PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
Running a pizzeria is more than a labor of love — for many operators, it’s also a family affair. Working with family can be the perfect arrangement for your business, but it also comes with its share of challenges. As many veteran family-owned pizzeria operators and human resource experts will agree, it’s important to set some guidelines when working with relatives.
Managing a pizzeria with family members has a different set of advantages and challenges as opposed to hiring a relative as an employee. In both cases, everyone involved has to understand that the business will affect your relationship as family members in some way. Although it’s best to keep work and family separate, it’s difficult to do in a family-owned business.
“When you make the decision to work with family, you’ve signed on for the accelerated program and you need to know that going in,” advises Sylvia LaFair, president of Creative Energy Options (CEO Inc.) and author of Don’t Take It to Work. “Have a clear set of agreements of how you’re going to work together — who is leadership, who reports to whom, what time should everyone be there, etc. Don’t just assume. Think it through first.”
As managers or co-operators, you want to sit down as a management team and determine everyone’s role in the business so that clear-cut responsibilities are set from the beginning. Brothers Danny, Franky and Gaspare Maniscalchi, co-owners of Leo’s Pizza, with three locations in upstate New York, successfully used this strategy when they took over the operation from their father, Leo. “My brother, Danny, does the bookkeeping, my brother, Franky, runs the kitchens, and I run the front of house — the managers and wait staff,” Gaspare said. He added that each brother has his own area of responsibility but have to cover the other areas when one of the brothers is off. This sometimes leads to clashes, as each has his own management style, but Maniscalchi says they’re able to work out their differences. They meet every other week — sometimes with staff, sometimes just as a management team — to discuss their goals for each month and long-term plans for their operation.
If you’re hiring a family member as an employee, as a manager your job is to divide the workload evenly and avoid special treatment — everyone needs to carry their own weight and be responsible for keeping the operation running smoothly. It’s a lesson John Guglielmo of Eddie’s Gourmet Pizza in New York’s Hudson Valley can’t emphasize enough. He’s employed various family members over the years, and said his sister put things into better perspective when she felt she was being singled out and given the harder work that he wasn’t giving to the other employees. “It was a challenge,” he says. “At first it was a problem, but the longer we worked together, it got better. You really have to be fair and equal — at the end of the day, they’re still your family member. You have to see them on the holidays.”
Running a business is a 24/7 operation, and it’s easy to overlook the fact that you’re family first. Set aside some time every week to be family first. Even though you see each other seven days a week, most of your discussions might focus on the business. When not on the clock, keep conversations on the family side of your relationship like the DeMaio family, whose Hellertown, Pennsylvania-based operation DeMaio’s Family Ristorante and Pizzeria recently celebrated 25 years in business. Sisters Anna, Rose and Daniela, and their mother, Maria DeMaio, use Sundays as their family day. “We’re closed Sunday so that’s our ‘family day,’ ” Maria says. “At Sunday dinner we don’t talk about work — that’s our day for us. And any other time, we try to take care of any problems at the pizzeria.” The DeMaios agree that it’s important to respect each other’s function in the business, which has helped their operation’s longevity.
Sometimes business problems do come up that don’t have an easy fix. If you manage your operation with family, call a staff meeting and try to work out a solution. If the problem at hand is a family member’s work performance, handle the problem directly, but work out your approach beforehand. It’s also important to keep any issues contained to those family members directly involved with the business. Known in HR circles as “splitting,” this is when a third party (usually another relative) gets pulled into the issue. “The person in charge is often seen as a ‘bully’ and the other person is seen as a victim, and the mediator or ‘rescuer’ will run to the victim. This is where it gets ugly and family members often don’t talk to each other, sometimes for years,” LaFair says.
Family members’ work performances are just as important as other employees, and they need to be accountable for any declines. “It’s the same qualities as any other employee — not showing up, not carrying their weight, not doing their work. We do tend to give our family members a longer rope because we don’t want dissention,” explains LaFair.
In most situations, termination is a last resort, but it may be the only option. If this is the case, plan your strategy carefully. “The key is to inform others in the family of what’s going on,” LaFair says. “I believe the best way to do this is in a paper trail, such as a well-crafted letter to the other family members. This is not to get them involved but just so that there’s clarity,” LaFair says. She also strongly suggests having a third-party witness present at the time of termination for everyone’s protection and keep “he said/she said” dynamics to a minimum, since there are bound to be hard feelings. “So much of what’s said will be misconstrued and used against you. Know that some people will be so angry, they won’t talk for awhile. Don’t go into it thinking everything will be easy and forgotten in a short time — it won’t be.” A cooling- off period might help to ease some of the tension. This might mean skipping a few family gatherings, but it might be worth it to keep the peace among the relatives. u
Sara Hodon is a freelance writer based in Northeast Pennsylvania. She specializes in lifestyle and human interest features.
5 TIPS FOR WORKING WITH FAMILY
HR experts agree that running a successful family business can be an extremely satisfying and positive undertaking—when a strong foundation is in place. James Sinclair of OnSite Consulting and Sylvia LaFair, President and CEO of Creative Energy Options, Inc., offer these five tips for building a strong family-owned pizzeria operation:
1. Set yourself up for success or failure from the beginning. A family-owned operation takes a lot of forethought in the form of “what if?” scenarios and plans for effective damage control should conflicts come up.
2. Understand your exit strategy. Depending on your role in the business, how will the structure change should you decide to leave? What are your options for terminating your role in a partnership?
3. Have a clear understanding of job duties. “It is when the ‘job description and requirements’ are hazy that it creates the most tension,” Sinclair says. Everyone should have clearly-defined roles and responsibilities in the operation.
4. Understand what happens when life changes. “At first someone can work 18 hours, but what happens when someone gets married or wants to have a family and wants to be home by 6 p.m.? How will this impact your business? People often forget that life changes—what can happen to a happy relationship is often just life,” Sinclair says.
5. Agree on things like hours, vacations, and bonus structure. “These are things that you would do with any employee, but we tend to get a little lax if it’s a family member. There has to be a family member who’s in charge,” LaFair says.
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
Salt and pepper
One (10-ounce) pre-baked thin pizza crust
¾ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ cup shredded Parmesan or Romano cheese
Prepare baby artichokes by rinsing under cold running water. Cut off top 1/3 of petals and cut off stems. Snap off leaves, about 3 leaves at a time. Make a quarter turn and continue to snap, working around until pale yellow leaves remain at center. Cut artichokes in half.
Preheat oven to 450 F. In large skillet over medium- high heat, heat olive oil. Add garlic and tomato paste. Cook and stir two minutes.
Add baby artichokes and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Cover tightly, reduce heat and cook 3 more minutes. Stir in basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Spread baby artichoke mixture evenly over crust. Sprinkle with cheeses. Bake until cheeses are melted and lightly browned, about 5 to 8 minutes.
Sure, pepperoni, onions and mushrooms will always be beloved pizza toppings. But as patrons’ palates evolve, so does their desire for trendy toppings. Filling this of-the- moment-ingredient spot is the artichoke. The artichoke is a member of the thistle or sunflower family. While it is a formidable plant to tackle, the edible “heart” provides a nutty, slightly bitter flavor to the dishes it adorns. It also elevates a dish’s status from ordinary to upscale. Since artichoke cultivation is concentrated mainly in Italy, Spain and France (California provides nearly 100 percent of the U.S. crop), artichokes are considered a specialty ingredient — and operators can price them as such.
This high-end ingredient need not intimidate operators. Artichokes, in fact, can be very low-maintenance. Operators can find an artichoke to fit any need –– from baby to jumbo. They are available year-round. Processed artichoke hearts and bottoms are available canned (in brine or oil) as well as in jars (in an oil marinade). Artichoke hearts are also available frozen and fresh.
According to Gus Veshi, who works at the East Rutherford, New Jersey-based Inteco International Trade Corporation, the most popular artichokes sold to foodservice include 30/40 whole artichoke hearts, quartered artichoke hearts and marinated whole artichoke hearts. (Hearts are marinated in a blend of oils, vinegar and spices.) “Whole artichokes are great for stuffing. Quartered artichoke hearts are great pizza toppings since they are already cut, while marinated hearts come with the addition of flavor that adds a nice kick to dishes,” he says.
Quartered artichoke hearts are the least expensive; whole artichoke hearts are the most expensive. “The product is fully sterilized. Once opened, just drain and refrigerate,” says Veshi, who recommends using open product within two to three days. The shelf life of unopened canned product is three years. Canned artichokes are preserved in citric acid and salt, so Veshi encourages gently rinsing the product so it does not alter the flavor of its intended dish. When using quarters, however, operators must practice caution since the delicate product could fall apart.
“It’s a very versatile product,” says Veshi. “You can roast it, grill it, and stuff it. The list goes on.” Artichokes also take well to sautéing, frying, steaming or marinating. They can be served cold in salads or antipasti, or blended into hot dips or hummus. They are also suited for appetizers: Quarters can be battered and deep-fried; hearts can be stuffed with crabmeat, garlic, cheese and breadcrumbs.
“We use artichokes several places on our menus,” says Marc Baltes, executive chef of the four-unit Pi Pizzeria based in St. Louis, Missouri. The antipasti appetizer displays prosciutto, salami, Parmesan, Asiago, green and kalamata olives and artichoke hearts. The Euclidean salad is built with romaine, artichoke hearts, olives, red peppers, feta and Greek yogurt dressing. While the Bucktown pizza layers mozzarella, roasted chicken, artichoke hearts, red bell peppers, green olives, red onions, feta and sun-dried tomatoes. “We use marinated, quartered artichokes. They are great on salads, and have the flavor I associate with ‘pizzeria.’ I’ve used fresh artichokes over the years, but for this pizza, these are the right artichokes,” says Baltes. “They are ready to eat, straight from the jar. We drain them and chop them rough for pizza toppings, but eat them as is for the other applications.”
About 20 percent of the customers at Willy O’s Pizza & Grill in South Haven, Michigan, order the spinach and artichoke dip appetizer on a regular basis. “It’s very popular,” says chef William Olund, who also uses artichokes as a pizza topper and in pizza sauce, upon request.
“To prepare the artichokes we cut the hearts into halves or thirds, (depending on size), and bring them to a boil for one minute,” says Olund, who uses canned, quartered hearts packed in water. Trial-and-error led to the decision to use canned product. “Frozen falls apart and has an unappealing texture. Fresh are more expensive, require more prep time and quality varies throughout the year. Bottled is usually pickled and/or seasoned, which changed our dish’s flavor. Artichokes canned in water works best. They are picked and packed during peak season, and we get consistent quality,” continues Olund. He estimates that the average food cost for an artichoke is $.90 on a 14-inch pizza or $.48 per serving of dip.
Carolyn Redendo, owner of Redendo’s Pizzeria & Pasta in Fountain Hills, Arizona and Redendo’s Pizzeria Ristorante in Scottsdale, Arizona, calls artichokes a great menu additive. She sautés chopped artichokes, sour cream, finely shredded Monterey Jack and pepper together and serves it as a bruschetta topping. In addition, artichokes appear on pizzas, and on her antipasta salad (made with tomatoes, mozzarella, pepperoni, and pecorino on romaine dressed in balsamic vinaigrette). When working with artichokes, Redendo discourages pairing artichokes with other salty items. “It does release a bit of liquid, so spread it more evenly and drain it well prior to placing it on pizza,” she adds. Due to the large quantities of artichokes she goes through, Redendo prefers using canned. She estimates her food cost for artichokes is 26 percent, but more like 20 percent for the bruschetta.
“Artichokes provide a great way to add a more diverse item to your menu that is often overlooked,” Redendo says.u
Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky. She covers food, business and lifestyle trends.
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.
I’m confused on how to determine labor cost. What is the right way to compute it?
This is a tricky question. For years I simply took the word of my POS system. When I got a ‘snapshot’ Labor Cost Report, I saw how much money I had spent, to the minute, based on sales. This was displayed as Labor Cost Percent, as well as dollars. According to the NRA, as well as my go-to accounting expert (CPA Jim Laube), labor is the sum of the following costs:
1. The gross wages and salaries paid to staff;
2. Employer’s contribution to unemployment, workers’ comp insurance and matching Social Security monies;
3. Any bonuses and spiffs given to employees;
4. Vacation pay;
5. Any other money paid to employees. These are referred to as soft costs and usually add 7 to 10 percent to labor cost percentage.
This dollar amount is divided into the gross sales, minus sales tax. So many operators count state sales tax as part of their sales. This can skew reports big time. Be sure to remove sales tax before any computations are made. 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.
Dave, when is it time to consider making my own dough balls? I’m currently buying frozen.
(Editor’s Note: we are not printing the operator’s name and location at the operator’s request.)
Hey, Anon! Here is my take: when you sell over 40 pies a day, make your own dough. A 25-pound bag of flour will yield approximately 40 dough balls. Dough should be made fresh
every day. Frozen dough balls cost about 4 cents an ounce to purchase. Fresh dough costs less than a penny and a half per ounce to make. If you use a 20-ounce dough ball, for instance, you would save more than 60 cents per pie by making your own. At 50 pies a day, the savings would be around $10,000 a year. Each batch will take 20 minutes of labor, but you won’t need those freezers anymore — and you’ll make a superior product at a fraction of the cost. This savings will more than pay for a mixer.
Making fresh dough is easy. Trust me, there is nothing to be afraid of. A scale for ingredients, a proven formula and a $6 thermometer will assure every batch is perfect. My recipe takes two days to develop flavor as it ferments under refrigeration. Then it lasts four more days before it over-proofs and ‘blows’.
If you’re about to open the doors of a new pizzeria, you’ve no doubt given lots of thought to your oven and POS selection, but have you taken the time yet to thoroughly examine the massive amount of smallwares you’ll need to run your new location? Whether it’s your first restaurant or your 10th, sometimes the little things are the ones that surprise you the most. Use this checklist to help ensure you have all the smallwares you need for your grand opening. In all, this total inventory will cost somewhere around $6,500 to $7,000:
# Quantity Description
1 5 Refrigerator Thermometer Horizontal -40F to +80F
2 1 Ice Scoop with Holder
3 2 Dunnage Rack Flour - Cheese 48x24x8
4 6 Bus Tubs w/ lids
5 100 Aluminum Sheet Pans 18 x 26”
6 Food Storage Containers w/ Lids Clear Poly
7 12 6 qt Round
8 12 8 qt “
9 12 12 qt “
10 6 18 qt “
11 6 22 qt “
12 24 Lids for 6-8 qt
13 12 Lids for 18 - 22 qt
14 1 Cheese Shredder for mixer
15 1 Cheese Cuber 3/4 inch cube / spare blades
16 1 Aliminum Foil Roll 12” x 1000’
17 1 Can Opener Screw Mount Deluxe
18 1 Aluminum Collandar 16 qt. 10 gauge
19 1 Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls 6 assorted
20 4 Pan Grabber Mitts
21 1 Measuring Pitchers; 2 cup-1qt.-4qt Clear
22 3 Pastry Brush Nylon 1.5 inch
23 2 Pastry Brush Nylon 3.0 inch
24 4 Tomato Shark Corer
25 1 Square Cheese Grater
26 1 Zyliss Cheese Crank Grater
27 2 Chop - Chop 12 x 18”
28 2 Chop - Chop 18 x 24”
29 1 Cutting Boards Convenience Pack (3) Color
30 2 Cutting Boards 18 x 24” White
31 1 Storage Stand - Cutting Boards
32 1 Butcher Knife Steel - Diamond
33 2 Knife - 8” Cooks’
34 2 Knife - 4” Paring
35 2 Knife - 10” Scalloped Bread
36 2 Magnetic Knife Bar 18”
37 1 22” Broiler Fork - Wood Handle
38 1 French Whip 16”
39 1 Piano Whip 12”
40 2 Spoodle 8oz.
41 1 Spoodle 6oz.
42 3 Stainless Steel Solid Spoon 13”
43 1 Stainless Steel Slotted Spoon 16”
44 2 Rubber Spatula 10”
45 2 Rubber Spatula 13”
46 2 Rubber Spatula 16”
47 1 First aid Kit
48 2 Spoon Stirs Rubber 16”
49 1 Sheet Pan Dolly
50 2 Pot & Pan Nylon Brush 8”
51 1 ScotchBrite Green Scrubbers 1 - Box
52 2 Oven Thermometer 200-600F
53 1 Infra Red Oven Thermometer Digital Held
54 3 Dial Thermometer 0 - 220F
55 1 Disposable Pastry Bags (200 ct)
56 1 Pastry Bag Support
57 3 Bagel Board 9x27 “
58 1 Dough Docker 5” plastic Pin
59 2 Ingredient (Flour) Bin 26 Gallon
60 6 Rubber Bowl Scraper
61 1 Aluminum Rolling Pin - Ball Bearing 15”
62 2 Tongs Heavy Duty 12”
63 1 Tongs Heavy Duty 16”
64 20 Aluminum Sheet pans 9” x 26”
65 1 0-32oz. Heavy Duty Platform Scale dash pot
66 8 Pizza Delivery Bags (special order)
67 3 Delivery Car Signs
68 1 Oven Brush w/ Scraper & Handle
69 3 Pizza Cutter Wheel 4”
70 1 Mop Bucket
71 3 Mops
72 3 Brooms
73 1 Floor Squeegee
74 2 Cleaning Bucket 3-4 gallon
75 1 Wire Grate for Full Size Steam Table Pan
76 1 Full Size Steam Table Pan 4” deep
77 1 Pail with Bail 22 qt
78 1 Lobby Dust Pan
79 1 Heavy Duty Dust Pan
80 1 Mop - Broom Holder
81 2 Hand Towel Dispenser - Motion Sensor
82 2 Hand Soap Wall Dispenser w/ cartridges
83 1 Step Stool Ladder 4 foot
84 1 Receptical Step On Bathroom
85 3 Slim Jim Garbage Cans
86 1 Slim Jim Garbage Can Liners
87 1 Sidewalk Cigarette Butt Urn
88 1 Neon OPEN Sign
89 1 20 Gal.Brute Container, w/Dolly - White & Lid
90 1 3-Comp Sink Pre Rinse with add-on faucet
91 1 Plastic Air Strip Curtain Walk In
92 1 Electronic Receiving Scale 150#
93 1 Anti-Fatugue Floor Mat
94 1 Security Corner Mirror
95 2 Guest Check Rails - 36”
96 1 Wire Rack Walk In Shelving w/ casters
97 1 Insert Pans for Pizza & Salad table-Divider
When Ray Perkins, owner of Chubby Ray’s Louisville Pizza Company in Louisville, Kentucky, was approached by a group of Girl Scout Brownies to do a pizza workshop for one of their badges, Perkins agreed, even though he’d never really worked with kids before. In fact, his establishment is known more for game day excitement, poker tournaments and live music. Still, Perkins saw an opportunity to cater to new clientele, so he agreed.
Rather than let 15 first-graders take over his kitchen, Perkins set up a conference table in an area usually inhabited by his week-day buffet. He brought out tubs of cheese, sauce and pepperoni, and used personal-pan-sized dough skins his staff had previously rolled out. Though he only had eight kid-sized pans, he used the same size dough on larger screens so each girl would receive the same pizza once baked. He then allowed each Brownie to build her own pizza. The workshop was priced at $5 a girl, including a soda and a tip for each of the two servers who assisted in the project.
“Our kids’ meals are $3.99 plus tax, so that just added a little bit of a tip for the servers,” Perkins says.
The fact that Perkins offers a kids’ meal as part of his regular menu isn’t surprising –– most kids between the ages of 3 and 11 list pizza as their top food choice. But did you know that families with children account for 14 billion meals and $70 billion in sales, according to marketing research firm The NPD Group?
“We do a lot with the youth football and youth baseball here,” Perkins says. “We host a lot of the parties here. It exposes (kids) to a place they maybe haven’t been before, and it’s all about the fun. It’s about the experience –– you want them to come back, and Mom and Dad will come with them.”
Kids are important at Washington-based Farelli’s Wood Fire Pizza, where Clayton Kreuger, director of marketing and communications, says each kid is given an unrolled doughball to play with at the table. “We have a special kids menu that is filled with fun coloring activities and such,” Kreuger says. “We have game rooms at all of our locations with video games and candy crane machines.”
Does focusing on family help the company’s bottom line? “Absolutely,” Kreuger says. “We are even exploring more new ways to engage with kids this year. After all, it is them who decide where their parents take them to eat.”
If you’re not catering to kids, here are some quick tips to get you started:
u Offer at least one healthy meal option. A grilled chicken breast and veggies with a side of dressing is an easy choice.
u Train your staff to alert parents if your meats (pepperoni, sausage, etc.) are spicy. Different brands have different heat levels, and this can be a deal breaker for future visits.
u Offer cups with lids, and train your servers to ask about refills. Since the cups may be smaller than adult-sized cups, they may need more refills.
u Preprinted kids’ menus should be brought to the table upon seating –– don’t wait for parents to ask. And use fresh crayons –– used crayons get grubby, aren’t visually appealing and carry germs.
u If you’re handing out toys, brand them. When they’re taken home, they’re obvious advertisements. “We also have a balloon artist come in once a week to make special balloon creations for the kids,” Kreuger says. “We give every kid a balloon on their way out the door that is branded with our logo.”
u Consider menuing at least one kid-friendly appetizer –– such as breadsticks or mozzarella sticks –– and train your servers to point them out on the menu.
u Offer one or two reduced portions from the adult
menu. “We’ve expanded our menu for the first time to
include a kids’ menu because we’ve gotten so many kids
in here,” says Dave Elliot, who owns New Hampshire-
based Zacky’s Pizzeria.
u Not non-smoking? Consider
voluntarily doing so. Perkins says
although he was mandated to go smoke-free by county law, “it changed our demographic. We were really more adult-oriented. I found out there were a lot of families who wouldn’t come in if we allowed smoking.”
Finally, consider putting together a birthday party package. Zacky’s offers kids at parties a personal pan pizza, a beverage and a bag of chips. They hand out a bottle of their private-label soda as the kids leave. “They’re actually going back to mom and dad and saying ‘Here. This is what’s left.’ ” says Elliot. “We’ve had a lot of parents come back because the kids like it. The parents may never have been here.” u
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
PHOTOS BY ART DEPT GOES HERE
Pizza is a giving industry. The people behind the pizza business care, and we show it every day in myriad ways. All across the country, pizzerias sponsor Little League baseball teams, Girl Scout troop events, adult volleyball leagues … you name it. Pizza shop owners donate money and gift cards to local fundraising efforts and provide pizza to community events. They cater birthday parties and business lunches. They get to know their customers by name and become integral parts of the neighborhoods they serve.
Point blank: pizza cares.
Call me a man on a mission, because I think it’s high time we paint pizza pink later this year. October is both National Pizza Month and National Breast Cancer Awareness month. Breast cancer research happens to be an issue near and dear to my heart — my mother and mother-in-law are both breast cancer survivors. I bet you know someone who has been affected by the disease as well. While strides have been made, approximately 40,000 women still die from breast cancer each year. That’s roughly 110 deaths per day.
I believe that this hideous disease will one day be cured. Research centers across America work on promising new treatments daily. When will a cure be found? I don’t know. But you and I are going to help that day come sooner rather than later.
In October, I’m going to be part of a small group that cycles from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington to raise money for breast cancer research. Pizza Today is proud to sponsor the cycling event. Publisher Pete Lachapelle and Art Director Josh Keown will both be making the ride with me, as will Mama Mimi’s Take ‘N Bake Pizza co-owner Jeff Aufdencamp. Jeff is an avid
cyclist who happens to be a two-time Ohio state champion in the age 40 and over racing division — and his wife, Jodi, is a breast cancer survivor.
How can you help? For starters, you can hop on your bike and ride along for all or part of the trip this October. I promise it’s going to be scenic, fun, challenging and rewarding all at the same time.
Beyond that, this fall I will be humbly asking America’s pizzerias to donate 10 percent of their single-day sales on the date we finish our ride into Seattle. Or, if you’d rather donate a specific amount in advance or immediately after, you will be able to do that as well. The exact dates are not yet hammered out, but I will announce them here quite soon, along with information on how you can make those potentially life-saving donations.
If you are able, please give to the cause when the time comes. In the meantime, if you think you can help out in another way, I want to hear from you. E-mail me [firstname.lastname@example.org] and let me know how you think you can be of service … I’ll put you to work.
Jeremy White, editor-in-chief
From time to time, I get questions from operators wanting to know what the secret is to making a decent thin-crust or thick-crust pizza. To answer this question, I’d like to share some tips for making both thin- and thick-crust pizzas.
Thick-crust pizzas always seem to be a bit problematic for those who haven’t made them before. The key to making a great thick crust pizza is to increase the dough scaling weight by 40 to 50 percent over that which you would use for the same size thin crust (and then incorporate plenty of fermentation into the dough, using only a medium strong flour rather than a typical, high protein pizza flour). The flour should have between 11.7- and 12.8-percent protein content. This would be better described as a bread flour rather than a typical pizza flour. The reason for using lower protein content flour is to provide the finished crust with a more tender eating characteristic, whereas a higher protein content pizza flour would tend to promote, if not be down-right responsible for, a tough, chewy eating characteristic in the finished crust.
Fermentation also plays a crucial role in making a great thick crust in that it helps to promote an open, porous internal crumb structure, which really helps the crust to bake out well while providing a great flavor to the crust at the same time. I’ve always found it amusing when a pizzeria has to include some type of dipping sauce with their thick crust pizzas so the customers can dip the edge of the crust to give it some flavor as opposed to just leaving it on the plate to go into the trash. When the dough is given good, solid fermentation –– 24-hours or more in the cooler –– the finished crust will develop a wonderful flavor along with a lighter eating characteristic, resulting in your customers devouring every last bite.
Additionally, fermentation also helps in the forming of the dough in the pan as it reduces or eliminates dough memory, or snap-back, while fitting the dough to the pan. The type of fat that you use in the pan also plays an important part in making a quality thick-crust pizza. If you use oil in the pan, your pizzas will achieve a more crispy characteristic than if you use shortening. But, be forewarned that the dough will slide around in the pan like a hockey puck on ice while you’re trying to press the dough into the pan. Before you give up and go back to making thin crusts again, just use the old trick of forming the dough to fit the pan outside of the pan, then placing the fully shaped dough piece into the oiled pan.
The only down side to using oil in the pan is that it imparts an oily texture to the finished crust. If you want a dry texture, no, you don’t use less oil — you just substitute the oil with shortening like Crisco. Wipe or brush the shortening into the pan and place a fully fermented dough ball into the pan. Press the dough ball out to fit the pan. This will be quite easy as the dough will adhere to the shortening like paper sticking to contact cement. We’re now ready to allow the dough to proof/rise in the pan. To get the actual thickness of the crust, now you’re going to need to set the panned dough aside in a warm place to rise for anywhere from 45 to 75 minutes. This “proofing” of the dough will provide the characteristic thickness to the dough that distinguishes it apart from a thin crust. For a little added appeal, my own personal preference is to add a sprinkling of shredded Parmesan cheese to the edge of the dough just before placing the pizza into the oven.
Making a great thin crust takes a few tricks of the trade, too. Flour selection is typically a high protein pizza flour and, again, fermentation is important as it helps to promote crispiness, flavor and ease of shaping the dough. Correct fermentation for most thin-crust pizza doughs will probably be in the 18- to 24-hour range, in the cooler. The amount of water adder to the dough (dough absorption) is an important factor in making a crispy crust as well as avoiding the development of a gum-line just beneath the sauce layer on the finished pizza. You want to have sufficient water in the dough to provide good handling and stretching properties while forming the dough and to allow it to rise a little during the first minute or so of baking. This provides both lightness and crispiness to the finished crust.
The method used to shape the dough will also influence the finished crust characteristics. For example, the use of a sheeter/dough roller to fully shape some types of dough can degas the dough to the extent that it has all of the unique properties of a piece of cardboard — and baking doesn’t do much to improve it. With cracker type doughs, sheeting is probably the best way to form the dough. Plus, it helps to provide the unique bubbly, crackery characteristics in the finished crust. When making a thin, crispy type of crust, it’s best to sheet the dough out to only about two-thirds of the finished diameter. Then finish opening the dough by hand. This helps to retain much of the gas from fermentation within the dough, which provides the desired lightness and crispy texture. Pressing the dough, as well as hand forming, retains most of the gas within the dough. So, once shaped, the dough is ready for dressing and baking.
The oven will also have a great
impact upon the quality and eating characteristics of any pizza dough. Space does not allow me to go into baking of both thin and thick crust pizza in all of the different types of ovens we have available to us, so I will limit my discussion to just fast and slow baking. Fast baking thin crust pizzas at very high temperatures, with baking times of 2 to 3 minutes, will result in a crust that is initially crispy when first removed from the oven — but it quickly loses the crispiness and becomes soft and chewy. Slow baking the same pizza at a lower temperature for closer to 5 minutes, or a little more, will result in crispy crust that better retains its crispiness for a longer time. When it comes to baking thick crust pizzas, due to the thickness of the dough, there is only one way to bake it — and that is until it’s done throughout. A properly baked thick crust will be firm enough to support the weight of the toppings without sagging or collapsing, and it will have a soft, dry texture in the center while being crispy at the outer edges and across the bottom. u
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
In challenging economic times, it’s not just about knowing how to produce a quality pizza and understanding your customers’ needs and wants to maintain and grow your pizzeria. Attending an industry tradeshow – even during an economic slowdown – can be the best vehicle to obtain new knowledge, insight and ideas that can help you position your pizzeria for future growth. As an independent pizzeria owner, you may be under pressure and/or worried about how your pizzeria is going to survive. The fact is you may need to slow down in order to speed up your business. You may also need to do some creative thinking to come up with some innovative ideas to boost your bottom line. Attending Pizza Expo can stimulate that creativity and provide the momentum you need to move your business forward.
Below are a few tips that will help you get the most out of your tradeshow experience:
Time is at a premium. Come prepared with a plan of attack. Schedule appointments with key contacts you want to meet with. Make a list of what you want to learn and see. Review the seminar program and pre-show workshops to see what’s being offered that will have the greatest benefit and impact on you and your business.
Take charge! You may want to arrange to meet with suppliers and/or other pizzeria operators to find out what they’re doing and what they see happening in the future. Or better yet, just make plans to attend the Beer & Bull® idea exchange.
Take time to walk the show floor thoroughly and completely. Jot down the products, companies and booth numbers that grab your attention. Pay particular attention to new products being offered at the show, as well as any new exhibitors.
Knowledge is Pizza Power! Gather as much information as possible while at the show. Find out what products, services and techniques are available to you that will improve your product, productivity and best of all, your bottom line.
Take time to talk to industry consultants and experts to pick their brains to find out what they’re thinking and doing. What are the new trends and how can they help or hurt your business?
Last but not least, this may be one of the best times ever to purchase new equipment … certainly a buyer’s market. The fact of the matter is no one wants to take their equipment and products back to the warehouse. Take advantage of the show specials and steep discounts being offered by our exhibiting partners. You may not have an opportunity like this ever again.
What is the competition doing and how does your pizzeria compare?
Can you leverage vendor/supplier expertise?
Is there an opportunity to expand your menu?
What can you do differently to outshine and outperform your competition?
Finally, write down what you learned at the show and rethink or analyze your business strategy and philosophy. How can you better position your pizzeria in the marketplace? What new ideas can you implement to achieve your goals?
There will always be winners and losers, but only those pizzeria owners and operators that arm themselves with new industry knowledge and are willing to take action towards positive change will have the ability to compete and win in today’s economy. At International Pizza Expo® you’ll gain new industry insight, as well as the knowledge that will help you strategize, improve operations and make the right decision for you to compete and WIN!
We mean business!
Bill Oakley, Executive Vice President
Bobby Athanasakis is president of Manny & Olga’s Pizza, which is based in the Washington, DC area. The company is currently expanding and has 10 stores.
Q: While most pizzerias are steeped in the Italian culture, Manny & Olga’s has Greecian roots. How does that extend throughout the business?
A: The culture of Manny and Olga’s is steeped more in the family values and work ethic of the chain’s owner and founder, Manny Athanaskis. While the family may be Greek in nationality, our Italian foods are founded in recipes that were developed by the Athanaskis family. Hard work, attention to detail and customer satisfaction are the values Manny has instilled throughout the organization.
Q: As Manny & Olga’s grows, how are you maintaining consistency across the brand?
A: We maintain consistency by conducting monthly store inspections, using quality raw materials to include private labeling of several products and, most importantly, we listen to our customers. Our customers are encouraged and consistently give us feedback through comment cards, e-mails and Tweets.
Q: How well do your Greek specialties sell?
A: We currently offer five Greek items on our menu. They are Chicken Souvlaki, a Greek Calzone, a Greek Salad, “My Big Fat Greek Pizza,” and Gyros. They account for approximately 20 percent of sales, with Chicken Souvlaki being the most popular Greek item.
Q: Your pizza menu offers some traditional and non-traditional
offerings. What is your best-selling pizza and why is it so popular?
A: The best selling pizza by far is our Supreme Pizza. Our customers say they like the Supreme the best
because of the combination of ground beef, pepperoni, green peppers, mushrooms and onions.
Q: You started in the Baltimore/ DC area, but expansion has taken the company as far as Nevada. What are your current growth plans?
A: Current expansion plans are focused primarily in the mid-Atlantic states of Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. We will also consider areas outside the mid-Atlantic for experienced operators for multi-unit expansion.
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN &
Frank McCarron, general manager/ chef at Portino’s Fresh Italian in Valley Center, California, wanted to freshen up his menu. So he decided not to introduce a new type of pizza, but instead opted to incorporate seafood pasta specials. “Seafood pasta spices up the menu and offers variety for customers,” says McCarron. At Portino’s, seafood pasta specials mean shrimp sitting in a pool of scampi, cacciatore or primavera sauce; clams soaking in red or white sauce, or salmon swimming in dill butter and lemon pepper sauce.
There are very few reasons not to consider enhancing menus with seafood pasta. Seafood provides a healthy, vegetarian-appealing menu option. Plus, there’s a plethora of cost-effective seafood to choose from, be it calamari and salmon to shrimp and clams available fresh, frozen or canned.
Seafood pasta is easy to prepare. For example, for McCarron’s shrimp scampi, he sautés shrimp with garlic, extra virgin olive oil, onions and mushrooms. Then he deglazes with white wine, adds heavy whipping cream, reduces and adds in additional seafood (depending on availability it could range from scallops, clams or white fish), which is served over pasta. Shrimp seafood cacciatore begins similarly. Shrimp brown in a pan filled with garlic, extra virgin olive oil, onions, green peppers and mushrooms. Then McCarron deglazes with Burgundy wine, reduces and adds marinara, water and black olives. After that cooks, he adds available seafood (see above), seasons and serves over pasta. Tossing in additional seafood to each dish not only creates menu interest and customer- perceived value, but it also prevents potential food waste.
Troy Mains, executive chef at No. 10 Water Restaurant at the Captain Daniel Stone Inn in Brunswick, Maine, is known for serving shrimp pasta. He poaches it (to give it a “mesquite’ flavor) in a smoked tomato sauce and serves it with creamy polenta. He also pairs shrimp with plum tomatoes, bacon, peas, white wine, Parmesan and garlic with farfalle. He estimates a $4 food cost for the shrimp.
Matthew Danaher, executive culinary director at GR Restaurant Management Group, incorporates seafood in many pasta dishes at Table 42 Italian Kitchen + Wine bar in Boca Raton, Florida. “We like to use seafood that is indigenous to Italian culture, such as shrimp, clams and mussels, to include in our signature pasta dishes,” says Danaher. “We utilize cooking methods that extract the best flavors from the freshest local seafood available. For example, we fry our calamari and grill our branzino.” Popular seafood pasta dishes include linguini with shrimp paired with pink vodka sauce, cherry tomatoes and peas; and Frutti di Mare, which showcases clams, lobster, mussels, calamari and shrimp amongst a sauce built with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, basil, tomatoes, white wine, clam juice and tomato sauce. Customers may also add shrimp ($7) or calamari ($5) to any pasta dishes.
While Danaher is a proponent of fresh seafood, McCarron prefers using individual quick frozen wild caught seafood. “I like that it’s kryovaced and portion controlled so there is no waste. I can order specific portions. It defrosts quickly and there’s consistency,” says McCarron. McCarron does admit, however, that “fresh is always the best quality when you have high volume. Canned product such as clams or salmon is also okay to use.”
Keeping food costs down when working with seafood isn’t a challenge. Just price it right. “Look at your costs, the selling point, your ingredients used, and portion size,” says Danaher, who estimates that his seafood food cost for pasta dishes is 28 percent.
Of course, bad seafood means lost profits. Before diving in, it’s important operators learn proper seafood handling tips since seafood is extremely perishable. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, fresh seafood should arrive packed in crushed or flaked ice, depending on its form. It should be stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator, rotated often and be in an area with drainage, since melting will occur. Upon arrival, operators need to evaluate its quality by making sure it has firmness, bright bloodlines, fresh aroma, clear eyes and red gills. Indicators of poor quality fish include a fishy, stale or iodine odor, mushy flesh, dry skin, discoloration, belly burn or dark gills. Canned seafood should arrive without dents, bruises, bulges or leaks. Avoid frozen seafood if its package is open, torn or crushed on the edges. If the package cover is transparent, look for signs of frost or ice crystals, which could mean the fish has been stored a long time or thawed and refrozen — in which case, choose another package.
Mains advises operators keep seafood on ice in the walk-in. “It will make the seafood last twice as long,” he says. He rinses seafood daily and pre-portions it with delicatessen paper. “That way the fish doesn’t touch each other. Otherwise, having protein upon protein multiplies bacteria faster and makes fish deteriorate faster,” he continues.
Another way to stretch the dollar on seafood, says Mains, is to create a shellfish stock that can be turned into crab, lobster or “seafood” bisque. “Bottom line is: Don’t waste anything,” he says. u
Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky. She covers food, business and lifestyle trends.
Fruitti de Mare
FRUTTI DE MARE
2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
1 ounce sliced garlic
1 tablespoon basil
1 ounce cherry tomatoes, no seeds
2 ounces white wine
6 ounces clam juice
6 ounces San Marzano sauce or tomato sauce
½ Maine lobster tail split in half
3 ounces calamari rings
2 ounces butter
10 ounces cooked pasta
In a large sauté pan add oil, garlic, basil and tomatoes and sauté over medium heat until translucent. Add white wine and reduce by half. Add clam juice, San Marzano sauce, clams, lobster and mussels. Simmer for 3 minutes or until clams and mussels open.
Add calamari and shrimp, simmer until cooked. Season with salt and pepper and reduce. Add butter and toss with pasta of your choice.
Recipe courtesty of Matthew Danaher, executive culinary director, GR Restaurant Management Group.
For More Seafood Pasta Recipes
log on to pizzatoday.com
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN & RICK DAUGHERTY
In 1993, Tony DiSilvestro and his wife, Cynthia, opened Ynot Pizza and Italian Cuisine in Virginia Beach. “We were 24 years old and doing it all,” DiSilvestro recalls, operating a store with little more than hope, previous experience and used equipment.
Within the first year, DiSilvestro had a revelation. Neither he nor his wife could maintain the breakneck pace. He promoted one of his delivery drivers, an entrepreneurial young man with promise and a responsible nature, to manager, asking the newly installed leader to motivate employees, enforce store policy, and learn all areas of the business.
“In the beginning, it was tough to let go, tough to let someone else close the store and make decisions, but … I had to trust,” says DiSilvestro, who still didn’t take a full day off until the store’s fifth year.
The decision to hire a manager was central to Ynot’s success then and now.
In 1996, the DiSilvestros opened a second location. In 2010, they opened a third. A fourth spot opened earlier this year. All locations have a general manager who oversees a team of operational managers (driver manager, server manager, counter manager, bar manager, and so on) and up to 80 staff members.
“These managers are in the trenches every day and their presence has freed me up to do big- picture thinking,” says DiSilvestro, who holds weekly meetings with his managerial team.
For many independent pizzeria owners, DiSilvestro’s early plight is a familiar one. The owner- operator model, though invigorating to some, can leave one wearied and absent the gusto to pursue new opportunities, a reality making a managerial hire an important — even critical — step as the business seeks growth and prosperity.
“As an owner-operator, you just can’t work all the hours,” says Adam Goldberg, who opened his first of five Fresh Brothers in southern California in June 2008. “If the business was going to go where we wanted it to go, we knew we’d have to bring someone into the store to give the daily tasks undivided attention.”
When hiring a manager, many owners insist on previous restaurant experience. Goldberg’s first managerial hire was a longtime server. Subsequent managers at Fresh Brothers have come from other front- and back- of-the-house positions at chains and independents. Jill Mather of Trifecta Management Group, a California- based agency that helps restaurant concepts maximize their operational efficiencies, sees benefits in experience on both fronts.
“Those from the independent climate often have a spirit of entrepreneurship and self-guided work history, while applicants from a corporate structure have experience reporting and responding to a higher up. The challenge is to then figure out what and who fits with your business,” says Mather, who recommends creating hypothetical scenarios and asking managerial applicants for their response.
Mather will also assess the longevity of one’s employment in previous positions. In Mather’s world, “job hoppers” lose points.
“You’re putting a lot of investment and responsibility into this individual’s hands,” she says. “You want to know that they’ll plug away at the work.”
DiSilvestro hires most of his managers from within, which not only allows him the opportunity to learn their character and show them growth opportunities in the business, but also grounds them in the Ynot system and culture.
Hiring from within “allows managers to learn in our trenches and understand what we’re about,” DiSilvestro says. While the owner will handle big-picture issues and financial decisions, the manager directs the operation’s daily tasks, being visible to both guests and team members throughout the shift to troubleshoot, lend a hand where necessary, coach staff, and promote restaurant opportunities, such as parties, fundraising, or catering.
Managers at Ynot, who can receive 401k contributions as well as health care, must be focused on details, treat others with respect, have a rapport with fellow staff members, and motivate the restaurant team. DiSilvestro leans on his various operational managers, most overseeing eight to 10 employees, to manage labor costs, uniform discipline, policy upkeep, and provide hands-on training for team members. He then wants the general manager to be a hands-on, jack-of-all- trades type able to jump in or delegate responsibility as needed.
“They’re cutting pizzas, walking the floor and filling beverages,” DiSilvestro says of his GMs. “When the store’s on fire, you need someone who can fill any position.”
Mather wants a manager to embrace what she terms the Four Fs: first, to demonstrate skills and communicate to team members what needs to be accomplished; firm, by enforcing rules and protocols without exceptions; fair, in treating team members as equals and not playing favorites; and flexible, in understanding the uniqueness of individual situations and respecting the lives and responsibilities staff have outside of the restaurant.
“You want managers to feel as if that restaurant is their own when they’re on duty,” says Mather. “You want them to share in your vision.”
Adds Goldberg, whose new managerial hires endure several weeks of training and a 90-day probationary period: “They need to know our heart, mind and temperament as well as they know our product. It needs to be a good fit because we’re going to lean on them to do the right thing.” u
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
WHAT TYPE OF MANAGER DO YOU NEED?
The general manager is a direct extension of the owner and, quite often, the key cog in a restaurant’s development. An excellent communicator and motivator, the GM is eager to train staff members and develop talent. Needing to write checks and maintain the restaurant’s numbers, the GM also possesses financial knowledge.
Operational managers oversee specific areas of the restaurant. A kitchen manager, for instance, is often a culinary-trained individual who understands quality standards and performs the hands-on kitchen work, including training and directing back-of-the-house staff. The kitchen manager monitors inventory, examines margins and handles the kitchen’s immediate and long-term tasks.
Similarly, operational managers in other areas of the pizzeria environment, such as the bar, delivery and customer service, possess the narrow job description, frontline experience, and know-how to direct employees in their specific area with complete focus and attention. Depending on the restaurant’s structure, operational managers report to the GM or owner.
Ask Thomas Marr if he launched his business with a massive advertising campaign, and he shakes his head and offers a slight smile. His company, Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza in Washington, D.C., is a well-branded concept. As for marketing, though, Marr keeps it basic. He prefers to divert his resources elsewhere.
“We try not to advertise too much,” says Marr. “We simply can’t get the value from advertising that larger companies can get. The larger guys can put out an ad and cover 300 stores with it, but that value isn’t there for us. We can’t get enough out of the ad to make it worthwhile.
“So instead, what we try to do is get involved in our local communities. We had a night recently where we gave 25 percent of our proceeds to a high school crew team. Basically, they advertised it to the whole school and the community list that they have. We got our name out there and got credit for the goodwill. Plus, a lot of people that didn’t know us came in and tried us out.
“Then, a couple of weeks ago I did a ‘Farm to School’ cooking demo for a local elementary school. I went there and put together one of our antipasti dishes for all the kids. I talked to them about the benefits of eating locally. We buy produce from a local, organic, co-op farm. So I told the kids about the farms, told them that there are several farms all around that provide fresh produce that is healthy.
Marr and his business partners also refrain from the discount game that pervades the pizza industry.
“When you discount your product,” says Marr, “I don’t know how much that is perceived in a positive way. I think people just say, ‘Oh, great ... wow. I get 10 percent off’.”
What customers at Pete’s New Haven look for, insists Marr, isn’t a cheap price, but a high-end twist on a comfort food. Before entering the pizza category, Marr was a fine-dining chef. He says people might be surprised at just how much the two sectors cross over. At least that’s how it works out at Pete’s, where Marr takes a from-scratch, quality-first approach.
“We caramelize our onions, for example,” says Marr. “There’s a lot of labor in getting in whole onions, peeling them, julienning them, and then cooking them for two hours in pots until we get them caramelized. We don’t just take onions and cut them up, or buy them already sliced and throw them on a pizza. We roast our peppers. Our mushrooms are a blend of wild mushrooms that are sauteed with herbs and garlic and oil.
“I’ve had plenty of people walk in here — higher end cooks from higher end restaurants — and they look at it as a part-time job. Then they come to me and say, ‘We cook more from scratch here than we do in the fine-dining restaurant that I work in at night.
“That’s what really helps us, though. We go that extra step. We only use all-natural ingredients. We only use antibiotic- and hormone-free dairy and meat products. We use china and glassware in the restaurants, and we use biodegradable to-go ware. Those are some of the big things we do to set ourselves apart.
“I mean, we really make pretty much everything in house. We make our own sausage, we grind the meats ourselves, we make our own gelato and desserts. We’re a casual restaurant — we’re just a quick-casual pizzeria — but we really focus on going that extra step.”
That thinking extends to the soda listing as well.
“We don’t use Coke or Pepsi or any of those products, because we don’t want high-fructose corn syrup,” says Marr. “We use an all-natural soda company.”
The menu at Pete’s, as the company’s name implies, is stocked with New Haven-style pizza. Salads, panini, pasta and house-made desserts also tempt diners.
The pizzas are mostly priced in the $18.95 to $24.95 range, though there is a $7.95 offering highlighted on the menu and designed to appeal to value-conscious consumers (it features soppressata, ricotta and mozzarella). Slices are a popular option as well, particularly at lunch ($2.50-$3.25).
“Most of the credit for our pizza goes to my partner (Joel Mehr — there’s also a third partner, Tri Nguyen),” says Marr. “His wife is from New Haven, and my wife’s family is from Connecticut as well. I never thought much about pizza in the general area, but when my partner came to me about opening a pizza place, we ended up coming together on a hybrid concept where we offer New Haven pizza, but do it in more of an Italian setting where we offer salads, pastas, panini and things like that on the menu.”
Marr adds that while he always wanted to own his own business, he knew he didn’t want to dabble with a fine-dining establishment.
“It’s the least profitable segment of our business,” he asserts. “And it’s the hardest hit in economic downturns. I’ve worked all over. I’ve worked in these places, and I’ve seen it.” u
Jeremy White is editor-in-chief at Pizza Today.
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
A neat, clean and organized kitchen is always a happy kitchen. Life in our pizzerias can be hectic. When compared to other restaurants, I think we put out a larger menu with a much smaller space, for the most part. It creates a lot of work and a lot of prep –– all in tight spaces. We want to make sure that we’re also keeping up with board of health regulations. That’s why it’s so important that we are organized in everything we do. Not only does everything need to have its own place, we as leaders need to make sure our staff is aware of it and follows the plan.
The one thing I’ve learned in my 30-plus years of doing this is that even though we may try to find responsible and mature individuals to work with us, we still need to bring our procedures to an elementary level. It’s really the best way to make sure things get done properly and consistently. First and foremost, daily prep lists and checklists are critical to ensure everything gets done properly. Also, closing checklists have saved me from so many headaches. Sure, we can assume that our staff should know what to do by now — but the checklist is king! Have a place for them to initial each item that gets done.
Once we know those tasks are being completed thoroughly, we now want to take a look at the streamlining of our operation. I’ve actually designed menus around equipment that I had at a restaurant that I would take over, and I’ve had the opportunity to move some equipment around to better suit the flow of the operation. Look at your menu mix and the tasks that need to be done during high volume. Do you find yourself running around like a mad man or woman from one end of the kitchen to the other just to complete a dish? Where do you keep your plates or to-go boxes? Are they at your fingertips, or are they around the corner? Here are some ways to streamline your actions:
u Add inexpensive shelving in your work area to put things like plates, to- go boxes, bags, dressing cups and fork kits. This can save hundreds of steps per shift, which increases productivity drastically. When everything is at arm’s length, ticket times speed up. I promise your customers will love getting their food quicker.
I was a chef at a restaurant many years ago where the kitchen was actually way too big for the volume we were doing. On a slow Monday night, I felt like I was running a marathon because things were spread out too far. The most efficient kitchen I ever worked in was a small, tight kitchen where I could practically reach everything with a little side step to the right or left. Whatever your space is, make sure you design your space where everything is stocked and at your fingertips!
u How about your reach-in refrigerators? Are they neat with everything accessible, or do you have to move everything around just to find the anchovies? Having smaller containers for all the ingredients needed for the menu is an excellent choice so that you’re not fumbling around looking for what you need. Obviously, you’ll need large enough containers for the items that you go through more of, like a small container for pineapple and anchovies and a larger space for mozzarella. Set it up so you have enough for the shift. I think it’s better to have to restock for each shift because it allows you to clean your containers and shelves while you’re re-stocking.
u Think of your kitchen set-up in the same way you have your pizza make station set up. You certainly wouldn’t have your pizza makers put the cheese before the sauce. You want a nice, continuous flow. Every aspect should be prepared in the same way from start to finish when making the dishes on your menu. It also helps tremendously when it’s time to have a co-worker step in to help during peak times.
u Once you have figured out where you want everything, make laminated labels. That keeps everyone on the same page.
Now that you’ve created your daily prep lists and check lists and you are ensuring they are getting done daily, and you’ve got your shop neat, clean and organized with everything in its place, there’s just one more philosophy I want you to adopt: “close to open.” As the end of the night approaches, what’s on everyone’s mind is usually, “how quick can I get out of here?” So many times the day crew will come in and have to re-stock everything, along with their prep, and that starts the shift with a less-than- perfect attitude. Once the night crew understands that before they leave the entire store needs to be stocked and ready to open the next day, the faster they’ll get it done. They will learn to stock as they go during their shift, which saves labor dollars. Now, the day crew can focus solely on prep and get off to a very quick and happy start. This can even allow you to bring some morning crew in a little later, saving even more labor dollars.
Hang the NCO –– neat, clean and orderly –– signs up around the restaurant. Make it a priority and make it happen. Then you, as a leader, will be able to focus on other important areas of your operation. u
Jeffrey Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent speaker at the Pizza Expo family of tradeshows.
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
Today’s consumers seek a big bang for their bucks. They also snack more than ever –– enjoying everything from snack wraps to small plates. Operators can capitalize on both of these flash points with enticing happy-hour promotions driven by savvy value strategies. The benefit for the operator is clear. Reaping the profits from increased traffic thrown into the typically slower part of the operational day is an attractive proposition. Pizza Today talked to several folks who boast successful happy hours that are contributing significantly to the bottom line.
ZA’s Pizza Pub in Louisville, Kentucky, offers happy hour every day from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. with daily specials. Each day sees $1.50 Bud Light draft. Monday brings half-price appetizers, which has become the most popular happy-hour promotion. “Big Beer Tuesday” boasts one-dollar off 22-ounce drafts and “Get Well Wednesday” offers patrons $2.75 well drinks. “Offering the promotions is a loss leader for us,” says Jim Rigby, owner and general manager of this 100-seat pizzeria that specializes in traditional Sicilian pizza. “But, it gets people in the door early, and we get to sell a lot to them.
And then about half of them stay for dinner after happy hour. It’s a win-win for us.”
The Highlands, Colorado, location of Pasquini’s Pizzeria was having a tough time filling the quiet period between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. “We’re in a neighborhood, so (there are) not a lot of businesses to support us,” says bar manager Jacqueline Aragon-Combs. So she started a happy-hour promotion to drive traffic and increase sales. On the pizzeria side of the restaurant, the happy hour runs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. In the adjunct Zio Romolo’s Alley Bar, a space dedicated to grown ups, happy hour runs from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. “The impetus was to get people drinking and eating when we normally didn’t see activity,” she says. The impact on sales during those hours? A 40-percent increase in liquor sales and a 300-percent increase in food sales.
Pasquini’s runs various happy- hour promotions, including all- night happy hour on Mondays, $3 margaritas on Tuesdays and $3 shots of Jameson on Wednesdays. It developed a happy-hour menu, where everything is priced between two and five dollars. Meatball sliders are made with pizza dough formed into buns, sliced meatballs and marinara. Stuffshrooms are mushrooms stuffed with spinach or prosciutto. Cheese and pepperoni slices are available, too. “People end up spending as much as they would without the happy hour prices because they share, and they order more because of the value presented with each special,” says Aragon-Combs. “Happy hour is a great way to surprise and delight your customer.”
To promote and underwrite happy hour, Aragon-Combs recommends working with purveyors. “Recoup the cost on your liquor by parntering with your vendor. Ask them if they can support happy-hour promotions that feature their brands.” Pasquini’s broadcasts its specials on Facebook and through mailings.
Tutta Bella Neopolitan Pizzeria’s newest location in Seattle needed to increase sales. “We opened our fourth location in an emerging neighborhood, and we needed to attract new neighbors,” says R.C. Jennings, wine buyer and general manager of this 120- seat store that boasts authentic pizza napoletana. “Happy hour has become extremely competitive in this economy. We wanted to create one that fit with our culture and our vibe, recreating the happy-hour experience found in Italy.” As part of that vibe, “complimentary nibbles” are served with drinks during happy hour, which runs from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. Beer gets a complement of candied hazelnuts. Wine, marinated Italian olives. Tutta Bella offers $2 off draft beer and wine and $3 off cocktails during happy hour. It combines a menu pulled from the restaurant, peppered with happy-hour exclusives (which Jennings says will increase this summer). One of the biggest attention-getters is the happy hour offer of $6 margherita pizza ($11 on the regular menu). “We get a lot of buzz with that promotion,” says Jennings.
Tutta Bella (named Pizza Today’s 2010 Independent of the Year) went from no customers in the late afternoon to an average of 50 a day. “Good happy-hour promotions get butts in the seats,” he says. “We have about 50 percent that just come in for cocktails and nibbles, which is great, but the other 50 percent stay for dinner. They can stretch their dollar.” To promote happy hour, Tutta Bella promotes on Facebook, but finds good old-fashioned A-frame sidewalk signs the biggest magnet. u
LATE NIGHT HAPPY HOUR
Urban Crust in Plano, Texas, sits in a residential area, so attracting the after- work crowd wasn’t a good option. “Commuters would miss an afternoon/early evening happy hour here, so we needed to come up with a different strategy,” says executive chef/partner Salvatore Gisellu. “We decided to focus our efforts on bringing in a late-night crowd.” Urban Crust introduced its “Reverse Happy Hour” during the height of the recession in the summer of 2009. It runs weekdays from 10 p.m. until 1 a.m., featuring one- dollar off appetizers and drinks. Urban Crust’s rooftop bar, 32 Degrees, boasts a 30-foot-long ice bar with frozen liquor taps as a selling point.
Appetizers spring from the regular menu, ranging from Tuscan blue-cheese fries and mussels to antipasto plates and fried calamari. “We have lots of regulars now, who come because of happy hour,” says Gisellu. He reports that the 145- seat restaurant’s happy-hour promotion has increased revenue by 10 percent. “Because they get a good deal on the appetizers, they order more than they normally would,” he says. The labor costs of keeping the kitchen open a bit later than before is more than offset by the extra dollars brought in.
Urban Crust markets the happy hour through Constant Contact, table tents and its Facebook page. “We also motivate our staff to spread the word by offering them prize incentives,” says Gisellu. The server tells the customer about happy hour, and if that customer mentions the name of the server during happy hour, he or she gets a free dinner, bottle of wine or gift certificate. “Texting is another great way to broadcast one- night-only deals,” he says. The restaurant asks its staff to text friends, promoting a special, such as 50 cents off of vodka shots. “We’ll do it on a slow night, and it’s amazing how busy we can get from a staff texting promotion! I think it’s because we give it a sense of urgency, ‘Tonight only,’ kind of thing,” he says.
Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.
PHOTO BY RICK DAUGHERTY
What does the word “brand” mean to you? Unless you are the marketing director of a large organization, it may carry little importance, as people will likely not make the mental connection when they hear your name. Your marketing dollars are in short supply and the economy is uncertain at best, so why should an independent operator care about branding their concept? In a very fundamental sense, branding makes a consumer associate a specific product –– pizza –– with a specific manufacturer –– YOU.
Think of it this way: (B)e (R)emembered (A)nd (N)oticed (D)ominantly. When looking at branding in its basic form, this is not only an attainable goal, but also necessary to gain consumers’ confidence and have the competitive edge. Howard Schultz of Starbucks says: “Customers must recognize that you stand for something.”
Your brand is something that will run throughout every way you represent yourself. Notice how a concept from Chicago is able to open five locations in the huge Los Angeles market in just a few short years. Fresh Brothers Pizza’s brand is stated in their name — they are known for using only the freshest ingredients. Their stores have a fresh new look, different from your typical pizzeria. The fresh theme runs dominantly through their logo, menu, graphics, stores, Web site, e-mail, etc. There is no “disconnect.” What I see in the menu is what I expect, and it’s what I get when I visit any of their locations. The brand is reinforced at every junction and therefore remembered.
What can grow to be your brand? Secret recipes, family, unique location, cooking methods, any one of these aspects can be turned into a brand. Cocca’s Pizza of Youngstown, Ohio, builds brand around family. The company’s ads feature a relative making pizza and enjoying the family atmosphere. Owner Steve Cocca personally voices his own radio spots. Backing this with a quality product, Cocca’s four locations have grown by 30 percent thru branding, proving that his stores are a dominating force in their markets.
Branding is seen in word and deed. My pizzeria’s USP is “From Our Den to YOUR Den.” It conveys a warm family tone with strong ties to the community. To build that brand, my menu features a local landmark along with professional pictures of my actual product. What you see is what you get. My dining area is designed with this in mind. We use the same warm, inviting color scheme when choosing wall color, tablecloth design and décor. A den is a warm and nurturing place where food is dispersed with a little TLC. Our staff is trained to reflect that, to participate in community events and remember customers’ names. This strengthens our brand and gets us noticed. I have learned to not just stick my logo on any ad slick. In order for my brand to make a consistent impression on consumers, I need to have my menus, mailers and box-toppers all have the same unique look and feel. If you do not have the experience, a professional marketing partner can help you accomplish that. u
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 the Pizza Expo family of tradeshows.
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
A mascot can help you boost sales, but you have to create the right mascot and use it effectively. Whether it’s a costume that an employee wears or a cartoon character on your logo, the mascot can help you differentiate yourself from competitors.
“A mascot adds personality to the brand and helps you to connect with customers for the long term,” says Arjun Sen, president of Restaurant Marketing Group in Centennial, Colorado. He points to one of the giants in restaurant mascots, Chuck E. Cheese. The mouse celebrates birthdays with kids, poses for photos, and gets people to think of Chuck E. Cheese’s as a fun place to eat pizza.
It helps if the person inside the costume has the right personality, says Jim Fox, president of the 300-location Fox’s Pizza Den, based in Murrysville, Pennsylvania. The fox mascot interacts with customers at grand openings, and also appears at high school games throwing miniature footballs, soccer balls, or basketballs with coupons into the crowd.
Some Fox’s Pizza Den locations offer home birthday party packages. Customers can choose a three-, four- or six-pizza package. “We have little t-shirts done up with Happy Birthday from Fox’s with our logo,” he says. “The mascot goes into the house and kids get their pictures taken with him.”
A mascot can serve as the restaurant’s ambassador at community events. Dave Krolicki, marketing manager for the 500-location Hungry Howie’s Pizza, based in Madison Heights, Michigan, says Howie was a grand marshal at the Shrine Circus and Parade. The Shriners invited Howie to participate in an
autograph session where kids could meet circus performers. “Little kids came up screaming for Howie and hugging Howie at the knees, and parents would say, ‘Can you take a picture with my son or daughter?’ ” Krolicki says.
Dee Ann Bowen, whose family owns Signs & Shapes International, says off-premises appearances can promote goodwill. “If Joe’s Pizza is always out at community events and Sam’s Pizza is never there, people associate that with the brands,” she says. The Omaha, Nebraska-based company makes WalkAround inflatable mascot costumes. She says restaurants that buy the costumes do everything from having the character stand in the store and hand out coupons to traveling to local tourist sites and posting the videos on YouTube.
She cautions against overdoing it. “Everybody thinks the best thing is standing outside your place and waving,” Bowen says. “That’s one use, but it’s not the only use. I’m not sure if you did that every day it would be effective.” She suggests hosting mascot nights, and offering free photos with the mascot at the restaurant.
If the mascot appears at a local game, the character doesn’t have to stand on the sidelines for the entire game. The mascot could instead appear during breaks in the action, throwing t-shirts into the audience. Krolicki says at football game halftimes, Howie hosts kids’ running races, with the winner earning a free pizza.
Sen points to another giant of the mascot realm. “At Disney World, you don’t see Mickey and Minnie everywhere. They rotate the characters
because overexposure is never what you need,” he says.
Bowen suggests designing a mascot costume based on a character and/or the business’s logo. Meanwhile, Carol Flemming, whose Avery, California-based company created the Fox’s costumes, says a mascot should be kid friendly. It should also be larger than life, and have bright colors. “People don’t see signs, but they do see a mascot in front of your restaurant,” she asserts. “If you put a mascot costume on a five-foot, two-inch person, the mascot will be six-foot-two because — the head is a foot tall.”
Also, she says, don’t forget to put your restaurant’s logo on the costume, front and back, so it will appear in photos.
Fox says some franchisees own a fox costume, and others rent the costume from those franchisees. A costume can cost several thousand dollars, but he says the new materials are more comfortable and cool than the heavy, heatstroke-inducing costumes of old.
Some mascots exist only in logos. Hideaway Pizza, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has Kahuna, a cartoon character that has big hair, wears a bow tie and carries a pizza. Marketing director Janie Harris says Kahuna has been around for decades, with slight changes over the years to his apron and other details. “Our mascot is what people think about us,” she says. “It’s a complete and simple way to communicate what our restaurant is about — hot, fresh pizza.”
Kahuna appears on the menu, pizza boxes, kids’ coloring sheets and the Web site. Kahuna’s wife, Karma Fiona, and son, Junior, also appear on materials. Some of the newer locations of the nine-unit Hideaway have six-foot replicas of Kahuna. Harris says the figures have never been stolen, but sometimes they are vandalized. “One time his hair was stuffed with tennis balls, and another time he was wrapped in silly string,” she says.
There are no plans for a costume. “He is not coming alive,” she says. “We want to leave in the mystery.” u
Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in food and business topics. She lives in Denver, Colorado.
TIP: It’s a good idea to create trademark protection for your mascot to make sure no one else can use that design. A trademark is a word, name, or symbol that identifies your business.
“The first thing with any logo, mascot, or cartoon you want to protect is, is it confusingly similar to someone else’s?” says Gerry Norton, a registered patent attorney with Fox Rothschild, LLP in New York. He suggests doing some research.
You can search the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Web site to see if anyone has registered a trademark similar to your mascot. However, the search will not necessarily mean the mark is clear for your use, says Susan Neuberger Weller, a trademark
attorney with Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo P.C. in Washington DC. “That might mean no one is using the identical name or design mark,” she says. What’s problematic is a similar name or design. Consider hiring a lawyer, because law firms have access to databases that consumers don’t have to conduct broad trademark searches.
Then file a trademark application with the USPTO. Be sure to list the ways you plan to use the mascot, such as on t-shirts and pizza boxes, and all the services you will provide using the mascot design, such as entertainment services by an individual in the mascot costume. For more information, visit www.uspto.gov.
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
We all make mistakes (ever forgot a birthday or anniversary?). Usually we can make amends in some fashion (roses? dinner out?) and life goes on. In the business we are in, mistakes can cause a deeper problem –– like a customer not coming back –– so we strive to get it right the first time and every time.
Here are some common mistakes that I have experienced in my many years of pizza making and instruction. The point, of course, is to examine how to fix those mistakes once and for all.
Mistake: the soggy crust syndrome.
Solution: It probably has to do with too much water in the tomatoes (canned or fresh) or using more tomato than is called for. Don’t treat a pizza shell like a pond. Know your tomatoes. Topping overload can result in a soggy crust. Vegetables with high water content (bell peppers, mushrooms, spinach), if used too aggressively, can result in a soggy crust, too. Oftentimes, less is better.
Mistake: pools of fat on top of the pizza.
Solution: use a sausage or pepperoni with less fat. Or use precooked sausage crumbles. And don’t overload.
Mistake: Underbaked pizza.
Solution: Oven is not hot enough, or pizzas are placed in the wrong part of the oven. Example: the hot zone for a deck oven is toward the back. For conveyor ovens, check the finger location (impinger fingers). In a wood-fired oven, you are probably not rotating the pizzas closer to the fire. In true Neapolitan fashion, the pizzaiola will finish off a pizza in wood-fired ovens this way: Slide the pizza peel under the fully baked pie, then raise the peel and the pie so that the pizza is almost touching the dome of the oven (because that’s where the oven is the hottest). Finito! Perfetto! Know your oven.
Mistake: overbaked pizza (finished product is too dry and crunchy, no flavor).
Solution: I will say it again –– know your oven. Know where to place (or not) pizzas, especially when using a deck or wood-fired oven. Rotation of pizzas is the key to putting out the perfect pie. Too close to the heat is okay, especially with a wood-fired oven where you sometimes want to present a blistered crust that exhibits some charring.
Mistake: crust is dry, no texture, cardboard syndrome.
Solution: Try using a higher ratio of water to flour. For example, generally speaking, the old benchmark was 20 pounds of flour to 10 pounds of water (50 percent). Try this using 10 pounds of flour and 6 pounds of water (60 percent). The dough will be a bit wetter and a little harder to handle, but it’s worth it. Also, in this situation, use a flour that has a protein level of 13 to 14 percent.
Mistake: miserable veggie pizza (soggy, no flavor).
Solution: Sauté the vegetables –– bell peppers, onion, mushrooms, etc. in olive oil and garlic (that’s the prep). Or, in the case of mushrooms, don’t slice fresh mushrooms too thinly. Also, bury some of the mushrooms under the cheese. Mushrooms are almost 100-percent water, so excessive heat will dry them out and turn each slice into a piece of flavorless cardboard.
Mistake: finished pizza is puffy and bland.
Solution: A puffy and bland pizza shell is the result of rising time and temperature. To avoid a puffy crust, do not let the dough rise at room temperature. After mixing and balling the dough, get it into the cooler as soon as possible. Now let it undergo cold fermentation for at least 24 hours. Give the pizza dough a bench proof time (out of the cooler) of one hour before rolling or stretching. And, this method makes it easier to shape and stretch the dough (it will not shrink or get “bucky”).
Mistake: no flavor fresh basil.
Solution: Don’t chop the basil; rather, tear or snip it using scissors. Also, add the fresh basil after the pizza comes out of the oven. Alternatively, put the fresh basil leaves under the cheese. Keep the fragrance. Add some more basil after the pizza comes out of the oven for the perfect presentation.
Mistake: pizza looks sloppy (tomatoes and cheese running together, because too much of both –– tomatoes and cheese –– were used).
Solution: This happens more often than not when using fresh mozzarella. Don’t use more cheese than is necessary to put out a great tasting pie.
Mistake: dried oregano and dried basil with no flavor or fragrance.
Solution: No, I don’t have a problem with dried oregano and basil. What bothers me is when over-the-hill dried herbs are used. Or a poor brand of either is used. In either case there is no flavor. You might as well be throwing dried grass on the pizza. Use top-drawer Greek oregano, and never use any dried herb that has been sitting around the kitchen or pantry for months on end. 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.
METRO PIZZA // LAS VEGAS, NV
In 1970, Pogo, a famous and beloved cartoon character, uttered the phrase, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” While the reference was made with regards to man’s negative impact on the environment, those words certainly
apply to today’s pizza industry as well.
In my conversations with pizzeria
operators around the country, I am always asked the same question: “How much do you charge for a pie?” Invariably, my answer is this: “As much as I need to.” That typically invokes a follow-up question regarding the competition. To that, I quote a statement from the menu of renowned pizzaiolo Anthony Mangieri: “ I have no quarrel with the man who charges less for his pizza … he knows what his is worth.” I believe that one of the greatest challenges for independent pizzeria operators is hidden in that statement. We all must know what our product is worth.
All too often, our primary marketing tools involve some sort of giant discount. Even the most experienced operators forget the most basic rule: Low price alone is not an indication of value. In truth, value is a ratio of price to quality. You can have the lowest prices in town and still be a lousy deal. More importantly for independent operators, you can have higher prices and still be the best value — if you offer the very best food and service.
One thing is certain, however: you cannot be the best and the cheapest if you intend to stay in business. Over the last several years, the major chains have done our industry a huge disservice. They have turned an artisan product into a commodity. The $5 large pizza creates the illusion that all pizzas are created equal. Furthermore, it sets the bar so low that it becomes impossible for any of us to earn a fair profit for our work.
The large chains have staked out the low end for themselves. Fine. I say, “Let them have it.”
It is time for pizza makers to understand that what we do has real value. As independent operators, we must resist turning towards the discount game as an easy fix for sales challenges. Every time a piece of advertising goes out that stresses low-priced pizzas, we diminish the value of what we do.
Engaging in a price war is a fatal exercise. Your rivals buy ingredients by the trainload. They function with a core of low-paid employees. They make the best real estate deals for prime locations and they have collective advertising power that can’t be matched.
So, how do we compete? Ironically, Sam Walton, the biggest of all big boys, provided an answer when asked what he would do if he were a small
retailer and Wal-Mart came to town. His answer: Specialize and concentrate on giving a level of quality and service that the big chains can’t match.
As independent operators, it is essential that we dictate the rules of engagement. The best part of this is that once you have made the commitment to compete on quality and service instead of price, your life will become much easier. Every decision that you make will be based on only one question: Will this improve the experience at my pizzeria?
Calculate what it costs you to provide a world-class pizza experience, and then add in a fair profit margin. There’s your price point. From there, let those other guys worry about how they are going to compete against the best pizza experience in town.u
What do you want to be doing 10 years from now? If you’re the owner of a family-owned pizzeria, and your dream is to kick back on a sunny beach with an umbrella drink in your hand while a succeeding generation continues the business, then it’s not too early to start planning.
Ample time, along with open, honest communication, are key elements when it comes to passing the legacy of a family pizzeria from one generation to the next, according to experts who consult with family-owned businesses.
The risks of not planning a succession are great. Only about 30 percent of family businesses survive into the second generation, 12 percent are still viable into the third generation, and only about three percent operate into the fourth generation or beyond, says Wayne Rivers, president of the Family Business Institute, a North Carolina-based firm that consults with family-owned businesses.
The demise of businesses from one generation to the next also has been noted by Andrew Keyt,
executive director of the Loyola University Chicago Family Business Center. “There’s huge attrition,” he says. “It’s not due to business issues. It’s due to family issues.”
Rivers says 10 years is how long it takes to plan a succession and work through any of the many kinks that may arise. “It gives you time to weather economic storms, family crises or the revelation that your kids can’t handle it,” He adds. “Just because your children know how to bake a pizza doesn’t mean they know how to run a business.”
Expect the unexpected is how Keyt would describe preparing for succession. “You can’t have a succession plan that’s written like a book that you follow,” he says “There are always new issues that come up.”
Transferring ownership between the generations is usually the easy part. Deciding who will manage the business is a bit harder. “The key element is deciding who’s going to run the operation profitably in your absence,” Rivers says.
Mark Malnati, owner of Lou Malnati’s Pizza in Chicago, knows what it’s like to face a difficult transition. His father, Lou, who founded the company, died in 1977 at age 48 — without making a succession plan.
Malnati was a newly minted college graduate so his mother, Jean, took a lead role in the business while he operated one of their stores.
“My mom got really involved,” Malnati says. “And we had two people who were like family in management. Between my mom, me and them, we rode out the storm.”
The storm included nearly filing bankruptcy. The company had opened a store just before the elder Malnati died that, unlike two other sites that were thriving, was operating in the red.
Eventually, the failing store was closed and the Malnatis worked out an arrangement to re-pay $500,000 to vendors over five years.
Having been thrust into a large role and responsibility in running a pizza business, which he luckily loves, Malnati says he has some ideas about how to plan for succession.
“You have to start the conversation early and continue it, and you have to judge talent and skill level,” he says.
Anyone in the family who wants a role in managing the business needs to prove they will be an asset.
“Your relatives have to earn their place just like anyone else, otherwise they won’t have the respect,” says Malnati, whose company has grown to have 30 restaurants.
Patty Tubbs, president of Italian Fiesta Pizza, which has five stores in Chicago’s south suburbs, says succession was easy from her parents to the current generation because she was the only one of her siblings who was really interested in running the business.
She has a sister who is a schoolteacher and is not in the business at all, as well as a sister who keeps the books for the business and is an equal owner in it.
“It was only fair to do it equally because our father owned it,” says Tubbs, who nonetheless acknowledges that she has all the say-so in terms of business operations and decisions.
Rivers says when deciding which of your children will take the lead in the business, and which will not, “you’ve got to find a way to treat them fairly and equitably, but probably not equally.”
Deciding who will manage the business takes time and observation. Leaders will tend to emerge, Keyt and Rivers agree.
“They way you know who is (the next leader) is by increasing their responsibility and seeing how they handle it,” Rivers says. “Mom and Dad need to get out of the way and give their kids responsibility in the business. They need to be working themselves out of a job.”
Tubbs says she is currently in the phase of seeing who may show themselves as her company’s next leader. Her son and nephew are working for the company.
She says she would never force her children or any other family member into the business.
“It has to be in their heart,” she says.
Being open to the new ideas from the younger generation also is a way of testing and challenging them. Tubbs remembers when she was young, struggling to convince her father to computerize aspects of the business such as payroll. She says Italian Fiesta recently started accepting credit and debit cards at its newest store because her son and nephew pushed the idea.
Still, with two young people interested in the business, Tubbs, 52, says she is worried that the “transition won’t be as easy as the one I had.”
Rivers would urge her and others who will make succession decisions to use a bit of tough love. Don’t underestimate the next generation. He said they often already know whether or not they are suited to successfully taking the helm of the business. “You’ve got to have blunt conversations with your adult children,” Rivers says. “They’re not babies anymore.”
Malnati says his business, which has 30 stores, has grown to such a degree that his children may decide not to be involved in the day-to-day operations when he decides to step aside.
“It’s grown to such a size that we’d likely employ professional management,” he says. “We have a great team that could continue.” u
Annemarie Mannion is a freelance writer living in the Chicago area. She specializes in business and health stories.
PHOTO BY JOSH KEOWN
In a business setting, the importance of maintaining privacy extends beyond the scope of one’s personal privacy to that of each employee. Confidentiality should be at the top of every pizzeria owner’s maintenance checklist. How safe is your staff’s personal information?
Regulations vary by state, but all employees have a general right to privacy. Consult an employment and labor lawyer if you’re
uncertain that your business is a privacy compliant. “Generally, most states provide individuals with a common law, or case-law-created, right to privacy,” says J. Hagood Tighe, partner in the Columbia, South Carolina office of national labor and employment law firm Fisher & Phillips. “While the types of protections vary, the idea is that individuals have a right to keep some parts of their personal life from the public. Additionally, state and federal law may also impose a burden on employers to keep employee information confidential.”
Information that should be kept secure includes, but is not limited to: social security numbers; drivers’ license numbers; background search results; salary information; performance evaluations; and disciplinary and legal issues (garnishment actions, workers’ comp matters, employment discrimination) private, which is covered under several laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), etc. “Medical information,
including doctors’ correspondence, FMLA paperwork and the like should be kept confidential in a separate file for each employee under lock and key,” says attorney David Gevertz, vice-chair of the labor and employment department of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC.
Some items that might be overlooked but that should be kept private are sales invoices to major customers and from major vendors, training materials
including managers’ manuals, and routine financial data, according to Gevertz. Joe Crowley of Pisa Pizza in Malden, Massachusetts, relies on a combination of a POS system and other privately located files to protect employee information. He also keeps a close eye on other confidentiality issues, such as staff gossip about salary discrepancies and personal matters, both of which are frowned upon at Pisa Pizza. “I’ve had to pull employees aside and say, ‘Money is confidential and personal information is confidential,’” says Crowley.
Many pizzeria owners find it easier to keep employee info private via electronic means. “I’ve always been meticulous about our employee information, making sure we have the right documents and that they are protected,” says Ben Nighswander, owner of B. Antonio’s Pizza in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “The best thing I ever did was convert all of our paper files to electronic. I can restrict access very easily so that certain employees can see specific information and keep certain info in separate folders with separate access. Before, I would have had to have multiple file cabinets with multiple keys. This way the information is kept centrally, I can access it from anywhere, and I can keep people out based on their security settings.”
In the event that you know or suspect that an employee’s security has been breached, make sure you inform the employee as well as researching and investigating any potential action that could have occurred on your business’ premises or among employees. Not only is this a sign of good faith to your employees, it will provide you with a paper trail or record of activity recording your efforts should there be any further inquiry by authorities.
“We typically advise companies to provide notice to the affected employees, even if they are not sure the information has been compromised,” says Tighe. “There are now some federal and state laws that, in some circumstances, require notice to the individuals so that they can take steps to protect and monitor against identity theft. Information regarding these issues is available at www.FTC.gov.”
Background checks or other inquiries are also a target for
potential security breaches. “We only provide minimal information, such as confirming whether or not the person was employed, dates of employment, job title and salary,” says Robin Gittrich, human resources consultant for Toppers Pizza, headquartered in Whitewater, Wisconsin.
Does your business monitor employees through visual or electronic means? Certain legal stipulations apply to these situations as well. “Visual monitoring is generally allowed in most states provided that employees are made aware that the monitoring is occurring, and so long as the monitoring is in public places (e.g., not in a dressing room or restroom),” says Gevertz. “Audio recording is likewise permissible, although video plus audio recording is prohibited under federal law absent extraordinary circumstances, as it constitutes a wiretap. The lawfulness of searching an employee’s property is so highly contingent on the circumstances (e.g., state law, whether the search is conducted on company property, the urgency of the search, the employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy, whether an existing policy is in place, whether all employees undergo the same search, etc.) that it is almost never a good idea to conduct such a search without prior legal clearance.”
The jury is still out on what constitutes private when it comes to the online world. “The law is developing and trying to keep up with social media,” says Tighe. “If an employee posts information on their Facebook page or blog about a supervisor, the law is unclear as to whether it is protected. If the Facebook page was not open to the public, and the employer obtained access surreptitiously, this could be unlawful. On the other hand, if the supervisor was a ‘friend’ of the employee, the access may be legitimate.”
Employees should be made aware of any and all policies pertaining to monitoring. “Toppers Pizza employees must assume that everything that is said over a company phone and everything that is written on a company computer is public,” says Gittrich. “The electronic equipment that we provide and its contents are owned by Toppers Pizza, and we have an electronic communications policy because we are concerned with protecting our confidential information and avoiding misuse of our electronic systems.”
We take privacy for granted, often underestimating its importance until it’s compromised. It’s important to have a managerial staff in place that is trustworthy, knowledgeable and well trained in privacy practices to prevent confidentiality breaches. “You have to have trust in your managers, but they are human too,” says Jeff Varasano, owner of Varasano’s Pizzeria in Atlanta, Georgia. Mistakes and crimes can and still do happen, and your business should be prepared to handle such instances.
“If you are proactive, you avoid 90 percent of problems, rather than waiting for it to happen,” adds Crowley. u
Lee Erica Elder is a freelance writer in NYC.
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
What exactly is soppressata? In a nutshell, it’s a form of dry- cured salami. A specialty of southern Italy, it is traditionally made using pork (beef is used on occasion). The basic seasonings include cracked red pepper and garlic. Depending on who is making it, some versions are hotter than others (in other words, more red pepper is used). Overall, I love the fragrant, spicy flavor of soppressata.
A number of Italian restaurants in Chicago use soppressata as part of a salumi (cured meats) and cheese platter. And when used as part of this style of antipasti platter, soppressata should be sliced thin (even thinner than pepperoni).
Speaking of pepperoni, soppressata works as a perfect stand-in or substitute for pepperoni –– it can be used on a pizza the same way you would use pepperoni. Romance it a bit, though, by saying something like “soppressata calabrese –– a spicy salami” on your toppings list. Test a few slices to see how much fat it throws off (some fat is a good thing, since it adds to the overall flavor) and if there is excessive “cupping.”
When I am replacing pepperoni with soppressata on a pizza, I find that a coarse chop works great. I scatter the chopped soppressata atop the cheese and across the pizza. It makes for a great presentation and a flavor that is hard to beat. Having said that, I should also point out that, on average, soppressata has a higher food cost than pepperoni.
Beyond using it for pizza, I also use it to kickstart a red sauce by sauteéing chopped soppressata in olive oil and crushed garlic. Then I add crushed all- purpose tomatoes, oregano and basil. That’s it! You’ve got a delicious, gently meaty red sauce.
Soppressata has a variety of uses beyond pizza or the aforementioned meats platter. Try using it in a sandwich, for example. Check out this Panini recipe and see what you think:
Yield: 8 sandwiches (scale up in direct proportion)
8 to 12 ounces (about 16 to 24 slices) thinly sliced soppressata (dry-cured Italian salami)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 thin slices prosciutto
8 thin slices fresh mozzarella
8 panini buns or rolls, toasted or grilled
1 cup roasted red bell pepper strips
16 large fresh basil leaves
In a nonstick sauté pan set over medium- high heat, fry the soppressata until lightly crisp and some fat has rendered, about 2 minutes per side. Remove it to a plate.
Lightly brush the buns or bread with extra-virgin olive oil.
Layer each bun this way: the soppressata, 2 slices prosciutto, 2 slices mozzarella, 2-3 strips of roasted red bell pepper strips on one slice of the bread. Top with the other slice and place the sandwich in the pan, pressing down on the sandwich with the palm of your hand. When that side is lightly toasted, about 3 to 4 minutes, flip the sandwich and toast the other side. (Alternatively, use a sandwich press or panini grill.)
Remove the sandwich to a cutting board and open the sandwich. Lay down four basil leaves on each sandwich. Close the sandwiches, then slice them in half to serve.
PASTA WITH SOPPRESSATA AND EGGPLANT
Yield: 4 servings (Scale up in direct proportion)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 eggplant (about 1 pound), trimmed and cut into ½-inch dice
1 cup chopped yellow onion
¼ pound soppressata in chunks about ¼-inch thick
3 cups canned plum tomatoes with juices
¼ teaspoon (or to taste) dried red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound farfalle pasta (or other short pasta such as penne, rigatoni)
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Rub a baking sheet or sheet pan with the olive oil. Arrange the eggplant in one layer on the pan. Sprinkle the onion over the eggplant. Roast the eggplant and onion for about 20 minutes until it is barely tender (can be prepared up to 2 hours ahead and held).
While the eggplant is roasting, make the sauce. In a large saute pan set over medium-high heat, cook and stir the soppressata until it throws off some fat and starts to crisp, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and red pepper flakes. Add the pepper. Simmer the sauce vigorously for about 20 minutes or until the sauce is reduced to about 2 cups (can be prepared several hours ahead and held).
Add the roasted eggplant and onions to the tomatoes. Turn the heat down to maintain a low, steady simmer.
Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water until it is al dente. Drain the pasta and turn it out into a large heated serving bowl. Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss to combine. Divide the pasta among four heated serving bowls. Top each serving with grated Parmesan cheese. u
Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.
PHOTOS BY RICK DAUGHERTY
Once a year, Los Angeles-based Rosti Tuscan Kitchen buys new shoes for kitchen employees at its two locations. As owner Kevin Goldfein sees it, it’s an investment in his staff that pays off.
Good shoes with non-slip soles prevent accidents, particularly falls, which can be common in a kitchen where oil and flour are used liberally. Goldfein orders the shoes from a specialty manufacturer of work shoes. They aren’t quite as attractive as street shoes, he says, but they do a much better job of taking care of his employees. “It’s function before form,” Goldfein says. “I think the small deterioration in style is certainly worth it, and they’re really not that bad. They’ve come out with some new styles and they’ve continued to improve on them over the years. Guests don’t even notice they’re special work shoes.”
For front of the house employees, Goldfein buys one pair initially, and then employees must pay for subsequent pairs. He requires slip-resistant shoes even for the waitstaff because they are often in the kitchen. Some even purchase orthopedic inserts for shoes, which increase the comfort of the shoes. The cost of the shoes comes out of pre-tax dollars from the employees’ paychecks, Goldfein says, giving them a little bit of a cost break. “We just want our employees to be safe,” he adds.
It may not seem to be the most pressing topic, but good shoes can make a big difference for the comfort and health of employees in a fast-paced workplace like a pizza restaurant. Ted Travis, marketing manager for TredSafe in Upland, California, says slip-and- fall accidents are among the largest liabilities a restaurant has. Restaurants “are very susceptible to floor contaminates from the public walking into the facility and bringing in snow, mud and water, and typically in the kitchen area, behind the counter, are contaminates like vegetable grease and oil and a combination of flour and water on the floor,” Travis says.
Shoe policies for a restaurant should include requiring closed-heel and closed-toe shoes, particularly in kitchens. “If someone drops a hot dish, you want to have the foot protected,” Travis says.
Goldfein also points out that when he has a workers’ compensation inspection at his restaurant, one of the questions he’s asked is if the staff is required to wear slip-resistant shoes – and he can confidently answer yes, giving him a discount on the insurance.
It’s also worth noting that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires that employers ensure that anyone whose feet are exposed to hazards or potential injuries from falling or rolling objects, electrical hazards or piercing the sole wear protective footwear, according to the Web site for O.S.H.A., which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor.
At L’asso in New York City, owner Robert Benevenga wears sneakers with a slip-resistant sole to get him through long days in the restaurant. His chefs make a different choice. “We have two chefs, a pastry and the main chef,” Benevenga explained. “The main chef likes to wear those wooden clogs that help support his lower back and keeps him standing up straight. I personally don’t like those. The other chef likes to wear (a slip-on shoe with an open heel, commonly marketed as Crocs).”
Because his restaurant is located in Manhattan, servers and front-house staff do tend to wear dressier shoes than they might in other areas of the country, Benevenga says. Most employees wear black shoes, as the shoes look dressier and work better with the restaurant’s décor, although he doesn’t require it. Benevenga added a no-exposed-toes rule after customers complained that they had no interest in seeing a server’s feet.
Benevenga doesn’t specifically require no-slip shoes, because he uses non-slip rubber mats throughout the work areas (although he does prefer it). He thinks more about the ergonomics of shoes than anything else in his own shoe selection.
“If you’re on your feet for 10 hour days, your feet will hurt you at the end of the day,” Benevenga says. “If people don’t have good arch support, it definitely could turn into a foot problem.”
Ergonomics are an important part of shoe selection, Travis says, and a good shoe should have plenty of arch support and be lightweight with a cushioned sole. An orthopedic insole, particularly one custom-designed, can provide huge benefits over the long term. That investment may be well worth it for those with back problems or for those working the longest hours, such as managers or owners. Over-the- counter insoles can provide a bit more cushioning, but really don’t do much long-term good for the feet or back, Travis says.
Travis cautions restaurant owners that shoe choice isn’t everything in preventing costly accidents. No shoe can be entirely slip-resistant. Good floor practices are still crucial. “There is no such thing as a shoe that is 100-percent slip-resistant,” Travis says. “Most slip-resistant shoe companies have a disclaimer. It’s impossible to provide.” Robyn Davis Sekula is a longtime contributor to Pizza Today. She lives in New Albany, Indiana.
When you’re shopping for employee shoes, pay attention to the details, says Ted Travis, marketing manager for TredSafe, a manufacturer of workplace shoes. Look for the following characteristics:
u Leather construction uppers. Shoes with vinyl uppers keep the foot from breathing, and are more inclined to trap bacteria.
u Slip-resistant. Sole design and special rubber compound are the elements that make a shoe more resistant to falls.
u Oil-resistant. This refers to the top of the shoe, and indicates dropping oil on it won’t stain it.
u Arch support. Proper construction will support the entire foot, but particularly the arch.
u Mark II F-177 tested. This indicates that the shoe’s slip- resistant qualities are effective both when dry substances are spilled as well as wet.
u Anti-microbial footbed. Wicks away moisture and prevents bacteria from growing.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
Don’t make your accountant the bookkeeper. Keep the books yourself, or hire someone, so that the accountant can come in and work with the summaries.
One possibility is that the accountant trains a staffer to keep the books. This separation of paperwork and interpretation will save you quite a bit of money.
Pay estimates on time. Estimated taxes are an educated guess at how much taxes you will owe at the end of the year. If you don’t put in enough estimates, you will be penalized. So be sure to put in, on the due dates –– April 15, June 15, September 15, and January 15 –– 100 percent of what you will owe, or not less than 90 percent of last year’s tax liability. If you comply, you won’t be penalized. But the penalty isn’t the worst problem. It’s easy to get behind the eight ball at tax time, making it hard to catch up.
Set up a home office in your home and obtain a write-off. Since millions of employees work at home, this is now a commonplace strategy. It is no longer a red flag. Most could comply by setting up a desk in a room and using it to do paperwork regularly and exclusively. The home office deduction allows one to deduct a percent of home costs (mortgage, taxes, insurance, maintenance/ repairs, and depreciation) as a personal deduction on Schedule A. The percent is determined by the home office square footage divided by total house square footage. So if it costs $30,000 to maintain a house and your home office calculation is 15 percent, you have a $4,500 deduction.
Because of your home office, you can now take all commuter mileage. Commuting back and forth from work is generally not a deduction. But because your home office is now your principal place of business, all miles to and from count. So if you drive 30 round-trip miles six days a week, that’s about 9,000 commuting miles a year, which would result in a $5,000 expense.
Include travel that could be business related. Go to conventions? Attend association meetings? Visit other pizza shops? Do you combine business with pleasure on vacations? Some of the expenses associated with this travel could be deductible, as long as there is a business component. So if you take a road trip, but visit several pizza shops, some of the cost could be a travel expense. Your accountant should make the determination. For example, only your portion of cost could be included as an expense, not your spouse’s.
Use Section 179 to take full capital deductions up to $250,000. Purchase new ovens? Buy expensive equipment? The costs can be allocated over time (usually five to seven years) or can be, through Section 179, taken in full in the year of purchase. So if you’re showing too much profit, you might reduce the sum by taking off 100 percent of the capital purchase. It’s a judgment call between your cash flow needs this year and anticipated profits in the future.
Hire your children and gain a write-off. You could hire your children, pay them up to $5,750, take out Social Security, but they wouldn’t have to pay income taxes because the amount is under the standard deduction. In this way, the company receives a write-off, and your children learn the value of hard work.
Of course, they do have to work.
Re-examine the rent vs. own decision of your property. Times change. What was a prudent decision a few years ago might be foolhardy now. If you’ve owned the property for years, this might be a good time to sell, and arrange for a long-term rental contract. If you’ve been renting, building values are really low today. This might be a perfect time to buy, and increase your deductions. It pays to sit down every few years and re-examine this issue.
Search for other expenses. If you search through your checkbook, you will probably find other deductions. Such charges as professional subscriptions, Rotary membership, taking staffers out to eat, helping employees in other ways, and donating pizzas for town races and the like are often overlooked.
Take advantage of the self-employed health insurance deduction. Now, self-employed owners are allowed to deduct 100 percent of their health insurance premiums. It appears as a deduction in the adjusted gross income section of your 1040. This is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of income, so it is not to be missed. Of course, if you’re incorporated, your health insurance will be a fully deductible expense.
Have your accountant explain the income and balance statements. Don’t just write a check. Make your financial expert show you why profits were down, what the depreciation charge consists of, or why utilities were 25 percent above last year’s. In the after-tax review, arrive with a list of questions. Should I open a second shop? Am I over-paying my crew? What would I gain by offering delivery? Is a store make-over cost-effective?
Ask what else the accountant can do for you. Remember, your accountant is also a savvy businessman. Can he help you hire a key manager? Does he have any advice on resolving an employee dispute? If his clients include other pizza shops, can he print out a comparative evaluation without revealing names? Would he help you set up an ownership group? Might he advise you on your retirement planning? Does he have advice for the difficult divorce you’re going through? Tap all of your accountant’s knowledge.
Do all this and you’ll get your money’s worth at tax time. u
Massachusetts-based Howard Scott is a long-time tax preparer specializing in small businesses. He is also a writer who has published 1,400 magazine articles and four books.
Photos By Josh Keown
We rolled up to Denino’s Pizza Tavern –– an unassuming pizzeria in a working-class neighborhood on Staten Island –– at about two on a bright Wednesday afternoon. A few regulars peppered the granite countertop, and we took seats at a high table overlooking the street.
This is a no-delivery, cash-only place with a long and storied history. First opened as a pool hall, it started serving beer in 1933 after the repeal of Prohibition. Within four years, Denino’s was operating as a full-service bar.
Pizza was added in 1951 –– much to the delight of locals. Since then, it has won local and national acclaim and has even been Zagat-rated.
We kept our order simple at Denino’s, opting for a large classic margherita, a beer, a glass of Chianti and a couple of sodas. What we got was close to a perfect meal. The Denino family uses the same formula on which the pizza was founded. The crust here is crispy but tender, and the sauce is sweet. There’s not an overabundance of cheese, but rather dollops of fresh mozzarella that melt to perfection.
Aside from their classic margherita, sausage is a favorite. Looking for something gourmet? Denino’s can do that, too, with toppings ranging from broccoli raab to meatballs and fresh peppers.
In 2007, Denino’s won a coveted AOL award for “City’s Best” pizza for all the boroughs, a feat they repeated in 2008.
Last year, Denino’s made a big decision –– to open a new location in Bricktownship, New Jersey. Denino’s South now offers a taste of Staten Island to the Garden State.
Joe & Pat’s
From the outside, Joe & Pat’s Pizzeria is spartan –– the striped awning claims that the restaurant was
established in 1960, but there’s little else glaring about this Staten Island mainstay. Yet, this pizzeria is literally a staple in the NYC pizza scene. Sure, there’s pizza by the slice, but the dining room –– dressed in Greecian garb –– appeals to families and groups alike.
It was at another SI pizza establishment that we were told by a bartender to “go to Joe & Pat’s, but don’t tell anybody I said that.” Here, we saw diners looking
beyond the pie to enjoy veal Parmesan and grilled snapper, but it was pizza we were after. We asked our server what the restaurant was known for but her
response –– “everything!” –– didn’t narrow down our field of choices (and yes, we admit we had to Google scungilli in order to rule it out). We settled on a half-pepperoni, half-spinach and were delighted with the thin, chewy, slightly charred oversized pie we received.
Delivery is available, and we saw several runs going out during the rush hour. The dining room is ample, and there’s a designated waiting area –– less common among the famous NYC pizzerias. And yes, Joe & Pat’s is also Zagat-rated, a feat they proudly display in-house.
Goodfella’s was last on our Staten Island tour of pizzerias, but founder Scot Cosentino welcomed us in with open arms –– and a piping hot order of fried mozzarella, glasses of wine and beer. We left the ordering to this Brooklyn native, who opened his pizzeria in 1992.
What we got was was a half-and-half, a combination of two of the restaurant’s award-winning pizzas. The pizza alla vodka hails back to the restaurant’s opening and features Goodfella’s tomato cream vodka sauce, seasoned fresh mushrooms, peas and prosciutto di Parma. The second half ––
divided nicely by a braid of dough –– was the Smoking Goodfella, which we recognized from its first place honors at the International Pizza Challenge in 2007. It’s not common that a half-and-half comes out of an oven so perfectly. We have to give props to Goodfella’s brick oven, which takes center stage in its dining room.
On a Wednesday night, the place was packed, and we saw a multitude of demographics –– from tiny tots clutching chewy crusts to a group celebrating girls’ night out. It’s good the menu transcends traditional pizza and pasta –– Goodfella’s has a taste for everyone.
Just steps away from the famed Staten Island Ferry is Pier 76, a relatively new foray into the Staten Island pizza scene. Aside from its excellent location on busy Bay Street, Pier 76 boasts a wide delivery area –– a novelty on the NYC pizza circuit.
The bar is hoppin’. It brings in live music on the weekend and hosts nightly drink specials. There’s a separate carryout window for pizza by the slice. Meanwhile, inside the dining room, tables are
covered with traditional checkered tablecloths.
The bartender-cum-server took our order promptly –– an order of spicy hot wings and a 16-inch pepperoni pizza. What we got was a set of wings drenched perfectly in buffalo sauce and a geneous side of bleu cheese and Ranch dressings.
The pizza itself was more on the traditional side –– a bit chewier than thin crust. The small pepperoni curled under the heat of the ovens. Still, the menu boased a suprisingly large array of appetizers ranging from Italian antipasto to entrées like the baby lamb chops (really? In a pizzeria?) and veal alla Milanese.
Still, paper plates and napkins and a laid-back atmosphere prove Pier 76 isn’t into fuss.
Lee’s Tavern is known as something of a local hangout (there’s no sign outside), the kind of place where a pint and a pizza seem to go hand-in-hand. The white clam pie is legendary here and “well worth the wait,” according to online reviews.
You won’t be innundated with choices –– Lee’s sticks to tried and true Italian favorites. Pizza is available in a large and a smaller bar size (which is just perfect for one).
Lee’s pizza is chewy, charred and fresh. And although we didn’t try the calamari, it gets rave reviews. We especially like that the prices –– in a city where an entrée can top out at $40 or more –– are affordable at less than $15.
Beyond the bar is a separate dining room that is employed by families and groups alike. Private dining is available –– a novelty for most pizzerias, but especially so in NYC and its boroughs, where space is a premium.
Better tuck away that plastic, too –– this is a cash-only establishment.
While Nunzio’s is a bit off the beaten path, Staten Island residents rank it among the top offerings in the borough. A mainstay since 1943, Nunzio’s features the requisite thin crust pizza, the kind that locals rave about. There’s a McDonald’s across the street, but why choose boring chain food over a true Italian pizzeria? Nunzio’s mixes it up a bit by using cubed mozzarella and a slightly peppery, acidic tomato sauce. It’s a refreshing departure from the sweet sauces used at other establishments.
Like many of its Staten Island counterparts, Nunzio’s is no nonsense, specializing in pizza by the slice and offerings crafted from family recipes. Key ingredients here include San Marzano tomatoes, fresh basil and a hint of olive oil, all of which add a delicate flavor. And the chewy crust keeps customers coming back year after year.
Slices reign supreme at this fast-casual pizzeria known for its by-the-slice offerings (bring cash –– here’s another spot that doesn’t accept credit cards). Slices aren’t all Brother’s can do, though –– with six well-worn deck ovens, they’re able to push out pan, Sicilian, Grandma (yum!) and thin-crust pies alike. It’s the Sicilian that locals rave about, a departure from the oversized thin-crust slices offered all over the region.
The second generation of the Italian-born Giove family mans the helm at today’s Brother’s, which
operates just a block away from its original location. The company celebrated its 35th anniversary last year by hosting three days of opening-day prices. While word-of-mouth advertising is the bread and butter of places like Brother’s. It certainly doesn’t hurt to create newsworthy events that bring in locals and new customers alike!
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
Very early in my career I was referred to as a “pizza boy.” After about a year of learning the ropes, you earned the title of “pizza man” –– or washed out. The difference was a couple of thousand hours of being the gopher, grunt, zip, trainee, etc. The attrition rate was very high. The instructors would rival a career boot camp drill instructor. They weren’t into explaining much. No coddling, no excuses. This wasn’t Namsie-Pamsie Land. Verbal and physical abuse was totally expected. If you couldn’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. International chef Gordon Ramsey is a gentle soul compared to my bosses. This was Detroit, Michigan, circa the late 1960s, the birthplace of many of the baddest and best pizza independents and chains found anywhere, even to this day. The business was so intense that you had to keep up –– or get out of the way. We opened at 4 p.m. and closed at 2 a.m. on weekends –– 600-minute shifts. We consistently made 300 to 400 pies an evening, in deck ovens, all hand-tossed, no sheeters or machines. I had found my calling, and I loved it.
After my first year, I had graduated from high school and was spotted by the franchise owner and offered a position at the flagship training shop. I got a little raise and was working in a management trainee role. This place was the launching spot for new operators.
One day, as I was setting up the pizza line the owner of the franchise, my immediate boss, had a quickie stand-up meeting with me. He told me that he had counted how many pizzas I made from one tub of cheese. His calculation was I was only making 30 pizzas from a tub rather than the ideal of 40. He quickly demonstrated how he wanted it done by free-throwing cheese on a few pizzas. End of training lesson.
I was taken aback and scared. I really wanted to please this guy. He was in control of my immediate future. I wanted to own my own location. He could make it happen for this poor boy from the ’burbs. I thought to myself, “How am I supposed to put the exact amount of cheese on every pizza to keep my job?” After all, I was making a buck and a half a week. My boss told me his expectations but didn’t totally explain how I was supposed to do it. It took me the next 20 years to solve the problem. It hit me when a fellow pizza restaurant owner and board member of the Michigan Restaurant Association showed me his solution to the problem of consistent portioning of cheese, every pizza, every time.
Alex turned me on to his method of pre-weighing out cheese into rubber cups. This was a daily function of prep, just like weighing out dough balls. He estimated how many pizzas he was going to sell, pre-loaded the appropriate number of cups and refrigerate them until he needed to restock the make line. No more loose cheese or free throwing. It was too easy. I adapted this method into Big Dave’s Pizza over the next month and never looked back. This one, simple, hands-on lesson realistically reduced my cheese purchases by 20 percent a week. That newfound extra $200 to $300 a week made all the difference in my profitability. Since then, I have shared this system with hundreds of operators. I have tucked rubber cups in my luggage and carried them from coast to coast and around the world. I was flattered when a premier cheese manufacturer borrowed my idea and made their own version of cheese portion cups available to their customers.
For the last 20 years, I have made it my mission to simplify operations, reduce food cost significantly and help operators make more than just a living.
This year at International Pizza Expo, I promise to teach you in a hands- on setting how to grasp how important weights and measures are. This will be the theme of most of my Expo seminars and workshops this year. I’ll have something for those who are entertaining opening their first shop and those who have been working harder for less and less lately, as well as some new tricks for old grizzly pizza boys and girls like me.
What happens in Vegas this year could profoundly impact your future. I guarantee it. 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 and leads seminars on operational topics for the family of Pizza Expo tradeshows.
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
Planning ahead for how you’ll accommodate big groups saves time and prevents confusion. Having a system in place for seating parties of six or more can eliminate chaos in your dining room and add to your word-of-mouth marketing success. Not having an approach spells trouble. Whether you opt for allowing reservations, calling ahead or you endeavor to make waiting for a table fun, being prepared means you’ll attract more customers and generate added revenue.
“We like reservations,” says Chef Michael Bologna, co-owner of Vingenzo’s in Woodstock, Georgia. “But we do ask that all of the party be present before seating, so we can use that table ahead of time, if need be.”
Bologna explained that he and his partner arrived at this solution through trial and error. Without reservations, customers kept piling up at the door, he recalled. Because all the menu items at Vingenzo’s are made from scratch and take longer to prepare, there was usually a wait for a table.
“We wanted what worked best for our customer and for our property,” says Bologna. “We got a great deal of feedback from our customers.”
Reservations won out.
Onesto Pizza in St. Louis, Missouri, “only takes reservations for parties of six or more, and that works for us,” says owner Michele Racanelli. “Otherwise, taking reservations can become a full time job.”
The staff at Onesto’s encourages bigger parties to come earlier to avoid the dinner rush. They can even preorder the antipasto plate so they have food right away. If people do have to wait, they are given free canapés and have a good view of the kitchen staff throwing pizza dough.
Home Run Inn, with eight pizzerias in the Chicago area, doesn’t take reservations, but instead encourages patrons with larger groups to call ahead and let the hostess know when they are coming. She gives them a time by which they need to arrive and holds the table until then. If it’s close to that time, she calls to see if they are still on their way.
Once you’ve decided on a plan, you need to get the word out to your regular customers so they are not surprised. Bologna sends out a weekly e-mail blast and reminds regulars about Vingenzo’s reservation policy and that calling ahead is encouraged. That information is also on the pizzeria’s Web site.
“When groups come in without reservations, we let them know about our policy of taking reservations for six or more,” says Racanelli.
Home Run Inns prints information about calling ahead on flyers and their business cards, plus servers and hostesses mention it to groups.
If you’re opening a new pizzeria or redesigning what you have, thinking about your configuration of tables and booths can make the seating of groups easier. Home Run Inns’ dining rooms were designed with 80 percent drop- leaf tables (and 20 percent booths) that can quickly be moved to accommodate larger parties.
Bologna says most of his restaurant’s tables are rectangular two-top or four- tops with a couple of eight-tops.
“Sometimes we can get large groups in if we split their tables –– seating half the party at one table and half at another –– not side by side,” says Bologna.
Because Racanelli planned for big parties before opening her pizzeria, she chose banquette seating and moveable tables to begin with.
If you decide to go the reservation route, make sure your staff is trained in how to take reservations, says Racanelli. Otherwise, you take the chance that an employee will write the reservation on a scrap of paper, get busy and forget to write it in the reservation book. Then, when the party arrives, there’s no table for them, leaving you to scramble to accommodate them. Not good.
“In the beginning, think about whether you want to cater to large parties or not,” says Costello. “Restaurants focusing on single-serve, upscale gourmet menu items may not want big groups, and some kitchens aren’t designed to handle them either.”
Customers like to know what’s going on, says Bologna. If they understand what’s going on and why, they will try to help you out. If they’re left in the dark, they draw their own conclusions (and not necessarily the right ones).
“If the wait is going to be 35 minutes, tell them that, but try to exceed their expectations and seat them in 25 minutes,” says Bologna. “Give your customer the most pleasurable experience they can have.” u
Heather Larson is a freelance writer in Tacoma, Washington, who frequently writes for trade publications.
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