A few years ago I would have said that it was a novelty that we wouldn’t be talking about by now. I didn’t understand it. Boy, was I wrong. Once I started to get requests to assist new and old locations that wanted to get into the Neapolitan game, I knew that this was the real deal and was here to stay. But I was under-qualified to help. Though I’d eaten and enjoyed Neapolitan pizza in the U.S. and Italy, I didn’t have the basics down.
So I went to Tony Gemignani’s International School of Pizza in San Francisco and went through a very hands-on course. Since then I have helped open several wood-burning operations and have two more slated to open by the end of this year.
The beauty of Neapolitan pizza? It’s likely that no one is doing it well in your area yet. It raises the bar so high that competition is discouraged. I truly think that in the right demographic area, hand-crafted, artisan, Neapolitan pizza is indeed the next big thing.
I’m getting tired of working more and more and making less and less. I’ve watched my sales steadily drop since the major chains in my town started offering $5 to $10 pizza deals. How did you compete against them?
Hey, Luke. Many years ago I was taught to make great pizza. I was (and still am) quality driven. Right after Pizza Today did the first nationwide survey, Big Dave’s Pizza was ranked the 25th busiest independent operation in the country. Within a month, company came to town in the form of a major chain! They were offering the world’s fastest delivery as well as a low price.
After they opened, I was absolutely sure my long-standing customers would not forsake me after one taste of my new competitors. I was dead wrong! I watched as my sales started going south. I knew that if I didn’t change my ways (I was the slowest and most expensive in town), I would suffer both financially and emotionally. So I decided to go for broke and became a guerrilla marketing maniac.
I hired in as a driver at 40 years old and worked long enough to understand my competition’s operations. I gave my notice and within a week or so I reconfigured my kitchen layout. I then instituted a high sense of urgency in every aspect of my operation.
My next step was to standardize sizes and get an iron grip on portioning. Once I started weighing cheese and implementing portion control scales on the make line, I was ready to rumble.
Lastly, I decided to use my competitor’s unique selling propositions (USPs) against them. After I got a grip on my portioning, I decided I was in a position to match all published pricing by accepting anyone’s coupons or offers. I got the word out with a big splash in all the local media outlets, then I sat back and waited.
Four years later, the fast delivery operation gave up and closed down. It seemed they couldn’t deal with a competitor who guaranteed 20-29 minute delivery. Three independents also threw in the towel. I had increased my market share substantially.
Big Dave Ostrander owned a highly successful independent pizzeria before becoming a consultant, speaker and internationally sought-after trainer. monthlycontributor to Pizza Today.
Don’t look for scuffed paint, worn window blinds or broken tile at Milton’s Pizza and Pasta, a 28-year-old pizzeria with dining rooms that still look like new. A regular schedule of dining room renovation and maintenance helps keep them that way.
“We want to keep the restaurants fresh and current, so we have a hard and fast rule that we’re not going to go past five years without doing (updates to) carpet and paint. We do anything décor-related,” says Jeff Janik, owner of Milton’s, which has two locations in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Robert Giambanco, owner of Guiseppe’s Pizzeria and Italian Cuisine in Sebastian, Florida, follows a 10-year schedule for doing major refurbishing of his dining room. Like many operators of established pizzerias, Janik and Giambanco know that keeping customers coming back means not just serving good pizza, but meeting their expectations for providing a well-maintained, attractive place to eat.
Time frames may vary, but establishing a regular renovation schedule is one way that many pizzeria owners make sure their dining rooms don’t fall into disrepair or look out-of-date. Though five years is the maximum he will go without freshening the décor, Janik is open to launching a renovation project before that deadline rolls around, particularly if he believes it will boost his business.
That’s what happened with his most recent $400,000 dining room renovation that was finished a year ago and includes new paint, seating, carpet and a bar.
“If we can see a way to do things better we won’t wait,” says Janik of the project that was spurred when he noticed other restaurants had opened nearby with bars that serve mixed drinks. Janik felt he needed to renovate to compete.
“We didn’t want not having a bar to be a reason for people to say, ‘Let’s not go to Milton’s,’” he says.
The renovation took three months and the square footage in the dining room was increased from 4,500 to 6,000 square feet. The work was done mostly at night and during off-hours. He didn’t even consider temporarily shuttering the restaurant during the project and reopening it with a celebration.
“I can’t stand the thought of closing the business down,” he says. “I can’t stand the idea of giving people an opportunity to try another restaurant. Once people change their dining habits, they’re changed forever.”
Giambanco also kept his restaurant open during most of his dining room renovation completed a year ago. “We did most of it after-hours,” he says. “I think we closed for about a week.”
Janik and Giambanco say customers at each of their restaurants watched the progress of the renovations taking place with interest. “We closed a section of the dining room down and had tarp over it,” Janik says. “Our guests were excited to see the process themselves.”
Lou Ilibasic, a project manager for Kicon, a restaurant contracting firm in Addison, Illinois, agrees it is usually best not to shut a restaurant down for a project, simply because owners usually need the cash flow.
In some cases, however, he says it can make sense. He cited as an example a restaurant his company worked on that had a name and reputation that had gone downhill because the owner had not invested in upkeep. In that case, the restaurant closed during the project and, to make sure people noticed the dramatic changes that were made, reopened with a bang.
Ilibasic’s tips for doing a dining room renovation also include being sure to choose a commercial contractor who is used to accommodating clients by working at night or other off-hours to get the project done in a timely manner.
To save time, Ilibasic says it’s also important for pizzeria operators to know before they go into the project how much they want to spend and have an idea of the look or ambience they want to create. Working with a contractor who specializes in renovating restaurants can help with the choice of materials and finishes.
“You can come in with a tile you like and I can say, ‘OK. Here’s one in a similar color and look, but it will be easier to clean and it has grit in it so people won’t slip,’” Ilibasic says.
Another way to reduce costs is by working with a kitchen supply company that will create a kitchen and dining room layout for the owner who also buys their new chairs, tables or appliances from that company. When shopping for what will go into the renovation, Janik and Giambanco agree it’s important to keep an eye on the bottom line.
“Make sure you shop frugally for everything. Nothing is cheap. It’s just as expensive as opening a whole new restaurant,” says Giambanco, noting that his renovation cost $300,000. Besides dining room improvements, it included adding an outdoor patio and updating the kitchen.
Despite the cost, he says his business has increased since the dining room renovation and he — along with his customers –– are pleased with how it turned out.
“People are ecstatic,” he says. “I have people still telling me a year later, ‘Wow. It looks great.’”
Annemarie Mannion is a freelance writer living in the Chicago area. She specializes in business and health stories.
I’m not hard to please when it comes to a pizzeria menu … I don’t think. When I take my family out for pizza, there are just a few things I really want to see available to me (aside from the pizza, of course): wings, a children’s menu and milk. I know the last one may sound a little crazy, so let me start there. I have a two-year-old. He likes milk. His body needs milk. I want you to have it when I dine in your pizza shop. Pretty simple, right? Maybe not. Maybe I’m the only one who orders milk. Maybe it isn’t worth your time to inventory it. I’m interested to hear from you on this topic. E-mail me and let me know.
As for the children’s menu …
Yes, most little ones love pizza. In fact, I get a cheese pizza for the kids and my two boys are happy. However, on occasion, my six-year-old decides he wants spaghetti when we go out for pizza. At times, my two-year-old wants mac-and-cheese instead. If those aren’t available, we don’t walk out — we tell the kids to suck it up and eat the pizza. But the place that gets our repeat business most often happens to offer a great children’s menu. It’s no coincidence that we frequent this shop.
And let’s not forget the wings, please. To me, this is a no-brainer for the appetizer section. I typically order breadsticks, because I flat-out love them. But I also love wings, and I never pass on them when they’re available. Have them on your menu and enjoy the incremental sales — at least from me, anyway.
Finally, there’s pizza. As much as I love some really off-the-wall pizzas, the fact is that I’m a creature of habit. About 40 percent of the time I opt for nothing more fancy than pepperoni. About 40 percent of the time I order a “supreme.” The remaining 20 percent I split between BBQ Chicken, Thai pizza or any other interesting combination that catches my attention. Of course, everyone is different. Our Man on the Street, Scott Weiner, tells you on page 20 what he wants to see, as a consumer, when he walks into your pizzeria. Unlike me, he doesn’t have to take children into the equation when he dines out. Like me, though, he really isn’t that hard to please.
Your customers know what they want. The success of your business hinges on whether or not you can give them what they want. Keep that in mind when you plan your next menu.
SLICE OF HOPE:
Lastly, Slice of Hope is this month. Though we finish the bike ride on October 7th, there’s still plenty of time to join the fight and make a donation to the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation. If you can, please pledge a percentage of your sales from October 7th. If you’re reading this after the 7th — no problem. The Foundation can take your tax-deductible donation in any amount at any time. So whether your pizzeria has $50 or $5,000 to give to a great cause, visit PizzaToday.com and click on the Slice of Hope icon. There, you’ll be able to fill out a donation form or purchase t-shirts.
Jeremy White, editor-in-chief
Photo by Josh Keown
Our mixer finally crashed and we got a 40-quart vertical cutter mixer (VCM) to replace it. How does this mixer compare against our old 80-quart mixer?
A: The first thing to know about the VCM is that it has a much higher mixing speed. The two-speed models mix at 1750 RPM at low speed and at 3500 RPM at high speed. Single-speed models mix only at 1750 RPM. In most cases, only the 1750 RPM speed is used for dough mixing. This high speed mixing means that the mixing times will be a lot shorter, typically in the 70- to 90-second range, and due to the high speed mixing, dough heating may be a problem.
To address the dough temperature issue, we suggest that you have a five-gallon bucket of ice water at hand, and between doughs, fill the mixing bowl with the ice water, then pour it back into the bucket when you’re ready to add the ingredients for your next dough. The short mixing time can pose a problem for those using instant dry yeast (IDY), as the mixing time is not sufficiently long enough to fully hydrate the yeast or properly incorporate it into the dough. For this reason, IDY should be hydrated in 95 F water for
10 minutes prior to addition to the dough (I like to add it directly to the dough water after hydration).
If you are using active dry yeast (ADY), you have to hydrate it anyway, so there won’t be any change for your normal handling procedure. If you use fresh, compressed yeast, we suggest adding the yeast to the dough water in the mixing bowl, then running the mixer for a couple seconds to fully suspend the yeast throughout the dough water. The remainder of dough ingredients can then be added.
VCMs come with two different mixing attachments. One is flat, looking something like an airplane propeller, while the other one is curved, and sharp on the leading edges. The flat mixing attachment is the correct one to use when mixing dough, while the sharp, curved one is correct for cutting or chopping applications. To assess the correct mixing time when going from a planetary mixer to a VCM, mix the dough just long enough to achieve a smooth appearing skin on the dough. Unlike with other dough mixers, it is easy to over mix a pizza dough in a VCM, so proceed cautiously, making adjustments in mixing time in increments of not more than five or 10 seconds. By following these basic guidelines, the VCM should work well for you.
What is your opinion of spiral dough mixers?
A: I think spiral mixers are the greatest things since sliced pizza. They are highly efficient and mix the dough well with essentially the same total mixing times as a typical planetary mixer when using second speed. In addition, they will mix doughs from full-size (whatever is appropriate for the mixer) to as small as 25 percent of full capacity.
Because of this, I always suggest to buyers that they purchase a mixer a little larger than what they think they need. The mixer will then have the needed capacity to meet future growth demands. These can mix a relatively large amount of dough with a fairly small power draw, making them highly efficient. They also have a footprint that isn’t much larger than most 80-quart planetary mixers, so they are not difficult to fit into most shops. The larger mixers will typically have a removable bowl on wheels, allowing the bowl to be moved around the shop. However, most of the smaller size spiral mixers don’t have this feature, so the dough will need to be removed from the mixer and manually transported to the work area for cutting and balling.
Most shops using spiral mixers address this issue by simply installing the mixer as close as possible to the cutting bench, as this allows them to easily cut dough from the bowl and toss it onto the bench for cutting as needed. A handy feature that I would like to see more often on spiral mixers of all sizes is a removable drain plug in the bowl.
To clean a spiral mixer, we typically pour some hot water into the bowl and then cover it with a sheet of plastic, allowing the bowl to be steamed, thus softening any dough residue in the bowl. After steaming for about
15 minutes, the bowl can be scrubbed using a nylon bristle pot brush. The bowl is then rinsed and sanitized. A drain plug makes cleaning the mixer a bit easier by allowing the wash water, rinse water and sanitizer to be simply drained from the bowl by placing a bucket under the drain plug and removing the plug. Without a drain plug, you will need to bail the water out of the bowl like bailing a sinking boat.
So why don’t we see more spiral mixers used in pizzerias? It’s probably because they don’t have any provision for changing the agitator; hence, you can’t mix sauce in them. They also don’t have an attachment hub, so you can’t install an attachment for chopping, grinding or slicing to the mixer. But if you’re looking to update your dough mixer, and you can keep your old planetary mixer to do the sauce and cutting chores, a spiral mixer might be just the ticket.
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
I’ve got some exciting news to share with you regarding next year’s International Pizza Expo®, which is slated for March 13-15 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. I’m pleased to announce we’ve lined up two of the pizza industry’s most influential and recognizable personalities to jump-start your day and provide you with motivation and insight. This year our featured keynote speakers will be Nick Sarillo, founder and CEO of Nick’s Pizza & Pub in Crystal Lake, Illinois, and Marla Topliff, president of Rosati’s Pizza in Elgin, Illinois.
In the mid-1990s, after 12 years in custom homebuilding, Nick decided to change career tracks and go into the pizza business. Rather than build a typical stand-alone pizzeria, Nick procured hand-hewn, 100-year-old beams and boards rescued from nearby Midwestern dairy barns and based his new building on a California horse barn he had seen. Not quite a barn, not quite a lodge, Nick’s Pizza & Pub is a place where family and friends can enjoy great pizza in a friendly atmosphere. The Sarillo-built, antique-stuffed and animal-filled 9,000 square-foot pizzeria now brings in well over $3 million a year in revenue and is paired with a second high-volume location, opened in 2005, in the nearby Chicago suburb of Elgin.
Nick grew up in foodservice. His dad owned a small beef stand in Chicago and later made pizza in the suburbs; Nick worked for his father throughout high school. In fact, he still uses his father’s tried and true old world sausage and sauce recipes. Beyond its family-style menu, the company stands out for an employee culture built on the tenets of “trust and track” –– educating workers on what it takes to make Nick’s pizzeria profitable and then trusting them to help grow the company. Nick’s stores have an employee turnover rate of just 20 percent and net operating profit runs about 14 percent a year. These numbers are a testament to the success of this unique strategy.
Dubbed the “Blue-Collar Millionaire” by Inc. magazine for his carpenter-to-restaurateur rise, Nick is writing a new book, A Slice of the Pie, which is sure to be a bestseller when it’s released in the summer of 2012.
Family-owned Rosati’s Pizza, headquartered in suburban Chicago, has undergone tremendous growth in the past decade. Marla Topliff has spearheaded Rosati’s growth from 60 stores in 1999 to the 170-unit, $150 million national brand that it is today.
Marla brings a unique perspective to the pizza industry, having cut her teeth in two unexpected educational settings: first as a Parent Teacher Association group leader and then in Welcome Wagon, where she rose to the position of national sales manager. “You do a lot of listening,” is how she describes those training grounds, and she’s carried that skill forward in working as the buffer between franchisees and vendors, ownership and franchisees and other parties involved in Rosati’s. She supervises all aspects of marketing, customer service, vendor relationships and store communications.
Her keynote will describe in detail the pivotal role of marketing and branding in the carryout and delivery niche. She makes that point to struggling franchisees by offering to visit their stores and find significant ways to cut expenses, if they’ll then reinvest those savings in marketing. She helps focus Rosati’s branding campaign on compelling stories about the family and its pizza and sees value in advertising in both new and non-traditional media. “The real secret of branding is in the message,” Marla says, “not in the vehicle you choose to deliver it.”
As a female pioneer in the upper echelons of pizza-industry management, she’ll also address the challenges and rewards that can come with being a woman in what has been a male-dominated field.
For more information on Pizza Expo or to register, please call (800) 489-8324, or visit our Web site at www.PizzaExpo.com.
John M. Parlet is owner and founder of John’s Incredible Pizza Company Inc. The company operates 11 family entertainment restaurants in California.
Q: What is the Incredible Achievement Scholarship Award and how does it fit into your overall employee-relations initiatives?
A: It is a program we designed to recognize and reward the accomplishments of our team members who set high goals for themselves, serve our communities, and work hard to deliver an Incredible Experience for our guests every day. The criteria for our scholarship program states that team member candidates possess an outstanding work ethic both in the store and in the classroom and have demonstrated incredible character, dedication and vision through academic activities and community leadership. Candidates are also required to submit an essay, 250 words or less, on any topic — experience, person, place or thing — that they feel is truly ‘Incredible.’ We are extraordinarily proud of our team and aware of this team’s potential out there in our communities as well as within the company.
Q: In addition to VIP, kids and e-mail clubs, you have a business club … how do you attract a business lunch crowd to a buffet-style entertainment center?
A: We are constantly looking for new ways to attract the business lunch crowd. The fast and fresh convenience of our buffet coupled with the variety our themed dining rooms offer lend well to this group, while entertainment is the ice breaker for more focused business events. We are currently developing new programs to round out our business meeting and team building event packages and illustrate the convenience of having it all: fully equipped meeting rooms, fresh food, variety, value, and fun — all under one roof.
Q: What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in opening multiple locations?
A: One of the lessons learned is that it is critical to make sure you have the right people manning the new locations. We believe having people that share our passion and values is the most important part of a successful expansion program.
Q: The Beaverton, California, location's March opening marks the first new store since partnering with Philadelphia-based venture capital firm H.Katz Capital Group. What are your expansion plans for John's Incredible Pizza?
A: We plan on opening up to three stores a year for the next several years.
Q: With 11 locations, what kind of staff management system do you have in place for so many employees?
A: We operate each location with a management team of five –– a store director and four department heads –– with each location having around 200 employees reporting to the various department heads.
With so many options available, upgrading or replacing a floor can be overwhelming. But, if an operator can identify the needs of the restaurant, flooring can be a perfect reflection of design and function.
“Restaurant floors should be planned and designed with practicality and safety as the top considerations,” says Restaurant Consultant Aaron Allen.
Allen recommends operators look for flooring that has easy to clean surfaces, high/durable base boards, is accessible to surface cleaning tools, holds up to chips and cracks, is resistant to stains and fading and offers a guarantee or warranty for its lifespan.
“Flooring at the restaurant entrance will have different considerations than flooring under the fry line in the kitchen, where oils are likely to splash and spill,” Allen says. “Carpeting areas with high humidity can result in mildew which may smell; likewise, high humidity can cause wood flooring to buckle and warp resulting in poor aesthetics and trip hazards. Flooring that may need to hold up to heavy equipment or weight strains has unique considerations.”
Eric Peters, a communications specialist with Acoustical Solutions, Inc., in Richmond, Virginia, advises operators to minimize noise.
“Customers appreciate the fact that they can hear each other as well as their servers, but with dishes clanging, servers scurrying about, conversations and sometimes multiple TVs on, it is very hard to hear anything,” Peters says.
To fight the noise, Peters suggests treating the floor with an acoustic floor underlayment to stop noise transferring to lower levels and reduce echoing.
Consider upkeep when choosing a floor, advises Doron Armony, president and CEO of Eden Flooring and Construction, Inc. in Orange County, California. He suggests textured quarry tiles for kitchens because they provide some traction and are easy to clean and maintain. Smooth quarry tile may be required under machinery.
“In high traffic areas of the restaurant, porcelain tiles that resemble wood and come in various colors and sizes are a good choice,” Armony says. “If you mix the sizes and the colors in each row (i.e. one row will have all 8-inch red tiles and the next row will have 4-inch brown tile and the next 6-inch yellow tile etc.), the untrained eye will easily mistake it for hardwood flooring.”
Armony warns operators against hardwood flooring because it is often cleaned incorrectly with water, which creates separation, gaps and eventual buckling. He suggests laminate flooring for dining room areas, but operators should take caution; too much spillage or water can penetrate the laminate and cause it to expand. For industrial use, he recommends concrete because it can handle forklift pressure, is very low maintenance and is easily repaired.
For operators who want waterproof and easy-to-clean flooring, Debbie Gartner, owner of Floor Coverings International in Elmsford, New York, suggests tile or vinyl.
“Tile will look nicer and cost more,” Gartner says. “The grout lines sometimes make it harder to clean, but it also helps if you have tighter grout lines. And, if you seal the grout (and reseal every year), it will last longer and look better. I would choose something with some texture rather than shiny/glossy, which can be more slippery. I would stay away from natural stone (unless it’s a very upscale store) as these are harder to clean and maintain.”
According to Gartner, vinyl offers many options. On the low-end, sheet vinyl and VCT (vinyl composite tile), which are 12-inch by 12-inch squares, are easy to clean but not as attractive. On the high end, luxury vinyl plank or tile offer the look of hardwood or tile.
For operators who want to go green, Allen suggests flooring made of sustainable materials. “Bamboo, unlike typical wood trees, replenishes at incredibly fast rates and is therefore a sustainable material now being used in flooring,” he says. “Crushed coconut is also on the horizon as a commercially viable material.” Then, of course, there are recycled materials, which are being transformed into all sorts of new restaurant flooring options.
With the hustle and bustle in restaurants, operators need flooring to be a safe foundation. “Both ceramic and quarry floor tile will be more slip resistant than the standard (lowest cost) VCT,” says Matt Vetter, president of River’s Edge Project Management, in Hamburg, Michigan. “There are options available for textured VCT designed to be more slip resistant, but in my experience it is very difficult to clean. There are also solid epoxy options available (much like what you would see in a residential garage), but I have not found many health departments that are on-board with this yet. ”
Armony recommends abrasion-resistant tiles to prevent slippage.
“Minimizing the height between different floor finishes will minimize safety hazards (i.e. don’t put ½-inch tile next to 3/8-inch marble without adjusting the height at the seam where the two meet),” Armony says.
Of course, an operator’s budget may have the final word in the flooring debate.
“If budget is the key priority, then I would say some sort of commercial carpet — one with a lot of color variation that will hide the dirt,” Gartner says. Nylons will hold up better than olefins/polyesters. The carpeting will cost less, but will need to be replaced more often.
Vetter suggests balancing budget with style.
“A worthwhile compromise that I suggest often when project budgets are very tight is to install ceramic tile in the lobby (most of my clients do not have any dine-in areas); install quarry tile in the walk-in coolers and around any wet areas, and fill in the rest of the kitchen with VCT,” Vetter says. “This presents the best look to the customer, keeps employees safer from slips, and controls budget.”
To get the most from their flooring investment, operators need to apply elbow grease.
“One, make sure the flooring is installed properly –– any flooring installed improperly will not produce the desired results and will most likely fail,” Vetter says. Two, keep it clean. Any flooring needs to be cleaned on a regular basis — doing so will prolong the life and look.
With so many options available, operators are sure to find flooring that meets their safety, maintenance, design and budget needs.
DeAnn Owens is a freelance writer in Dayton, Ohio.
Photo by Josh Keown
When Wisconsin-based Toppers Pizza opens a new location, the company makes a crazy promise: free food for a year for the first 50 people in line for the company’s grand opening.
Prospective customers respond in a crazy way: they camp outside the restaurant, sometimes as much as 24 hours ahead of the opening day, says Scott Iversen, director of marketing for Toppers Pizza Inc.
The first location with which the
company tried this technique was in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee. And yes, customers camped out, in December, in Wisconsin, for as much as an entire day ahead of the opening –– just for free food. “It was more like a party in the parking lot, and people were hanging out with their friends,” Iversen says. “Then people associate that good time with the Toppers brand. Those first 50 customers become brand ambassadors in the market, telling their friends and family about it.”
For Toppers, it’s a great introduction to the company’s sandwiches and pizza, but also a way to introduce the public to its wacky atmosphere. “In markets where we have stores already, we have an almost cult-like following,” Iversen says. “To communicate that in new markets, we wanted something to showcase that personality.”
For pizza restaurants, a grand opening is a chance to differentiate your food from your competitors. “Making your grand opening memorable is a good way to do that,” says Scott Anthony, a restaurant consultant and owner of Fox’s Pizza Den in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Promote and showcase what’s unique about your food, including special dishes, unique toppings or sauces, in flyers you create or advertising ahead of the grand opening, he advises.
Many of your customers will come from the neighborhoods near your store, Anthony says. “No matter what, plan on making it a community event,” he insists. “That will get you more help with the advertising and promotion of it. I would go to business neighbors and try to get prizes donated, as well as prizes from my own operation by coming up with gift certificates for other prizes. Anything you can have to attract attention, especially on the sidewalk, is a good thing.” A small band or mascot can be good choices to draw interest, he adds.
A grand opening doesn’t have to be expensive, according to
Anthony. You can create flyers on a home computer and distribute them in the neighborhoods. Join your local chamber of commerce and enlist their help in getting the word out. The largest expense will be the food you give away and the staff costs for any sort of soft opening party.
Eric Fosse, founder of Chicago-based HomeMade Pizza, tries to attend each grand opening. His company owns 27 stores in Illinois, Minnesota and Washington, D.C. The stores sell take and bake pizza made with all-natural ingredients. To help the public quickly grasp the concept, Fosse’s company bought a classic black pickup truck and fills the back of it with pints of fresh tomatoes that customers are invited to take during the grand opening, along with a salad and a pizza.
Fosse himself usually mans a grill outside on the sidewalk, cooking pizzas and giving away samples as the crowd waits in line. A coloring table is set up for children, and the store hangs the best pictures inside. “We want to become part of the fabric of the neighborhood,” he says. “We want them to know that we’re there for them, and doing something different. It’s a unique opportunity for them to bake dinner at home themselves, and take credit for it, without doing the work.”
The first two days, the restaurant gives away the pizza and salad, and the third night of the grand opening, the store is open for business. Fosse says the stores give away 600 to 800 pizzas per night, and customers stand in line for up to two hours to get free food. He relies on flyers in the neighborhoods near the restaurants to get the word out, and relies on his new store staff to distribute those flyers. “The best advertising is the pizza itself,” he says. “Our customers who try it also become missionaries for our restaurant, where they have it, and go home and tell their friends.”
For restaurants that do lots of takeout and delivery, planning a mock rush can be a great way to get ready for a grand opening. Toppers goes to businesses near a new restaurant location and asks those at the business to call and order a certain item off of the menu at a certain day and time –– switching out the items at each business so that everything on the menu is ordered at some point. The food is free, of course, and it gets the word out that the restaurant is coming to town –– and delivers. “It allows them to catch any glitches that we may have missed in training,” Iversen says. “The best thing, from a marketing perspective, is it’s sampling.”
Secrets of a soft opening
Restaurateurs often precede their first days of business with what’s called a soft opening — a night of practice for your staff before you serve the public. It can be a great way to test out the kitchen’s culinary skills, the wait staff’s knowledge of the menu and your facility’s ability to host a crowd, says Scott Anthony, a restaurant consultant and owner of Fox’s Pizza Den in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. His advice for a soft opening is to limit the amount of food you’re giving away by giving everyone who is invited a $10 voucher. Invite friends and family, along with chamber of commerce members and those from the neighborhood around the store. Use your grand opening as an opportunity to talk to customers about what they like, and what they don’t, and find out ways you can improve the service or food. And even for a soft opening, make sure you’re ready for business. The staff should be fully trained, educated on all of the dishes on the menu and ready to handle customer’s questions.
Robyn Davis Sekula is a freelance writer living in New Albany, Indiana.
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A Delivery Gone Wrong
I swear, if you lived in northwest Indiana, this could be my restaurant. It’s scary. It doesn’t matter how much I stress the customer service aspect of the job, it kills me to see reviews that are exactly of this nature written about my restaurant online or emailed to me. I am lucky that in my recent crop of hirings I have started to weed out the bad attitudes of some of the people left over from when I bought the place, but man, that commentary, it’s exactly the thing I’ve heard in the past and never want to hear again. I am tearing that article out and taping it to the fridge in the kitchen. Thanks for offering some reinforcement to what I have been saying.
Kevin Murray, owner
Val’s Famous Pizza and Grinders
Kevin is referring to the page 3 Commentary in the August issue of Pizza Today, which detailed a badly botched delivery. Kevin, thanks for reading and good luck weeding out those attitudes!
Rise & Shine
We read the article in June 2011 Pizza Today By Tom Lehmann about breakfast pizzas. We just started breakfast pizzas this summer and they are a huge hit! The favorite is the Eggs Benedict Pizza with handmade hollandaise sauce. We are a small country general store with a full pizza kitchen here at a Lake Resort community in California.
Thanks for your magazine; we read it every month. As well as the Pizza Expo we went to 6 years ago that inspired us to start a pizza business.
Keith & Marianne Banksto
Bee Rock Store & Pizza
Breakfast pizzas are so delicious that we can’t figure out why more shops don’t give them a try. You’re already in the store making dough and prepping veggies and your ovens are already on, so why not offer breakfast and coffee as a way to pick up incremental sales?
It’s Only Pizza First, I want to thank you. I enjoyed reading the “My Turn” guest column more than I can express.
My parents opened the Roadhouse Restaurant in Staten Island in October 1971. I got involved the summer before I turned 15 years old. I washed dishes during my high school years and first started to work the ovens while I was spending time in the kitchen. Still, to this day, when I have to jump back there and make a pie the staff gets this look on their faces like, “YOU know how to make pizza?” I am now 50 years old and I never fell out of love!
We have been receiving Pizza Today for quite some time, and I dive on it like it’s a Victoria’s Secret catalogue. I love the pictures and the recipes, and I am embarrassed to say I don’t remember the “My Turn” column before reading it today. But I will be sure to look for it from now on. I even hope to be a guest one day!
It felt great to relate to someone else who feels “It’s not only pizza.”
The Roadhouse Restaurant
Staten Island, New York
Jodi is referring to the “My Turn” column that Avalanche Pizza owner John Gutenkanst penned for our July 2011 issue. We’re glad it struck a chord. And don’t feel too embarrassed, Jodi. The guest column is fairly new. It has been a hit, so we will continue it throughout 2012 as well!
Photo by Josh Keown
I often have to remind myself that there’s more to life than just pizza. The ability to contain a balanced meal with all the major food groups allows pizza to satisfy the needs of any dining situation, from a quick snack to a full-blown meal. I can eat it every day without getting bored, yet I still appreciate the occasional diversion. Even though pizzerias often concentrate on a single-item menu, I’m delighted to find additional offerings that fill in the blanks between slices. As a consumer, here are some non-pizza items I want to see on a menu when I walk into a pizzeria.
Pizza dough is always on hand, so why not use it to pump up your list of offerings? Calzones, stromboli and rolls (chicken roll, pepperoni roll, spinach roll) are simple modifications of your existing pizza options. I know it sounds crazy, but sometimes the calzone format is more appealing than a couple of slices. I’m eating the exact same ingredients, but the modified construction results in a completely different product.
I’m surprised I don’t see garlic knots on more menus. I love the punchy aroma of fresh garlic knots in a pizzeria — and they provide a nice snack while I’m waiting for my pie. All it takes are some strips of pizza dough, garlic, olive oil and cheese. Voila –– a tasty side dish that requires no additional ingredients or kitchen equipment!
That same dough can also become dessert with an extra ingredient or two. I recently had a plate of fried dough strips topped with Nutella and powdered sugar. You can also do cinnamon and sugar or any other sweet flavor combination you can imagine. If you have a fryer you might as well make zeppoles, which require nothing more than dough and powdered sugar. I’d be delighted to chase my slice with some sweets, so don’t be afraid to try some out on your loyal customers.
Now that I’ve eaten your pizza dough in its many forms, how about some quick vegetable dishes? I love oven-baked artichokes and stuffed peppers. You can get the job done in the corner of your pizza oven with nothing more than the veggies and your usual pizza ingredients.
To wash it all down, I would love to see some alternative beverages at pizzerias. There are tons of small companies who make unique sodas that can help set you apart from your middle-of-the-road competition. You already know how hot craft beers have become, so get ready for a wave of healthy, organic, all natural and small production sodas. I’m a big root beer fan, so you can bet I’ll pay an extra buck for that funky bottle of small-production Sarsaparilla.
In an industry with so much competition, these non-pizza offerings can provide the hook you need to reel in new customers and keep them coming back. You may even get some attention from the press for experimenting with unique menu items. Since everyone in town makes the best pizza in the world, you might as well throw a curve ball at your customer base and give them a reason to think of you before the place across the street.
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.
Photo by Josh Keown
With regards to employees I have been known to grumble, “I already raised my kids.” True, there exists a sense of entitlement in today’s generation. There also exists potential. If I have to ‘raise’ some of my employees, why not raise them right? In fact, I can mold them to become real assets to my business. James Sinegal, co-founder and CEO of COSTCO, once said: “When employees are happy, they are your very best ambassadors.”
Contests and incentives seem to be a major factor in keeping employees happily motivated. At Fresh Brothers Pizza in Southern California, owner Adam Goldberg relates. “We run contests for our employees and reward them when they suggestive sell, collect e-mail addresses and avoid making mistakes in the kitchen,” he says. “It is amazing how far a free pizza or chocolate chip cookie goes with our employees!”
While we tend to think that cash is king, employee incentives don’t have to break the bank. Paul Paz of Waiter’s World suggests: “When your employees introduce you to customers, who may also be their friends, family and other professional associates ... compliment your staff members for being such an important part of their crew. Make them feel good about being a part of your organization. It’s the old praise publicly/discipline privately. Employees are your ‘hired customers,’ who need to feel appreciated and valued. Acknowledging how much you appreciate your employees doesn’t cost a dime, yet many operators miss this opportunity to inspire and lead their staff with appreciation!”
A happy team will be responsive when you need to build that database, door-hang or suggestive sell. They could also be the ideal representation of your business when they give first-hand testimony of your product and culture. Your team’s actual engagement with customers will be witnessed as genuine — and so will the benefits. Goldberg, for example, recognizes that employee engagement drives sales: “Our servers take time with each customer when they order to make sure they get what they want. For example, if someone just orders a pizza, we ask if they’d like a salad with it. In addition, we give all kids balls of dough when they come into our stores. We find that when the kids are happy and relaxed, mom and dad are, too — which means they will come back again in the future.”
In my own pizzeria, I see these simple truths played out over and over again. An incentive-oriented contest not only motivates employees to do your bidding, but it also draws them together. Each year, I have an employee-driven sale in which I get the day off and my staff does all the marketing. Their bonus is based on that day’s sales. Our results have never been less than a 50-percent increase in sales!
If your employees are shown that enticing people into your restaurant will lead to a bonus, more hours and bigger tips, they quickly realize that the employee-customer connection is important not only to the restaurant, but to them personally as well. That can make all the difference, because customers who feel appreciated will want to patronize you again and again.
Raise your employees right and you will be a proud and happy operator.
Scott Anthony is a Fox’s Pizza Den franchisee in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He is a monthly contributor to Pizza Today and a frequent guest speaker at Pizza Expo.
TUTTA BELLA // SEATTLE, WA
Surely by now you’ve heard of the pizza industry charitable event, Slice of Hope, which has been organized by Pizza Today. When Jeremy White, the editor of this magazine, called me about the idea a year ago, I was on board from the start. The thought of bringing the entire industry together and pointing every pizzeria in the U.S. in the same direction was an alluring and powerful one. I knew that my company, Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria, had to be a part of it.
The restaurant industry has a track record of giving. After September 11, 2001, the entire industry mobilized and raised over $20 million in one day! After Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti and tsunami in Japan, millions more were raised. While disaster relief and disease prevention are two different things, the point is that our industry has often rallied around great causes.
I can think of no more compelling cause than the fight against breast cancer. Did you know that 70 percent of women who are diagnosed have no family history of the disease? For many, imagine the initial shock of diagnosis and the emotional, not to mention physical, impact of treatments on the entire family.
In the past year, this disease hit close to home for me when my best friend’s wife became one its latest victims. I remember how beautiful Karen Mullen was; how much she loved her family. I also recall her love of gardening and traveling and spending time with friends and her dogs. She played a wonderful supporting role to her son, Grant, and her husband, Garrett. In fact, she always put them first. I can only imagine what it’s like for them to continue on without her.
The Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation was formed earlier this year. Its mission is to fund potentially lifesaving treatments at America’s leading breast cancer research labs. It will take 100 percent of the Slice of Hope money it receives and use it to back the most promising studies on a national level. These studies will ultimately lead to treatments that will be offered in your own community.
The loss of my friend, Karen Mullen, is why I’m asking you to join me and other pizzeria operators in North America by participating in Slice of Hope on October 7th. Whatever you can donate, please do.
And let’s not overlook the community marketing benefits that come with participation, either. I have found time and again that the neighborhoods in which Tutta Bella operates rally behind us because they see us taking an active and socially responsible role in our community. The goodwill you can generate by taking part in Slice of Hope is substantial.
There are roughly 70,000 pizzerias in this country. Surely we can step up for a cause that impacts one in eight women right here in America, can’t we? Together, we can make strides that will one day help end the pain and suffering and prevent this tragedy from impacting other families. And we can do it in a way that brings positive attention to our great industry and shows the nation just how giving and caring we are every single day.
If you’re reading this after October 7, don’t worry. It’s not too late to help! The Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation can still take your donation through Slice of Hope all the way through the end of the year. And your help is easy to give: Simply visit PizzaToday.com and click on the Slice of Hope icon to download a donation form. Let's help end this disease!
My Turn is a monthly guest column. This installment is written by Joe Fugere, founder of Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria in Seattle, Washington. If you are interested in submitting your own column, e-mail Jeremy White [email@example.com] and let him know what you want to say and what qualifies you to say it.
Proactive techniques can help land capable employees
Photo by Rick Daugherty
Rick Wells has opened 19 different restaurants over his career, including Sauce on the Square, a 125-seat McKinney, Texas-based pizzeria that began welcoming guests in early 2009. Through it all, Wells has retained one clear perspective.
“I can’t pour all the whiskey and make all the pizzas,” he says.
Knowing steady employees are central to his success, Wells embraces any recruiting techniques that can help Sauce on the Square land capable team members. In fact, in today’s ultra-competitive foodservice environment, many believe recruiting and hiring the right personnel carries as much importance as the product itself.
“Ultimately, you’re talking about your reputation here,” says David Hyatt, president of Colorado Springs-based Corvirtus, a human resources consulting firm. “If you take a halfhearted approach to recruiting and hiring, then that’s likely the type of experience you’ll create for guests.”
As the economy has staggered and unemployment has climbed, the number of individuals seeking work suggests that pizzerias might hold the proverbial pick of the litter. Only one problem: it’s a massive litter.
“So many people are looking for work that it takes a lot of time and energy to whittle the pile down to the right ones,” Hyatt says.
Yet, the “right ones” seem to be available in greater supply today than five or six years ago, say many veteran operators. Wells knows a number of sharp restaurant staffers who, after leaving the industry to pursue their own professional agenda following their teen or college years, have returned to the restaurant world in today’s bearish economic climate.
“The challenge might soon move from recruiting to retaining, but there are some real qualified restaurant folks out there right now,” Wells says.
To attract capable candidates and secure solid workers, operators and employment experts offer these strategies:
Start internally. “You can come up with all the buzz words and Web sites, but at the end of the day recruiting is about the people you have working for you,” Wells says, echoing the sentiments of many operators.
If you build a reputation as an enjoyable, respectful place to work, then candidates will line up for opportunities, particularly those encouraged to apply by current staff who want to work with people they know, like, and trust.
“Good people hang with good people, so broadcast any opening to your staff,” Hyatt says, believing that current employees referring a friend have essentially pre-screened the candidate.
At Sauce on the Square, Wells’ staff actually drives the hiring process, a prime recruiting strategy he employs. After a job candidate interviews with the guest service manager, property GM, and Wells, the candidate then shadows a current team member for a four-hour shift. Staff then provides input on the candidate’s potential.
“Giving staff ownership of the business and investing them in this process creates a culture that brings good people in,” Wells says, noting that Sauce on the Square only lost one employee during its opening year.
Investing staff in the recruiting process can also include referral bonuses.
Jason Shifflett, operator of 31 Domino’s pizzerias in the southeast, offers bonuses up to $100 for employees who bring a competent worker into the fold. In addition to securing the pizzeria a new employee, the bonus also invests staff in the success of the new hire, which Shifflett says creates a motivated, willing workforce grounded in positive peer pressure.
Leverage the “right” technology. Technology remains an important recruitment aide, specifically with Gen Y and the Millennials. Be careful though, as large job Web sites, such as Monster or CareerBuilder, might bring a flurry of unqualified, even disinterested applicants.
“Prepare for 180 resumes knowing that only two to three will work,” Wells says of the large job sites.
Rather, investigate more targeted job boards, specifically local outlets.
“From something as well known as craigslist to local churches and schools, there are a lot of smaller, niche job boards you can utilize for strong results,” Hyatt says.
Value the pre-interview. Interacting with an individual before any formal interview provides operators an immediate — though by no means concrete — sense of how a prospective employee might relate with guests. In such dealings, Domino’s franchisee Dave Melton seeks eye contact, a smile and a compelling personality.
“This tells me if they can connect with people on a personal level, which is so important in our customer-focused culture,” says Melton, who is also the co-author of Hire the American Dream, a primer for attracting entry-level employees.
Shifflett also values the pre-interview, encouraging his managers to utilize the quick dialogue as a straightforward recruitment aide.
“How do they present themselves? Did they bring their own pen? How do they talk about their previous job experience? All of these help assess if this individual is worth investigating further as a potential employee,” Shifflett says.
Always be open. While some of Shifflett’s 31 Domino’s outlets have little turnover, others find themselves in a consistent staffing crunch. Either way, Shifflett offers consistent direction to managers: always accept applications.
“Like a good college football coach, your eyes always need to be open to great players you can add to your team,” he says.
Nearly 20 years ago, Wells enjoyed a positive experience during a personal meal, later handing his business card to the server and offering: “If you’re ever looking for a job, please look us up.” Last year, that server joined his staff.
“I’m certainly not suggesting you go into restaurants and poach their employees,” Wells cautions, “but I am saying you need to believe in recruiting wholeheartedly and be aware of opportunities to introduce your restaurant to qualified individuals.”
Extend that openness to guests, many of whom are familiar with the establishment, its vibe, and have expressed an interest in your business.
“There’s nothing wrong with letting customers know you’re hiring,” Hyatt says.
Networking with high school counselors or teachers, athletic coaches, college employment offices, church groups, and nonprofits can also yield positive leads.
And finally, Hyatt says, don’t be afraid to go retro.
“The old help wanted sign in the window still works,” he says, adding that the signage frequently prompts the oft-telling personal interaction.
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
Tweet & you get a sweet. A free mini-slice of S’mores pizza tonight just for @ us on twitter :) Water Str 10p-3a.
Why it works: Streetza Pizza not only let its Twitter followers know it menus a dessert pizza (and yes, we’ll take a slice of that!), it generated traffic and plenty of return tweets. That means more than just those who follow Streetza saw the tweet –– and perhaps became customers themselves.
Bring your friends and family for 1/2 off pizza 2:30-4:30 at any of our full service locations. Enjoy great pizza AND save money
Why it works: This is a great promotion, hitting that slow period between lunch and dinner. A half-priced pizza is a big discount –– and chances are most folks will pad their checks with drinks and an appetizer or dessert in return.
PizzaToday.com >> Recipes >> West Coast Chopped Salad
Facebook Pizza Feeds
Coscino’s Pizza Italian Restaurant Happy Monday. Serving Lunch Specials with Salad from $8.00 & up. Also 2 for 1 Pizza Slices all till 3PM. Tonight, KIDS EAT FREE with purchase of Adult Meal $10. & up.
Why it works: Coscino’s got in the fact that it has multiple lunch specials, offers two-for-one pizza slices and has a kids’ night. This Facebook post packs a lot of punch in a little amount of space.
The Pizza Peel We’re not trying to be “west coast” here, but this California Club and gazpacho is a great lunch special. Come get yours until August 21st.
Why it works: This East Coast pizzeria does two things here –– show off the fact that it offers lunch specials and menu items other than pizza. Add an end date to their LTO and this post created an urgency to visit the store before the expiration of the summer special. Use this idea for new fall items.
As we move into the winter months, have you planned your menu of soups? Soups that are basic to your menu or a soup of the day? Customers are more into soup than you might imagine, so don’t sell them short –– they are a profitable menu item, can be prepped ahead, made in big batches, keep well (and in some instances can be frozen) and actually have low labor costs. And if you wish to create an even deeper healthy buzz about your soups, put a blurb on your menu touting your organic or vegan ingredients.
Let’s look at some basics. Stock –– chicken broth or beef broth –– is the one essential ingredient that kick starts a good soup. After that it is just a matter of adding the other ingredients — vegetables, grains, pasta, meats — and presto! Zuppa and zuppa del giorno. Keep the word “hearty” in mind. Overall, consumers prefer a hearty soup as opposed to a thin consommé-style soup.
Here, in my opinion, are four soups that you should have as part of your soup repertoire. You can feature one or two every day and then put them in rotation during the week. Soups do not last forever, so throw out the old and bring in a freshly made batch as needed. Serve soup with crusty Italian bread (a must). Serve all of these soups with grated Parmesan on the side. It’s also a good idea to consider a soup and salad lunch combo –– these are considered a lighter lunch and are perfect options for diners who don’t want a heavy pizza lunch.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
(scale up in direct proportion)
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 cup chopped yellow onion
4 cups canned plum tomatoes, drained
1 cup celery, coarsely chopped
3 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
2 medium redskin potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
¼ pound green beans (string beans) trimmed and cut into 1/3-inch pieces
1 cup cannellini or cooked navy beans
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the garlic and onion. Cook and stir for 4 minutes. Crush the tomatoes (by hand or hand blender) and add to the pot. Add the celery, carrots and potatoes. Cook and stir for 3 minutes. Add the stock or chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes and carrots are tender. Add the zucchini, green beans and navy beans. Cook for another 6 minutes. Add the parsley, salt and pepper.
Note: if you prefer, you can add a short pasta — tubettini or ditalini — cooked al dente, just before sending it to the table.
Serve with grated Parmesan and crusty bread on the side.
PASTA E FAGIOLI
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
(scale up in direct proportion)
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup chopped yellow onion
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ cup finely chopped carrots
½ cup finely chopped celery
1½ quarts chicken broth or stock
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
6 ounces tubetti or ditalini pasta cooked al dente, drained, reserved
3 cups cannellini beans, drained, rinsed
Salt and pepper to taste
Warm the olive oil in a heavy 5 quart stockpot set over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, carrots and celery. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and parsley. Bring to a low boil. Reduce the heat to simmer. Add the beans. Add salt and pepper to taste.
For each serving, ladle a portion of soup into a heated cup or bowl. Add some of the reserved pasta to each serving.
Cook’s note: for a red version of this soup, simply add 2 cups of tomato puree to the pot with the chicken broth.
Yield: 4 servings
(scale up in direct proportion)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup chopped yellow onion
6 cups all-purpose crushed tomatoes
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, melt the butter over low heat. Add the onion. Turn up the heat. Stir often and cook until the onions are softened (about 5 minutes). Add the tomatoes and cook for 20 minutes more. Lower the heat and simmer for 1 hour. Transfer to a food processor or, using a hand-held blender, process to a puree. Return the soup to the pot. Reheat. Add the cream and combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with croutons.
Note: to turn this vegetarian soup into a heartier soup, add cooked and crumbled Italian sausage following the cream.
Serve with grated Parmesan and crusty bread on the side.
ESCAROLE & POTATO
SOUP WITH BEANS
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
(scale up in direct proportion
6 ounces short pasta (tubetti or mini-penne)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
½ cup chopped yellow onion
1½ pounds redskin potatoes, peeled and cubed
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ pound sweet Italian sausage, cut into ¼-inch rounds
8 cups chicken broth or stock
2 cups canned cannellini beans, rinsed
1 head (about 1 pound) escarole, washed and chopped coarse
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In a large pot of boiling salted water cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain and reserve. In a large pot set over medium heat, sauté the garlic, onion and potatoes in the olive oil until the onions wilt and turn soft, about 4 minutes.
In a separate sauté pan, set over medium heat, sauté the sausage rounds until cooked through. Drain off the fat. Reserve the sausage.
Add the chicken broth to the pot with the onions and potatoes. Bring the stock to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are barely tender. Add the reserved sausage, beans and escarole. Simmer only until the escarole wilts. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add the reserved pasta. Stir to combine. Serve with grated Parmesan and crusty bread on the side.
Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.
Photos by Josh Keown
When someone mentions Bloomington, Indiana, two words come to mind for many Indiana University (IU) grads of the past three decades: Mother Bear’s. Situated across the street from several IU residence halls, the traditional panstyle pizzeria has experienced a lot of success in a small college town dotted with dozens of pizza options.
“We’ve managed to climb to the top of the heap. Our volume, reputation, and accolades indicate to me that we are on top,” says owner Ray McConn.
Mother Bear’s has ranked in Pizza Today’s Hot 100 for five straight years, coming in at No. 57 in 2011 with $3.4 million in sales. Over the years, the restaurant has racked up a number of acclaims: 2010 best pizza in Indiana by USA Today, best pizza in Bloomington by the local and college newspapers several years running and named “One of America’s Top 9 Pizzerias” by People in 1982.
Rising to No. 1 is only half of the battle for McConn. “Now it’s a matter of staying on top,” he says. “It’s a matter of doing things to guarantee our continued success.”
Pizza Today made a visit to Bloomington earlier this year to get an inside look at Mother Bear’s. The single store’s sales are impressive. Even amid economic downturn, its revenue continued to experience up to a sevenpercent increase, McConn explains. “It’s just incredible,” he says, adding that for a period from 2001 to 2009 sales increased 20 percent per year. “Last year was about eight percent and this year, we are looking at 12 percent.” IU spring commencement week is a big one for Mother Bear’s and sales were up 20 percent over 2010.
With its prime location, Mother Bear’s is one of the most popular spots in Bloomington. It has an old-school pizzeria style with high, dark wood booths and multi-colored, stained glass lamps at each table. In two of its three dining rooms, the walls and booths are sprinkled with writing that McConn says provides entertainment to his patrons. “It’s a fun place to come to,” he says. “This isn’t five-star fine dining with linen table cloths. If writing on the walls is fun for them…then why not?”
McConn’s facility has adapted to handle larger and larger volume. Able to seat 125 today, he says it’s common to have a four- to five-hour window on Friday and Saturday nights with up to one-hour waits.
Dine-in waits haven’t always been the case. In the mid-1980s deliveries were half of Mother Bear’s sales. “Now our dine-in business represents probably, I would say, at least two-thirds of our business,” McConn says, adding that delivery is about 20 percent with the remainder derived from carryout.
The shift to more dine-in business comes as McConn has nearly tripled his pizzeria’s square-footage in the last several years. Until 2005, Mother Bear’s had a single, narrow dining room. “When our customer count overwhelmed our seating, we took over another room,” he says. In 2005, the restaurant expanded into a neighboring room, followed by another section in 2007.
To keep his operation streamlined, McConn has spent time and money on Mother Bear’s kitchen and prep areas. “In the last 10 years, we’ve put a lot of money back into the place, upgrading it, remodeling it,” he says, adding that increasing the size of the prep area and moving the outside freezer into a indoor walk-in has provided great efficiency. Added in 2007, the two-deck, conveyor ovens offer flexibility and speed. “The ovens are great because not only are there two decks,” he says, “There are two belts per deck so you can program the different topping loads per belt.”
Mother Bear’s ovens are well-equipped for its variety of crusts with traditional pan-style, deep-dish and thin-crust pizzas. Pan is the most popular, with deep dish also having a strong following. The newest thin crust, added to the menu three years ago, is building demand at 10 to 15 percent of sales. “It’s not a huge amount, but it’s enough to keep it,” McConn says, noting that it’s not cannibalizing other menu items. “We are getting a certain amount of new patrons in here because of that, which increases our sales.”
Though pepperoni reigns supreme, gourmet pizzas have found their following at Mother Bear’s. McConn says that The Deluxe with pepperoni, sausage, onions, mushrooms and green peppers ($13.85 for a 10-inch) is a house favorite.
McConn brought The Divine Swine to International Pizza Expo to compete in the International Pizza Festiva (predecessor to the International Pizza Challenge) in 2005 and 2007 and was twice recognized as a finalist. The meaty pizza is loaded with pepperoni, sausage, ham and bacon ($12.75 for a 10-inch).
Another recognized favorite is The Dixie Two-Step, topped with southern style BBQ sauce, chunks of chicken, onions and cheddar cheese ($11.65 for a 10-inch).
McConn attracts customers with complete meal specials, utilizing slow times, as well as delivery and carryout specific offers. The Munchie Madness, available for delivery and carryout only, includes a 10-inch one-topping pizza, breadsticks or cheese bread, a two-liter bottle of soda and two homemade brownies for $9.95. He says food costs for the special run 40 to 42 percent. “Because of the volume it draws, I’m fine with that,” he says, noting a key is in its labor effectiveness. “Everything is in a large box — so the delivery guys are happy,” he says. “They grab a box and a two-liter and they go.”
Another carryout and delivery only offer, the Snack Attack Pack, caters to individuals with a six-inch one topping pizza accompanied by a half-order of breadsticks, a 20-ounce soft drink and two homemade brownies for $8.35.
McConn says he tries to target times when they need more sales for dine-in, carryout or delivery. The Early Birds catches the time before the dinner rush from 4 to 6 p.m., offering a free order of breadsticks or cheese bread and a free soft drink with the purchase of a 10- or 14-inch pizza.
Another special available to dine-in customers is the Mom’s Favorite: a 10-inch, one-topping pizza, two soft drinks and two house salads or an order of breadsticks.
Thanks to a POS system McConn purchased in 2007, he’s able to track the discounted items. “It’s amazing the amount of sales that are generated from that,” he says. “Our coupon expense would be a success story for most businesses.”
Besides its specials, Mother Bear’s maximizes the college market, which is about two-thirds of the company’s customer base, by accepting IU’s CampusAccess card that serves as ID, facility access key and meal card for students, faculty and staff.
With thriving word-of-mouth and pedestrian traffic, McConn says he doesn’t invest much into advertising. He refers to himself as an “old Pete” when it comes to promoting his business. “We don’t do electronic media advertising,” he says, opting instead to advertise in the local and college newspapers.
McConn admits the advertising that has generated the most bang for the buck is late night cable television. “It hits the audience we want — students,” he says. “After midnight, you can buy a commercial on ‘Discovery’ or ‘Comedy Central’ and it’s like $4, extremely cheap.” Every four years he cycles in Mother Bear’s popular and humorous Fairy Godmother Bear commercials to a new crop of IU students.
These days, McConn says, he spends maybe two percent of his sales on marketing. “That is one of the great values of being such a high volume, popular restaurant — you don’t really have to advertise as much,” he says. “You want to pick your spots and you want to advertise, but you don’t have to splash it like you used to, spending several thousands of dollars more a year on advertising.”
What’s next for Mother Bear’s? With any luck, McConn hopes to expand again to accommodate large parties. After 38 years, he is always looking for opportunities to improve the restaurant, whether it is the facility, operations or menu. He moves forward saying, “Every day is a new challenge to keep doing things as well as possible.”
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
Photo by Josh Keown
Pork is media’s darling right now, and operators across the country are happily placing swine in the spotlight. Pork belly. Pork shoulder. Lardo. Speck. Prosciutto. Pancetta. And bacon … always bacon. Pizza is no stranger to pork, showing unadulterated love to salty ham, crisp bacon and meaty sausage. But a brave, new porcine world begs to be explored. Today’s diners clamor for big, bold flavor. They seek culinary adventure.
Talk about being ahead of its time — Pete & Sam’s Restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee discovered the wonders of slow-cooked pork shoulder on pizza back in the early 1950s. Today, its Bar B Q Pizza boasts a cult following, including blogger-sensation Hungry Girl, who sang its praises on The Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.”
“We make or cook everything in house,” says Sam Bomarito Jr.,
co-owner of this 350-seat Italian restaurant. The Bar B Q Pizza stars house-made tomato sauce, cheddar, mozzarella and slow-cooked pork shoulder tossed in house-made sweet barbecue sauce. Bomarito seasons a seven- or eight-pound bone-in Boston butt with a proprietary dry rub. He smokes it over hickory and apple wood for 16 hours at 230 F. He then debones, defats and chops the melt-in-your-mouth meat. The restaurant goes through 220 pounds of pork butt a week, with 98 percent of the yield serving this pizza. He explains that 100 pounds of pork butt yields 60 pounds of useable meat. He charges $14 for 12-inch pizzas and runs a food cost of 25 to 28 percent. “Once we cook it, we break it down and immediately refrigerate it. We cook pork every few days because we go through it so quickly,” says Bomarito.
And although convenience pork products abound — those that have been salted, braised, pulled, smoked or cured — Pizza Today is seeing a trend in craftsmanship. Operators are curing pork shoulders in their walk-ins. They’re smoking meats. They’re grinding their own sausages. Food cost may be a factor, but labor cost certainly counters that. Indeed, the driver seems to be passion.
At Diavola Restaurant in Geyserville, California, chef/owner Dino Bugica smokes fresh pork belly and features it on a pizza called Cha Cha Cha. Pork belly, above all other pork products, has raised its profile, with chefs touting its contrast of textures and rich, full-fat flavor. For this pizza, Bugica dry rubs Duroc pork belly and lets it rest for a day. He then smokes it over cherry and mesquite wood for five hours at 200 F and slices it like bacon, but a little thicker. He then cubes it. The thin-crust pizza sees house-made red sauce (San Marzano tomatoes and basil), a little shredded mozzarella, local goat cheese, raw frigitello peppers (local green bell pepper) and roasted red pepper. The pork belly goes over top, along with green onion and Calabrian oregano, and then the pizza is roasted in the wood-fired oven until crisp.
“The tanginess of the goat cheese with the sweet roasted pepper and the smoky, fatty pork belly make perfect sense,” says Bugica. “The Duroc pork has a good amount of meat, so it’s not too fatty. Not a lot renders off.” He charges $16 for a 12-inch pie and runs a food cost of $1.75. “Pork belly is $3 to $4 a pound, and we use about three ounces on a pizza.” When storing the pork belly, he Cryovacs it, then keeps it in the walk-in for about a week.
Pork also stars in the Sonja Pizza at 60-seat Diavola. A red base gets a light sprinkling of mozzarella and then diced heirloom tomatoes go over top. Once the pizza is pulled from the oven, Bugica adds dollops of mascarpone that melt out a bit from the heat of the pizza. Shavings of prosciutto di Parma and wild, local arugula finish the picture. He charges $16.25 for a 12-inch pie and runs a food cost of $2. “The prosciutto is wonderful — salty, sweet,” he says. “It’s a great pork product.”
BBQ Pork, Roasted Tomato and Caramelized Onion Pizza
1.5 pounds pork spareribs
2 tablespoons barbecue sauce
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons olive oil
Combine the hoisin, barbecue sauce, ketchup, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and olive oil. Toss with the spareribs; grill or roast at 400 F, until completely cooked and tender, about an hour. Shred meat into small chunks.
30 cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Slice tomatoes in half; toss with garlic, olive oil and salt and pepper. Place on baking sheet; roast for 90 minutes at 275 F, or until they shrivel.
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups thinly sliced red onion
¼ cup brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons apple cider
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 tablespoons sherry-wine vinegar
1 cup mozzarella cheese
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
Melt the butter in a large sauté pan. Add onions, brown sugar; season with salt and pepper. Sauté over medium-low heat until the onions are a deep golden brown, about 30 minutes. Add apple cider, dry sherry and sherry-wine vinegar; cook another 10 minutes.
On pizza dough, lay down caramelized onions, then pork, then cheese, then tomatoes. Bake until golden brown in a very hot oven.
Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She lives in Naperville, Illinois.
Photo by Josh Keown
Imagine this scenario: You’ve just launched a series of four pesto-inspired pizzas. To promote your new menu items, you gear up for a one-day promotional event, practically giving away the pizzas. You’ve advertised the heck out of the promo and even received local media coverage.
But are you ready to handle the big day?
Executing a limited time promotion is an intricate operation. The difference between success and a flop lies in the planning, says Richard Allum, director of marketing at Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria Restaurants in Montara, California. In March, Amici’s drew more than 1,000 people to a two-hour autograph event with 19 NHL San Jose Sharks players at its Cupertino location, raising $14,400 for the San Jose Sharks Foundation.
“It’s very important to make sure everything is set up with the team, everything is set up with various media partners, and obviously internally within the organization to be able to handle the volume of business that we think we are going to be able to get on that day,” Allum says.
Anticipating volume is one of the more challenging aspects of planning a large promotion. “You have to plan for the best case scenario in terms of being absolutely swamped,” Allum says.
This year in Brooklyn, New York, Chipp Neapolitan Pizza offered a free six-inch pizza to nearby Kingsborough Community College’s student body of more than 20,000. Owner Lenny Veltman circulated 5,000 fliers on campus.
Milas King of DaVinci’s Pizzeria in Smyrna, Georgia, took a limiting
approach to the volume for his combined “Take Over Smyrna” and “Facebook friends eat free” promotional day last fall. DaVinci’s offered a free small pizza to 540 people who “liked” the restaurant on Facebook. The company also partnered with 50 Smyrna businesses, which gave their customers 1,500 free small pizza coupons redeemable for that day only. Creating a finite number to work with made it more manageable. Also, King says he can now project a 30 percent redemption rate after going through several successful runs of the event. In the beginning, King says, he figured a 15-percent redemption would constitute a good day.
Once the numbers are projected, it’s time to move on to logistics. Months leading up to the promo are spent calculating product supply orders for your promo week based on volume projections and normal orders for the day.
Kitchen prep is the focus a day before and especially the morning of an event. “We prep everything at 5 a.m.,” King says. Doubling the amount of meats and vegetables, DaVinci’s staff chops and seasons all morning. “We have tubs that we rotate,” he says of how the kitchen organizes supplies. “It really keeps from having inventory problems.”
Inventory and kitchen prep for most operators is the manageable part. The big question becomes: how can your restaurant handle the volume you’ve projected while keeping with your standards of quality?
For Allum, Veltman and King, honing in on their restaurants’ capabilities and capacity made all of the difference. There are so many components that affect the efficiency of the promotion from the selection of product(s) offered during the promotion to the layout of the restaurant.
Veltman wanted people to try Chipp’s pizza in its truest form, making the offer dine-in only. “The real taste is 100-percent straight from the oven to your plate,” Veltman says.
Veltman adds: “You never know what exposure you are going to get. But no matter what, I was ready.”
There were operational considerations at Chipp’s with the promotion. With one 800-degree oven built for speed, cooking 10 six-inch pizzas in about a minute, Chipp’s provides quick service. Even with a small dining area, Veltman turns tables over rapidly due to the size of the product and the lack of wait time to fill orders.
DaVinci’s promo was the exact
opposite, made available for carryout only. King says the limit helped to not disrupt their regular dine-in and delivery business, saved on labor costs and optimized the store’s layout. “Our restaurant is shaped like an L,” he says. “So they place their order on one side, get their pizza and go out the other door. So it creates this flow.”
Allum knew that the Amici’s location wouldn’t seat 1,000 people in a few short hours, so the restaurant made a few deviations. He brought in staff and managers from locations near two major venues, because these employees were accustomed to dealing with high volumes in short time periods. And even though Amici’s doesn’t normally offer slices, they did for the event. “It’s just a great way to get people to sample our product,” he says. “We sell two slices for $4. It was very inexpensive. We know from experience that there is no better advertising for what we do than to actually get people to eat the pizza.”
Though high volumes may be chaotic at times, lines outside your restaurant aren’t a bad thing, according to King and Allum. Amici’s and DaVinci’s are on busy roads, so the lines create, as King puts it, that “what’s going on over there?” buzz.
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
Goat Hill Pizza sits high atop a hill in San Francisco, out of the hustle and bustle of the tourist-filled piers and the busy downtown commerce. Here, it seems, life is quieter. Co-owner Karen Monley carries a hardback novel tucked under one arm as she hugs an employee she hasn’t seen in a while on her way to sit down with partners Loris and Joel Lipski during our summer interview. Missing are the remaining partners, Philip DeAndrade (who was out of the country at the time of our visit), Monley’s husband, Mike, and Ruth Ann Dickinson. Friends for more than three decades, this eclectic group planted the seeds for a restaurant, a pizzeria to be exact, and have watched it –– and the surrounding neighborhood –– flourish.
Partners who knew each other in a six-degrees-of-separation way, each brought something different to the business at its inception in 1975 –– DeAndrade, who went to college with Joel Lipski, had experience working for a pizza chain, where he met Monley, who was in the insurance industry at the time. Monley and Dickinson were friends, and together the group scraped together the money to open a restaurant in the working-class Potrero Hill section of San Francisco. “We wanted pizza, and you’d have to go so far to get it. You’d come back from getting the pizza, and all the cheese would be on top of the box,” Monley says.
The Lipskis lived in the area, which in the 1970s was considered a little on the unsafe side. “We were warned against living in the neighborhood,” Joel says. “Since that time, it’s really switched. It’s very high-end. It’s very expensive to buy anything around here, or rent.”
Over the years, they’ve all had a hand in running the day-
to-day operations. “For the longest time,” Loris says, “we didn’t take any money out of the business.” They had a hand-written menu, and for decades the restaurant served as a political and social hangout for the owners and their friends. Kids would stop by to pet the goats –– a throwback to the 19th century when Russian immigrants raised the animals in the hilly area –– and artists and musicians used the restaurant as a creative outlet.
When business became overwhelming about three years ago, the owners recognized a need for better organization and they hired General Manager Elena Neustadt. “Elena has really helped turn the culture around,” says Joel. “We had a pretty loosey-goosey approach to this … we tolerated poor performance.”
Adds Loris: “We ran it like a social service agency.”
Monley says in the last decade, they realized they had some debt –– incurred on credit cards through banks to open a second location because they couldn’t secure a loan –– that needed to be reconciled and vendors’ bills needed to be paid. Since then, they formed a corporation and handed off the day-to-day operations to Neustadt. “We tackled vendors first,” Joel says, “and we started paying something more than the minimum on the credit cards.”
Loris says they also realized they were top-heavy in management and cut a position, and they hired an outside accounting firm to take over the books.
Today, Goat Hill grosses about $2.25 million annually, with $980,000 coming from a delivery and catering unit on Stillman Street in the SOMA district of San Francisco. The secondary unit, which also serves as a commissary, was added because “so much of our deliveries are to large offices,” Joel says. “We’ve expanded it out to delivery all over the city, but still the bulk of it is to businesses.”
“We’re talking 30, 40 pizzas at a time,” Neustadt adds. That location may eventually add carry-out and perhaps take-and-bake in the future, but for now it serves as a commissary and delivery base for the original location.
Goat Hill employs a staff of about 40, and “we’ve collected wait staff who have character and big personalities,” Monley says. They encourage longevity by offering shared medical and dental plans for long-term employees as part of a citywide mandate, but “we spend probably five to eight times that in medical coverage,” Joel says. “The requirement is typically what our competition is paying.”
Though they used to source their dough from a local bakery, the Stillman commissary affords them the ability to make the dough themselves, and “the dough is kind of our trademark,” Joel says. “It’s sourdough.” They’ve since started making their own sauce, dressings and soups in addition to the pizza they bake in a brick oven. Most popular is the Meat Lover’s (salami, pepperoni and Italian sausage at $20.95 for a 14-inch large) and the Special Combination, a fully loaded pie with salami, pepperoni, Italian sausage, ground beef, mushrooms, green pepper, green onion, black olives and garlic at $24.85 for a large.
For 10 years, they offered a full brunch, but it was labor-intensive and San Francisco became a health-conscious city, so they axed it. “You had to break down the whole kitchen and start it up again,” Monley says. They have also tried adding entrées like eggplant Parmesan and curried chicken, but while they sold well the owners felt these detracted from the company’s pizza-heavy concept
(75 percent of sales is pizza based).
To increase sales on traditionally slow Monday nights, Goat Hill hosts a “Neighborhood Night” with all-
you-can-eat pizza at a prix-fixe price. Servers bring around slices of different gourmet pizzas to the tables for sampling. It’s a great way to get customers to try pizzas they wouldn’t normally buy as well as gauge interest in varieties the restaurant might menu in the future.
Beer and wine are available, but no liquor is offered. “It’s a pizza parlor,” says Monley, “and we didn’t want to deal with drunks.”
Aside from the obvious word-
of-mouth generated by a restaurant that has been in business for three decades, Goat Hill trades pizza for advertising in neighborhood publications. They also hold fund-raisers for schools and host political events.
“We have a relationship with Groupon, but we’re not sure we’re going to continue that,” Joel says, adding that the majority of Goat Hill’s business comes from repeat customers. They did some leafleting in the early days, but mailers are more relevant for today’s Goat Hill, especially advertising the new Stillman delivery site. They also have a social media presence on Facebook and Twitter.
A musician who has been with the company for 35 years provides live entertainment, and they feature local artwork as well. Neustadt is considering wrapping their delivery vehicles after picking up the idea at a trade show.
Today, is Goat Hill ready for multiple units? The owners are frank in the fact that they “haven’t come to a consensus because we focused on getting out of debt and getting the restaurant in a good place,” Joel says. “There is some interest in getting the business into a position where it is attractive to be sold. There is some interest in getting to where it might provide an ongoing stream of income for the ownership, and whether that (might be) opening another location … we haven’t had that conversation yet. We will soon.”
For now, battening down the hatches both financially and operationally is the first step, and Monley, Neustadt and the Lipskis take a moment to reflect on Goat Hill’s past and its future.
“We’re not 30 years old anymore,” Monley laughs.
Adds Joel: “And we don’t have another 30 years to wait!”
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
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