Dave, I really need to raise prices, but fear I can’t. I don’t know what to do and need your advice. What do you tell your clients on this issue?
How long has it been since you really re-did your menus? If you haven’t done it yet this year you are probably just breaking even — or worse.
Menu entrée re-pricing, re-positioning, re-naming and entrée removal is not one of our favorite things. It requires time and patience to do the work. If I don’t like the task at hand, I’ll procrastinate until it goes away. I hate crunching numbers and would rather have someone else tend to details while I keep the train on the tracks. I am here to tell you right now, on the record, that I fear our industry is on the verge of a financial train wreck. We hear the politicians and media reporting that the economic downturn is easing. I say: “Prove it.” The price of pizza is less than it was 20 years ago with inflation factored in. What are we thinking?
You may be thinking: “If I raise my prices to reflect the increases in food and expenses that I have no control over, my customers will stop buying from me and find a lower cost producer.” Maybe they will. History has personally shown me that after any noticeable price raise, people will grumble. A few bottom feeders will move on, but most customers won’t bail on you. When you raise, and raise you must, your real customers will understand and cough up another buck or so. They are in love with your pizza. They don’t want you to screw it up with cheaper ingredients. They know that groceries and fuel are never going to be lower than they are now.
We owe it to ourselves, our families and our employees to make a profit. We will not be good community members if we are teetering on the verge of insolvency and existing on credit instead of dealing with the problem head on.
There is no shame in going under.The shame is to know how to fix the problem and ignore it until it goes away. It’s not going away.
So here is the plan. Make a commitment to yourself to finally raise prices to attain profitability (or to remain profitable if you already are hitting that mark). That is the business of business.
I’m redesigning my menu for the fall with emphasis on heartier foods and darker, heavier beers as the weather starts to turn colder. I will add a few soups in place of some of my summer salads. What pitfalls do I need to keep in mind as I re-work the menu?
Without seeing your menu and your numbers, I can’t give you specific advice that is tailored to your precise situation, Sandra. I can, however, give you this list of mistakes that I see frequently.
Common Menu Mistakes
1. Not knowing exactly how much money it takes to create each and every pizza or menu entrée.
2. Not knowing which menu items are the most and least profitable to sell.
3. Not knowing which menu items your customers order the most and the least.
4. Pricing your menu by collecting your competitors’ menus and positioning yourself in the middle of the pack.
5. Offering too many choices.
6. Failing to raise prices when the cost of food keeps going up (Small incremental increases are easier to explain than across the board, big hikes).
7. Not enough professional images of food. A great picture says a thousand words.
8. Allowing sloppy portion control practices on the make lines.
9. Failing to tell your unique story on all the little differences between your pizza and anyone else’s.
Big Dave Ostrander owned a highly successful independent pizzeria before becoming a consultant, speaker and internationally sought-after trainer. monthlycontributor to Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
What does it take to make the best clam pizza in the world? To answer that, I would say this: you start with a Neapolitan-style pizza crust, then you add freshly shucked littleneck clams, garlic, olive oil, oregano and a light shower of grated Parmesan cheese. Finito! A white clam pie. And if you want to really gild this lily, add some crisp chips of bacon (or pancetta) to the mix. Oh, and don’t forget to use a coal-fired pizza oven. If you don’t believe me, then you should travel to New Haven, Connecticut, and eat a clam pie at Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana on Wooster Street (just be prepared for the line out the door and down the street). But just because you don’t have a coal-fired oven doesn’t mean you can’t create a great clam pie. Keep in mind that using the word “Napoletana” in conjunction with pizza signifies that the crust has a frame –– a border –– that is somewhat thick, chewy (maybe even a bit tough at times), and there are burn marks (sometimes a lot of them) on the crust from the oven (coal-fired or wood-burning). The rest of the pie, the part that flows out from the frame (the center of the pie), is quite thin and often a bit “wet.”
Let me repeat, a white clam pie needs only a terrific crust, freshly shucked littleneck clams (preferably from around Rhode Island), garlic, olive oil, oregano and quality, grated Parmesan. I don’t think I need to remind you that a “white” pie is called just that because no tomatoes — fresh or sauce — are used.
Many of you land-locked pizzeria owners don’t have access to fresh littleneck clams. And you don’t have enough people in your kitchen to shuck fresh clams, even if you had a steady supply. So what’s the solution? Simple. Use canned clams. Will a pie using canned clams taste the same as one using fresh clams? No, never. Fresh littleneck clams are bigger and have a “belly” that adds to the mouth feel. But do not despair. It all boils (or bakes) down to coming up with just the right flavor profile and, as I have said in this magazine so many times in the past, balance –– a perfect balance between the crust and the toppings.
Quite often, I make a white clam pie at home using canned clams. (Note: I stopped here while writing this article and went into my storage area and grabbed a can of clams which read: “Cape May Chopped Sea Clams. 100 percent Sea Clams.”) It’s a 51-ounce (three pounds, three ounces) can of clams.
Allow me to make a distinction here. Recently I ate at a new seafood restaurant (shack) in Chicago. I had the clam chowder and the fried clams. Neither met my expectations. Though the “chowder” part was flavorful, the clams in the chowder were tough and chewy. And the fried clams, though noted as being “belly” clams, weren’t plump and they were over fried. Neither would make the grade on the East Coast. My point? Unless you have access to the finest fresh clams, don’t waste your time and money (canned clams are less expensive than fresh clams). Go with canned chopped clams for your clam pie. A compromise? Definitely, but one that will pay off with your customers in the long run. In the end, it’s simply a matter of jacking up the flavor. See the sidebar recipe to learn how to do that. u
Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.
/// Ah, Shucks! Great Clam Pie
Garlic infused olive oil to brush on the entire crust. Crush 1 clove of garlic into 3 tablespoons of quality olive oil. Let it sit at room temperature for several hours.
Canned chopped (not minced) clams. For a 12-inch (diameter) pie you will need about 1½ cups (juice reserved separately).
Yield: 1 12-inch pizza (scale up in direct proportion)
3 tablespoons garlic-infused extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove crushed garlic (use 2 cloves if you are a garlic lover)
1½ cups canned chopped clams, juices reserved
2 teaspoons (or to taste) dried oregano
2 tablespoon fresh thyme (or 2 teaspoons dried)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons reserved clam juice
1 teaspoon (or to taste) crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Brush the entire crust (shell) with the garlic oil. Spread the clams evenly over the crust.
Sprinkle on the oregano and the thyme. Sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese.
Drizzle the reserved clam juice over the pie (except for the crust edge). Add the red pepper flakes.
Bake the pizza. Add the minced fresh parsley just before sending it out.
Add additional crushed or thinly-sliced garlic as needed for, say, a Garlic Lover’s Clam Pie.
Add an additional flavor dimension by adding chips of crisp bacon or pancetta (sprinkle it on right after you spread the clams over the crust).
While it is true that this is a white clam pie, you can add color, texture and flavor by layering on strips of roasted red peppers ( just before baking).
Photos by Josh Keown
Soda is a serious moneymaker, especially in the pizza world. And fountain sodas, especially, can help keep your business in the black, namely because you don’t have to pay the extra for cans and bottles. Like many owners, Nick Merlino of Goomba’s Pizza in Colmar, Pennsylvania, started out with bottles. “We mostly do take-out and delivery,” Merlino says. “Bottles we don’t have to store cold, we don’t have to worry about ice, it’s pretty much ‘take your bottle and go.’”
However, the company is opening a second store and for that, they’re likely to go the fountain route. “It’s more of a sit-down place,” Merlino says. “So we’ll want to give people that option. They’ve come to expect it.”
This sentiment is true of many pizza places –– both new and growing. They’re finding that fountain sodas are almost a must-have. But what’s the best way to do it? A self-service machine in the dining room? An over-the-counter offering? A little of both? The answer depends on a number of factors, including space, customer expectations and staffing.
First, let’s take a look at the units. Soda fountains come in two styles: behind-the-counter (for use by staff only) and self-service (for both staff and customers). There are many differences between the two, but one of the most important components is the ice-delivery system. Due to the increased health risk of scooping ice (not just with possibly dirty hands, but also with potential for spillage), soda machines with ice bins below the unit typically must be used only by staff members. Self-service units, on the other hand, have ice situated on the top of the machine, either via an automatic ice-maker or a manually filled ice bin.
“Thus, behind-the-counter units tend to be less expensive, because they have less moving parts,” says Mike Cominski, manager of Soda Dispenser Depot. “On the other hand, they also don’t have the glamour and merchandising that a huge unit sitting in the dining room does.”
This brings up another important consideration: how much space will the machine take up relative to the space you have? Behind-the-counter units are smaller, but typically so is the space behind the counter. “For us, the most cramped area is around our counters,” says Matt Galvin, owner of Pagliacci Pizza in Seattle, Washington. “Plus, all the fluid –– liquid, ice, water –– is intermingling in the area where you’re dealing with receipts and customer tickets. It makes sense for us to keep our soda machines away from all of that.”
Beyond the machines themselves, there are additional things to consider. Ice usage, for example, is a biggie for many restaurants. By offering behind-the-counter drinks, staff members control the ice, which is typically cheaper than soda. Self-service customers, on the other hand, are more likely to fill their glass with more soda and less ice.
There is also typically more waste with self-service machines. Customers use extra napkins when they spill, they take too many straws, and they’re more likely to grab one soda, and then dump it out when they realize they wanted something else.
For Kelly Willey, owner of Ramunto’s Brick Oven Pizza in Claremont, New Hampshire, it makes financial and time sense to have someone else take care of the cleaning basics. “We have just one soda fountain in the dining room area, and we have a company that services it regularly,” she says. Bringing someone else in to do the, well, dirty work, does mean an increased cost — but it also means that you’re putting the job in the hands of someone who probably knows the ins and outs of the
machine better than your staff does — and, operationally speaking, that’s never a bad thing.
Refills are another important consideration. If you do free refills, self-service might be a better choice –– the money you’re losing on the extra soda is fairly small in contrast to what it costs to hire someone to refill drinks. This is also true if you charge a small amount for a refill; does the money you’re making offset the cost of hiring someone to do the work of refilling the glass and taking the customer’s money?
“If you’re charging for refills, then self-service becomes a drain,” says Galvin. “When it’s busy and someone just wants a refill and there’s a line of eight people, it can be frustration for everyone. We’ve also gone away from the refill charge because it felt like we were nickel and diming our customers.”
Free refills also add the value perception of getting something for nothing; this can often make or break a customer’s experience. On the other hand, some customers dine out specifically to be served, and the idea of having to pour their own soda does not fit into their expected experience.
Whether you go behind-the-counter or self-service, soda fountains can be a boon for your business. No need to throw your coins in and wish for better sales — the coins will be coming to you instead.
Safety First It’s not hard to keep soda fountains looking and behaving their best, but it does take a bit of upkeep from both owners and staff to maintain cleanliness and safety over the long haul.
First and foremost, obey all the health code regulations for your area. Know them in and out, and make sure your staff does, too. The two most important places to clean are the nozzles and syrup box connections. Nozzles should be removed and soaked in a mild soap solution every night.
“Many restaurants have two sets of nozzles,” says Mike Cominski, manager of Soda Dispenser Depot. “This way they can have one soaking at all times and one in use. This kills off any bacteria that would accumulate on the nozzles and will make your health inspector very happy.”
Secondly, store your syrup properly. Make sure your syrup is kept at the temperature that’s recommended by the seller or manufacturer, and double-check the expiration dates regularly.
Finally, make sure the floors around your machines have the proper coverage and that your staff knows to clean up any spills as quickly as possible to keep accidents to a minimum.
Shanna Germain is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She loves to write about both food and drink, and she contributes to a variety of publications.
I’m going to tell you a dirty little secret: When I was eight years old, I didn’t like pizza.
Can you believe it? Studies show that 93 percent of Americans eat pizza regularly — and we all know how much kids love this fine fare. But not me. I hated it.
Why? Well, I grew up in a small town and our pizza options were limited. Essentially, a major national chain was all I had available to me. I still hate that company’s pizza to this day.
As it turns out, I didn’t despise pizza — just this one particular bastardization of it.
I didn’t taste my first “real” pizza until I was a little older. I declined eating it every time it was offered to me because I mistakenly believed that all pizza must taste like the one particular pizza I hated. Needless to say, I went hungry at a lot of birthday parties.
But once I had good pizza, it was all over — a long and never-ending love affair began. I can fondly remember the “good” pizzas I grew up on. As can most people. That’s why pizzerias that are institutions in cities like New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh are able to get away with charging $40 to ship their product to former customers that have moved elsewhere.
This issue of Pizza Today addresses menu expansion. While I’m a proponent of utilizing your existing ingredients to come up with new and creative dishes, I’d also like to urge you to remember at all times that pizza is the centerpiece of your menu. Without a great pizza to draw regular customers, the rest of your menu is fruitless.
Take a day away from your shop this week, then walk through your front door and take a seat like a real customer. Order a pizza. If it doesn’t blow you away when it arrives tableside, then you have some work to do.
John Gutenkanst, owner of Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio, worked through this predicament a few years ago. His problem wasn’t with his pizza, but with the absolute lack of respect he showed to the pizza craft. After some soul searching, he made positive changes that turned his outlook around. Read his “My Turn” column on page 82. And, remember, it all starts with a great pizza.
SLICE OF HOPE: After our May and June issues hit and people started learning about Slice of Hope, the response was immediate. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to order t-shirts and to pledge a donation to the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation. We’re off to a good start, but we have a lot of work to do if we’re going to reach our fundraising goal. Remember, every Slice of Hope dollar the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation receives will be given to breast cancer research. This is a huge opportunity to give back and show society just how much the pizza indusry cares. If you haven’t yet pledged your involvement, do so now (learn how on page 21). October is only three months away — and we need your help.
Also, be sure to check out PizzaToday.com for more information on Slice of Hope.
Jeremy White, editor-in-chief
Photos by Josh Keown
I’ve heard that there is a way to calculate the amount of dough needed to make any size of pizza. Can you explain how this is done? A: What you are referring to is the use of our old friend “pi” to calculate the surface area of a circle, and then using that number to develop a dough density number. It may sound confusing, but it really isn’t. Here is the way it’s done.
Let’s say you want to make 12-, 14-, and 16-inch diameter pizzas, and you need to know what the correct dough weight will be for each size. The first thing to do is to pick a size you want to work with (any size at all will work). We’ll assume we opted to work with the 12-inch size. The first thing to do is to make our dough, then scale and ball some dough balls using different scaling weights for the dough balls. The idea here is to make pizzas from the different dough ball weights, and then, based on the characteristics of the finished pizza, select the dough ball weight that gives us the pizza that we want with regard to crust appearance, texture and thickness. Make a note of that weight. For this example, we will say that 11 ounces of dough gives us what we were looking for.
We’re now going to find the dough density number that is all-important in determining the dough weights for the other sizes. Begin by calculating the surface area of the size of pizza you elected to find the dough weight for. In this case, it is a 12-inch pizza. The formula for finding the surface area of a circle is pi x R squared. Pi equals 3.14, and R is half of the diameter. To square it we simply multiply it times itself.
Here is what the math looks like:
3.14 x 6 x 6 (or 36) = 113.04 square inches
To calculate the dough density number, we will need to divide the dough weight by the number of square inches. So, now we have 11 ounces divided by 113.04 = 0.0973106 ounces of dough per square inch of surface area on our 12-inch pizza. This number is referred to as the “dough density number.”
Our next step is to calculate the number of square inches of surface area in each of the other sizes we want to make. In this case we want to make 14- and 16-inch pizzas in addition to the 12-inch pizza.
The surface area of a 14-inch pizza is 3.14 x 49 (7 x 7 = 49) = 153.86 square inches of surface area. All we need to do now is to multiply the surface area of the 14-inch pizza by the dough density number (0.0973106) to find the dough scaling weight for the 14-inch pizza — 153.86 x 0.0973106 = 14.972208 ounces of dough. Round that off to 15 ounces of dough needed to make the 14-inch pizza crust.
For the 16-inch pizza we multiply 3.14 X 64 (8 x 8 = 64) = 200.96 square inches of surface area. Multiply this times the dough density factor to get the dough weight required to make our 16-inch crusts. 200.96 X 0.0973106 = 19.555538 ounces of dough. Round that off to 19.5 ounces of dough needed to make the 16-inch pizza crust.
In summary, the following dough weights will be needed to make our 12-, 14-, and 16-inch pizza crusts: 12-inch (11-ounces); 14-inch (15-ounces): and 16-inch (19.5-ounces).
In addition to being used to calculate dough weights for different size pizzas, this same calculation can be used to find the weights for both sauce and cheese, too.
In these applications, all you need to do is to substitute the dough weight with the sauce or cheese weight found to make the best pizza for you. This will provide you with a specific sauce or cheese weight, which can then be used in exactly the same manner to calculate the amount of sauce or cheese required for any other size pizza you wish to make. As an example, going back to that 12-inch pizza, let’s say we really like the pizza when it has 5 ounces of sauce on it. We already know that a 12-inch pizza has a surface area of 113.04 square inches, so we divide five-ounces by 113.04 = 0.0442321 ounces of sauce per square inch of surface area. Our sauce density number is 0.0442321. We know that the 14-inch pizza has a surface area of 153.86 square inches. So all we need to do is to multiply 153.86 times the sauce density number to find the correct amount of sauce to use on our 14-inch pizza. 153.86 x 0.0442321 = 6.80-ounces of sauce should be used on our 14-inch pizza.
For the 16-inch pizza, we know that it has 200.96 square inches of surface area. So all we need to do is multiply this times the sauce density factor — 200.96 x 0.0442321 = 8.88 ounces of sauce should be used on our 16-inch pizza.
To calculate the amount of cheese to use, again, we will use the 12-inch pizza and experiment with applying different amounts of cheese until we find the amount that works best for us. Then divide this amount by the surface area of our test pizza (a 12-inch, which has 113.04-inches of surface area). Lets say that we found six ounces of cheese to work well in our application. six-ounces divided by 113.04 = 0.0530785-ounce of cheese per square inch of surface area. Our cheese density number is 0.0530785.
A 14-inch pizza has 153.86 square inches of surface area. Multiply this times the cheese density number to find the amount of cheese to add on our 14-inch pizza — 153.86 x 0.0530785 = 8.16-ounces of cheese should be used on our 14-inch pizza.
A 16-inch pizza has 200.96 square inches of surface area. Multiply this times the cheese density number to find the amount of cheese to add on our 16-inch pizza — 200.96 x 0.0530785 = 10.66-ounces of cheese should be used on our 16-inch pizza.
By calculating your dough, sauce and cheese weights for each of your pizza sizes, you will find that your pizzas will bake in a more similar manner, regardless of size, this is especially true if you are baking in any of the conveyor ovens, in which the baking time is fixed, and you want to be able to bake all of your pizza sizes at similar baking times. Typically, this allows us to bake pizzas with one to three toppings on one conveyor, regardless of size, and those pizzas with four or more toppings on another conveyor, again, regardless
If you use a deck or conveyor oven, you will find that your pizzas will bake with greater predictability, and your cost control over your different size ranges will be enhanced, and that can’t hurt in today’s economy.
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
If you’re looking for new ways to create revenue or just want to find out about the latest industry trends and products, then International Pizza Expo, March 13-15, 2012, is the show for you! International Pizza Expo is the only industry event where you’ll find more than 80 industry-specific seminars, workshops and demonstrations, not to mention nearly 450 exhibiting companies and 1,000 booths. Throw in the best networking event in the pizza industry — the Beer & Bull Idea Exchange — as well as great contests and competitions (such as the World Pizza Games, International Pizza Challenge and the $20,000 Mega Bucks Giveaway), and it’s no wonder Pizza Expo is now one of the top 225 tradeshows in the country.
In today’s economy, you must
do more than just create a great pizza to be successful. Now, more than ever, you have to understand your customers’ needs and wants
to grow your pizzeria. Attending Pizza Expo is the single best way for you to obtain new knowledge, insight and ideas that can help position your product and pizzeria for future growth.
Ask anyone who has attended a past Expo and they’ll tell you: If you’re looking for new ideas, products and techniques to improve your bottom line, then International Pizza Expo is the place to be.
At International Pizza Expo you’ll have the ability to negotiate great programs and deals right on the show floor by taking advantage of show specials and incentives being offered by our exhibiting partners. These could be re-orders of products that you’re currently using or something completely new that catches your eye. Remember, you can find everything — from marketing programs to POS systems that will drive more business to your pizzeria to new menu ideas, and lots more – on the Pizza Expo trade show floor.
The long and short of it?
There’s always something new
to learn or see at Pizza Expo.
In fact, I guarantee it. If you’re not satisfied with any aspect of the show, simply put your thoughts and concerns in writing to me and I’ll send you a prompt refund of your registration fee.
Last, but not least, International Pizza Expo is a tax-deductible working vacation.
It’s all pizza and it’s all for you!
Executive Vice President
Aged a minimum of three months, feta is a brind curd cheese that’s renowned for its flavor and versatility. An all-star
performer in Greek cuisine, the product crosses over nicely into the Italian realm. In fact, feta offers operators a variety of options when used on pizza or in salads, pasta dishes or sandwiches.
In Europe, feta is made with sheep’s milk (or a mixture that includes up to 30 percent goat’s milk). Outside of Europe, however, cow’s milk is
Based on variables such as the milk source, feta’s flavor profile can range from mild to sharp. Typically, it is characterized by a tangy, salty taste and is best served crumbled.
While it likely would not find a spot in the lineup of a four-cheese pizza, feta is the perfect choice for use on a “Greek Pizza” alongside toppings such as kalamata olives, banana peppers, fresh tomatoes and red onions.
In February 2010, California Pizza Kitchen found an interesting use for the ingredient when it launched a small plates menu. One of the
offerings, the “Mediterranean Plate,” featured a Greek salad along with feta and hummus.
“We are offering the innovative and bold flavors we are known for, but in smaller portions,” CPK founder Rick Rosenfield said at the time the product was released.
John Amodeo, owner of Giovanni’s Coal Fire Pizza in Sunrise, Florida, has had tremendous
success with a gourmet specialty pizza he put out three months ago. In fact, he says, the dish is about to make his permanent menu.
“Not only are we using feta, but its creativity is way up there,” Amodeo says. “Creatively, we are able to come up with lots of different uses for it.”
Amodeo began offering a Mediterranean Pizza as a special item, with the intent of making it available to his customers for a limited time. Three months later, he says it sells so well that he hasn’t been able to change out the special.
“It’s one of our best sellers,” he says.
The pizza features feta, roasted garlic, hummus, chopped tomatoes, olives and a finishing drizzle of olive oil. It is baked in the restaurant’s coal oven, and Amodeo says it carries a decent food cost.
“It’s a typical pizza in terms of food cost,” he says. “It’s very comparable to other specialty pizzas. But it’s a big, big seller.”
Amodeo advertised the pizza on table tents, a move he credits with helping encourage customers to try it.
“It’s a delicious pizza,” he says. “On the gourmet side of our menu, we try to infuse other cultures. This fits nicely into that strategy.”
Jeremy White is editor-in-chief at Pizza Today.
<<< Greek Pizza
½ pound fresh spinach, washed
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Salt, to taste
1 14-inch pizza shell
¼ cup sliced, pitted green olives
¼ cup sliced, pitted black olives
¼ pound feta cheese, crumbled Put water and spinach in a large sauté pan and cook over medium-high heat, covered, until spinach wilts. Drain excess from pan. With cover off, cook and stir spinach 2 minutes to evaporate moisture.
Add olive oil, garlic, onion and pepper to spinach. Cook and stir over medium heat for 4 minutes. Salt, to taste. Cool before using.
Spread spinach mixture evenly over pizza crust, leaving a small crust border. Sprinkle olives evenly over spinach and then sprinkle the feta cheese evenly over top. Bake.
Pat Linch is vice president of operations and brand leader of Big Game Brands, which recently purchased the full-service restaurant franchise The Original Italian Pie. Big Game Brands plans to expand the New Orleans style restaurant that was founded in 1992.
Q: Now that Big Game Brands has acquired The Original Italian Pie, what are your expansion plans for the company?
A: We have aggressive plans to expand the concept across the U.S., focusing its efforts in the Southeast by first opening a corporate location in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a new franchised location in New Orleans. We will utilize area developers in larger regions and individual franchisees in smaller markets. We would like to open six to eight restaurants next year and follow that with many more in future years.
Q: How will you ensure The Original Italian Pie’s brand continuity and product consistency?
A: One key to successful brand continuity and product consistency is selecting outstanding area developers and franchisees who are dedicated to the brand and following the Italian Pie system. Our purchasing director will ensure that all spec products are available throughout the system. Our training systems will be designed to prepare management as well as unit employees to operate the restaurant according to our system. We will continue to build our system to meet the needs of our franchisees and ultimately create a franchise culture that promotes growth and success.
Q: Are commissaries used for The Original Italian Pie? Why or why not?
A: Very little. We are excited about having fresh-made, in house products in our restaurants. Any commissary use will be in producing unique products to our specification to ensure consistency from restaurant to restaurant.
Q: As the franchise continues to grow, what operations will be standardized?
A: We will have a core menu with regional options for our restaurants. Training systems for staff and management will be uniform. The look and feel of the restaurants will be noticeably “Italian Pie” as some of the design elements will be the same, but we want to preserve some creativity for individual restaurants to take advantage of specific location needs. Our food and service, however, will be the same high quality product throughout the system.
Q: What makes The Original Italian Pie have a New Orleans kick?
A: Italian Pie originated in New Orleans and the New Orleans kick refers to the approach we take in creating flavorful dishes that make people from New Orleans proud. Muffuletta Sandwiches, Muffuletta Pizza, Seafood Lasagna and Sergio’s Gulf Shrimp Pasta are just a few of the dishes where we take the flavor levels up to give them the “kick.”
Photos by Josh Keown
For some folks, that layer of grease that drips down your arm as you eat a slice of pizza is welcomed. For others, it can be a major turn-off and a reason to go somewhere else for dinner. The challenge here is to create a healthier pizza by eliminating some of the grease (fat) on a pizza, without compromising flavor. Indeed, I do have a few ideas and suggestions on how to do just that.
If we examine the basic toppings used on pizza, some of the answers to the grease situation are quite obvious. Let’s start with two of the most popular pizza enhancements — sausage and pepperoni. Sausage is a no-brainer; it’s as simple as buying pre-cooked sausage from a recommended supplier. Most of the fat has been eliminated. But wait, you might say, the flavor is in the fat. That’s basically true, so that means you have to reach some kind of compromise. For example, if you use raw or uncooked sausage, what is the fat-to-lean ratio? Fifteen to 20 percent fat will still allow for flavor without adding puddles of grease on the baked pizza; however, a lot of commercially made bulk pork sausage
contains 30 to 40 percent fat, so you have to know some of the facts about the sausage you are using. In other words, if you use sausage that is too lean it will be healthier and cleaner, but you will miss out on the taste (I am referring here to sausage that is all meat/fat without any added spices or seasonings).
There are several advantages to using precooked sausage. Handling (as in cross-contamination) poses no risk. Because it has been precooked, the sausage will not leave pools of grease on your baked pizza. The compromise here is that you are losing a certain amount of flavor, but you can definitely crow about your pizza being healthier.
Now let’s assume you are using bulk pork sausage. Do you know the lean/fat ratio? I like to go with a lean/fat ratio of 80/20. That gives me a cleaner sausage, yet does not compromise flavor. Next, how much sausage are you using on various sizes of pizza? While you need to offer value, you also need to use common sense. Obviously a pizza loaded with pinches or pieces of raw sausage will end up with puddles of grease. (I have seen operators who use a lot of paper toweling to pat and absorb pools of grease before sending a pizza out.)
If you are starting from scratch, one way to test the fat throw-off of sausage is to sauté a batch and see how much fat ends up in the sauté pan, then
When it comes to pepperoni, adjustments are made in the same way. If the pepperoni you are using (or intend to use) “cups” after baking, leaving a small stream of grease in the middle, you might want to try a different brand. You might also consider how thick or thin the slices are. Thicker slices of pepperoni will throw off more grease than thinner slices. The objective is to find slices of pepperoni that are the perfect size (not too thin, not too thick) and have more lean than fat. Yes, certain brands of pepperoni have a higher ratio of fat to lean (and vice versa). Again, the test is to put your slices of “test” pepperoni on a pizza, bake it and see what happens.
Now we come to cheese. Low moisture, part skim mozzarella will, quite obviously, melt differently and be less greasy than whole milk mozzarella (part skim mozzarella has even less fat).
Here are the facts relative to two of the most used cheeses on pizza: one ounce of part-skim mozzarella
contains 40 calories and three grams of fat. Conversely, one ounce of whole milk mozzarella contains 85 calories and 6.34 grams of fat –– just about double the calories and fat. Keep those figures in mind if you are considering running a special healthier pizza.
Ok, now let’s look at how matters relative to grease and fat escalate when making, say, a four-cheese pizza. How can you deal with that? As in most situations, moderation is the key (and balance is important, too). One aspect is to look at how the cheese is shredded (coarser, finer, etc.), which in turn relates to how much it will take to adequately cover the size of pizza you are working with, while at the same time developing that all important flavor profile. A four-cheese pizza that uses, say, part-skim mozzarella, provolone, Parmesan and Fontina works great. Regarding proportions of each, that is really up to you, but my suggestion would be 60 percent mozzarella, 20 percent provolone, five percent Parmesan and 15 percent Fontina (or follow the recipe at left). That combo will allow for good coverage and ensure maximum flavor. u
Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.
This is basically a vegetable lasagna idea evolved into a pizza format. You can mix, change or alter the vegetables to suit your needs or a seasonal aspect (using thinly sliced, fresh plum or Roma tomatoes in place of or in addition to the artichokes, for example.)
Yield: two 13- to 14-inch pizzas
2 pizza shells — each 13- to
14-inches in diameter
4 tablespoons olive oil
10 ounces low moisture, part skim mozzarella
4 ounces shredded provolone
2 ounces grated Parmesan
3 ounces shredded Fontina
1 9-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts, cooked according to package directions
½ cups thinly sliced zucchini
2 cups thinly sliced white mushrooms
1 tablespoon each fresh chopped oregano and thyme
Brush each pizza shell, including the crust edge, with the olive oil.
In a mixing bowl, combine the four cheeses. Divide half of the cheese mixture between the two pizza shells, spreading it evenly up to the border of the crust. Divide the vegetables — layering each — evenly between the two pizzas. Sprinkle on the oregano and thyme. Divide the remaining cheese between the pizzas, spreading it evenly over the vegetables. Sprinkle on a little extra oregano just before baking. Bake and serve.
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New Operator Seminars
Am I eligible to attend the 2010 Pizza Expo even though I will not have opened a pizzeria yet by that time? If I understand correctly, the Expo is also designed for attendees who are getting ready to open a pizzeria. Thank you.
Heather, not only are you eligible to attend — but you’re crazy if you don’t! I would never dream of opening a pizza shop without first visiting International Pizza Expo to take in the wealth of information available in the educational seminars and to network with vendors on the exhibit floor. Also, take note that New Operator Monday on March 12 — the day before the Expo officially kicks off — has four seminars specifically designed for first-time pizzeria owners. Highly recommended.
The World Didn’t End?
I am always trying unique marketing ideas, so this past weekend was supposed to be the end of the world
(May 21). I posted a special for the weekend on Facebook and it actually made the Atlanta news Saturday night. Check it out! I thought I would share. It was a hit!
Papa’s Pizza To Go
This letter was sent to us just as we were finalizing the issue you are now holding in your hands. You may recall, there was lots of scuttlebutt in the merry ol’ month of May about the world coming to an end. Alas, that didn’t happen. Just as the world endured, so did the
innovative marketing alluded to in this letter. Nonnemaker and crew posted an “End of the World” special on their Facebook page. It offered a money-back guarantee if the world ended. Clever indeed. And it drew Papa’s Pizza To Go lots of attention. Nice job, Chris.
Slice of Hope Hi, I was informed of the Slice of Hope campaign from Scott from the Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, Fox’s Pizza Den. I would like to be involved! Please send me some info, marketing material, whatever you have. I want to know how to sign up.
Fox’s Pizza Den
Julie, thanks for your interest. The information you requested is on the way. For anyone else who wants to take part in Slice of Hope, visit PizzaToday.com and click on the Slice of Hope icon on the home page. There, you’ll find a pledge form, information on t-shirt sales, etc.
Order your Slice of Hope T-shirts at
Photos by Rick Daugherty
When Rick Smith was 24 years old, he started Main Street Pizza & Noodle in the skiing mecca of Park City, Utah. At that time, he says, a low-cost dining option did not exist in the city. The first night wasn’t exactly a barnburner — Smith served six customers. The second night, however, 600 patrons came in thanks to the opening ceremony of a major ski event. As a result, Main Street has been profitable from the start, a rarity in this business.
“About 55 percent of our business comes in winter, from December to March,” Smith says. “This town thrives on skiing.”
This year, Main Street will top $2.1 million in sales. The company’s results have stayed pretty even since 2009 despite the recession that hit other restaurants hard in the first half of 2010. But when the recession was really deep in 2008, Main Street experienced a 12-percent increase.
“Everything else around us is fine dining, so it seemed like people were coming to us instead,” says Smith. “Our volume went way up.”
While the move down from high-end restaurants was nice, Smith also took some proactive steps that helped ensure Main Street grew despite the economic downturn.
“For one thing, we hired differently,” Smith says. “We used to have 103 people, now we have found a way to do it with 90. The employees are working more hours for us. But the recession did affect Park City as a travel town — people booked shorter vacations. Instead of seven-day ski vacations, people took three- and four-day ski vacations.”
Other keys included negotiating with suppliers line item by line item. That turned out to be a major boost, Smith says, because Main Street “cut costs and also increased volume. Even though our sales went up 12 percent, our profits doubled. We took a lot of measures that I thought were prudent, and they did in fact end up helping us out quite a bit during the recession.”
Laura Munarriz, who has been the Main Street general manager for a decade and is a partner in the operation, says the pizzeria has expanded dramatically over the years.
“It went from 4,000 square feet to 7,000 square feet now,” she says. “We can run with as few as two people on to as many as we need. Sometimes we may only need a cashier and a cook, then we’ll have a Saturday where we need 43 people working a shift.”
Main Street has roughly 30 full-time employees and 60 part-timers. Munarriz says the restaurant’s operational procedures help make scheduling decisions less hectic than one might expect.
“We’re kind of a hybrid here,” she says. “We seat you and get you menus and tell you how things work and get you comfortable. But then the customer goes to the counter to order and a food runner brings the food out to you.”
According to Smith, who has been involved in the ownership of about 35 different restaurants over the years, Main Street serves more than 175,000 customers annually. Pizza accounts for 50 percent of food sales, while pasta weighs in at 40 percent. The menu also offers salads and sandwiches. The average guest check is nearly $12.
“We make almost everything from scratch,” says Smith. “One really good restaurant is all you need to have to make a great living if you give people food they want and enjoy. For us, it’s about quality. Not every single item on our menu is from scratch, but a lot of it is. Certainly the majority.”
Take pasta, for example. Smith says the process is easier than many operators would think.
“It’s very simple — there really are only two ingredients: semolina flour and eggs. In the winter we have three full-time guys making pasta.”
In evaluating line items recently, Smith discovered that cheese (no surprise to any pizzeria owner) accounts for his largest purchasing expense. To help offset that, he’s going to dramatically change his ordering procedures.
“We’re getting ready to start buying our cheese by the ton,” he says. “We own a warehouse for storage. Because cheese fluctuates so much, I don’t know yet if this will be the way to go long-term. But cheese is our biggest purchase, we’re going to try it out.”
Jeremy White is editor-in-chief at Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
When I was first asked to write a column for Pizza Today from my perspective as a professional pizza consumer, I polled my favorite pizzerias to find out what irked them the most about relating to their clientele. The responses were instant, uniform and came in the form of a four-letter word: Y-E-L-P.
Review sites like Yelp offer invaluable guidance to pizza consumers, such as myself, by presenting advice and recommendations from peers. As helpful as they are to me, I completely understand how reading these public forums would frustrate you as a business owner. Most of your reviews are probably shining recommendations from your long-time customers — but the occasional negative review can really ruin your day. Negative comments tend to be extremely negative and seldom give context for bad experiences. Sometimes users even complain about problems that could have easily been fixed. Wouldn’t it make more sense to pick up a phone after an hour of waiting for two large pies and a bottle of soda rather than post about it online? People tend to use their mobile phones for everything but having verbal conversations, so don’t count on getting a call from the customer who placed her order online and anticipates minimal interaction with the delivery driver.
If you think ignoring Yelp and other review sites is the best solution, you’re missing out on a great opportunity. Your customers have been telling their friends and families about the time they found a hair in their pizza for years, but you never had the chance to eavesdrop on their complaints like you do now. Think about how powerful it could be if you were somehow able to convert disgruntled customers into an army of loyal fans. Sites like Yelp give businesses the opportunity to respond either publicly or privately to their reviews. A well-worded note responding to a negative review shows the public how much you care about your product. I’ve read dozens of success stories about how nasty reviewers have become dedicated customers after interacting with business owners online. If you take the time to check in with the online chatter, it shows your customers that you care and want to give them the best experience possible.
Don’t forget that these reviewers are not the enemy — they are your customers. If they’re unhappy with something, you can choose to fix the problem. Maybe that pizza really did take an hour and a half to deliver. Maybe the cheese really was stuck to the roof of the box. A pizzeria owner in Queens recently told me that he is planning to add box toppers that say, “If you love us, Yelp us — if you don’t, give us a call” to give customers an option to correct their problems before they fall into public view. I think it’s a great way to keep reviews positive while improving quality control.
Whether you like it or not, there’s a conversation happening about your pizzeria and you can either ignore it or become part of it. Think of online review sites as tools rather than obstacles and you’ll quickly learn that they can provide far more help than harm.
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.
Photos by Josh Keown
With today’s numerous choices, can a radio ad really help a pizzeria? Will it produce direct, measurable results, or is it simply useful for brand recognition?
According to radio executive David Pavlic of Renda Broadcasting, radio can accomplish both, but there are factors to consider, such as creativity, finding the right station and a good campaign based on frequency. Pavlic stresses that radio is part of a well rounded marketing plan. It serves as another way to make an impression and should harmonize with other media used.
The top station in nearly every market is usually not cost effective for the average operator. Information obtained from sources that track consumer’s habits such as Arbitron ratings or Scarborugh and media audits can be very helpful in making buying decisions with the right station. Remember the words of social ecologist Peter Drucker: “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” It is imperative to find a station matching your demographic and budget.
Relationship: Build a mutually beneficial relationship with your sales rep. He should show a genuine interest in your business, goals and target audience. Radio ads are not one size fits all. Test his expertise. Listen to his expertise. If your ideas and theirs are not close, then it is not a good fit. Your success is his success.
Goal: The suggested use of radio is promoting through event marketing and/or couponing. Pavlic recommends that an operator and the sales rep be in touch with the community and look for ways a pizzeria can sponsor community events. These events attract people to whom you can distribute bounce back offers.
Create your own event using the driving force of radio. Thearon Miller of T-Dub’s Pizzeria in Muncie, Indiana, did that. Working with his sales rep, also a loyal customer, he promoted the pizzerias anniversary via a live remote. In two hours Miller sold 70 pizzas and saw many measurable results — new customers, a sharp rise in his loyalty program enrollment, positive feedback and quadruple the number of unique visitors to his Web site.
Budget: You want the best ROI. Good sales people up-sell. Decide a dollar amount you can live with and have your sales rep adhere to it.
Creative: You create pizza. Ad copy, ways to reach the audience, radio announcements, distributing coupons or promotional items at a game, etc. are the sales rep’s job. He is your resource. Branding can be accomplished by simply tagging each ad with your USP.
Frequency: Regularity is the key. ‘Own’ a day part. This will make impressions on listeners, calling them to action. Once you accomplish that you can expand into other time slots.
‘Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.’ - Mark Twain
Scott Anthony is a Fox’s Pizza Den franchisee in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He is a monthly contributor to Pizza Today and a frequent guest speaker at Pizza Expo.
AVALANCHE PIZZA // ATHENS, OHIO
I’m a pizza guy. Like many of you, I spend a good amount of my time with my hands and arms in a
485 F oven or bent over sticky globular masses of dough. After 11 years making pizza, I know my place in the strata of celebrity chefs, culinary pundits and artisan bakers. It’s a place well hidden in mid-America far away from the prying eyes of the New York Times’ “Best Pizza” list. Some knuckleheads may think pizza is the bottom of the culinary ladder, but I look at it as the most important rung.
There are thousands of pizza places like mine, all making different types of food depending on locale. My customers are neighbors who gladly frequent my business once or even three times a week. They are my cheerleaders and I see them at the store, gas station and my kid’s school. I know I’m a lucky guy, but sometimes I still run into that one attitudinal perspective that a large majority of Americans have toward the work of their pizza guy; the “It’s only pizza” syndrome.
It hit me hard one nice spring day when a very well dressed young lady with an impeccable resumé had come in for a management interview. She hit a home run on every question I threw at her, and I was ready to hire her on the spot. But I still had reservations (because she had never worked in a restaurant).
“So, do you think you will be able to pick up the way we manage our business here?” was my last question before offering her the job.
Without missing a beat, she said with a chuckle; “Well, it’s only pizza, how hard can it be?”
Needless to say, I didn’t hire her. This was my first foray into that sinking feeling that my life was worth less than nothing; all those 14-hour days kissing butts, listening to lame excuses from employees, coddling every pizza to make sure it was perfect. I recoiled at the lack of empathy and respect for all the hours I worked. But as I progressed through another year of business and we got busier and busier, something happened to me. My attitude changed.
The night was beautiful; we had $2,500 in the till and were headed for $2,000 more. The call came at 7:30 — a man wanted to forgo two toppings on a specialty pizza and add banana peppers without paying extra. The phone went from the order taker, then to the manager, then to me.
“Let me get this straight, your dumb employees won’t let me get banana peppers because of your policy?”
“I can’t believe you’re willing to lose me as a customer because of banana peppers.”
“And I can’t believe you won’t pay a measly one-fifty for banana peppers,” I said.
“Okay, you’ve lost my business @#$%^&, how do you feel about that?”
“Listen man, you need to lighten up. It’s only pizza,” I said ... and almost choked on my words.
That night, I sat quietly in my pizzeria feeling foolish. I knew I had to turn my attitude around.
It was then that I started slowly to become the biggest, baddest, most psycho pizza guy around. I pull myself out of my business frequently to gain new perspective. I visit other, better pizza places. I read about pizza and baking. I enter contests with my best creations. I listen to others and suck up their enthusiasm. I steal great ideas with abandon — and I now treat my community like family.
Why? Because, it’s not only pizza … it’s my life.My Turn is a monthly guest column. This installment is written by
John Gutekanst, owner of Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio.
If you are interested in submitting your own column, e-mail Jeremy White [email@example.com] and let him know what you want to say and what qualifies you to say it.
Incredible Pizza Co.
Visit us Monday-Friday from 11am until 4pm to receive your unlimited buffet & drinks for only $6.49. Now that’s an incredible deal!
Why it works: America’s Incredible Pizza Company is known for its family fun center, including go-karts and mini-golf. It’s easy for the menu to get lost in the mix. This tweet reminds followers of the St. Louis location of the restaurant’s affordable buffet as a viable lunch option –– even for office workers and those without kids.
Start your week right by coming down to our Fillmore location between 11am-4pm for All You Can Eat Slices only $8.50!
Why it works: Awesome name aside, this tweet hit right before lunchtime, whetting diners’ appetites for something other than subs and burgers. It also let people know that the all-you-can-eat special was good at the Fillmore location until 4 p.m. –– plenty of time to handle the lunch crowd.
PizzaToday.com >> Recipes
Recipes >> Pizza >> Honey-Hot Buffalo Chicken Pizza: Find this amazing recipe and many others at www.PizzaToday.com. Photo by Josh Keown
Flippers Pizzeria: Dine in today with the kids and they eat for only $1.99... It’s part of our month-long celebration of great moms! :)
Why it works: This Orlando-based chain lets Facebook followers know that its restaurants are kid-friendly. In fact, they’ll reward parents for bringing in the little folk with an affordable special. A photo of the company’s current advertisement announcing the special reinforces the limited-time offer and spells out the dealers in greater length, including the fact that customers needed to print out the offer to present at checkout.
Rubber City Pizza: May is Graduation Month for many of our area Universities and Colleges! Let Rubber City Pizza deliver your Graduation Party or any special event. Call us for details and prices. 330-633-7777
Why it works: This Facebook post hits all the right spots. Not only does it acknowledge one of its greatest customer bases –– college students –– but it also alerts fans to the fact that they are able to cater and handle large parties. The addition of a phone number urges Rubber City’s fans to go ahead and make that call.
Photos by Josh Keown
We all love the sweet melodious sound of our cash register’s “cha-ching” as we make another sale, and I want to help you make that happen more often. Selling desserts is one easy way to
accomplish that goal.Collectively we’ve tried it all, from going around the neighborhood putting door hangers with special offers on them to couponing, networking, school programs and sponsorships. Let’s face it — we’ll do just about anything to increase our sales and, frankly, all too often we overlook the obvious. It’s definitely important to constantly find new ways to introduce ourselves to potential customers that don’t currently dine with us. I have come to understand that an even easier way to increase sales instantly without any real investment is to increase our check average with the customers that we have already won over as “regulars.”
Desserts help accomplish this. Many folks, after eating in our restaurants or picking up dinner from us, will grab dessert or ice cream somewhere else simply because we don’t offer anything sweet (or, if we do, our options are mundane).
Desserts are not inherently easy to sell. Nine out of 10 customers in my restaurant leave with a to-go box because they’re too full to eat anymore. If a server asks, “would you like to hear about our desserts?,” or offers a peek at the dessert tray, the answer is always a resounding “no.” To sell desserts, we have to display them in an attractive way. In my restaurant we have a beautiful dessert tray, and it is mandatory that my servers show it to every customer. Even though our guests are too full, they usually can’t resist.
Don’t offer dine-in? Place desserts in clear takeout containers so customers can see them. Display them near your carryout counter.
Another important factor is to make your desserts unique. A chocolate cake is not going to overwhelm the masses. When I opened my current restaurant, I knew there was no way I could make my own desserts in the beginning. I purchased desserts that had a “wow” factor to them to get me started. But once things calmed down and I had a little more free time, I began methodically replacing each dessert, one by one, with house-made offerings. Now, all of my desserts are made in-house!
Like my menu offerings, I like to create unique desserts that folks won’t find anywhere else, leaving them with a craving for something they can only get at my restaurant. Originally I wanted to offer spumoni ice cream with raspberry (melba) sauce, but none of my suppliers carried it. So after much thought, I decided to take the flavors of spumoni ice cream (chocolate, pistachio, and cherry) and create cake batters of the same flavors. I swirl them very gently like a marble cake, then frost it with a cream cheese icing. I also stream a little raspberry sauce over the cake and plate for a great presentation. It’s my best seller.
To do this, make your batter from scratch or start with a white cake mix and add the flavors to it. Add cherry extract and red food coloring and chopped cherries for the cherry cake batter. Add chopped pistachios, a few drops of green food coloring and a couple of tablespoons of almond extract for the pistachio cake. I simply use a chocolate cake mix for the chocolate batter.
In the South, red velvet cake is a huge thing — but everybody has it. So I created a new cake and gave it a slogan: “Move over Red, there’s a new velvet in town.” This is for my blueberry velvet cake. I take a basic white cake batter and add blueberry extract and blue food coloring. I then make a cocoa flavored cake batter and swirl that into the blueberry batter. I use the same cream cheese icing on that cake as well, and it is also a huge seller.
Mini cannoli are fast and simple desserts that are great for catering. Start with a rich and very smooth, super fine ricotta. Add powdered sugar and a little almond extract and you’ve got a great cannoli filling that you can pipe into the pastry shell with a pastry bag. Then dip the ends of the cannoli into mini chocolate chips and chopped pistachios.
As you can see, it only takes a small amount of creativity to provide a “wow” experience to your guests and increase check averages.
I hope you give some of these desserts a try, and I really hope they create a very sweet ending to each and every day!
Jeff Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and a speaker at the Pizza Expo family of trade shows.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
You open the letter from the IRS to find that you are being audited. A shock goes through your body. Fingers begin to shake. The timing couldn’t be worse. You’ve got a business to run. Why you?
Don’t panic. An audit doesn’t necessarily mean there is suspicion that you aren’t being forthright. A portion of all business audits are random selections. Furthermore, an audit doesn’t mean that you will have to pay a large bill. About
25 percent of audits result in dismissal –– you satisfy the auditor and you probably won’t be bothered for many years.
Having said that, there could be cause for alarm. If you are deliberately inflating expenses or under-stating revenue figures, the auditor will seek to discover these untruths. Reducing revenue is considered fraud, and could result in criminal prosecution. Overstating expenses is bad, but one could argue that the books were messed up, the bookkeeper was incompetent, that the computer system malfunctioned, or that you just didn’t understand what was required. In other words, it is easier to make a case for overstating expenses than under-stating income.
The simplest audit is a correspondence audit. This is where you are asked to clarify one or two issues. Responding with a letter that includes backup proof will end the inquiry. Office audits require meeting with an IRS auditor. Most office audits specify areas of concern. Speak to your accountant or CPA. This is the time to speak frankly. Together, evaluate the magnitude of the audit. If it is over a few matters, and your books are in order, you might want to handle the matter yourself. If you prefer, your accountant can represent you. Of course, the accountant will want to be paid. Many preparers start their billing at $150 an hour. Any lawyer, accountant, enrolled agent or un-enrolled agent (tax preparer) can represent you providing he/she did the taxes of that year’s return. “I prefer to do all the talking, although I involve the client a bit to establish credibility,” says long-time audit representative Stuart Campbell of H & R Block in Quincy, Massachusetts.
An audit is always at the convenience of the person being audited. You decide whether you want to meet at the auditor’s office, at home, or at the tax preparer’s office. It mostly depends on how methodical you are.
Organize your records. Make sure you have backup for every figure on your tax return. That means making copies, updating logs, and putting everything in sequential order. If there is no backup, prepare a written explanation of the deduction. If the books aren’t in order, get them in order. This task involves a lot of work, but it will make you knowledgeable about your situation.
Do not go into the meeting like an angry bull. Remember, you’re dealing with a human being. At the same time, do not be a fawning sycophant begging for his mercy. Be professional, business-like. Let the facts and figures do the talking. You’ll go over item by item. The auditor might say that one expense is disallowed. Do not argue. Go on with the proceedings.
Let’s take a few examples. If you have no backup and he says that your deduction is disallowed, come up with an explanation of why there is no backup. For example, you had work done on your storefront, but do not have the receipt because the contractor was disorganized. Argue that you could get the receipt if need be. The auditor might go along since it is a reasonable expenditure.
If your cost of product totals are $1,500 off from the tally, suggest that the difference is cash purchases, where you sent your people out to buy something, or where you personally bought some items and paid cash. Come up with a reasonable explanation.
If you purchased an at-home computer for $1,400 that you say is 100-percent business use, but he argues that computers can’t be solely for business, and will only give you a $700 Section 179 deduction (50 percent of cost), don’t argue. Let the $700 go. That computers can’t be all business use is a rule, and he’s being a stickler. Don’t fight the small potatoes.
Don’t try to outsmart the auditor. Come clean with all major discrepancies up front, especially revenue figures. Most likely, the auditor has the proof in front of him in the form of bank statements.
At the end of the session, he will add up the adjustments and disallowances and come up with an assessment. To that will be tacked on penalties and interest, which could be hefty, because it could be an audit of two years back.
It is possible to counteroffer a compromise figure, which is called an offer in compromise. The auditor will be more inclined to go along if you are close to insolvent. But you never know when he will be willing to bend.
You may challenge the assessment, dealing with an appeals officer, and then you may go to tax court. If there are legal points at stake, you might hire a tax attorney, who might find precedence that could sway the judge. On the other hand, it might be less stressful to swallow hard, pay the bill, and make sure you keep detailed books.
Common Reasons for Audits
Round-numbers. Using round numbers — $8,000 for an oven instead of $7,959 — hints that you are not paying attention to figures.
Big change from last year. If last year’s cost of goods sold was 22 percent and it is 33 percent this year, you need a good explanation of what changed. Auditors look for percentage shifts.
Divergent figures from industry standards. The reason you have to code your business — the six-digit number — is that you are being categorized with fellow operators. Auditors love to do comparisons. If your cost of doing business is much higher than industry average, auditors will want to know why.
High (above the norm) audit scores. The IRS has created a secret list of criteria, including low gross profit margin, high auto expense, high travel and entertainment, and little or no profit. If your overall number is up, you risk being audited.
A messy, hastily assembled return could tip auditors off that you aren’t very thorough. You can’t be disorganized when it comes to the IRS.
Random selection. You were chosen at random.
Howard Scott is a former business owner who has published 1,300 magazine articles and four books.
Photos by Josh Keown
Seasonal produce has a lot going for it — it’s generally less expensive than out-of-season produce, it’s at peak flavor and freshness and it represents a desirable set of core values. Seasonal walks hand in hand with fresh. And with local. And with quality. Those values may sound abstract, but they can translate into dollars when diners use them as part of their moral compass, pointing them toward where they should eat. The challenge then is how to incorporate seasonal vegetables onto pizza menus without rewriting the playbook. Pizza Today talked to two operators taking distinct approaches to the seasonal-pizza strategy, but each with the same successful result.
Pitfire Pizza is a micro chain worth a second look. Currently with four units in Southern California and two more slated for later in the year, this successful fast-casual concept serves what it calls “artisan casual,” keying into a California-born DNA of rustic, fresh and local. Pitfire, specializing in thin-crusted, wood-fired pizza, offers 10 pies on its standard menu. Diners seek out regulars, like Greens, Egg & Ham, sporting braised rapini, natural prosciutto and a farm egg. The Pepperoni boasts natural pepperoni, fresh mozzarella and torn basil. But diners also look to the marquis-styled specials board, which changes four times a year. Typically, the seasonal-special board offers three pizzas, a salad, a farmer’s market plate, a soup and a pasta.
“One of the strongest pillars of this business is my relationship with farmers’ markets,” says Paul Hibler, co-owner and co-founder of Pitfire. “Sourcing sustainable, local ingredients is who we are, so we focus our resources on making it happen.” Indeed, produce accounts for Pitfire’s largest purchasing fulfillment — greater even than its cheese purchasing. Pitfire doesn’t use a national grocer; it sources produce from a local company, buying direct. “We’re a 12-year-old company,” says Hibler. “We don’t do coupons. We don’t do marketing. We put all of our dollars on the plate.”
And those plates proudly host a celebration of seasonality. In the spring, diners may see an artichoke pizza with braised baby purple artichokes, blistered cherry tomatoes, local ricotta cheese, sautéed spinach and olives. Summer is all about heirloom tomatoes. At Pitfire, they slice them paper thin, air dry them, collecting the liquid from the tomatoes and making it into a basil-scented syrup. Dough topped with ricotta, Parmesan and heavy cream is fired, then topped with the cold tomato slices and drizzled with the tomato syrup. “The heirloom
tomatoes are beautiful and so fresh tasting,” says Hibler. “We like presenting it raw because it showcases the simple, perfect flavors really well.” In the fall and winter, diners anticipate a pumpkin pizza: roasted chunks of kabocha squash (Japanese pumpkin), braised Swiss chard, fontina, fresh mozzarella, pepitas, pumpkin oil and chili flakes, with a finish of brown butter and fresh sage.
Savvy cross utilization is key to managing the food cost of seasonal produce, says Hibler. “You have to be smart about it,” he says. “You have to find at least two uses for whatever vegetable you’re bringing in fresh.” The seasonal special board helps Pitfire with that, so asparagus might be featured on a pizza, but it will also pop up on the farmers’ market plate, perhaps grilled and dusted with Parmesan and panko breadcrumbs. He also manages food cost by using state-of-the-art accounting software, employing a kitchen manager in each unit and training the staff really well. “Independents can incorporate seasonality, too, even if it isn’t part of their brand,” says Hibler. “Go to farmers’ markets. Pick one seasonal vegetable and build a pizza around that. It’s doable — and today’s customers will appreciate it.”
That’s exactly what Zocca Cuisine di Italia at the Westin Riverwalk Hotel in San Antonio, Texas, does. It runs a pizza del giorno, changing it out to reflect both seasonality and creativity, says Jeff Foresman, executive chef at the hotel. The restaurant’s core list of pizzas features the always-popular Margherita pizza, as well as an Italian sausage pie and a wild-mushroom one. “We’re a Northern Italian restaurant, so we serve simple, rustic, flavorful food.” Pizzas here are hand-tossed and free-formed, which fits in well with its rustic, artisan sensibility.
Foresman has an interesting way of highlighting the specialness of seasonal vegetables on pizza. “We try to do something unique to the vegetable, so it stands out,” he says. So, for instance, on a summer-season pie that sports summer vegetables, such as zucchini and bell peppers from the farmers’ market, he’ll grill them, then cut them into chunks, say, rather than slices. “It gives them a different look and mouthfeel, and really highlights them on the pizza,” he says.
Or he’ll add character and menu interest in how he prepares the seasonal vegetable. In winter, a daily special pizza may feature escarole or kale braised in Barolo, a robust Italian red wine. He’ll use fontina to match the heartier greens. Or diners may see a root-vegetable pizza in the fall or winter at Zocca. Foresman thinly slices and caramelizes red and yellow beets, parsnips and sweet potatoes. He lays them over a very thin layer of housemade pomodoro sauce and then bakes the pizza. As a crispy finish, he adds fried spinach.
For more delicate vegetables, he highlights them as a finish on the seasonal-vegetable pizzas. In the spring, diners might see a pizza topped with roasted eggplant, caramelized garlic and Asiago cheese with a very light tomato sauce (diced tomatoes sweated with garlic and olive oil). He finishes the pizza with farmers’ market arugula tossed in extra-virgin olive oil. In the fall, a duck confit and local goat cheese pizza gets a finish of fresh figs. “Showcasing the best of what the season has to offer isn’t difficult,” says Foresman. “Pick a few simple, fresh ingredients and let those guide you.”
Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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