PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOSH KEOWN
You've got questions … our expert has the answers. Submit your questions via e-mail to Jeremy White (email@example.com) — 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.
Hey Big Dave, I’m a small independent. I have been in business over five years. We pride ourselves in making literally the freshest, best tasting pizza in our area. We don’t take any shortcuts. All ingredients are top of the line and lovingly assembled and baked. One of the biggest pizza companies is opening in my small town and I’m afraid they will steal our customers away with their deep discounts and national advertising. What should I do?
Richard and Roxana Wiley Mamita’s Pizza Ridgeland, South Carolina
Richard, I know your operation. I helped you develop your recipes and menu. I know how fantastic your pizza is and how hospitable you and Roxana are to all of your guests. That is not enough. You must constantly tell your customers why your pizza is so good. Customers love to tell stories, good or bad. Does the average person know
that you use only the finest vine- ripened, not-from-concentrate tomato products? Your sauce contains zero sugar because the tomatoes are naturally sweet. Do you tell them enough that you make your hand-tossed pizza dough every day? Or that you select and hand-cut all of your veggies and buy the leanest pepperoni made? Or that you and your bride made a conscious decision to make the best pizza the low country has ever eaten? That decision means that your pizza will never be cheaper to make or sell.
I’d do a big mailing to all of your existing customers reinforcing their loyalty and also create a USP (unique selling proposition). When it comes down to it, we all compete on price or quality. I recommend stealing their grand opening thunder by honoring their specials. I’m also a huge believer in risk reversal. Put your money where your mouth is: guarantee your pizza by promising a full refund if it doesn’t live up to expectations. I came up with
a guarantee that stated I would immediately replace any competitor’s pizza with a similar Big Dave’s Pizza for free.
For the past six years I have owned and operated a mom-and-pop style pizza place in suburban Columbus, Ohio. Recently I opened a high-end pizza restaurant in Durham, North Carolina. Durham is very sophisticated, and the Duke University campus is within my view. Our demographics have changed to a very educated, worldly mix of students and PhDs. I’m having trouble hiring the right service staff, front of the house and delivery drivers who will over-deliver customer satisfaction. Where do I start?
Robert Giuliani Enzo’s Pizza Co. Durham, North Carolina
Hi Robert. You are searching for applicants with the service gene. Some people have it and some people don’t. If your applicants have the personality of a turnip, please don’t put either one of you through the pain. It’s way too frustrating. Once you have identified staff that understands they are in the hospitality rather than pizza business, they are trainable. Most QSR and pizza contact people have received little or no serious training. They are assigned to a senior person and then left to their own devices. Your job is to train, train and train them some more. They are the face of your entire life’s future when they serve guests. Once these people get their groove on, let them loose. Encourage them to SIN (solve it now) and TLC (think like a customer). Truly reward and recognize their extra efforts. Your customers will feel the love and experience the WOW factor. u
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.
Classy Catering Delivery
Big orders require timing, consideration during delivery
BY PAMELA MOLVIG
PHOTOS BY RICK DAUGHERTY
It takes hustle and finesse to get a picture-perfect, palate-satisfying meal from your kitchen to the diner’s plate in the next room. It’s trickier still when you’re filling dozens or even hundreds of plates at an event located miles away.
Such is the challenge of catering. One common misstep is allowing insufficient time for catering delivery, says Jody Birnbaum, former owner of a catering business in Chicago for 20-plus years and president/founder of Caterconsult Inc. in Buffalo Grove, Illinois.
“You also need to think about where you’ll park,” she says, “and how you’ll unload. The logistics are critical. If it’s a large order or an event that requires serving food rather than dropping it off, you absolutely must do an advance site inspection.”
Despite delivery challenges, catering can be a profitable sideline. As an add-on for an existing restaurant, catering is “not a huge investment,” Birnbaum says. Catering work often can be done during a restaurant’s slower hours, using equipment and staff you already have. “Catering can produce a good revenue stream,” she says, “if you do it right.”
Diana Vallorz has catered diverse events, such as pizza for 2,000 people at a high-tech firm and a gathering at a mountaintop vineyard. Her catering radius extends 30 minutes around the San Jose, California location of Tony & Alba’s Pizza & Pasta, which she bought last June from her parents. It’s one of three Tony & Alba’s founded by her parents; her brother now runs the other two.
The catering menu includes pizza, pasta and other entreés — including veal Parmesan, prime rib and more — plus salads, appetizers and desserts. With years of catering experience, Vallorz says getting various dishes ready to go out the door simultaneously is “the easy part.”
“We time everything,” she says. “We make salads ahead and put them in the refrigerator. We prepare entrees last. Then we bag it all up and get it out. That’s not the hard part.”
So what is? Vallorz’s response comes quickly. “Finding good drivers,” she says.
Drivers must pay attention to details, she explains, to make sure all dishes and supplies get into the delivery vehicle. It’s easy to forget items that are out of sight, such as salads in the refrigerator. “If I’m busy in the restaurant,” she says, “I may not be able to check if the driver has everything. Also, drivers must have a good personality. They’re representing the company.”
Jeff Sayers, co-owner with Mark Negro of Mangia Pizza in Austin, Texas, agrees that delivery personnel are key to catering success. “They check the packaging,” Sayers says, “and put the final blessing on the order.”
Mangia caters from four of its five locations. At each restaurant, managers act as overseers to get orders prepared and packaged for delivery. “If it’s an event for 100 or more,” Sayers says, “a manager or owner goes out with the order to be sure everything gets set up properly.”
Proper equipment is also critical for successful delivery. “We have large Igloo coolers,” Sayers says, “and big Cambro insulated boxes on wheels that roll right into the vehicle and then into the event.”
One of Mangia’s catering vehicles is a custom truck with two compartments for food. It’s half warming oven, half refrigeration unit. “We use that for bigger events,” Sayers says. “We can pull up somewhere with 50 pizzas and keep them warm.”
Catering demands careful planning and coordination, Sayers says, from the moment of taking the order through delivery and cleanup. “You can’t take catering lightly,” he says. “If you have a problem at the event, it’s not like you just messed up a four-top. You could make yourself look bad in front of hundreds of people. Catering is an extension of your restaurant and your reputation.”
Equipment and timing are critical elements in flawless catering delivery, says Paul Dzubnar, CEO of Green Mill Restaurants, Inc. in St. Paul, Minnesota. Green Mill, which caters from 28 restaurants in Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Kansas, began its centralized catering operation in fall 2009. It’s centralized in the sense that the St. Paul headquarters handles sales, marketing and store-level support.
“Some say you need to have the business before you outlay much capital to buy catering equipment,” Dzubnar says. “My thought was we needed the right equipment before we could execute catering events properly. We wanted all the tools in the toolbox. We bought a catering van and got it logo-ed up. We got Cambros and other equipment to transfer food, and we bought dinnerware, silverware and so on.”
Green Mill now has four catering delivery vans. Dzubnar says it’s fairly easy to gauge when to add another. “We get bookings well in advance,” he says. “These aren’t overnight pop-ups. We can see when the schedule is filling up and it’s time to buy another van.” Bookings are mostly for corporate events and weddings.
As for timing, “Once you’ve done a certain type of catered event,” Dzubnar says, “it seems to repeat itself.” Green Mill keeps a log for each event, which helps future event planning. All new catering sites get an advance survey to assess logistics and equipment needs, and to check drive time.
Based on the first year, Green Mill projects $500,000 in catering sales for 2011. “With the economy in decline, you need sales,” Dzubnar says. “When sales don’t come to you, you have to go out to get them. Catering is a way to do that.”
Hot on the Spot
Georgia-based Blue Moon Pizza has added a new twist to its catering delivery in the Atlanta area. It’s a 1961 fire truck, painted (what else?) blue and outfitted with a pizza oven, refrigeration and running water. The truck goes to private functions such as movie sets and weddings.
“We drive up and start making pizzas on the spot,” says Kelvin Slater, Blue Moon’s co-owner.
Besides bringing in added revenues, the pizza truck allows Blue Moon to “get our product out there,” Slater says. “People who don’t normally come to our restaurant can get a taste. That’s a pretty good bonus.”
Dianne Molvig is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wisconsin.
Still, our editors and designers get restless. We’re constantly coming up with fresh ideas and designs that we’d like to use, but too often these sparks of creativity never catch fire because they simply do not mesh well with the overall content of the magazine. We can’t sacrifice consistency or we risk losing the reader — the reason we’re here in the first place. As a result, many of our best ideas get put in the “when we finally do another redesign” folder.
Well, we’ve pulled out that folder. Our creative gurus, Rick Daugherty and Josh Keown, have had enough. They were getting bored and needed a new challenge. I’m extremely proud of what they’ve come up with, and I’m confident you will be, too.
Pizza Today was already the most informative, helpful and beautiful magazine in foodservice. I have no reservations about making that statement. Nor am I hesitant to proclaim that the nation’s best foodservice book just got better. Flip through the pages of this issue and I’m sure you’ll agree.
But we didn’t just change the look. We’ve also added several new departments and features designed to make the editorial content of our magazine more fun and relevant than ever. From reviving a Letters to the Editor page (write me and tell me what you think of our new look!) that hasn’t seen the light of day for a decade, to a new monthly Social Media column, we’re all about having a continuous working relationship with our readers.
In fact, one of the things I most love about my job at Pizza Today is that it puts me in touch with America’s top pizzeria owners. Each year I meet and talk to hundreds of operators in person at International Pizza Expo, on the phone, through the Pizza Today Web site or via e- mail. I personally know so many of our readers, and the feedback I get from them helps make the magazine better each and every year. We’ve always been an accessible part of the industry, and I think this new design makes us more accessible than ever.
So get in touch with us and become part of the process. Either through a letter to the editor, an e-mail, a direct message on a social media site … take your pick. Let us know what you’re doing and how we can continue serving your needs as a pizzeria owner. We’ll take it from there.
All the Best,
Jeremy White, editor-in-chief
Dough for Desserts
BY TOM LEHMANN
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
Q: We want to make some type of apple dessert pizza. What can you suggest that is easy to make?
One of my all time favorites is a dessert pizza, and making them is almost as much fun as eating them. They are really very easy and they don’t require any special handling or preparation.
Use your regular dough skin as if you were going to make a regular pizza. Brush it lightly with melted butter, then sprinkle it with cinnamon and granulated sugar. Next, thinly slice a few Granny Smith apples (no need to peel them) and drop the slices into a bowl of water to which one ounce of lemon juice has been added for each quart of water. This will keep the apple slices from turning brown.
Remove apple slices from the water, as needed, and arrange them on the dough skin so that the ends of the apple slices are oriented towards the center and rim of the dough skin. I then hen apply cherry size dollops of ricotta cheese over the pizza, but this isn’t necessary if you are watching costs.
Top the pizza with a streusel topping made as follows: blend together one pound of sugar, one pound of butter, ¼ ounce of salt, ½ ounce of vanilla flavoring and 4 pounds of flour. Lightly mix until the mix takes on a crumbly consistency. Be careful so as not to over-mix into a paste. The streusel should freely crumble when rubbed between your hands.
Apply a moderate topping of streusel to the pizza and take directly to the oven for baking. These pizzas will bake at the same time and temperature as your regular pizzas in most cases. When the pizzas come out of the oven, set aside to cool for about 10 minutes, then ice with a simple powdered sugar/water icing.
Here’s a tip: When making the icing, use regular tap water, not hot water, and immediately transfer into squeeze type bottles (like you might use for mustard or other squeeze condiments). Then just squeeze the icing onto the pizza. The icing can be stored at room temperature for up to three days.
For a quick up-charge, reheat a slice of the dessert pizza before applying the icing and finish with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert pizza ala mode. It is delicious and eye catching when your customers see it move through the dining room!
If you want to “up the ante” a little, try this for a dessert pizza: prepare the dough skin as described above, add the apple slices, then add halved red and green grapes, strawberry slices, a few blueberries, and maybe a few peach or mango slices for additional color.
Garnish with the streusel, bake and finish as described above. I like to keep my dessert pizza portions on the smaller size to control cost. I normally make them on a 12-inch format, slice into eight slices and sell by the slice. You can make these during slow times and hold them in the cooler for up to two days if desired. Warm, cold or a la mode, they are great tasting and carry their weight on your table tickets, too.
Q: What makes my dough so rubbery when I take it out of the mixer?
To answer your question in one word: gluten. It is what is responsible for the rubbery consistency of your dough, but I don’t think that’s the answer you’re looking for. If your dough feels unusually tough, or rubbery after mixing, the problem is usually due to under- absorption of the dough. To put it another way, you may not have added enough water to the dough. Even though it’s the same amount of water that you have always added, any one bag of flour may exhibit absorption properties outside of the normal bounds. Remember, flour is a very dynamic ingredient. It is constantly changing, and every shipment is somewhat different from the last shipment.
This is one time where the knee-jerk reaction is to add more water to the dough in an attempt to soften/loosen it up a little. And, indeed, that is the right thing to do in this particular circumstance.
If you are using 50 pounds of flour in each of your doughs, begin by increasing the amount of water in your dough by 1 pound, and then make further increases in 8-ounce increments until the dough feels like something closer to normal again. If the problem has started when you changed flour brands, it might be the result of using a flour with an excessively high protein level. Even though both brands may have indicated “high protein” or “high gluten,” that doesn’t mean that they’re the same. Far from it, in fact, as there is no standard for high protein or high gluten flour. I’ve personally seen bagged flour with the words “high gluten” on the bag that, when analyzed, only contained a little over 11 percent protein content. That is a far cry from the 13-plus percent protein content that we typically recognize as high protein flour.
Lastly, if your observations are that the flour is only occasionally tough and rubbery, seemingly with no rhyme or reason, check the actual weight of your bags of flour. We have seen 50-pound bags of flour vary in weight by 12, or more, ounces. This could possibly be the reason why you are occasionally seeing your doughs come out unusually tough and rubbery.
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
Make Plans NOW to Attend International Pizza Expo!
BY BILL OAKLEY, EXECUTIVE VP
This year we’re expanding our educational program to include more than 80 business-boosting seminars and demonstrations. We’ve also added several new industry speakers who will address the hot issues facing pizzeria operators today.
It’s more important than ever to discover new, innovative ways to boost profits and improve efficiencies. What are you doing to increase sales and reduce costs? Do you have cash flow issues? How are you dealing with the effects of increased wages and benefits? At this year’s Pizza Expo, you’ll find solutions to these problems and more.
Designed for pizzeria owners and operators, there’s something for everyone at Pizza Expo, whether you’re an industry veteran or just opening your first store. Can you imagine a show floor nearly as large as five football fields with nothing but pizza-related goods, equipment and services? International Pizza Expo – the “Show of Shows” for the Pizza Industry – is THE place to do business, learn, network, and deal.
Do you feel the need to compete? I know you think your pizza is the best. Here’s your chance to prove it by competing in the International Pizza Challenge™. This year, we’ll again have competitions for both traditional and non-traditional pizzas, as well as a final bake-off to determine the “Pizzaiolo of the Year.” Better yet, we’ll have nearly $50,000 in cash and prizes up for grabs. Each division winner will take home bragging rights to “World’s Best Pizza” and the $10,000 grand prize. If you’re interested, don’t delay — only the first 60 entries will be accepted in each division.
Energy and excitement also will abound when the World Pizza Champions™ and the World Pizza
Games® take center stage. Contestants will be able to compete in up to five events, including freestyle acrobatics, fastest dough, largest stretch, box folding and longest spin. Each event winner will take home
$1,000. We’re also going to add a
new contest, which will take place on the show floor to determine who has the best pizza box. If you think yours is one of the best, please make sure to bring a sample with you. You
might take home $500 and bragging
rights. Last but not least, at the close of
the show on Thursday, March 3rd,
one lucky pizzeria owner will walk
away with $20,000 by participating in the $20,000 MEGA BUCKS Giveaway ™! Remember, you can’t win if you don’t enter — and you won’t win if you’re not present.
If you haven’t already registered to attend, then you should stop reading this now and call (800) 489-8324. Or, better yet, pre-register online at www.PizzaExpo.com and save $10. For those of you who have already made plans to attend, it’s a good idea to start planning your show strategy now: map out a list of educational seminars to attend and start thinking about questions to ask at the Beer & Bull™ Idea Exchange.
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®, 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.
See you in Las Vegas!
Executive Vice President
Thearon Miller and his wife, Nicole, own T-Dubs Pizza in Muncie, Indiana. The pizzeria offers dine-in, carryout and delivery. The restaurant is close to Ball State, and a good portion of delivery heads to campus.
Q: Like many family owned restaurants, you and your wife are single-handedly manning the helm of your pizzeria. Have you felt overwhelmed? A: Yes, we get overwhelmed sometimes. It’s better now that we have hired a few drivers to help out. Even with the help, it can get very stressful. We try to focus on our goals as much as possible. This helps me realize why I am in this shop and working 90 hours a week with no paycheck. It’s too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind of owning and operating a pizzeria –– more so when you are the main two employees. I am always looking to my personal and business goals to remind me what I am working so hard for. You recently started charging for delivery. How have your customers reacted?
A: Most people have not realized that we started, and the ones who have don’t mind when we tell them why we have to. With that being said, when we started charging for delivery, we did a total menu redesign at the same time and added a few new specialty pizzas, changed all of our specials, added deep dish pies and bumped our base prices a little. I think it’s been easier on us in the shop because the coupon price most customers were used to paying week in and week out are not valid anymore. T-Dubs
You used to offer a gluten-free crust. Did you make them in-house or outsource them? Why?
A: The best thing to do with gluten- free is to buy pre-sheeted skins from a supplier. I have tried to work with gluten-free. It kind of sucks –– it breaks and cracks. Gluten is your “glue” ... it holds the dough together. If you roll the dough rather than toss it, it’s a little better. But in the end the best and simplest thing is to just buy pre-sheeted gluten-free. I don’t offer it anymore because I don’t like the pre-sheeted and I don’t have the time to put into gluten free. If you have a large amount of people requesting it you might add it, but if it’s just a few people saying ‘We would buy pies off you all the time if you had gluten free dough,’ don’t over stretch and fall into that trap. It might be worth it for you depending on what the culinary climate is where you are. Here in central Indiana, it was not worth it for me. How are your lunch and dinner specials working?
A: The specials have always done better than ordering off the menu. People like feeling like they are getting a good deal. I had some great specials that let me compete with the big guys, like my late-night special (a 14-inch one topping and breadsticks for $11 after 11 p.m.), or a dinner special (two 14-inch 1-topping pizzas and breadsticks for $20). The problem was I backed myself into a corner and my average ticket price had sunk to $10. It’s real hard to make money on an order that costs $10.80 after tax and has free delivery. When I redesigned the menu, I picked specials that pushed the price up to around $18 average ticket. ... We have gotten that ticket price up with surprisingly little resistance. Sure, we get a few drunk college kids that give us some lip over it. But at the end of the day, between charging for delivery and our new menu, we are getting a 35to 40-percent sales increase.
A: We have a new appetizer –– pizza rolls ––we’re adding soon. They are like cinnamon rolls Aside from pizza, what but hold garlic butter, meat and cheese. It’s a tasty, quick little snack. Start with a small dough small amount of meat or vegetables. are you looking to add ball (I use 10 ounces), then stretch it into a thin, long oval. Brush with garlic butter and add a to your menu in the future? Add a little cheese and roll tightly up to make a long log. Cut into 1- to 2-inch rolls, lay on side and bake until done!
Tacconelli's put time, care into each pie
BY MANDY WOLF DETWILER
PHOTOS BY RICK DAUGHERTY
Blink, and you might miss it –– at least, if you’re a tourist. Tucked away in Philadelphia’s working class Port Richmond neighborhood, diehard Philly pizza purists know Tacconelli’s Pizzeria is one of only a handful of places in the city where charred crusts and fresh toppings reign. And if that sounds like lip service, we agree. This is a one-man pizzeria that seemingly gets it right, the kind where cash is king, history is as thick as the accent and waiting for a pizza is, well, worth it.
“I’m fourth generation,” says owner John Tacconelli, leaning heavily on a ledge of his 18-foot by 18-foot oil-fired oven. It’s just after 4 p.m. on a weekday and the oven has been officially turned off. Wife Roseann mans the telephone as she furiously jots down names and telephone numbers in a dog-eared yellow legal pad –– at Tacconelli’s, customers are required to call and reserve their pizza. Why? John makes a batch of dough daily, and when it’s gone ... well, it’s gone.
In 1920, Tacconelli’s Italian-born great-grandfather built a 20-foot by 20-foot oven and opened a bread business in Philadelphia. When his sons were drafted to serve in World War II, he converted his business to a pizzeria in 1946 and started serving the tomato pies his mother had taught him in Italy. Decades later, the oven, which had begun to deteriorate, has been rebuilt and John Tacconelli, who took over fully in 2005, and his family still operate the pizzeria using the original recipes.
John grew up in the neighbor-hood, and says the pizzeria gained local notoriety and garnered press in the 1980s, taking it from a local joint to a destination shop. “Most of our business is from outside the neighborhood,” he says, adding that word-of-mouth is the best advertising.
“We never advertise,” he says. “I refuse to. People call up all the time. We don’t need it. I can only do so much, and that’s it.”
Tacconelli’s relies on just a handful of people –– mostly family members –– from the dining room to the kitchen, with John himself manning the oven. After more than 50 years, they’ve ironed out the kinks. “I tried to hire people, but they didn’t work out,” John says. “I don’t mind working (and) I’m very particular in what I put out there.”
At Tacconelli’s, the 16-inch pizzas are light, thin and crispy. And don’t expect big, loaded pies –– toppings are added to enhance the overall flavor profile of the sauce and dough, not overwhelm them. (They encourage more than three toppings on a pizza.) The restaurant offers just a few pizzas: a tomato pie (no cheese and plenty of sauce); the regular pie (cheese and sauce), a white pie (salt, black pepper, cheese and garlic) and a margarita pie (fresh mozzarella and fresh basil).
“The most I can put out is 30 pizzas an hour,” John says. “You can’t have quality and quantity with this kind of oven.” He makes the dough –– and uses it –– daily. As a result of knowing how many pies are reserved, they’re able to cut enough ingredients for the day, resulting in very little waste. “He’s got it down to a science,” Roseann says. “I guess he’s been doing it so long now he can figure out how many he’s going to sell.”
John turns on the oven –– heating it to about 950 F –– and lets it warm throughout the day. There’s no lunch part “because I can’t cook when it’s on,” he says. “The oven takes six hours to heat up.”
He moves pizzas around various hotspots in the oven throughout the night, working deeper and deeper toward the back. “Every time I put a pizza in a spot, it takes a little heat out of that spot,” he says.
He estimates it costs $350 to $400 a week to run the oven, saying that “it’s not cheap,” but it gives the pizzas a flavor profile not found elsewhere. What starts as a three- to four-minute bake lengthens to 10 to 15 minutes by the end of the night.
Philly residents and critics seem to love the place. Tacconelli’s has won several awards, including “Best of” accolades from Philadelphia Magazine. It’s also Zagat-rated.
The white pie used to be the best seller, but customers these days prefer the red pizza better. “When I took over from my father, I tweaked it a little bit, I changed the sauce that I use, and it seems like I sell so many more red pies,” John says. Tastes have “changed over the last five or six years. I’d say 75 percent (of sales) are red pies.”
Why such a simple menu? “It’s easy,” John says. “It’s easy, and it works.”
Laughs wife Roseann, who says she snips basil by hand while watching television: “We don’t want to work any harder than we have to!”
“We could have salads in here, but we don’t,” John says. “You can bring your own salad. Basically, you can bring in whatever you want. It’s not abused. Basically, anything but hard liquor.”
They used to offer delivery back in the 1980s, “but we couldn’t satisfy both delivery and eat-in and we had to stop it,” John says.
Carryout is big, especially on weekends when there’s a long wait for tables.
Want a beer or glass of wine? It’s BYOB at Tacconelli’s since John’s grandfather sold the business’s liquor license in the 1960s. “I’m glad he did,” John admits. “I thought about getting a new one, but it’s not worth it, with the insurance and all the aggravation.”
Roseann says they are able to handle a small amount of walk-in diners in the 115-seat restaurant, but for the most part, people call, reserve their pizzas and show up on time. “We have a lot of regular people who come in every single week,” she says. “Some people don’t have to even call –– I just automatically put them down, and they call me if they’re not coming.”
This is an all-cash business, but they installed an ATM machine for customer convenience. “I refuse to go into business with the credit card companies,” John says. “They want three percent of your business for doing nothing. They make money off the customers. Why do they have to make money off me, too?
“If people can’t afford $15 for a pizza, they shouldn’t be eating pizza.”
The Tacconellis have been approached to franchise in the past, “ but they usually back out,” John says, “because we want quality control. A lot of people want to use your name to sell another product. … It comes down to just saying no.” (Tacconelli’s brother opened his own shop in New Jersey, but John says the product and concept are different. Only the name is shared.)
Their son Giovanni is headed to college and the Tacconellis hope he’ll carry on the family business in the future. Until then, it’s one man, one oven with a lot of love for the craft.
“We don’t get rich here,” John says. “We make a nice living, and we’re happy. I could probably do some more if I wanted to, but we’re happy.”
Tacconelli’s huge 18-foot by 18-foot oven is heated during the day and then extinguished before the first dinner customer arrives. As the evening progresses, and the heat dissipates, the pies are pushed progressively farther toward the rear of the oven with a long peel.
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
On a Mission
Tony Roni's polishes branding, mission statement for new era of growth
BY MANDY WOLF DETWILER
PHOTOS BY RICK DAUGHERTY
Philadelphia-based Tony Roni’s doesn’t have dusty mementos lining the walls. It doesn’t focus on microbrewed beer or have a talking slice of pizza as its figurehead. Instead, it’s a small chain of pizzerias focusing on what it deems most important for success –– fantastic food made in a positive atmosphere. The result? Six stores and counting with a total combined sales of $7 million. It seems concentrating on “Great Food with Great Attitude” –– the company’s well-publicized mission statement –– is paying off.
“My background is as a financial planner,” says owner Tony Altomare. “I worked with small businesses … and in about seven years, I learned a lot about attitude, work ethic –– I worked in a great culture. The environment that I worked in was in a very close-knit financial planning company. I learned all my business skills then.”
Fifteen years ago, Altomare gave up that career in finance and dipped his toes into the foodservice industry when he worked with a former client who owned a restaurant. “I learned everything what not to do,” he says. “In my mind, coming out of financial planning, was that I was going to go into this business and I’d be the business brain and I’d be the marketing guy, and he’d be the food guy.”
It turned out that the partnership wasn’t a match, and Altomare opened his own concept, Tony A’s, in 1998. “I started Tony A’s with the idea of having a small, regional chain, and ‘Tony A’ was my nickname growing up,” Altomare says. “We opened up four stores and did real well with it.
“Four years ago, we decided to start growing our company, and we looked into and did research on franchising. I went out and interviewed some of the top franchise companies (like) Saladworks and Hollywood Tans. I met with their CEOs and they gave me some great advice.”
During the course of his research, Altomare learned that the name “Tony’s” was already trademarked as a frozen pizza and too similar to his own concept’s name. “In order to grow and protect the trademark, we looked for a new and creative name,” he says. “We wanted to have ‘Tony’ in it, and it was going to be ‘Tony Pepperoni’s.’ We (shortened) it to Tony Roni’s.”
The concept has caught on. Today, four stores operate as Tony Roni’s and two still hold the Tony A’s name until they can be converted to the new design. .
“I think what makes us special is our culture,” Altomare says. “Our mission statement is ‘Great Food with Great Attitude,’ and one of the things that we preach –– not only to anyone who comes to work for us but also, it’s out there for the public –– is that we live by it. It’s on our uniforms, it’s on our hats, it’s in our manuals. … A lot of companies, including Fortune 500 companies, they create a mission (statement) and it collects dust. They put it in their drawer. … We live by it. It’s simple. You can’t forget it.”
Altomare says each applicant is given a “culture sheet.” And during training, attitude is everything. “We do have very low turnover because of our culture,” he adds. “There are a lot of places where mistakes happen. People get yelled at or screamed at. People quit because they don’t like the boss or they don’t like the way they’re talked to. We don’t have any of that here. The managers are trained for about six months before they become a manager. They learn our culture before they learn how to make pizza. We hire to our culture.”
And it seems to be working. Between it’s two concepts, 53 percent of sales is pizza-based. “We sell a lot of pizza,” says Altomare. Companywide, business is equal parts dine-in, delivery and carryout, although the busiest store’s delivery skyrockets to 45 percent.
Crucial to Tony Roni’s visual appeal is its display case, which requires fresh pizzas throughout the day for visual appeal. Slices are big sellers during lunch. “We have a system where the manager directs the pizza man on how many to put up and which ones,” Altomare says. “If they’re there more than two-and-a-half hours, they’re in the trash.”
Although Philly is probably best-known for its cheesesteak sandwiches, we’re pretty sure Tony Roni’s hand-crafted tomato pies should rank right up there –– and apparently Philadelphia Magazine agrees. It gave the company’s Originale (a thin and crispy crust topped with Tony Roni’s signature tomato pie sauce) a Best of Philly award in 2008. The 16-inch rectangular pizza can be customized with other ingredients –– such as charbroiled chicken, basil or provolone cheese. “We have a great pizza product,” says Altomare. “I love it. It’s phenomenal. Customers obviously rave about it. But the tomato pie, it’s unique. Nobody knows how to make it (and) it’s a very unique product.”
The company is constantly tasting and revamping its core product –– including a “Bigger, Tastier Cheesesteak.” The sandwich’s rolls are made in South Philadelphia, but they sampled five or six different meats and increased the amount of steak in each sandwich. “We’re intense,” Altomare says. “We’re serious about what we do.”
As a result, customers don’t just consider Tony Roni’s an average restaurant. The key? Guerilla and grassroots marketing at the local levels, says Allison Durkin, director of marketing and public relations. Sure, visiting local businesses and handing out menus can be effective, but following up on large catering orders, delivering gift baskets to large corporate customers during the holidays and handing out gift cards keeps Tony Roni’s top of mind where it matters.
“A lot of what we do is work with schools and community organizations,” Durkin says. “We don’t want to just be open on a corner of (Philly suburb) Drexel Hill. We want to be a part of the community. We want people to say ‘that’s my neighborhood pizzeria.’ ”
Throughout the years, they’ve raised more than $15,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and they’ll donate gift baskets for raffle fundraisers. Another successful event is “A Night at Tony’s,” with proceeds benefiting a local school or organization. “The last time we had it, there were families sitting on top of other families,” Durkin says. “You couldn’t move in here, and people had such a great time.
“It’s great for us because we are in a position where we can give back to our customers and show them that we do care.”
Heavy internal marketing ensures that any printed material falls in the right hands –– current customers in-house. “Everybody who walks out of our store walks out with something in their hands,” Altomare says. They send out direct mail pieces every six months.
“I don’t believe in being lost in a coupon book,” Altomare adds. We want our brand to be out there. It costs more money, but you’re not just a page in there.”
Email has also been a successful tool –– they collect email addresses and draw for free pizza for a year from amongst their database.
The company’s sixth store opened last June, but they’re not finished there. A seventh store will soon open early this year. “The thing that’s good about us is that I always say that we’re real. I’m not an owner that thinks I need to have 20 stores or 30 stores. It’s about how we do it and our mission of ‘Great Food with Great Attitude.’ We want to grow, but we don’t want to open four or five stores a year and then the food stinks and the service stinks. We’re building our management team.”
Altomare believes two to three store openings in strategically placed locations in 2011 is feasible. “Our growth plan is just to do it right.”
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
In the Fold
Calzones spread ingredients farther across menus
BY JEFFREY FREEHOF
For those of you who have heard some of my advice regarding menu development over the years, you understand how important it is to maximize the usage of your ingredients. By following this philosophy, you will enjoy a lower food cost by not wasting product that didn’t get used before it expired –– all while your customers benefit from a larger selection of menu items.
One of the best vessels you can use for an endless variety of culinary concoctions is the calzone. Like a pizza, I want you to look at a calzone as an empty canvas. Absolutely anything that you might put on a pizza can be tucked into a calzone. However, be mindful that raw vegetables, if they are cut too thick, and if they are baked at high temperatures, will still have a little crunch to them. Therefore, I suggest slicing your veggies slightly thinner. Also, I would stay away from raw meats going into a calzone, for obvious reasons.
Calzones are so easy to make! I suggest using a 12-ounce dough ball. Start by simply stretching the dough out to 12 inches in diameter. Make sure you have a dusting of flour underneath it to prevent the dough from sticking to your work surface. After stretching your dough, put the filling ingredients on half of open shell. Avoid overlapping any ingredients onto the edge of the dough — otherwise you won’t be able to seal it properly. I like to put my cheese on top of the filling. Then I apply a little strip of sauce over it. That way, when it bakes the sauce moves down through the cheese and mixes with the toppings. Bear in mind that too much sauce will make for a very sloppy calzone.
Once all of your ingredients are layered onto the bottom half of your stretched out dough, you want to fold the top half down over the fillings. Although egg washing the edge doesn’t hurt, I don’t think it’s really necessary. I simply push down on the edge firmly as if I were trying to push my fingertips through the top layer down into the bottom layer. Follow that procedure around the entire edge of the calzone and you’ll have a perfect seal.
Now, here’s an important trick so your seal stays intact: you’ve got to put a slit into your calzone before you bake it. When your calzone is baking and the ingredients start to get hot, some steam will form inside the sealed calzone. That steam will need to escape. If you forget to make a slit, the steam will find the path of least resistance and will rip open part of your sealed edge.
Customers can get a little bit out of hand once in a while with wanting a dozen ingredients in a calzone. Don’t worry, give them what they want. Just keep in mind that the more they want to put in their calzone, the less of each filling you need to use. Otherwise, stuffing a calzone with too many ingredients will not allow the center of the calzone to cook. You would have to literally burn the outside of the calzone to get the center to cook, and that’s not going to make anybody happy.
Calzones generally bake at the same time and temperature as your pizza, so that makes life pretty easy when making that decision to add calzones to your menu.
For an easy calzone recipe that your customers are sure to love, see the sidebar included with this article.
Jeffrey Freehof owns the Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia, and is a frequent speaker at the Pizza Expo family of tradeshows.
Steak Bomb Calzone
12 ounces pizza dough
6 ounces shaved steak
2 ounces sliced onion
2 ounces sliced green peppers
2 ounces sliced mushrooms
3 ounces shredded mozzarella
Salt and pepper
Just as if you were going to make a steak bomb sub, cook your shaved steak, peppers, onions and mushrooms with salt and pepper on the grill until it is ready. It’s fine to cook this calzone filling ahead of time. You can even refrigerate it if you plan to have it on your menu or run it for a daily special. Follow the instructions in the adjoining article on stretching out the dough. Place the steak mixture on the bottom half of the dough, place the mozzarella over the steak and close up your calzone and seal it as I have instructed in the article. Bake in your pizza oven at the same temperature and time in which you bake your pizzas.
Keeping Your Dream Alive
ESOPs five Employees a stake in success
BY DIANNE MOLVIG
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
In the midst of the bustle of running your restaurant, perhaps you sometimes pause to remember when you first opened your doors. Do you think about that future day when you’ll make your exit?
Barbara Gabel and Zach Zachowski, who are self-described “think-ahead types,” began to consider their exit strategy when they reached their early 50s. The husband-wife team had no family member to take over Zachary’s Chicago Pizza in Oakland, California, and they balked at the notion of selling to just anybody.
Would a new owner maintain the product quality and workplace environment that had made the restaurant a Bay Area icon, as some observers have described it? What would happen to employees, many of whom had worked at Zachary’s for a decade or two?
“Even a benevolent owner could come in and change the dynamics, the mojo, the benefits, the pay,” Gabel says. “We didn’t want that.”
The solution the couple struck on was an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), established at Zachary’s in 2003.
Currently there are about 11,500 ESOPs in the United States, covering 10 percent of the private-sector workforce, according to The ESOP Association in Washington, D.C. “An ESOP is similar to a profit-sharing or 401(k) plan in many ways,” explains Corey Rosen, executive director of the National Center for Employee Ownership in Oakland, California. “But unlike those plans, an ESOP is designed to invest in company stock.”
The company puts money into the ESOP and gets a tax deduction for doing so. The ESOP uses that money to buy company shares from the owners; employees don’t pay for shares out of their own pockets. That’s a tough concept for people to comprehend, Rosen acknowledges, but it’s critical to an ESOP’s essence.
“If employees had to buy stock with their own money, it would never happen,” he says. “An ESOP is a way for the company’s tax-deductible future earnings to purchase shares from the existing owner.”
To be a viable candidate for an ESOP, a company should be profitable and have a healthy cash flow. Depending on company size, it costs at least $40,000 to create an ESOP, plus $12,000 or more for annual maintenance fees, Rosen says. A restaurant should have at least 20 employees and sales of $1 million or more for an ESOP to make sense, he adds.
ESOPs are complex, and, because these are tax-deferred employee retirement plans, they’re subject to Internal Revenue Service and Department of Labor rules. For instance, all employees age 21 or older who work at least 1,000 hours a year must be allowed to participate.
To install an ESOP, a company must be either an S or C corporation, or convert to one. In a C corporation, an ESOP allows the owner to defer capital gains taxes on the sale proceeds by reinvesting that money in other securities. The ESOP must own at least 30 percent of the stock for this deferral to kick in.
An S corporation with an ESOP offers a different tax advantage, according to Jude Anne Carluccio, chair of the ESOP practice group at Barnes & Thornburg LLP, a Minneapolis law firm.
“In an S corporation, which a lot of small businesses are, the ESOP is considered a tax-exempt shareholder,” she explains. “So cash that otherwise would go to pay taxes at the shareholder level is instead used to help fund the ESOP’s stock purchase. Or, if the S corporation is owned 100 percent by the ESOP, (it is) kept in the company to fund company growth initiatives.”
Still, with all the tax advantages, another factor often poses the strongest appeal to owners. “Most small business owners I’ve worked with want to keep their dream going,” Carluccio says. “That’s one of the big pluses of the ESOP as a transition vehicle. It allows owners to perpetuate the dream they’ve actualized.”
In 2000, Johnny Huntsman set up an ESOP at Johnny’s Pizza House, headquartered in West Monroe, Louisiana. The company now has 28 area locations. “He wanted an exit strategy,” says president/CEO Melvin DeLacerda, “and he wanted to reward employees who had helped him build the company. The ESOP accomplished those goals.”
DeLacerda, who started at Johnny’s 30 years ago when he was a high school student working part time, believes the ESOP is a valuable retention tool. “Our turnover for managers, and even assistant managers, is extremely low,” he says. “A lot of things enter into that, but the ESOP plays a big part.”
Still, employees often are skeptical when they first hear about the ESOP, DeLacerda admits. They can’t believe it costs them nothing, and they don’t fully comprehend the benefit until they see it. “We have store managers and even delivery drivers who have account balances that amaze them,” he says. “They never could have saved that much on their own.”
Today the ESOP owns 62 percent of the company’s stock, while Huntsman retains 19 percent. Two other individuals hold the remainder. “Johnny is tickled to death about how well this has worked,” DeLacerda says. “We now have an ownership culture among our employees. Even though we had a good culture to begin with, the ESOP has solidified it.”
At Zachary’s Chicago Pizza, which now has three locations, the ESOP owns 100 percent of the company. Gabel and Zachowski turned over the last 25 percent to the employees on July 25, 2010, the company’s 27th anniversary. “As Zach put it, ‘It’s their turn now,’” Gabel says. “This was a good way for us to go out.”
It’s also a good deal for employees. Kevin Suto started out at Zachary’s in 1984 as a dishwasher and rose to the position of general manager. “I’ve done pretty much every job there is here,” he says. Last summer, Suto became the new CEO and chief financial officer. Now 44, he looks forward to the ESOP providing him an attractive retirement payout.
That’s if, of course, the business continues to succeed. “Your stock is only as valuable as the company is,” Suto says. “So there’s a motivation for all of us to leave the company even stronger than it was when we arrived.”
Dianne Molvig is a freelance writer in Wisconsin.
Let It Snow!
When Mother Nature gets nasty, having a plan (and some common sense) will prevent problems, pump profits
BY ALYSON MCNUTT ENGLISH
PHOTO BY RICK DAUGHERTY
When the weather outside is frightful, the pizza delivery business can be anything but delightful. Forecasts of rain, sleet, snow, hail and sub-zero temperatures can mean trouble for delivery drivers, but these weather events (when handled appropriately) can also beef up your restaurant’s bottom line.
The first step in properly managing bad-weather delivery is having a plan, says Joe Crowley, owner of Pisa Pizza in Malden, Massachusetts. “You’ve got to go back to your Boy Scout motto –– be prepared,” he explains.
For Pisa Pizza, bad-weather training isn’t just for delivery drivers. The inside staff knows weather incidents mean extra drivers coming in, more pizza to produce and less margin for error. “I tell my inside people we can’t drop the ball, because it’s slow enough on the street (with bad weather) and those drivers need us inside working hard to make sure that food is made quickly and correctly,” Crowley says.
Crowley’s drivers do have training, too: three three-hour shifts, in fact. “In the first three hours, we address inclement weather,” he explains. “We talk about driving and weather gear. You can’t just assume people understand something, and sometimes if you don’t tell somebody they’ve got to have gear, they’ll show up in sneakers in a slush or snowstorm.”
Training is critical, but so is equipment. Crowley’s Boston-area store is equipped with the usual winter-weather gear –– snow blowers, shovels, salt barrels. But that’s not all. Worried about customer and driver safety on his property, he decided to invest in a snow plow for his truck. “Sometimes I’m out at 3 or 4 a.m. making sure my parking lot is clear,” he says. “I can get the whole lot cleaned up before we open.”
Even if your restaurant prides itself on quick delivery, it’s important drivers understand bad weather means they can quit watching the clock and keep all eyes trained squarely on the road.
Customers usually understand ... as long as you tell them about the delay when they order, says Mark Gold, co-owner of Pizza Shuttle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “A lot of times the people taking the orders are so used to repeating the same phrase over and over –– saying ‘it will be 35 to 40 minutes’ –– that we have to make sure they tell people when we know that it’s going to be more like an hour,” he says. “If people know ahead of time, they understand. It’s when they think it’s going to be half an hour and it turns out to be an hour that you run into problems and angry customers.”
Keeping up-to-date on technology trends will help you better communicate with customers as well. Gold says Pizza Shuttle is getting an updated Web site soon; part of the reason is they wanted more flexibility on the landing page. “When there’s a big storm, we’ll be able to put a notice on the site saying ‘Hey, we’re open today!’ or ‘Because of weather conditions, delivery is taking an hour,’” Gold says. The restaurant has also hired a company to manage its social media presence, and they plan on using Facebook, FourSquare and Twitter not only for marketing, but also to alert customers to weather-related closings, changes in hours or delivery delays.
No matter how much of a Weather Channel junky you are, it’s inevitable that unexpected weather will cause some problems for your delivery business. The floods that drenched Milwaukee this past year are a bizarre example of this. “It was crazy, it just happened so quickly,” Gold says.
Even Gold couldn’t get to Pizza Shuttle that day because of high water, and he had no idea what roads were passable for his drivers. But instead of closing, he leaned on one of his most trusted employees. Gold called his top driver and asked him to manage inside the store. “I told him if he needs to stop delivering, then to do it,” he says.
Instead, his driver came up with his own plan: He would take 45 orders at a time. After that, he quit taking orders until all 45 of those pizzas were delivered. Then he would take 45 more.
“I probably would have just closed,” Gold says. “But he came up with this, and it worked.”
Crowley says one advantage he has over the competition is his willingness to play the weather by ear. “Lots of places will see a bad forecast and just go ahead and tell everyone to stay home; they’re not going to open that day,” he says. “I tell everyone to prepare like we’re going to be open. That way if a blizzard misses us or isn’t as bad as expected, we’re ready. Sometimes we’re the only game in town that’s open, and we have a very busy day.”
No matter how prepared you are, how well you communicate delays or how much business you could be getting, sometimes you really do just have to stop delivery because of the weather. “I tell the drivers, hey, you go until you don’t feel safe, then you let me know,” Crowley says. “I get a lot of feedback that tips are very good when the weather is bad, so they want to deliver. If they say they can’t do it anymore because they don’t feel safe, I listen.”
TIP: Consider using Facebook, Foursquare or Twitter to tell your customers about any changes or interruptions in delivery.
Alyson McNutt English is an award-winning freelance writer specializing in home, health, family and green topics. She is based in Huntsville, Alabama.
Are you sure
It’s important to be properly insured no matter what the weather, but slick roads and poor visibility increase the likelihood of car accidents for everyone. Are you protected?
Non-owner auto liability policies are an absolute must for restaurants that send employees to deliver. If you’re trying to skirt this by paying drivers as 1099 independent contractors, you’re skating on thin ice — if someone sues because of an auto accident, you can still be held liable in court.
At Pisa Pizza, owner Joe Crowley has an accountability system in place to ensure his drivers are always on the right side of insurance law. Thanks to a POS system that tracks his drivers’ insurance, if they lose their coverage or have some other paperwork problem, the computer won’t even allow them to punch into work until it’s addressed.
License to Drive
Hiring delivery drivers demands attention to detail
BY DANIEL P. SMITH
PHOTOS BY RICK DAUGHTERY
When TJ Banning opened his first Rosati’s Pizza in suburban Chicago in 2000, he carried low standards for his delivery driver hires.
“If you had a pulse and a car, you were hired,” says Banning, who’s swapped his early waywardness for more stringent driver standards at both of his Rosati’s locations.
Banning entrusts his drivers to represent Rosati’s in a positive light, certain that their presence influences customer perception and satisfaction.
“Sixty percent of our business isn’t me, but rather somebody I’ve hired to deliver pizzas and hold money until the end of the night, so you bet I’ve learned to pay closer attention to the drivers I hire,” says Banning, whose delivery crew is a mix of “career drivers,” delivery veterans with at least five years’ experience and part-timers filling either hours or income gaps.
Yet, the importance of hiring responsible drivers extends well beyond perception and deep into an operator’s pocketbook, as ignorance to a driver’s insurance coverage, vehicle condition and driving record can prove costly.
While experience and area familiarity often shoot driver candidates to the top of the employer’s pile, wise operators, recognizing their assets and livelihood could be at risk, activate a number of critical, judicious steps to protect their business and others.
“Our philosophy is ‘hire tough and manage easy,’ ” says Glenn Mueller, whose RPM Pizza operates 150 Domino’s Pizza restaurants in the southeast. “If you get the right people in place, you’re going to save yourself a lot of stress down the line.”
While some operators run driving tests for applicants to assess road decorum as well as street knowledge, three key, universal checkpoints before hiring a driver will help insulate the business from time, money, and emotion-consuming battles. Here are some considerations:
The driver’s motor vehicle report (MVR). One’s driving record provides operators a glimpse into behind-the-wheel responsibility. While insurance companies can access MVRs, EPIC Insurance Brokers’ Cheryl Downey, who specializes in restaurant delivery coverage, suggests operators require drivers bring a copy of their MVR to the interview along with proof of insurance on the car they will use.
The MVR will list moving violations, including citations for driving too close, speeding, or intersection violations. According to Downey, two or more violations could reflect the driver’s personality and prompt reason for concern with operators. Should an accident occur, operators can be liable for putting a driver with a spotty record on the road.
“All programs have their own criteria, but I can’t imagine any provider insuring anyone with three or more moving violations,” Downey says. “And virtually no program will insure a driver with a major violation, such as driving under the influence.”
The driver’s personal insurance.Before hiring drivers and turning them onto the streets, operators should hold current, accurate documentation detailing the driver’s auto insurance coverage. In addition to checking the policy’s expiration date, make sure your applicant is named on the policy along with the vehicle he will use.
“If the driver substitutes a different vehicle that doesn’t have insurance, then the driver’s personal policy, active or not, doesn’t do the operator any good,” Downey says, reminding that operators can amass thousands of dollars in bills for driver-caused damage.
While operators can do this fact-checking themselves, Banning leans on his insurance company to help him hire and retain responsible drivers. His carrier, Hub International, runs MVRs every six months, while also providing updates on drivers nearing coverage expiration and ongoing driver safety training.
The car’s condition. While no one expects pizzeria operators to be auto mechanics, a review of the condition of the driver’s car helps limit unwarranted risk. Many insurance carriers can provide a multi-point inspection form to guide policy holders on basic car safety functions they should examine, such as seat belts, brake lights, turn signals, windshield wipers.
“In the event of an accident, the plaintiff’s attorney will almost certainly investigate if you allowed the driver to use a car that wasn’t roadworthy,” says Keith George, managing director with AmWINS Program Underwriters.
While many long-time pizzeria franchisors have a built-in safety culture culled from years of experience, many independent operations neglect an important piece of the delivery equation: possessing a non-owned auto liability policy that shields the business from damaging claims.
“If you think the driver’s policy is enough, then you’re playing Russian roulette,” George says. “As the employer, you are vicariously responsible for the actions of your employees.”
A driver’s personal insurance usually provides coverage up to a pre-defined limit — $15,000 is typical, Downey says. Even then, however, the restaurant will be liable for claims exceeding that limit. In some cases, a driver’s personal auto policy may have an exclusion for business use or, more specifically, for pizza delivery. As a result, non-owned auto liability coverage serves a critical business safeguard.
“I know if something happens out there with one of my drivers that I’ll likely be the target (of litigation),” says Banning, who’s happy to swap the $8 a day charge for non-owned auto liability coverage for the peace of mind he gains.
TIP: Operators should hold current, accurate documentation detailing the driver's auto insurance converage. Look for the policy expiration date as well as the policy holder's name and vehicke listed.
Chicago-based Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
Lasagna is a classic dish that Americans love. Does it belong on your menu?
BY PASQUALE "PAT"
Lasagna, much like pizza, is one of the most recognized and accepted names in the Italian culinary lexicon. Adults and children of all ages do not have to be convinced to order lasagna, but that easy sell can turn into a bad scene unless you get it right. So I am here to help you get it right.
First, let’s look at the basic components that make up lasagna: the noodles or lasagna sheets; cheese (ricotta, Parmesan, mozzarella) and sauce (marinara, Bolognese or in some instances, a white or besciamella sauce). Other possibilities include spinach as part of the lasagna, and I am including my famous lasagna recipe, one that incorporates it.
To assure that your lasagna is the best around, here are some things to watch for:
If the ricotta is too watery, it’s a bad start. Put the ricotta in a strainer to drain off excess water or buy ricotta that has a firmer curd (sometimes referred to as “country-style” or “old-fashioned”). I sometimes fold shredded mozzarella into the ricotta to bulk it up and assure some firmness. This helps keep it from falling apart once it is cut.
Go easy on the sauce as you layer the lasagna. This keeps the finished dish from becoming too mushy.
The secret to a perfect lasagna is balance among the components — namely the noodles, sauce and cheese.
Using sheets of no-boil lasagna makes the whole process go a lot easier.
Lasagna is one of those pasta dishes that tastes even better when reheated, so make several batches of lasagna, then cool, portion and wrap for cooler storage. To order, you can reheat, top with some shredded mozzarella, a dab or two of heated sauce, sprinkle with Parmesan and serve.
Lasagna is ready when an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center reads 160 F.
Do not attempt to cut and portion lasagna straight from the oven. It needs to sit for 15 to 20 minutes to firm up.
Here is a high-volume lasagna recipe for everyday use or on a buffet. It can be made up to 2 days ahead — covered and put in the cooler — if necessary. A 10-ounce portion is a very generous serving, one that is quite adequate when listed as a main course. You will need a lasagna or roasting pan that measures about 18-inches by 12-inches by 2½-inches.
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.
Yield: 14 10-ounce servings
32 pieces standard-size dry lasagna noodles
2 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, cooked, drained, squeezed as dry as possible and chopped coarse
3 pounds ricotta cheese, drained of excess water if necessary
6 large eggs
8 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper
11⁄2 pounds mozzarella cheese, grated
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the lasagna noodles (in batches if necessary), stirring occasionally, until flexible, but not tender (in other words, undercooked), about 7 minutes. Remove the noodles as they are cooked and plunge them into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking.
Lay the noodles out, one by one, separated on paper or cloth towels. Pat dry on both sides. This step can be done up to 2 hours ahead and held at room temperature.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the spinach, ricotta, eggs, Parmesan, salt and pepper. Stir to whip and combine. Set aside. Refrigerate, covered, if you will not be using it at once.
Spread a thin layer of sauce (meat or marinara) over the bottom of the baking pan. Trim the pasta with scissors, if necessary, to fit eight pieces (first layer) into the pan. Top the pasta with a thin layer of the ricotta mixture. Dab the top of the ricotta with some of the sauce (about a cup). Add another layer of pasta, another layer of ricotta, and more sauce. Continue in this fashion until all of the pasta is used up. You will have four layers of pasta. Top the last layer of pasta with a thin layer of sauce. Sprinkle the mozzarella evenly over the lasagna.
Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil. Bake in a preheated 400 F oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 10 additional minutes, or until the cheese starts to show a light brown. Remove the lasagna from the oven and let it stand for 10 minutes before portioning. Serve with additional sauce and Parmesan on the side.
If you want to make a classic lasagna Bolognese, use a meat sauce instead of the marinara. Eliminate the spinach step. Use a besciamella sauce (recipe follows) as part of the layering process. Dab it on the ricotta along with the sauce.
The besciamella sauce can be made ahead and reheated (add a splash or two of milk to adjust the consistency if necessary). This will make enough sauce for the master recipe above.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
7 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk, scalded
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch white pepper
In a sauce pan, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk constantly for a few minutes, careful not to burn it. Add a pinch of salt. Pour scalded milk into the flour mixture all at once and continue to whisk another 3 to 4 minutes until thickened. Add nutmeg and a bit of white pepper. Set aside. Cover with foil or plastic wrap if not using at once.
Every time I read about a great sports coach, the article indicates that in order to achieve excellence, the coach took the players ‘back to basics.’ Just like in sports, I believe pizza marketing has basics. My Back to Basics Program is exactly that: very basic. There are go-to marketing programs that have been successful for me over the past 25 years. These programs have helped me build pizza sales, and they continue to be successful today. Doorhanging is one of the basics that never lets me down.
A doorhanging program is the single most effective way to consistently market to non-customers. Of course, your regular customers will benefit as well. Like all blanket marketing, everyone gets one. On average, doorhangers yield a return of anywhere from 1 to 10 percent. Why such a wide range? Because it can be done right, and it can be done wrong. My goal is 10 percent, so let’s talk about how to do it right.
First, the doorhanger should be oversized. I’m talking a minimum of 4 inches wide by 14 inches tall. And use paper that is so bright you could see it from outer space. As for contest, the hanger should have your menu and at least 2 special offers. These offers should not limit the choices for the buyer. For example, a $15.99 Veggie Pizza eliminates all buyers who want meat. An oldie but goodie is $2 off any pizza. With that said, however, my favorite articles in Pizza Today have suggested never discounting, but always giving customers something for free when they buy a pizza at regular price. Examples include a free 2-liter soda or a free dessert.
We could spend all day talking about how not to distribute the doorhangers. Every not has one thing in common, though: a lack of supervision. I don’t care if you have kids from the local school, regular employees, or a hired company distributing your doorhangers … if you don’t supervise it, it’s going to be a train wreck.
I always make sure these standards are met:
- Avoid properties with dogs outside
- Carry water, not soda
- It may seem obvious, but train them to look both ways when crossing the road
- Do not slide the doorhanger down the screen door
- One doorhanger per door— no cars or mailboxes (Post Office will fine you)
- Strong wind or rain cancels doorhanging
- Respect property — use walkways,;do not damage landscape
- No Soliciting = no doorhanger
- Avoid any ‘skip-list’ addresses (people who have complained)
- Get permission from apartment managers who have been bribed with pizza
Doing this for 25 years has led me to utilize organizations that cater to people who are in some way developmentally challenged. I have met and worked with some of the friendliest and caring people from these organizations. People who don’t complain when they get their paycheck, but give me a high-five instead. People who take pride in their work.
Here is how I have done it: the organization provides, at no cost, a supervisor and gasoline for a team of 3-4 employees. My manager trains the supervisor and the employees. However, the supervisor reports directly to my manager, who checks on the supervisor every day by driving the area he or she has assigned. We doorhang Monday through Friday, two hours per day.
We consistently put out over 1000 doorhangers per week. We average a return of 70-100 orders … all 52 weeks of the year.
What would an additional 5,000 orders per year do to your bottom line?
Slip and Fall
When snow and ice hit, your parking lot, sidewalk and foyer could be an accident waiting to happen
BY PAMELA MILLS-SENN
You have to admire those hardy restaurant owners who do business in severe-weather climates — they’re kind of like the post office, nothing gets in the way of providing pizza to their hungry customers. To their brethren operating in more temperate climates, this unperturbed “it’s just business as usual” attitude in the face of below 40 degree weather and four-foot-high snow drifts is nothing short of astonishing. Still, winter weather and all it throws at these operators does bring with it added safety concerns for both customers and employees — as you can imagine, the potential for slips and falls multiplies astronomically during these times of the year.
Restaurants operating in these areas of the country generally do understand severe-weather safety hazards, says Dan Hartwig, president of General Health & Safety Services Corp., a Punta Gorda, Florida-based consulting firm. However, he adds, the question becomes whether or not they pay sufficient attention.
“Employees are told to go out ‘when they have the chance’ and clear the sidewalks or the parking lot,” he says. “Or, they’ll contract this responsibility to an outside company and just wash their hands of it.”
Both approaches leave restaurants vulnerable, says Hartwig. He’s testified as an expert witness in numerous cases where customers were injured in a slip-and-fall and were successfully able to obtain a claim from the restaurant owners even when they had hired others to do the maintenance.
“Restaurant owners still have a great deal of responsibility to maintain and monitor the areas, even if contracted out,” he says.
Steve Schlegel, owner of Audrey’s Pizza Oven in Bozeman, Montana, leaves nothing to chance. Although they have a “snowplow guy” that maintains the parking lot, he and his employees handle the sidewalks. When the weather is severe, they’ll shovel and sand all day, and will sometimes do the lot as well. Schlegel has equipped his restaurant with eight shovels, a mini-snowplow, a big snow blower and a generator. Although the generator isn’t strong enough to completely power up the restaurant, it’s enough to keep the utilities on and the place warm (their equipment is gas, so when the electricity does go out, they light candles and keep on cooking).
A big generator — as well as gas ovens/grills, candles and flashlights — keeps his restaurant up and running when storms hit and the power dies, says Michael Orr, president of Portland House of Pizza, Inc., in Portland, Maine. This area sees about 12 or more storms a year, says Orr.
“I can’t remember when we’ve shut down for a full day, even when we’ve had huge ice storms,” says Orr, adding that they will close early or open late based on weather conditions in order to keep customers and employees safe.
“In fact,” he continues, “some huge storms have resulted in us being packed with customers who were without electricity. People find their way to us because they need to eat.”
Orr uses a company to maintain the parking lot and sidewalk — during a big storm, they come by every hour if necessary. He or his employees will also do some sanding/salting of the sidewalks when needed.
Hartwig says restaurant operators must also pay attention to areas inside the restaurant where folks congregate and drip, like buffets, bathrooms, and foyers.
“Again, what’s often done, especially in the bathrooms, is that owners will have employees check ‘when they have a chance’,” he says. “But unless you specifically assign this to someone and have a set monitoring schedule, it gets neglected.”
Ron Stephan, majority owner of Ricetta’s Brick Oven Pizzeria, (with locations in South Portland and Falmouth, Maine), says his restaurants have buffets, located away from the entrances. By the time customers get to that area most of the dripping is done.
Even so, when winter hits — and they get around 60 inches of snowfall annually, he says — they bring in double or triple the number of floor mats, placing these throughout the restaurant and at the entrance to catch walk-off. These must be vacuumed several times a shift. (Airlocks/double doors at the entrance also help to confine drips as well as fall leaves, another slip hazard, says Stephan.) Schlegel and Orr rely on additional mats/carpeting also, along with plenty of mopping.
Stephan assigns kitchen personnel to shovel, sand/salt the sidewalks, and to vacuum the mats. Both buildings are leased, so the landlord controls the snow removal. However, he’ll maintain the sidewalks. Shoveling is done by hand, but Stephan will sometimes bring in his own snow blower.
Like Schlegel and Orr, Stephan doesn’t require electricity for cooking: he has wood-fired ovens. But he lacks a generator (he hopes to get one soon), so if they lose electricity and therefore their hot water, they have to shut down their dine-in (although they can still manage takeout and delivery).
In spite of the additional challenges, bad weather is a boon for his business, says Stephan.
“When people don’t have power for their residences, they come here,” he says. “We had a huge rainstorm overnight with 50 mile per hour winds and over 60,000 people in the state were without power.”
You could almost hear his cash register ringing.
Pamela Mills Senn a freelancer specializing in writing on topics of interest to all manner of businesses. She is based in Long Beach, California.
Keeping it Safer
Safety consultant Dan Hartwig provides the following additional tips for restaurant operators facing severe-weather challenges:
Make sure the company you’ve hired to provide snow-removal services is contracted and bonded.
Determine what will trigger them to come and remove the snow or ice. “Sometimes they won’t come until X-number of inches of snow/ice is present, but you can have a slip-and-fall with just a half-inch of ice,” he says.
Adequately train employees on snow removal —don’t just hand them a shovel or a bucket of sand and send them out. Training is particularly important when operating snow blowers or mini-plows. Communicate what constitutes adequate results.
Give employees enough time to do the job properly; don’t rush them.
Treat bad-weather maintenance like the critical component it is, rather than as an afterthought. Assign specific employees to the task. Set a schedule. And then supervise.
Stand and Deliver
With the right qualities and training, a host ensures a great first impression
BY DEANN OWENS
It looks like an easy job. There’s a lot of smiling involved, a lot of handing out menus, a lot of “follow me this way and I’ll show you to your seat.” But, as with most things, looks can be deceiving.
A hostess is responsible for the first impression of a restaurant, quick and careful seating that balances workstations with available wait staff, and estimating accurate wait times to hungry, somewhat impatient, customers. Since a host has a lot on his or her plate, operators need to look for specific qualities in a potential hire.
“Hosts/hostesses are on the front-line with patrons. Successful hosts/hostesses are adept at providing great customer service, have strong communications skills and organizational skills and have warm personalities,” says Jennifer Grasz of CareerBuilder.com.
Customers want a hostess to be friendly, cheerful and welcoming, says Fred Pierson, partner of Atlantic Restaurant Consultants.
“They want a person to be attentive, which requires listening skills and the ability to anticipate their needs. For example, getting a high chair for a party with very young children, or knowing to seat a couple on an obvious romantic date in a quiet part of the dining room.”
Being alert is important, too. “Do they know what the daily feature is, or where the nearest movie theater is and what is playing? Are they looking you in the eye when they are greeting you, or are they robotically mouthing the words of a greeting while looking at their cell phone or watching the game on TV?” asks Pierson.
According to Su Pinney of Outside the Lines, Inc. and OTL Consulting, a hostess should be personable, have a willingness to serve and a genuine care for guests, exhibit excellent communication skills, maintain a positive, smiling persona under stress, and be able to multitask and prioritize.
“As potentially the first and last person the guest sees in the restaurant, they have the responsibility to represent the best interests of the owner/operator and must assure that all guests leave happy,” adds Kenneth King, senior consultant with National Restaurant Consultants, Inc.
A qualified host will be able to handle numerous responsibilities, such as knowing the menu, being familiar with the specials and understanding the traffic in the dining room. “Hosts should, every 10 minutes or so, circulate through the dining room to spot tables which are ready to leave, tables which need bussing and re-setting and guests who need attention,” King says. “The restaurant cannot have too many eyes in the dining room. The host is truly the restaurant’s traffic cop.”
According to Pinney, duties of the hostess include greeting guests upon arriving and giving farewells as they leave, answering the phones, taking reservations and quoting wait times. Additionally, depending on the restaurant, the host may also bus tables and assist with to-go orders and any retail sales.
“Most importantly, the host determines the pace of the shift, which affects the kitchen and servers. The way they seat guests can make the difference between a slammed kitchen (and/or server) and a smooth running run,” Pinney says.
Great qualities mixed with many responsibilities do not always create a successful host. Operators need to add in training. Most operators know how a host should act, says Pierson, and what a host should do, but they have trouble communicating their expectations to the employee.
“They do not let these employees know in no uncertain terms what their expectations are, or they do not follow-up to see if they are performing to said expectations,” Pierson asserts. “If more managers treated the host position more like a ‘director of first impressions,’ I would venture to say there would be a lot less restaurant failures in this country.”
Pinney recommends an on-the-job training program for every position, which at the minimum should include a training checklist. A training manual should complement the checklist and cover “soft skills like how to deal with unhappy guests,” followed by an assessment of lessons learned.
“Their training must include an understanding of service and hospitality, as well as the importance of treating every guest as if they were invited to their home. The host needs to be accommodating,” King says. “The restaurant operator has a responsibility to provide a carefully crafted seating and reservation system for the host’s use.”
King recommends that operators prepare back-ups.
“Hosts should cross-train to be servers where possible, and vice versa, so that there are a number of employees on the floor who can perform and understand the hosting responsibilities,” King says. He advises against the thinking that hosts, bus persons and dishwashers are “secondary” personnel who receive less training and supervision.
“All employees of a restaurant need not only to be productive, but also to take responsibility for the guests’ satisfaction,” King says, adding that hosts do not need to be scheduled during slower day parts, such as Tuesday evenings or Monday lunches, but a manager or server must pay attention to the door in the host’s absence.
“We believe the host is the make or break experience for a customer,” says James Sinclair of OnSite Consulting in Los Angeles, California. “Neither management or ownership provide enough training, role playing or situation assistance to a relatively low paying if not minimum wage job.”
DeAnn Owens is a freelance journalist living in Ohio. She specializes in features and human interest stories.
Desserts don't have to take a backseat on your menu
By Katie Ayoub
Photo by Josh Keown
“Desserts are a missed opportunity,” says Jeffrey Freehof, owner of The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia, and a resident expert at Pizza Today. In our September 2010 issue, he called out desserts as one of the five things every pizzeria should be making in-house. His advice is worth repeating: “Sure, there are a lot of great items you can purchase already prepared with a built-in profit margin,” he says, “but you can usually double your profit (or more) if you can make it yourself.” So, Pizza Today put out its feelers, looking for insight from operators who have created successful dessert programs by either going 100-percent homemade or, more commonly, using a clever combination of homemade, convenience products and prepared desserts.
At 75-seat Bella Vista Trattoria in Wilmington, Delaware, chef/co-owner Candace Roseo offers a rotating dessert menu of 12 Italian favorites. “We stay true to our brand and to our high standards, and to the way of life we knew growing up outside of Naples,” she says. Much of Bella Vista’s menu is produced in-house — from the bread and pizza dough to the pizza sauce and biscotti. “We have a weekly back-of-the-house prep already in place, and it’s manageable,” adds Roseo. “If you have the system set up, then homemade desserts can be much less expensive than those purchased from a purveyor.” But Roseo does rely on convenience products where appropriate. For the very popular cannoli, she buys the pastry shell, but makes the filling. “It’s just not practical for us to make the shells. We don’t want to fry them in the same fryers that we use for chicken and eggplant,” she says. For the restaurant’s traditional Calabrese cannoli filling, she combines ricotta with vanilla, confectioner’s sugar, candied citrus and mini chocolate chips.
Bella Vista’s tiramisu is made from scratch, but Roseo admits that it took them a while to get the system down pat. “We had to figure out packaging and storing, but we landed on the right equipment and method, and we’re really happy with the result,” she says. The prep cooks make the tiramisu in batches, then use a 13-inch by 9-inch heavy-duty resin sheet pan with a lid for storage (similar to a catering tray), freezing them until needed. They prep six trays a week, with each tray holding 15 individual servings. They thaw one tray for service, defrost one in the walk-in and have the rest on hand in the freezer.
Bella Vista tried making its granitas and ices in house, but decided to source them from an Italian purveyor instead. “It was a little more work than it was worth,” says Roseo. And with the sfogliatelle, Italian pastries that look like seashells, Bella Vista moved from making them in house to bringing them in unbaked. “You make them by hand,” says Roseo. “They’re hugely labor intensive. We had quality-control issues — for mass production it just wasn’t working.” They now bring them in frozen and bake them off for service.
At Piece Brewery & Pizzeria in Chicago, most of its desserts, such as the Supreme Cheesecake with Raspberry Sauce and the Chocolate Extreme Cake, are out-sourced. But, the signature Chocolate Pizza is homemade. “We don’t make most of our desserts, because they’re not a big part of what we do,” says Bill Jacobs, owner of this 220-seat eatery. “We sell pizza and beer.” Indeed, Piece has an onsite brewery and serves very popular New Haven-style pies. The chocolate pizza, inspired by silent partner Rick Nielsen’s (of Cheap Trick fame) trip to Italy, features pizza dough topped with Nutella 9 (chocolate-hazelnut spread) and mascarpone. Piece bakes it, slices it, and serves the whole pie for $11.95. It runs a 20 percent food cost. “It does really well for us and is so easy to execute,” Jacobs says.
For the staff at San Francisco’s Pauline’s Pizza, the homemade-dessert menu is a heartfelt extension of their core branding and mission statement. The eggs used in the desserts? Sourced from the chickens raised on property. “We also grow our own produce, source organic and make everything in-house,” says Mike Green, sous chef and chief ice-cream maker. “It’s who we are and our customers love us for it.” That customer base has been steady for the last 25 years. “Word of mouth keeps us successful,” says Green.
For Pauline’s seasonal sorbet trio, diners might find an expression of the season’s best melons with scoops of ambrosia melon, heirloom melon and kiwano melon. This pizzeria, which serves Californian-style pizza, runs a core dessert menu of five, including chocolate mousse and butterscotch pudding. Homemade ice cream is a star at Pauline’s, with seasonal favorites featuring homegrown fruits and nuts from the organic garden and ranch. “When you make homemade desserts, your customers know that you care what you’re putting on the plate,” he says.
Chocolate Chip Pizza
1 pound homemade pizza dough or purchased pizza dough
2 teaspoons butter, melted
¼ cup chocolate-hazelnut spread
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons milk-chocolate chips
2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts, toasted (optional)
Powdered sugar for dusting
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Roll out the dough to a 9-inch-diameter round. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan. Brush the dough with butter, then bake in a 450 F oven until crisp and golden, about 18 minutes. Immediately spread the chocolate-hazelnut spread over the pizza; sprinkle chocolate chips over top. Bake just until the chocolate begins to melt, about 1 minute. Sprinkle hazelnuts over the pizza. Dust with powdered sugar. Cut into wedges. Serve.
Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She lives in Naperville, Illinois.
TOO HOT TO HANDLE
Hot wings' delivery takes finesse
BY PASQUALE "PAT" BRUNO JR.
No doubt that chicken wings are a perfect add-on sale. Chicken wings should fly out the door regularly with every pizza delivery order.
Chicken wings are great finger food and fun food for children and adults. And the increasing flavor options –– hot, mild, atomic, smoked barbecue, teriyaki –– all add up to an increased check average.
There are two basic ways to cook chicken wings — frying and baking. Alternatively, there are several suppliers that will sell you all the wings you need that are ready to finish off –– or simply reheat, so you are good to go (as in delivery). You may end up paying a bit more for wings that are ready to fly, but factor that cost against your in-house labor costs, necessary storage and spoilage and see where you come out.
Yield: 1 serving
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1/3 cup unsalted butter
½ cup vinegar-based hot sauce
1 teaspoon black pepper
12 whole meaty wings (chop off the tips and discard or use for soup), cut apart at the joints and pat dry with paper toweling
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, paprika, and cayenne pepper.
In a saucepan melt the butter, the hot sauce and a pinch of black pepper. Keep the sauce warm.
Toss the wings in the flour mixture to coat. Deep fry the wings (375 F). For about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain. Toss the fried wings in the hot sauce to coat. That’s all there is to it. Serve the wings with a bleu cheese or ranch dressing, and celery sticks on the side.
Following the same procedure as above, you can bake the wings instead of frying them.
Arrange the chicken wings (tips cut off, cut apart at the joint, patted dry) on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake in a 400 F oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Now toss the baked wings in the hot sauce, return the pan to the oven and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the edge of the wings crisp up.
One thing to watch out for: if the wings are too wet (if they came in frozen and were holding too much moisture), the flour mixture will not adhere properly and the cooked wings will have a gummy texture –– and they’ll be even gummier by the time they are delivered. The solution is to make sure you pat the wings dry, turn them, pat dry again. To ensure proper and thorough cooking, make sure to completely defrost the wings (in the cooler if not using them right away).
Now that I have addressed that part, let’s take a look at wings in general and some ways you can get those wings to the customer without compromising quality.
Do not dump the wings into a take-out container as soon as they have finished frying or baking. Let them cool a bit, this step will enhance the crispiness and eliminate the possibility of sogginess.
Do not attempt to jam too many wings into too small a container. The residual heat will affect the texture of the wings and cause gumminess.
To that end, spend a few bucks more for extra-strong, quality, take-out containers. First, determine how you plan to offer your wings. The typicalorder for chicken wings start at six pieces, with the average across the board being 10 wings and rising from there. So when sampling packing for delivery, determine how many wings you can fit in a certain size container, keeping in mind, of course, that quality containers can cost a good penny and then some. Factor this in when ordering to-go containers and what price you will end up charging.
It has been my experience that baked wings hold up better than fried wings for delivery. Another term for this is “oven-fried,” which sounds better than baked.
If the delivery container is large enough, you can add small cups of extra sauce –– hot, mild, barbcue, etc. –– in with the wings. This extra touch will add flavor as well as favor with your customer.
I have used the “Birds on a Wire” technique for delivery, and it works exceptionally well, because it keeps the wings separated and that helps eliminate sogginess. To do this, simply use a wooden skewer and push it through the meaty part of the cooked wings. I get about four wings on a skewer that is six inches in length. Also, what this does is offer better eye appeal when the customer opens the container.
Another method that works well is to punch small holes in the plastic top of the delivery container. While this might make the wings lose some of their heat, it will help to prevent an incubator effect, which can cause the wings to get soggy.
And, while I am at it, the trend in some places right now is to offer both regular wings and “boneless wings.” Boneless wings are not chicken wings at a ll. Rather, they are large chunks of breast meat, cut this way or that.
The procedure for cooking boneless wings is pretty much the same as the real thing. Most places will charge more for boneless wings, but I have found that the customer will not object to the higher price. Also, it seems to me that boneless wings travel (as in delivery) better than standard chicken wings. But in the long run, it all boils down to a good product, good packaging and common sense.
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.
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