth. There are still 1,000 stores that we can build in the U.S. And, there are markets where we are very uncompetitive versus where we should be. We figure that we can deliver to about 65 percent of households in the U.S. today,” says Doyle. “There are some that we will never be able to deliver to because they are in towns that are simply too small, or they’re not even in a town, but that number could get to 75 or 80 percent. So there’s still absolutely room for growth in the U.S.”
Still, one might reason that Domino’s has to slow down at some point. For his part, Doyle does not seem particularly concerned about that. “Is it tough to roll over the kind of results we had in 2010? Sure, but our view is that we’ll continue to grow from here,” he reiterates. “Ninety percent of the people out there who are going to order pizza tonight are going to order from someone other than Domino’s, so I don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about where we can possibly find growth in the U.S. I think there are a lot of opportunities for us. We’re in this for the long haul.”
As the overall pizza landscape continues to gain momentum, Doyle sees no reason to believe that Domino’s won’t benefit. Plus, the sky is the limit internationally, where the company has grown year-over-year for well over a decade — and, even then, there are vast untapped markets. “It’s nice to see the category start to move again a little bit,” says Doyle. “We hope we helped that. We certainly brought a lot of attention to the category, and I think we’ve helped move some of it.
“And the international side of the business … As fast as it’s been growing, we’ve barely scratched the surface. Probably in 2012, we will open a store somewhere in the world and at that point have more stores outside of the United States than inside of the United States.
We will have more retail sales outside of the United States than inside of the United States. That’s something that, as I look at the growth opportunities globally, the opportunities there are not going to run out in my lifetime. It’s a big world out there and there are a lot of people who want to eat Domino’s Pizza.” That’s, in part, because the company provides a difficult-to-beat value proposition. The new pizza recipe rolled out last year has solidified that footing, claims Doyle.
“We built a new base of business with (the new pizza),” Doyle says. “We continue to see the repeat rates and frequency rates with our consumers that prove that we’re connecting with people, that they like this new pizza. I think the category is, in general and Domino’s in particular, giving good value to consumers again. I think part of the reason we saw the category slow down over the past decade is I think our relative value got a little bit off. So as we see a category giving better value, I think we see the traffic improve across the category.”
Pre-recession, foodservice did not exactly drum up a lot of enthusiasm or respect from Wall Street. In 2010, that changed. Last year, the S&P 500 experienced a 12.8 percent improvement over 2009. By comparison, the S&P Restaurant Index was up 28.7 percent. As impressive as that may be, consider the performance of Domino’s (DPZ), which registered a 90.3-percent gain. Is Domino’s finally getting its full due on Wall Street, or is it still an uphill battle for foodservice? “I don’t think we get all the respect yet that we deserve,” Liddle says. “I think Wall Street needs to make sure that they understand the franchise model, and they’re starting to.
There are a number of big companies that are primarily franchised — IHOP, Applebee’s, us — and I think they’re starting to recognize that companies like this can and should be run with leverage and that that actually makes them a more attractive investment. They’re starting to recognize that. And you see our stock price has most definitely improved. So I think we actually are getting recognized as a really strong consumer brand, a global company and having the right capital structure. And I think that was the stopping point for us in the short term. But I think that has certainly begun to turn very nicely.”
As previously alluded, this kind of multi-faceted turnaround began with an honest evaluation of the company’s menu items. Enter Brandon Solano, vice president of innovation for Domino’s Pizza. It’s his job to ensure the company’s products are in line with consumer demands, and it is no coincidence that 80 percent of the company’s menu offerings have turned over in the past two years since Solano took ownership of that part of the operation. “I think one of the traps QSR restaurants fall into is selling things they want to sell instead of things consumers want to buy,” says Solano. “There’s more choice than ever out there, so you have to make sure you’re selling things that people want to buy instead of just focusing on what you want to make.”
The process of revamping the pizza offerings has been well documented in the pages of Pizza Today, but Domino’s did not stop with an overhaul of its core product. It has since moved on to improving and subsequently highlighting chicken in its national adveristing. “It really came from our desire to improve,” Solano says of the newest campaign focus. “Chicken was one of the things that I first wanted to improve when I got here. I guess I wanted to improve everything. We started working on chicken in 2008. We didn’t do a lot in the ad about ‘Hey, it wasn’t very good,’ and all that, because we didn’t want to overdo that. But it was true. They weren’t very crispy and they didn’t have enough breadth of appeal, so what we wanted to do was make it better. If it could be better, we’re going to make it better.”
That is not always an easy sell to franchisees, whose efforts in the field can sometimes be disrupted by a new process or recipe. “The old expectation was, ‘We’ll do that if it doesn’t cause any operational pain.’ That’s a terrible place to be. You’ll never get anywhere doing that,” says Solano. “We were third in quality behind our two main competitors, so we had a lot of ground to make up. You can’t do that by not doing anything new. Here’s what I tell our operators: ‘I promise to bring you operational complexity, but we’ll make it worth it.’ What you can’t do is operational complexity that’s not worth it. If it’s ever not worth it, we’ll pull it.”
This story went to press days before Domino’s announced its first quarter 2011 earnings, so executives were not able to comment yet on sales of the new and improved chicken offerings. However, spokesperson Chris Brandon said the company is “pleased with the response” it has received to the launch. Meanwhile, Solano was asked what other products may be coming down the pipeline as Domino’s continues to reinvigorate its menu.“What’s next that’s not great?” he asks in return. “There are a few things on our menu still that we’re going to fix.” According to Solano, the difficulty isn’t in identifying which products to overhaul or add to the lineup but, rather, how to support them at the store level once they are implemented.
“You have to look at your menu differently,” he says. “Instead of saying they have to be x percent of the mix, you have to determine if they can be incremental and if you can keep them around. If you can keep them on hand and not have waste, and if they’re incremental, then I want to have them. If we end up in a situation where we have waste at the store level, then that’s bad for everybody and I don’t want to do it.” When asked if the company would be eyeing desserts next, Solano responded by saying that “we probably wouldn’t run a whole window on desserts, but we’ve got some good ones. Dessert is a big part of the dining experience. I think there is an opportunity for plenty more. I think there’s an opportunity for a whole portfolio of desserts.”
Regardless of what Domino’s rolls out, it falls to Russell Weiner to make sure the company promotes it nationally with a message that is on target. Thus far the chief marketing officer, who joined Domino’s in 2008, has had nothing but success witin the category. He has brought an analytical, methodical approach to the company’s marketing and advertising.
“We do a lot of research here,” he says. “All the decisions we make are based on numbers. When we release an offer out there, we don’t just think it’s going to do well — we know it’s going to do well. Because we know our numbers are right, then we know we can spend more time in the ad on building the image.” The numerous studies Domino’s conducted before changing its pizza recipe left Weiner convinced that the research and development crew led by Solano had hit a home run.
“We had done so much testing on it,” he says. “You name a consumer group, and I knew what they thought of it. Our general market people liked it better by a huge degree — by double digits. Our current people liked it better. Heavy users liked it. Light users liked it. Kids liked it. Not that we’re targeting kids, but you certainly want to make sure that as you modernize it with bolder tastes that you don’t alienate them. I was 1,000 percent confident that the product was better, so there was no reason to think that people wouldn’t like it better. The question was, ‘How do you market it?’”
And that was the million dollar question. After all, says Weiner, if the company wanted to go bold by admitting it’s previous pizza wasn’t up to par, well, “there was no going back.” For that reason, Weiner says, “I don’t think the product stuff was a risk. The marketing part was the risk.”
The initial ad Domino’s used to announce the “New & Inspired” pizza registered off the charts in terms of its effectiveness with consumers. One might think this push came from an increase in ad spending, but Weiner says that was not the case.
“Our media budget last year was actually less than it was the year before,” he says. “Our media budget last year was less than Pizza Hut’s and Papa John’s. We didn’t do it with more money, and I think that just shows the power of the message.” The question now is whether the message Domino’s has been pumping out — we’re better than ever, come try us — will run its course soon.
“I don’t think it will,” Weiner says. “Consumers are telling us what to do. We’ll just keep on doing what they’re telling us to do. I feel like consumers are going to help us program our brand forever. We’ve just got to stay true to what they say, be true to our voice and make sure every product is as great as we can make it.”
Jeremy White is editor-in-chief at Pizza Today.
Congratulations to Domino’s Pizza, our 2011 Chain of the Year. You’ll likely recall that the company also received the honor in 2010 (as well as 2003). The repeat performance marks the second time a pizza chain has earned the accolade back-to-back (Papa Murphy’s was our selection in 2008 and 2009).
A certain percentage of our readers are sure to voice a degree of dismay over this issue — they view Domino’s (and every other major player in the category) as an evil empire that sets out to crush independent operations. But the fact of the matter is that the typical Domino’s franchisee owns just four units — these people are community minded small business owners who are more like you than you may realize. Nonetheless, I’m digressing from the main point. Our Chain of the Year award is designed to recognize the accomplishments of the top performing pizza chain, just as our Independent of the Year (coming in August) honors the efforts of a stellar indy operation.
There’s a lot independent operators could learn from Domino’s. The company’s systems, procedures and new “transparent” marketing could be emulated on a smaller scale. In fact, they should be. If you are looking to grow your operation, you simply can’t do it on the fly. At a time when its competition is largely happy with flat or minimally increased sales, Domino’s has enjoyed tremendous sales growth. For a company of its size, real, measured, near double-digit growth is not easy to achieve. Yet the company managed to do just that thanks to an innovative marketing campaign and an aggressive approach to scrutinizing its menu options (80 percent of the Domino’s menu has turned over in the past couple of years).
To read about how Domino’s managed to continue the spectacular rise that began in 2010, turn to page 60. And, be on the lookout for our August issue, when we’ll report on the 2011 Independent of the Year.
SLICE OF HOPE: Hopefully you read about the Slice of Hope charity event I’m organizing in the last issue of Pizza Today. My goal is to raise critical funds for breast cancer research, and I need your help to pull it off. If you can donate 10, 20 or 30 percent of your sales from Friday, October 7, the pizza industry will be able to collectively make a substantial donation to the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation (which is dedicated to giving 100 percent of the Slice of Hope proceeds to four of America’s most promising breast cancer research labs). To learn more about this innovative industry event, see the ad on page 21.
We have Slice of Hope window stickers available now, and we’ll send one to any pizzeria that pledges to make a donation to the charity. Additionally, we also have Slice of Hope t-shirts available for $10 each. We have them in both black and gray, sizes medium through XXL. The profits from the sale of these t-shirts will go to the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation. Buy one for yourself. Buy one for your spouse. Buy one for your employees. Buy a bunch of them to sell to your customers. It supports a worthy cause, and they’re just plain rockin’ shirts! To purchase the shirts and sign up to support Slice of Hope by pledging to make a donation, visit PizzaToday.com and click on the Slice of Hope icon. It’s that simple, and your involvement could potentially save lives and help researchers end this hideous disease.
Jeremy White, editor-in-chief
Photos by Josh Keown
My pizza dough gets too soft to hand toss after only two days in the cooler. What do I do?
A: In reviewing your dough formula and management procedure, I see that your dough formula contains nearly 10 percent oil in addition to 60 percent water. This is much more oil than the two to four percent that is normally used. Keep in mind that both water and oil contribute to the soft and extensible handling properties of the dough. It’s most likely that this is where the problem is. To correct the problem, I would suggest reducing the water content to a level where the combined water and oil do not exceed 56 to 60 percent of the flour weight. Since you like the texture of the finished crust, I would make the adjustment to the amount of water rather than the oil.
Also, keep in mind that the flour needs to hydrate the water in order to form “gluten”. With the high level of oil that you’re using it is entirely possible that a good deal of the flour is absorbing oil rather than water if the oil is not added in a delayed manner. To do this, do not add the oil until the ingredients have had a chance to mix together at a low speed for a couple of minutes. When you cannot see any dry flour in the mixing bowl, the oil can be added and blended in by mixing for an additional minute at low speed, then, the dough can be mixed in your normal manner. This should give you more consistent dough performance, especially after a couple of days in the cooler.
When we met at the last Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, you mentioned that there was an ingredient that we could use to reduce the snap-back of our dough, making hand stretching a lot easier for us. I’ve misplaced my notes. Can you please tell me what that ingredient is again?
A: The ingredient that I made reference to is PZ-44. This ingredient is what we call a “reducing agent.” When used in a dough, it will cause the dough to become softer and more extensible (less elastic). What this means is that it will not exhibit the snap-back characteristics during hand, or machine forming. When adding any type of reducing agent to your dough, care must be taken to prevent using it in an excessive amount.
Since reducing agents work very fast, their effects can be readily seen while the dough is being mixed. Be aware that your mixing time will most likely be shorter than normal. And also, keep in mind that these materials don’t stop working in the cooler, so your dough may become overly soft if stored in the cooler for more than two days. When used correctly, these ingredients can be great assets, especially if you shape your dough skins using a dough press. When a dough press is used, it is common to see the dough shrink back as the pressure is released from the press head. Judicious use of a reducing agent can reduce or eliminate this shrinkage, resulting in consistently sized pizza skins.
We have had a number of requests for a seafood-topped pizza. Do you have any suggestions for a starting point?
A: Seafood pizzas are one of my all time favorites. Start with your regular dough skins and brush lightly with olive oil. apply a thin layer of Alfredo sauce, then sprinkle with diced fresh garlic, coarse ground white pepper, and dried dill weed. Apply some thin sliced onion and pieces of roasted red peppers, and your choice of seafood.
My personal preference is whole raw shrimp (21 to 25 or higher count), sliced raw fish (salmon or orange roughy works well, but any firm flesh fish can also be used) and finish with a light sprinkle of mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Bake just as you would any of your regular pizzas. This is a fun pizza to make as you can use whatever seafood is available. I’ve used grouper for the fish and clams, lobster and even conch for the seafood topping.
Do you have any suggestions for making a breakfast pizza?
A: I’ve always been puzzled by the fact that pizzerias are not open for breakfast trade. The box hamburger stores are all open, and now the box sandwich stores are getting their piece of the breakfast trade too, so why not pizza? Individual-sized breakfast pizzas as well as breakfast size calzones might be just the ticket for a fast, “grab and go” breakfast to feed hungry commuters with little time to wait in long lines.
A great breakfast pizza can be made using an individual size dough skin (5- to 8-inch diameter). Begin by brushing the dough with melted butter, or blend of half butter and half canola oil, add slices of fresh tomato, or tomato filets rather than a traditional sauce, then add breakfast sausage to replace your Italian sausage. For vegetables, use sliced mushrooms, onion, red and green peppers for color, add a sprinkling of crispy bacon pieces, and finish with a light application of half mozzarella and half cheddar cheese. These pizzas hold well under a heat lamp on a heated tray for speedy service.
The other approach that I’ve had great success with is to make a breakfast calzone. I like to keep these on a smaller, individual size format, beginning with a dough skin about 8 inches in diameter. Brush the outer edge of the dough skin with water, then add pre-cooked scrambled egg, sautéed onion, green peppers, mushrooms, pre-cooked bacon pieces, and precooked breakfast sausage. Add a couple pieces of fresh sliced tomato, a little ricotta, mozzarella and cheddar cheese, then fold and crimp tightly closed. Cut a vent hole into the top of the calzone, brush with melted butter, or commercial butter oil, and bake to a golden brown color.
These calzones hold very well under a heat lamp, or better yet, slip them into parchment paper pouches (this makes them easier to eat on the run), and hold under a heat lamp. Now, all you need to do is to grab a calzone, drop it into a bag with a cup of coffee, add a napkin or two, and you have the start for a fast, ready-to-go commuter breakfast.
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
If you’re looking for new ways to create revenue or just want to find out about the latest industry trends and products, then International Pizza Expo, March 13-15, 2012, is the show for you! International Pizza Expo is the only industry event where you’ll find more than 80 industry-specific seminars, workshops and demonstrations, not to mention nearly 450 exhibiting companies and 1,000 booths. Throw in the best networking event in the pizza industry — the Beer & Bull Idea Exchange — as well as the great contests and competitions (such as the World Pizza Games, International Pizza Challenge and the $20,000 Mega Bucks Giveaway), and it’s no wonder Pizza Expo is now one of the Top 225 tradeshows in the country.
In today’s economy, you must do more than just create a great pizza to be successful. Now, more than ever, you have to understand your customers’ needs and wants to grow your pizzeria. Attending Pizza Expo is the single best way for you to obtain new knowledge, insight and ideas that can help position your product and pizzeria for future growth.
Ask anyone who has attended a past Expo and they’ll tell you: If you’re looking for new ideas, products and techniques to improve your bottom line, then International Pizza Expo is the place to be. At International Pizza Expo you’ll have the ability to negotiate great programs and deals right on the show floor by taking advantage of show specials and incentives being offered by our exhibiting partners. These could be re-orders of products that you’re currently using or something completely new that catches your eye. Remember, you can find everything –– from marketing programs to POS systems that will drive more business to your pizzeria to new menu ideas, and lots more — on the Pizza Expo trade show floor.
The long and short of it? There’s always something new to learn or see at Pizza Expo. In fact, I guarantee it. If you’re not satisfied with any aspect of the show, simply put your thoughts and concerns in writing to me and I’ll send you a prompt refund of your registration fee.
Last, but not least, International Pizza Expo is a tax-deductible working vacation.
It’s all pizza and it’s all for you!
Executive Vice President
Gary Bougie is co-owner and executive chef at SLYCE coal fired pizza company. Rather than go with a more traditional oven and product, Bougie introduced upscale fare to this working-class neighborhood — with great results. The restaurant has earned itself a place among the region’s heavily populated pizza scene.
Q: Coal-burning is one of the least common types of ovens we see in today’s market. What made you choose this type of oven over others?
A: Our pizza is a blend of traditional Neapolitan and New Haven style pizzas. The first American pizzas were produced from coal-fired ovens. So, keeping with tradition, we thought the coal method would best support the style and characteristics of what we wanted to achieve.
Q: What’s the difference between coal and the mineral you burn, anthracite?
A: Anthracite has a much higher carbon content than bituminous coal, making it very eco friendly. It started out with the same chemical makeup as bituminous millions of years ago; however, as the country’s landscape changed, the excess weight and temperature imposed on the coal reduced the amount of harmful hydrocarbons.
Q: How have your customers received pizza that is baked outside of the traditional pizza mold?
A: We have received an overwhelming positive response. Our growth has been constant, and we attribute that to word-of-mouth advertising from our customers. We have limited production due to our oven style, so on Fridays and Saturdays we don’t offer carryout. This allows us to focus all of our attention on the guests we have in our restaurant.
Q: You’re considering a second store. What are you looking for in a new location?
A: We are looking for areas that have that “bustling downtown” feel. You can feel the energy when you walk into our restaurant now, and we want the feel of any town we are in to match that energy. The demographics of our customers are “foodies” that appreciate our made-from-scratch approach to cooking.
Q: So how does your pizza bake under this process?
A: Our 850-degree ovens create the unique characteristics we are trying to achieve in about a three-minute bake time. We only bake three to four pizzas at a time to ensure every pizza receives the proper amount of attention. Five seconds in our ovens can be the difference between a perfect pizza and a burnt pizza.
Photos by Josh Keown
The U.S. has gone mobile. To be specific, wireless penetration in the U.S. reached 93 percent in 2010, according to the International Association of Wireless Telecommunications Industry (CTAI). Those are some serious numbers.
And, the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) reports that nearly 30 percent of those users are sporting smart phones. The fancy little gadgets like iPhones, Droids and BlackBerrys are powerful computers in the palms of American consumers, capable of surfing the Web anytime, almost anywhere.
Some of the best examples of mobile strategies can be found in the pizza industry. Many major pizza chains are fully mobile with a mobile Web site, an app for each type of phone and the ability to order pizza right from a handset. But what about independent owners? What’s feasible for them? Many owners may ask: can people just visit my traditional Web site on their cell phones or iPads? The answer is yes. “So many owners love their desktop sites,” says Chad Middleton, CEO of Outerwoven, a digital media agency in Cincinnati, Ohio. “They are passionate about them. But, if it’s not mobile-friendly, ultimately you are hurting the experience for the user. “Sometimes the desktop site has so much information, images and plug-ins that it takes too long for it to load on the phone.”
While customers may be able to pull up your site on their phones, there are several items that just may not be compatible. For instance, if visitors have to download a PDF menu, many mobile web users can’t view PDFs properly. The same is true for Flash, a popular platform in the restaurant industry that allows you to add animations, video and interactivity to a Web page. It’s great for desktops, but for now, people on BlackBerrys and iPhones can’t load Flash sites. They just see a blank screen.
The limitations of viewing traditional sites on phones have many businesses flocking to the mobile Web market. Clayton Krueger, director of marketing and communications at Farrelli’s Wood Fire Pizza, got excited about mobile a few years ago after sitting in on demonstrations at Pizza Expo. “For us, we understand that, with technology the way it is, people are making their dining decisions on the fly,” he says.
Krueger sought advice from his friend and web designer for Farrelli’s: “He said, ‘you don’t need an app. All you really want to do is convey some information. So we can just trim down your Web site with those basic elements that you want to get across and put it in this mobile format that can reach everyone’s mobile phone.’”
From a marketing standpoint, North American managing director of MMA Michael Becker says making the decision to go the app or mobile Web route boils down to demographic. “If they are two miles down from a college or university, that iPhone app may be appropriate because the majority of their customer base may be highly penetrated smart phone users,” he says. And he would be correct. The leading news source for college faculty members and administrators, The Chronicle of Higher Education, reports that of the 99.9 percent of college students who have cellular phones, 50 percent of those have smart phones.
On the flipside, Becker contends, apps may not be the right move for a pizzeria in a strip mall in a general community. “You then want to focus on a mobile Web site,” he says, “because a mobile Web site can go across all of the phones.”
Ultimately, it may come down to price. “By far, mobile web is more cost-effective because it’s buildable once and works on all handsets,” Becker says, adding that an app has to be built for each of the eight different operating systems for the thousands of handsets available in the U.S. Middleton adds that getting a basic mobile site up and running can be as inexpensive as $150.
For Meghan Ristau, Internet marketing specialist at Lou Malnati’s, the restaurant’s mobile Web site that launched in fall 2010 is the stepping stone to a mobile app. “We are working towards creating a mobile app through which our customers could place carry-out/delivery orders,” she says. With more than 30 stores throughout the Chicagoland area, she adds that using mobile Web has helped Lou Malnati’s “keep up with the methods of technology our patrons are using.”
Jocelyn Gelphi, owner of Antonino’s Pizzeria & Restaurant in Sunrise, Florida, is content with her mobile Web site. “Our mobile site looks and feels the same on 99 percent of smart phones out on the market,” she says. “I monitor the traffic and so many people are using our mobile site,” she says.
Gelphi worked with Middleton of Outerwoven to get her site up and running, having it go live within 24 hours. When considering a mobile Web site, “the key is simplicity. You don’t need a whole bunch of information in the mobile site,” Middleton says. In contrast to traditional Web sites, mobile sites get back to the basics. Gelphi had quite the wish list for Antonino’s mobile site. “I wanted a little bit of everything on the site but we had to scale back,” she says. “I want the user to have the most user-friendly experience.”
Building a user-friendly experience is crucial in mobile Web. Here are tips for effective mobile sites: Information is still king. Be sure to include location(s), menu, contact information and engagement with your social media pages. You can even include a photo gallery, online reservations and coupons. Always keep the information up-to-date. Users expect it
Find the right person to develop a mobile site. Just because someone is a good Web designer doesn’t mean they know how to optimize mobile browsers.
Continue your company branding. Even though your mobile site is simplified, it should have the look and feel of your company brand with your logo, colors, fonts, etc.
Include Click-to-Call and Click-to-E-mail buttons. These allow the user to touch the screen where the phone number or e-mail address is and it connects instantly.
Track your site. Know what kind of traffic is visiting your site so you can market to them.
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
Imagine your customers ordering their pizza not by the inch –– but by the pound. And the goal? Getting them to polish it off in-house for a chance at t-shirts and cash but best of all, glory.
Such is the idea behind eating challenges popping up in restaurants across the country. Televised events, such as the Travel Channel’s “Man vs. Food” and Nathan’s Famous July Fourth International Hot Dog Eating Contest have made competitive eating a sport, and it’s one that our industry can –– and should be –– cashing in on.
At The Original Graziano’s Pizza in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Monster Pizza Challenge features two-and-a-half pounds of dough, one-and-a-half pounds of sauce, and two pounds each of mozzarella, meat and vegetables. That’s a whopping 10 pounds of pizza, and if two people conquer it in 45 minutes, they win the cost of the pizza, two free pizzas and t-shirts. The pizza is priced at $48 and runs a food cost of about 30 percent.
Owner Paul Otto says he came up with the idea about three-and-a-half years ago as a conversation topic for his guests “and something that would be sort of a ‘wow’ factor when people came in the restaurant,” Otto says. “We already had started serving this 24-inch extra-large, giant pizza on our menu, so we just thought, ‘Why don’t we double the size and make it over 10 pounds and make it a contest?’
“It has been a huge topic of interest and we have huge display on our wall of people who have tried it –– we have the Wall of Shame and the Wall of Fame.” Graziano’s created a logo and had signs made advertising the Monster Pizza Challenge and “anyone who comes in or out of the restaurant sees it,” Otto adds. “People just immediately got to that wall and say, ‘Wow! I can’t believe how big that pizza is! I can’t believe anyone can possibly eat it.’”
Only two teams out of more than 60 have been able to finish the challenge. “We encourage people to let us know in advance, especially if it’s going to be on a busy night, but if people want to just come in off the street, we’ll take care of them then and there,” Otto says –– including setting up a table and signs at the center of the restaurant, making an announcement and taking before and after photos. “We try to make a big deal out of it.”
Christopher Palmeri has owned The Naked City Pizza Shop in Las Vegas for less than a year and has been advertising the Frickin’ Huge Pizza Challenge for the last couple of months. Two competitors have just 30 minutes to devour one of the company’s signature Buffalo-style sheet 18½ by 24-inch sheet pans of pizza topped with at least four ingredients. He created the challenge, which he recently added to his Web site, as a result of customer demand.
“They’ve got a little disclaimer they have to sign and it’s got a list of toppings they can choose from,” Palmeri says. “Basically, everything when it’s laid out –– before its cooked –– weighs 10 pounds.” The pizza is priced at $37.50 and runs a 20- to 25-percent food cost, but winners receive commemorative shirt, recognition on an awards wall and the pizza for free. Only one team has completed the challenge at press time. “They completed it in 16 minutes,” Palmeri says. “It was pretty horrifying to watch.”
David Walton’s Fox’s Pizza Den in Athens, Georgia, sits in a college town, and Walton’s has had 11 teams try to best Fox’s The Big One Challenge, but to no avail. The 30-inch, three-topping hoss is cut into 52 slices and priced at $50 (without the challenge, it’s $39.99 for a cheese with $5 per additional topping). Depending on toppings added, the food cost is around $15. “Three people have up to 52 minutes to complete the entire pizza,” Walton says. “They have to eat everything, and they can’t take breaks.”
Winners receive t-shirts and spots on the “Wall of Fame.” Although no one has yet to finish, a couple of teams have gotten within five pieces of completion. Walton plans to take his competition one step further –– the first team to complete it will become the score to beat until there’s an eventual grand champion.
To market their contest, Graziano’s adds it to their fliers, boxtoppers and print materials. “That’s kind of our tagline –– ‘Home of the Monster Pizza Challenge.’ Says Otto: “We have a nice little logo drawn up, and we’ll put that on all of our advertisements, whether it’s print or e-mail. Most of the advertising is through word-of-mouth.” In April, Naked City’s Pizza Shop’s traffic began picking up thanks in part to additional information on its Web site and “I’m big into all the social media,” Palmeri says. “We use Twitter and Facebook a lot and we’re going to start using YouTube to start taking small videos of it.”
Fox’s has offered the 30-inch pizza since it opened, but the challenge was only added in the last few months. “We’ve added a Facebook page, and we’re marketing it as the biggest pizza in town,” Walton says. The pizza is available without undertaking the challenge, and Walton has done deal-of-the-day Web site offers to advertise the pizza. “That started creating some awareness for it.”
If you’re considering creating a challenge for your own operation, consider these tips:
Draft a waiver that releases you from liability. Create a list of rules and stick to them. “The biggest rule is that no one can get sick,” Otto says. “If you’re sick, you forfeit the challenge. It’s not supposed to be a gross-out fest!” Create a press release and submit it to Web sites that follow competitive eating as a sport. Otto says there are three or four Web sites that list eating contests in cities across the country.
Contact local news outlets, including television stations, newspapers and alternative magazines. “If you have the tools to do it, then do it,” Palmeri says. “It’s just another tool to get your pizzeria’s name out there, and that’s the struggle for any business.”
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
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Any plans on developing a mobile app?
Denver Deep Dish
Jason, that's a great question. All we can say for right now is that we are secretly working on many exciting new projects. Some of these are groundbreaking. Some of these will come to fruition very soon. Keep your eyes out.
Pizza Today, thank you for your insight to many great topics. I purchased my pizzeria from my in-laws six years ago and things have never been better. Even in the recession we saw a terrific jump in sales. The name Pasquale's is very well known to anyone in North-Central Iowa (check out our fan base on Facebook). One problem, we are way too busy to keep up on Friday and Saturday nights. We bake everything in our double deck oven; appetizers, sandwiches and, of course, pizza. The design of our kitchen was never intended to efficiently produce the volume we do. Are there any resources out there that help with kitchen design and efficiency layout?
One of the primary mistakes people make when opening a pizzeria is failing to ensure that the kitchen is equipped to handle an increase in volume. You're not alone, Matt. Unfortunately, you cannot increase your available space without massive and costly renovations. You can, however, maximize it. That topic is too big to address on this page, but it sounds like you need the help of an experienced consultant. Many suppliers and equipment distributors offer this type of advice to their customers, so start there. If you aren't able to get the help you need that way, we'd recommend calling in someone like Big Dave Ostrander to set you on the right path.
Slice of Hope
My name is Shannon Mccown. I own a mobile brick oven pizza truck in Portland, OR. and would love to volunteer my time and truck to create a "Pizza Carb Stop" somewhere along the route. We can make pizza as well as have plenty of cold drinks! Is this something you might be interested in? Please call or e-mail me if you are interested. I have a long volunteer history with the ACS in Hawaii and would love to continue the work on some level here!
Slice Brick Oven Pizza
Shannon, are you kidding? Of course we're interested! We are grateful and thrilled that you want to be a part of Slice of Hope and help us meet our objective of raising critical funding for breast cancer research. Since we've announced Slice of Hope the feedback has been nothing but spectacular. The outpour of support is touching. This disease impacts everyone, and it's time we come together as an industry and work towards a common goal. Thank you so much for your generous offer of creating a Carb Stop for the Slice of Hope cyclists. We will absolutely take you up on your offer. In fact, Editor-in-Chief Jeremy White will be in touch with you soon — probably before this page makes it into print.
Ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise are the holy trinity of condiments. In fact, they are so widely used we often take them for granted. Squirt some mustard on a hot dog, slather ketchup or mayonnaise on a burger and the job is done. But how about giving that burger or sandwich an extra kick? And then there is that whole arena of spreads and dips. Add some zip to your dips or some sizzle to your spreads and you’ve opened a Pandora’s box of interesting dimensions in flavor.
How simple is this –– add a drop or three of hot sauce to ketchup to fire up some interest in a burger. One of the trendiest condiments right now is sriracha, a hot chili sauce conveniently sold in a bottle. One easy way to ramp up chicken wings to another level of interest is to add a squirt (to taste) of sriracha to your wing sauce and watch what happens.
Mayonnaise is one of those condiments that offers a spectrum of flavor possibilities. For example, many basic recipes for an aioli suggest making your own mayonnaise. Forget it. Mayonnaise straight out of the jar is all you need to get a delicious aioli up and running. Simply add a drop or two of fresh lemon juice and some crushed garlic to mayonnaise and you have a terrific tasting aioli that can be used on a chicken sandwich or spread over a piece of fish.
Here is a very tasty dipping sauce for French fries:
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
In a small mixing bowl, combine the ingredients and mix well. Chill covered.
And here is a very special dipping sauce to use with cooked or raw vegetables, fried zucchini sticks, fried calamari or cooked shrimp. In other words a versatile sauce that knows no bounds:
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoons Dijon or honey mustard
Hot sauce or sriracha, to taste
In a mixing bowl, combine and whisk together all of the ingredients. Cover and chill.
Add a dash or two of prepared horseradish to ketchup straight out of the jar and you have a fine-tasting cocktail sauce to serve with shrimp or fried calamari.
Cajun dipping sauce
for fried onion rings or French fries
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon ketchup u
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.
Photos by Josh Keown
I’ve been in a real rut lately. There are dozens of quality pizzerias in my area, but when my friends want to go out for a pie or two (or six) we end up at the same place every time. It isn’t even close to my apartment; I have to take the subway six stops just to get to the right neighborhood. The prices aren’t any different from the other pizzerias in town, so it’s not like I’m going there to save money. There isn’t even a clever loyalty program to encourage repeat visits. So why am I so in love with this pizzeria? The answer is so incredibly simple and requires no additional costs or equipment. More importantly, it has the power to attract the most coveted of all customers: the ones who come back for more.
When I go out, I’m looking for more than just good food –– I’m looking for an experience. Part of that experience has to do with the physical nature of the space. I don’t need plush seating, but it’s nice when a room conveys a singular vibe. The pizzeria I’m currently in love with has funky mismatched chairs and large wooden tables with assorted found objects accenting the space. It’s a far cry from the TGI Friday’s school of decorating, but still conveys a degree of informality. That’s exactly what I want on pizza night because it makes me feel relaxed and ready to enjoy my favorite food without feeling like I’m underdressed.
Once inside, my attention falls on the staff. We all know a pleasant and attentive wait staff is important for any dining experience, but it’s a huge plus when my server goes beyond the call of duty to help me get more out of my stay. This person can give me vital clues about the menu because they (hopefully) have lots of experience eating from it. An insider tip about a favorite dish can get me out of my routine and introduce me to a new favorite dish. I would be forever grateful for the suggestion and you can bet it will influence the tip-o-meter.
I especially like it when the owner or manager takes a moment to stop by the table. There’s no better way to understand a pizzeria than by talking with its owner. I’ve read so many Yelp reviews about how great it was when “the owner stopped by to see what we thought about the pizza.” It’s pretty powerful when someone spends more time talking about meeting the pizzaiolo than they do about eating the pizza. As amazing as a dining experience may be, it can all fall apart in the final moments. Part of the reason I find myself frequenting the same pizzeria is that they make me feel comfortable during the entire visit. I never feel rushed to pay the bill and the bussers aren’t racing to snatch our half-eaten pizza bones. If two pizzerias serve similar food, I’d much rather patronize the one that let me manage my own pace.
So if you already make the best pizza in town and want the edge over your competition, help your customers feel at home with a healthy dose of comfort. A pizzeria with strong human identity is much easier for me to tell my friends about than one with an anonymous and cold vibe. If you keep it easy, you can be sure I’ll be back for more. I’ll probably even bring some friends.
Scott Wiener is Pizza Today’s ‘Man on the Street.’ The most enthusiastic pizza fanatic you’ll ever meet, Scott owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City. His column will appear regularly.
Photos by Josh Keown
My sentiments of the annual International Pizza Expo can be summed up by JFK: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Expo is all about taking the lead in our industry by learning through seeing, hearing and doing. This past March, these are the three most enduring lessons I learned at International Pizza Expo 2011:
Neapolitan pizza is hot! I don’t see this as a fad, but as a staple of the industry. It embraces the trends we see in the industry while addressing the needs of operators. The realization for healthier eating is fulfilled with a ‘less is more’ attitude. This pie is made with fresh, healthy ingredients containing anti-carcinogens. Usage of fewer ingredients gives the operator a lower food cost on an item with a high-perceived value. With this style of pizza, flavors pop and customers experience the true taste and texture of our great dish. The classic Neapolitan pizza has been around since the Middle Ages, which gives you a story and a great marketing tool.
Chef Glenn Cybulski anticipates the growth of this concept in suburbia. He recommends utilizing local press and having a presence at culinary and local events for promotion. From his personal experience, customers are timid to try this style of pizza — but once they taste the difference, the word of mouth is incredible.
People make a difference.
We are the industry and many times we are our best marketing tool. Networking at Expo has introduced me to people that really “break bread” with the community and put the intimacy and hospitality back in the business. During the keynote addresses by Sean Brauser of Romeo’s Pizza and Joe Fugere of Seattle’s Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria, I couldn’t help but notice how many times they said “thank you” to the people in the background. Their humility and interest in others positioned them for success.
A typical reaction I saw was that many came away from Expo with a renewed desire to be a people person and not just a “numbers guy.” Richard Ames of Daddio’s Pizzeria in Ontario, Canada, says: “I noticed many of the presenters had taken on a cause in their market. This solidified the perception I have about the people in this industry. I find, for the most part, pizza people are very charitable. I was drawn to the sessions that were geared toward local marketing and social media marketing. In both areas I noticed a common thread. If you participate in your community your results are better when it comes to advertising.”
We are in the hospitality industry. “Hospitality is making your guests feel at home, even though you wish they were.” You want to market on a shoestring budget and give customers an experience. Throughout Expo educational sessions, this point was underscored. Are your front of the house people trained to connect with customers? Can they have a dialogue and not just a scripted monologue? I cringe when a server parrots “Have a great day.” It’s much more intimate to say “Enjoy your caprese salad.” or “Tell your wife, Cheryl, I said ‘hello.’ ” Simply acknowledging their order or a family member shows personal interest. I use my POS system to help me with this and people respond by remembering me.
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.
PISA PIZZA // MALDEN, MASSACHUSETTS
I spend countless hours explaining the difference between advertising and marketing to my top managers. Advertising has many forms and the results can usually be measured quickly. Community marketing involves planting seeds, watering them and patiently watching them grow. For a pizzeria that expects to be in a community for the long term, community marketing is the difference between “the pizza place” in town and “just another pizza place.”
Since 1993, I have had two goals. First, our pizzeria was going to bake the freshest and finest pizzas every day. I believe that we’re only as good as our last pizza. The second goal was to become a household name within our community. In the last 18 years, I can say that we have achieved both. In today’s volatile economy, I have found that community marketing costs far less than traditional advertising — and it’s much more effective. We are able to build relationships and customer loyalty through our community programs that are not possible with traditional advertising.
The first thing that I did in 1993 was to reach out to the schools, sports organizations and youth groups throughout town. I offered a 50-percent off “youth price” on pizzas delivered to schools, concession stands and all youth events. This gave us huge exposure at youth events all over the city and allowed people to actually eat our pizza rather than just see our banners. Today, 12 months a year our pizza is sold at concession stands, our banners hang at every park/school and every student in the town eats our pizza at school events.
I developed our “Love at First Slice” fundraising program to help youth groups raise money and to deepen our reputation as being “The pizzeria in Malden.” Last year alone we helped raise more than $80,000 for local organizations. Every Wednesday is our restaurant fundraiser night. Groups take home 10 percent of the sales and we get a chance to showcase our pizzeria to families throughout the town. We donate hundreds of free pizza cards throughout the year to organizations running raffles. This ensures that our name is present at all fundraising events and has brought in hundreds of new families.
We have developed a “buy one, get one” fundraiser piece that organizations sell for $10 each. The groups have raised tens of thousands every year selling these. The food cost has been affected, but compared to the volume of business that this fundraiser has produced it is worth every penny (and the families are grateful to us for helping their children). These programs have significantly increased our sales and made us the No. 1 community-based business in Malden. We have been recognized countless times by the city government, Chamber of Commerce and school department as being a shining star among Malden businesses.
For the last three years we have offered our Make Your Own Monday. Every Monday, the kids get to make whatever pizza their parents order. They receive a kitchen tour and an official Pisa Pizza Makers diploma. Again, it drives sales and loyalty up while costing us next to nothing. Our mascot, Pepe Roni (who we bought at Pizza Expo in Vegas), makes an appearance at local parades and sporting events throughout town. Our Facebook page has 4,000 fans and allows us to run fun contests and create an instant buzz.
Overall, I credit the success that we have had over 18 years to great pizza and our continued community involvement. I feel that community marketing is more of a marathon where as much of today’s advertising is a sprint. Pisa Pizza is here for the long haul and will continue to fine-tune our community marketing plan.
Photos by Josh Keown
The running joke at Piecora’s Pizza in Seattle reads: “We sell parking, and it comes with food.”
With restaurants and bars blanketing Piecora’s high-density Seattle neighborhood and street parking at a premium, the pizzeria’s 45-stall parking lot stands both a welcome site to customers and a boon to business. “Without the parking lot, our sales would be down significantly and we couldn’t have the capacity (over 200 seats) we do,” says owner Dan Piecora, whose driving customers would otherwise have to find hard-to-come-by street parking or paid parking one block away to accommodate their visit.
In an ideal world, all operators might own land with ample space for the restaurant and parking; unfortunately, that reality proves elusive for many. Particularly in urban areas, Main Street business districts and resort spots, parking can be tough to find given residences, commercial outlets and visitors all clamoring for their slice of blacktop. Toss in municipalities’ evolving desire to charge for parking — sometimes inflated rates — and the parking issue intensifies. Inaccessible parking can unnerve customers and compel them to choose another eatery, subsequently impacting sales. “If people can’t park and can’t reach you, then they won’t come,” says Chris Bianco, owner of Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. “There’s no faux finish to parking; it’s just a reality that needs to be addressed.”
Prior to opening his namesake pizzeria, Piecora sat on a Seattle neighborhood council in 1979. Surveying the residents about important issues, the top two concerns — before social issues such as crime and education — were affordable local dining and parking. Those survey results guided Piecora’s concept, site selection and focus on dedicated parking, one key to Piecora’s 30-year survival.
Piecora believes that his 45-stall parking lot expands his customer base, entices people to travel to his location, and plays to families, some of whom might scratch a restaurant off their list if parking is a hassle.
“We constantly hear that people come to us solely because we have parking, so the lot has served us well,” says Piecora, adding that the availability of parking at his pizzeria has increased his takeout business, many customers selecting his outlet over rivals because of the easy-in, easy-out process.
When parking supply does not match parking demand, many operations turn to one of three solutions:
Vouchers and validation. If a private or public lot is nearby, many operators work with the lot’s owner to provide discounted or even free parking to restaurant customers. Though it can be a costly premise, validated parking can bring customers in the door, overcome the veto vote and minimize parking stress.With limited parking available at its downtown Phoenix spot, Pizzeria Bianco validates parking at a nearby 300-spot city lot, a necessary expense many operators encounter as they try to remove obstacles for customers. Validation “is simply the cost of doing business in the big city,” Bianco says. “If you want people to come to you, this is one solution.”
Valet. Once the sole domain of high-end establishments, valet parking has trickled down the restaurant food chain, particularly in high-traffic areas. In fact, most cities now host a number of credible valet companies a restaurateur can contract to handle the parking operation and its unique liability concerns. Others, however, take matters into their own hands.
As snow piled up outside of Vito and Michael’s Gourmet Pizza in New City, New York, and parking became thin, the pizzeria’s owners offered temporary valet parking as a service to customers. On weekends and for special events, Piecora hires a parking lot monitor who is charged with monitoring interlopers, helping customers find spots and, in some cases, double parking cars to further maximize the lot’s capacity. “Though yet another cost to bear, you’re providing a real service to your customers and taking the hassle of parking right out of their hands when you offer valet service,” says Denise Beeson, a California-based small business consultant. Many pizzerias highlight the valet parking service on their marketing efforts, just the incentive some consumers might need to visit the establishment.
Neighborhood partnerships. In their quest for parking solutions, operators are increasingly turning to partnerships with other local entities, specifically those with limited hours and parking spots, such as schools, churches, and banks.
On Sunday mornings, Piecora allows a church across the street to direct its overflow parking into his lot. While he hasn’t had to ask the church to return the favor, he knows his neighborly ways could yield future assistance.
“If we need to, we know we could ask and it’s nice to have that type of relationship when your business depends on customers getting in your doors,” Piecora says.Weekday lunch visitors to Pompei’s flagship location in Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood must find and pay for street parking. On most nights and weekends, however, Pompei visitors enjoy easier parking thanks to access to an elementary school lot adjacent to the restaurant.
Bianco calls this smart business.
“Look at your relationship with your city, your neighbors, and then get a solution that maximizes efficiencies,” he says. “That’s what good business is all about.”
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers and magazines.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
Labor costs typically account for 20 to 30 percent of restaurant sales. With the right tools and equipment, operators can increase productivity, lighten workloads for busy employees and decrease the cost of labor. Today, the supply of ergonomically friendly, easy-to-use equipment is abundant…but the price tag can cause sticker shock. What products offer labor-saving benefits and efficiencies that make the investment worthwhile? Pizza Today tapped a few operators who shared their positive experiences.
Although not new in the bakery world, the pizza industry is just starting to appreciate the value of semi-automatic dough divider/rounders. Ray Peloquin, president of Dave’s Pizza in Virginia, Minnesota, discovered the labor-saving value last November. Dave’s is a take-out operation, selling 400 frozen pizzas and 200 fresh pizzas daily. Up until November, his chief pizza maker (his daughter, who retired earlier this year) sized and cut the dough for frozen pizzas by hand. Once Peloquin purchased a divider/rounder, production sped up significantly.
Each batch for Dave’s frozen pizza consists of an almost 20-pound dough ball. The pizza maker cuts the ball into thirds, making three six-pound dough balls, then places those in the machine. Within 15 seconds, the machine divides those three balls into 18 uniform balls. Once raised at room temperature, kitchen staff runs each ball through a sheeter, flattening them, then cutting them into 10-inch pizza rounds. They par cook the dough to firm them up, add ingredients and toppings, then freeze them. The machine costs approximately $11,000, but Peloquin estimates a labor-cost saving of $50 a week (five hours X $10 hourly wage). “In four years, it’ll pay for itself,” he says. “There’s no maintenance either, which is great. And apart from the savings, I’m providing my staff with equipment that will make their jobs easier, with less physical stress, like carpal tunnel.”
Although Peloquin says the equipment saves a tremendous amount of labor, improves efficiencies and provides consistent pizzas, he doesn’t use the machine for the fresh pizzas at Dave’s. “We do those by hand because we only make two or three at a time,” he says.
Darren Lister, co-owner of Hideaway Pizza, a 10-unit chain in Oklahoma, has used a divider/rounder since the concept launched in 1993. “When you’re working with dough and training employees on how to work with dough, this machine takes the guess work out of the equation and gives you consistency every time,” he says. Lister reports a 50 percent reduction in production time. “We can probably do six batches in an hour with the machine,” he says. “By hand, we only do three an hour.” Pizza by the slice makes up 40 percent of sales at Pizza Vito in Gainsville, Florida. Indeed, the New York style pizzeria offers 16 varieties by the slice. “So, consistency of size is very important to us,” says owner Kevin Ross, who opened Pizza Vito eight months ago. “We need each slice to be exactly the same size.”
He relies on a dough press, which he purchased for approximately $9,500. The pizza press can make up to 400 pizzas in one hour, ranging from 12 inches to 20 inches. Ross uses three different slots for the three different sizes: 12-, 14- and 18-inch pies. “Our pizza man can make five giants in one minute, so we realize a huge savings in labor,” he says. The machine is not hand or air driven, but is a mechanical press. Because the press is mechanical, it doesn’t care how cold the dough is. The plates are heated, so when the pizza dough is stretched out, it sears the gluten on the outside of the shell, taking a lot of the stickiness away and helping the dough retain its shape. It features beveling to create thicker edges around the crust.
But what about losing the ability to boast “hand tossed?” “There’s always going to be a percentage of customers who care about that, but I think, as a whole, if you’re delivering a pizza that tastes really good, that doesn’t matter so much,” says Ross. “People know they’re getting a fresh product that is consistently good.” u
Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.
Brandi Pizza & Wings
HAWKS & BULLS TONIGHT-->Order Brandi Pizza & Wings (312)794-5900 www.brandipizza.com WE DELIVER! 67 E. Cermak Rd., Chicago’s South Loop
Why it works: It’s A-Ok to speak to a specific crowd when tweeting. In this case, Chicago Bulls fans. Wings and pizza go great with basketball. This tweet was simple and provided location, phone number and Web site, emphasizing that they deliver. The only thing that could have made it even better is offering a specific deal and price.
Café di Scala
We have some seats available for the Beatles Brunch tomorrow. Call us at 515-244-1353 and we’ll save you a seat. :)
Why it works: When you host popular special events, letting people know that space is still available and giving them a number to call is a good idea. Café di Scala not only sparked the interest of folks who might have been undecided, but also planted a seed in others who perhaps didn’t know about Beatles Brunch.
Facebook Pizza Feeds
Pier Pizza Company: Where will you be on Saturday, April 16th? We’ll be at the finish line of the FROSTY DREW Classic 5K RUN/WALK enjoying pizza. Register today, don’t delay!”
Why it works: Pier’s post tells its community, “we support community events and we want you to get involved.” They provided a call to action and a link to the run’s Facebook page. Added enticement for the true Pier fan — pizza when they complete the race.
Lombardos Pizzeria: Last day to try our new Breaded Ravioli appetizer for FREE!! Order a Large or X-Large pizza…MENTION FACEBOOK…and receive a 6 piece Breaded Ravioli Appetizer for FREE!! ALL WEEKEND!! You Gonna Love it!! 425-742-8710 4/1-4/3/11
Why it works: Lombardos just hit the sweet spot with customers — free. Pairing a new appetizer with other menu items makes for a nice introduction. Additionally, the post explained how the deal worked, provided a direct call to action, established urgency and gave the phone number. To boot, Lombardos even included a photo of the breaded ravioli, and we all know food photography sells!
Josh Keown & Rick Daugherty
No one likes to think about it, but employees do steal from their employers. The SBA reported that 10 percent of businesses filing bankruptcy cited employee theft or fraud as major causes. Pizzeria operators have two options: ignore the possibility or take proactive steps to protect the business.
The three main kinds of employee theft in restaurants today include swiping inventory, pocketing till money and fudging the books. Even in this age of computerized controls, employees find ways of taking product or money that can’t be easily detected. When it comes to the books, the most common methods of embezzlement include forging checks made out to phony accounts or vendors. Frequently the employee who embezzles is a “trusted” employee and therefore avoids close scrutiny.
Hence, here are several suggestions that serve as either positive or negative deterrents:
Give employees generous discounts on offerings. Many employers allow a free meal for each shift worked. The staffer’s rationale might be, “The boss is being reasonable, so I’ll be fair with her.” Even with a liberal employee discount, don’t ignore potential product theft. Have two people do an inventory count, one at the beginning of the day and one at the end. Occasionally switch counters. Notice holes in shelves.
Set up computerized systems to prevent cash withdrawals. This is especially easy to do with a POS system. Each clerk has a register and returns the same amount at end of shift. Only that employee can work his register. Set up computerized registers so that if the order isn’t punched in, it can’t be processed. Provide customer displays so that they see what they are paying for.
Michael DiBona, general manager of Mamma Mia’s, a five-store company in the Boston-area, says of such procedures: “If the clerk is over or under bank, that’s technically theft, and we’re very watchful. ”
Do cash register spot checks. If nothing else, it will alert employees that you are trying to keep tabs of the cash situation. If a spot check reveals a discrepancy, try to isolate it. Is it occurring in the morning, during certain shifts? If the problem persists, switch staff assignments around in order to isolate the possible thieves.
Install video cameras. Set them up behind cash registers, in storage areas and even in the basement — and connect them to an office screen. This makes an excellent deterrent, as well as investigative tool if someone is suspected of stealing. Alert employees that they are there, and monitor off-site if the systems allow.
Study management reports for potential problems. When reviewing routine business reports, be on the lookout for irregularities, changes or inconsistencies. For example, if you find the cash in/out discrepancy becoming larger and larger, you can be sure someone is taking money from the till. Or if you see your gross margin down from last month, for no apparent reason, a good bet is that someone is pilfering product. If one shift has much more cash register errors than another, it’s probably due to some unwarranted employee withdrawals.
“We have discount codes,” says Chris Wolff of Dewey’s Pizza, a 15-store chain in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Employees can key in these discount codes and pocket the difference. We examine these discount code use reports carefully to see if something’s going on. ”
Hire spot checkers. If you suspect a problem, hire a spot checker to act as a customer. This person doesn’t have to be an expensive security expert. Your next-door neighbor, a cousin or a family friend will do. By paying cash and saying he doesn’t want the sales slip, the spy gives the clerk an opportunity to pocket the transaction. The important thing is to make it clear to your spy what to look for. Does the clerk make change from the register? Does the clerk fuss with the register after the sale?
Create a profit bonus system, in which all employees benefit if the restaurant does well. This turns employees into committed company staffers.
Discuss the theft issue with employees. At company meetings, let your staff know that you are aware of the temptations. Point out that taking money from the till is not only a crime punishable by time in prison, but that it also is a despicable act that unfairly puts all staffers in a bad light until the perpetrator is caught.
If you catch a thief, work with your attorney to make sure you properly dismiss him or her immediately. Do not give second chances. No matter how long-term or how valuable the employee is, trust is broken.
As for bringing criminal action, that seems like a logical step. Be forewarned, however, that successfully prosecuting a dishonest employee will cost you a lot of effort, time and money. The chance of recovering any lost money is remote. u
Howard Scott, a former business owner, has published 1,400 magazine articles and four books. He is a former accountant.
Photos by Josh Keown
Domino’s Pizza may have won our Chain of the Year designation, but there certainly are other companies within the category that are either enjoying success now or setting themselves up for a promising future. Here’s a look at a handful of those organizations, presented in no particular order:
Gatti’s Pizza — Ranked No. 25 on our Top 100 Companies list, Austin, Texas-based Gatti’s Pizza has more than 130 stores in 11 states and tops $138 million in sales. The company’s spacious stores feature a pizza, pasta and dessert buffet, along with video and redemption games. Earlier this year, the company announced plans to grow by adding new entertainment centers in Texas and Oklahoma. These GattiTown locations, operated by franchisee Food Service Management Systems (FMS), range from 45,000 to 60,000 square feet. In the January 24, 2011 edition of the Hot Slice, our weekly electronic newsletter, Gatti’s CEO Mike Mrlik is quoted as saying: “In this lingering downturn, you don’t expect to see expansion like this. It tells you something about the success of the Gatti’s brand that FMS is able to make such a big move.”
Mellow Mushroom — Ranked No. 50 on the annual Top 100 Companies list, this Atlanta-based organization weighs in with 105 locations that combine for $46 million in sales. Over the past four years, the company has enjoyed some of the fastest growth in its history. With a product that is well aligned with today’s consumer tastes, it’s no wonder Mellow Mushroom has announced a rash of store openings in 2011 (around 15 at press time for this article).
The Rock Wood Fired Pizza & Spirits — With only 10 stores, The Rock reported $26 million in sales in 2010, according to the Directory of Chain Restaurant Operators. That put the small company, based in Auburn, Washington, at No. 92 on our Top 100 Companies list. With a fun, energetic Rock-and-Roll theme and wood-fired pizzas, The Rock has been a big hit in the Pacific Northwest. Its branding projects the polish of a much larger company, and The Rock is attempting to grow by offering multi-unit development plans to potential franchise partners. One such partner, Kaizen Brands, has plans to open 40 stores in Canada over the next seven years.
Marco’s Pizza — Based in Toledo, Ohio, Marco’s Pizza is No. 28 on our Top 100 Companies list. With more than 200 stores and more than $120 million in sales, the company operates in 18 states and the Bahamas.
According to the Marco’s Pizza Web site, the company is on track to open more than 60 new units this year. Additionally, it claims that more than 900 new locations are in development, which would quadruple the company’s store count in coming years.
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