Photo by Josh Keown
Depending on how you look at it, this is either a horrible or a fantastic time in the pizza industry — the entire restaurant industry, really.
Just like our nation has divided into political polar opposites, the pizza segment has separated into two basic categories: cheap pizza and fantastic pizza. No-limit $5 medium pies or $15 personal-size artisan pies. Gut fillers and “Wow!” experiences.
Where does your pizza fit in?
Every day I hear of new pizzerias opening all over America with the simple mission of making great pizza the Old World way: with wood, coal or standard gas-fired deck ovens. The foundation starts with delicious dough, simple, fresh ingredients and real skill.
Despite the largest portion of the pizza segment dedicating itself to selling the least expensive product, newcomers to pizza are pursuing their passion to create the perfect pie and backing it with blood, sweat and bank notes.
What once was old is new again, and customers are catching on. Not only do they “get it” when they taste a well-made pizza, they understand the passion put into it by dedicated pizza makers. They appreciate seeing someone put so much time, energy and effort into their meal, and they don’t mind paying a steep price for it.
And yet, amid what seems to be a never-ending recovery from the recession, I see more operators than ever giving into the temptation of catering to bargain hunters. I call it the “creep toward cheap.” Despite getting into this business because they wanted to make pizza, they’re focused more on making dollars than dough. Truly great pizza is a matter of the heart and hands. Making money is a byproduct — albeit a very good one if you’ve done the first part correctly.
Trust me, I understand what drives operators to switch from quality to cheap in hopes of raising sales. I’ve got six kids — two out of the house, four coming and going depending on where they are in their education and what favors they need from me and my wife. I know the stress and strain of putting food on the table, and I know how that consumes your mind when you’re fighting to keep your business in the black.
But what’s inarguable is the opportunity you’re missing if you just “go cheap” in an effort to survive. The restaurant segment is finally waking up to the fact that customers love not only really good food, they love the experience that should come with it. If they get both, not only are they willing to pay a little more for it — sometimes substantially more — they’ll even wait for it without fussing.
An example: Anybody notice how many “better burger” places have popped up over the last 10 years? The epitome of this explosion is Five Guys Burgers and Fries, which has more than 700 units and is adding another 100 every year. Working from a minimalist menu and selling the most ubiquitous sandwich in America, this simple concept posts annual per-store sales averages of $1.2 million.
The story of the company’s founders is similar to many others who have figured out that our business should be about really good food first. They knew customers were tired of generic, tasteless, dollar-menu burgers that spent more time in a microwave than on a grill that actually caramelizes meat. They knew customers wanted burgers cooked to order and served with fresh toppings and that they’d not mind waiting a few minutes to get it. They knew they didn’t have to reinvent the wheel to do it — they only had to go back and look at the original wheel (any of a thousand mom-and-pop diners that have always made good burgers) and build on that.
Of course, the same thing is happening in pizza. Nearly daily I hear of a new wood- or coal-fired pizzeria opening up somewhere in America. Maybe it’s a call from a friend who knows the guy or gal starting out, and they usually say about the same thing: “She’d gone to Italy, had that kind of pizza and wanted to do it here,” or “He spent a week in New York, wondered where such good pizza had been all his life, and now he wants to do it himself.”
Notice those two statements contain nothing about money. You don’t hear, “He saw this guy in Dallas selling pizzas for $16 apiece and thought, ‘Hell, I can do that and make some cash!’” What’s motivating these people to open pizzerias is the pursuit of great pizza.
The best example of this I’ve encountered is Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco. Two of its three owners are pizza makers: Tony Gemignani and Bruno Di Fabio. Both got their start in the business making high-quality pizzas, but after traveling to Italy for various competitions, both got hooked on Old World pies and set out to open a spot in 2009 that uses four completely different ovens to make five different crust types.
When I first heard they were planning this, I thought it so audacious I wondered if it were ego translating into overkill. But after enrolling as a student at their place last year, I recognized it as pure genius. Both men not only understand their customers’ desire for a pizza experience centered on handmade food, but they also very wisely meet modern desires for variety by creating pizzas for wood-fired ovens and American and Italian stone deck ovens. (By the way, last I checked, Tony’s weekly average sales were in the $80,000 range … and the shop is open just five days a week!)
After returning from that visit to Tony’s last year, I had a bit of an epiphany: many pizza makers could do something similar in their own shops. In the months since, I’ve helped some clients add a deck oven to their conveyor oven configuration — just stacked it right on top like you would another conveyor — to allow them to add more traditional deck-baked crust(s) to their menu. With that simple change, as well as a reformulated dough recipe for the deck, you can change an ordinary shop from a pizza production facility to a place where pizza is baked by humans.
Mind you, I have no objections to using conveyor ovens. I love them. They’re fantastic, consistent and arguably the key to why pizza chains exploded throughout the U.S. in the first place. But the difference between a crust baked directly on a screaming hot hearth and a crust browned on a screen over forced hot air is profound, not to mention delectable.
The simple addition of a deck oven to an operation presents incredible opportunities for menu expansion, not to mention the furthering of a pizza maker’s skill. Except for wood- or coal-fired styles, a deck oven presents multiple opportunities to bake and sell several different crust styles that add that crucial variety customers want.
Is it more labor intensive to do this? Yes. It will require new dough and new skills. (Not only do Gemignani and Di Fabio operate the International School of Pizza at their San Francisco shop, Gemignani teaches special dough making sessions every year at International Pizza Expo.) But let’s be honest, good pizza takes work; cheap pizza … not so much. And that’s why it’s hardly worth the $5.99 customers are paying for it.
A change like this means raising the bar on your pizza and pushing yourself to do something new by reaching back to the pizza traditions of old. It likely means getting out of your shop and finding out what good pizza really is and relying on your pizza peers for information on how to do it.
It also could require you to stop merely making a living in order to revisit the joy of making pizza for a living. In the past two decades, too many people got into the business looking solely for ROI. But in the past several years, a new group has joined the ranks out of a passion to make great food and create an experience for their patrons. If you can create both in your shop, you’ll forever lose the temptation to “compete cheap” — because your sales will show you it’s not necessary.
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 International Pizza Expo.
Photo by Amy Pinney
“Made in house” is a unique marketing mantra that should be on your menu. The more items you prepare from scratch, the more you stand out from your competition across the street. Granted, some items are easier to make than others. And some items are more labor intensive than others. The good news? Sauces are neither difficult nor too labor intensive. And the right combination of scratch-made sauces can really set your shop apart.
With that in mind, I’d like to present to you five “mother sauces.” Once the basic sauce is made, you can add an ingredient or two to expand the usage possibilities. In other words, these five basic sauces open up a wide range of options for your customers to enjoy.
(for pasta, pizza, chicken parmigiana and eggplant parmigiana, with expansion to an herbed sauce for pizza or pasta).
Yields about 4 cups of sauce. Scale up in direct proportion
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup chopped yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
7 cups canned plum tomatoes, crushed by hand, juices drained
2 teaspoons each dried oregano and basil
½ teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat for
1 minute. Add the onion and garlic. Cook and stir for 3-4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, oregano and basil. Cook the sauce at a steady simmer for 20-25 minutes or until it has reduced slightly and shows no signs of being watery. Add the sugar. Salt and pepper to taste.
Use at once for pasta. Or let cool for later use on pizza and pasta. Can be held in the cooler, covered, for 4-5 days.
By adding 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley (or fresh basil) while the sauce is simmering, you will create a sauce with a slightly different flavor. Add crushed red pepper flakes or hot sauce to create a spicy arrabbiata variation.
(aka béchamel) sauce for pizza or pasta
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups milk
½ teaspoon crushed garlic
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Over medium heat in a saucepan, melt the butter (do not let it brown). Stir in the flour. Cook and stir until the mixture gets thick and pasty.
Add the milk in a steady stream while whisking. Stir until thickened, about
2-3 minutes. Off heat, add the garlic. Stir in the Parmesan cheese.
Let the sauce cool to room temperature before using on pizza. If the sauce thickens too much, add a bit more warm milk.
For pizza, spread a thin layer of sauce over the pizza shell. Add additional toppings, crumbled sausage, vegetables, etc. Bake.
For pasta, toss cooked and drained pasta with the sauce. Sauce works great for lasagna, too.
To expand the sauce usage, swirl in some pesto sauce after adding the Parmesan cheese.
Makes enough sauce for one 14-inch pizza.
Bolognese or Meat Sauce
for pasta (and eggplant parmigiana)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup chopped yellow onion
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ cup dry red wine
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
¾ pound ground chuck
7 cups tomato puree or ground canned tomatoes
1 tablespoon each dried oregano and basil
½ teaspoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In a large heavy pot or Dutch oven, set over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil for 1 minute. Add the garlic and stir for 1 minute. Add the onion and parsley to the pot. Raise the heat to high. Add the wine and boil rapidly for 2-3 minutes to cook off the alcohol.
Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the sausage, crumbling it with the tines of a fork. Add the ground chuck. Cook and stir until the meat is no longer pink—about 4-5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, oregano, basil and sugar. Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Makes about 1 ½ quarts sauce. It will keep in the cooler, covered, for 4-5 days. Scale up in direct proportion.
White Clam Sauce
for Pasta (with expansion to red clam sauce)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 cup clam juice
2 teaspoons dried thyme
Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 cups canned chopped sea clams
In a saucepan or sauté pan set over medium heat, warm the olive oil for 1 minute. Add the garlic and sauté only until the garlic is lightly browned. Discard the garlic. Add the clam juice to the pan. Add the thyme and the red pepper flakes. Simmer over low heat for
3-4 minutes. Add the pepper and the parsley.
Off the heat, add the chopped clams. Stir to combine.
To make this white clam sauce into a red clam sauce, simply stir in about ¼ cup marinara sauce.
This recipe will make enough sauce for about 4 servings of pasta. And it can be made ahead, but only to the point of adding the pepper and parsley.
(alfredo) for pasta (with expansion to a Primavera sauce for pasta)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups heavy whipping cream
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
In a large sauté pan set over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Do not let it brown.
Add the whipping cream. Bring the mixture to a low boil for 2-3 minutes to thicken the sauce. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the Parmesan cheese. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg.
The sauce is now ready to toss with cooked and drained pasta and finish off.
Scale up in direct proportion.
By adding rounds of thinly sliced zucchini, blanched broccoli florets and cooked peas to the sauce when reducing it, you will now have
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.
Introducing the Players
Scott Anthony, franchisee, Fox’s Pizza Den, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania
Mike Bausch, owner, Andolini’s, Owasso, Oklahoma
Adam Borich, owner, Lucifer’s Damned Good Pizza, Hollywood, California
Zach Current, Operations Manager, FUEL Pizza Café, Charlotte, North Carolina
Mark Dym, owner, Marco’s Coal-Fired Pizzeria, Denver, Colorado
Jeffrey Freehof, owner, Garlic Clove Italian Eatery, Evans, Georgia
Clayton Krueger, Director of Marketing & Communications, Farrelli’s Wood Fire Pizza, Tacoma, Washington
Jeremy White: When did you last raise prices? What was the impact?
Scott Anthony: July 2011. (There were) no comments from customers, no decrease in sales. We only increased prices due to the cost of doing business. It helped maintain
our profit margin.
Mike Bausch: We did it on our last menu pass this past March. We’ve had positive
response because of our positioning as a high-end pizza establishment with our new site,
that discounting could potentially hamper. So both sites slowly started to stray from coupons and the sales have reflected that positively.
Adam Borich: November 2010. The sales went up. We changed all prices up to the
next .99-cent mark to try and hide the increase as much as possible.
Zach Current: FUEL hadn’t raised prices in more than 4 years, but we did so just 6 weeks ago. We raised the prices on our pizza by the slice and fountain beverages, which affect 60 percent of our guest checks. Our sales have increased 3.68 percent with limited customer pushback.
Mark Dym: We raised prices 6 months ago when we opened our second store.We did
not raise prices across the board. Only on select items. None of our guests said anything about it. We were able to improve our food cost on those items and our food cost overall.
Jeffrey Freehof: I actually and finally just raised prices after 4 years this past April.
They were small increases across the board, but I also did it while introducing some exciting new menu items.
Clayton Krueger: We raised our prices about a year ago. By doing so, we were able
to better control our rising costs. Luckily for us, there was no recognized decline in sales.
We didn’t scare anyone off!
Jeremy White: What was the most effective promotion you ran in the last year?
Scott Anthony: I would say our 9th annual Pizza & Prevention event. We added some more community aspects to this, such as ‘Touch the Truck.’ We substantially beat our previous record and raised over $30,000 in one day for our volunteer fire company.
Mike Bausch: By far it was having a public relations social media consultant. Her ability
to get me on local news segments and radio shows for free (just bring the crew a fantastic lunch) was huge. I got positive exposure that came across as unsolicited news, and along
with that came a fantastic bump in sales and new customers.
Adam Borich: Living Social e-mail one day promotion. We sold 1,800 $30 meals in
24 hours. It drove huge numbers of new customers through our doors.
Zach Current: We have some really fun and exciting things going on at FUEL all the time. What I am most proud of was our FUEL Pizza Field to Fork program.
Mark Dym: Direct mail piece to kick off delivery. Very very expensive, but it’s still paying
Jeremy White: Can an operation survive by selling pizza alone, or are sandwiches, pasta, salads, etc. necessary?
Scott Anthony: My point of view is that you need other menu items. Customers want
convenience/one-stop shopping. Being that the combo is the No. 1 offer across the country, you need to have other items such as wings, drinks, appetizers … Menu items such as sandwiches and salads are also excellent ways to build your lunch business.
Mike Bausch: It’s all dependent on your overhead costs and how popular your pizza is. My rule is don’t sell anything that isn’t the best you’ve ever had. If you can’t make a great pasta, don’t sell it and sully your good name for the sake of having a larger menu. In-N-Out Burger just does burgers and they kill it every day of the week. I have a 10-page menu, but it’s all things I make from scratch, nothing frozen, nothing pre made, and I can hang my
hat on it. Anything I wasn’t in love with, I tossed out in 2008.
Adam Borich: I believe that you should stick to what you do best as much as possible, but need to offer sides and salads. Pasta and Sandwiches are not needed to be successful if your pizza offering is good enough.
Zach Current: I am certain that FUEL could ‘survive’ by selling pizza alone, but I feel we flourish because of the 15 percent of food sales that are not pizza — sandwiches, wings, salads and dessert.
Jeremy White: What was the most effective promotion you ran in the last year?
Jeffrey Freehof: I take great pride in the quality ingredients I put in every dish, and if it were up to me, I would never discount my food. I’m not an idiot, though. I understand that when the economy gets tough, people are not going to all of a sudden start eating at home every day. They’re simply going to find less expensive ways to eat out. That’s why I’ve teamed up with Restaurant.com and a couple of other discount programs to let diners purchase discounted gift certificates to come into my restaurants. It’s opposite of the newspaper, magazine and radio advertising that I’ve always done where you’ve got to cough up the advertising dollars and then pray for a return on that investment. With these other programs, there’s no upfront cost. The money we spend to get them in the door is the discount we are offering. Here’s the big prize: while we’re discounting their meal (spending advertising dollars), they are already in our doors spending money. That’s a win-win if you ask me!
Clayton Krueger: We held our very own ‘Pizza School’ for our customers that wanted to learn the art of creating their own pizza masterpieces. It consisted of three courses, Pizza 101: Dough Making, Rolling, Storing, and Opening; Pizza 202: Getting Creative with Sauces, Toppings and Baking; and Pizza 303: The Capstone Pizza Competition, where the students would create an original pizza recipe that would be judged by a panel of ‘celebrity’ judges. The winning pizza won a spot on our menu for a quarter! The proceeds from the school went to a scholarship for the Washington Restaurant Association’s Education Foundation, which helps local aspiring culinary students with financing for school. Pizza School was a full circle promotion; students got so excited for the classes, competition, and a chance to be featured on our menu. The concept went viral and more and more people inquired when our next Pizza School would be. The school generated a lot of very positive word of mouth for Farrelli’s, and we can’t wait to start it up again. It was wildly successful, and didn’t cost us a dime …
only the passion for what we do!
Jeremy White: Can an operation survive by selling pizza alone, or are sandwiches, pasta, salads, etc. necessary?
Mark Dym: Yes, I think we could survive on pizza alone. But our gross sales numbers wouldn’t be nearly as good.
Jeffrey Freehof: Look, you’ve got to know your market! If you are in a crazy busy location with tons of foot traffic and you have a tiny spot, selling pizza and slices alone will be a huge success. But if you have the space to produce sandwiches, salads and pasta and there is a need for it, it will absolutely draw more folks to your door or counter. Remember this famous quote: ‘if you’re going to play the game, you might as well play to win.’ I’m saying don’t just serve some inferior product. Put something amazing out there, every time. My goal with the food I serve is not to just fill them up, but to get them talking about how awesome it was at the water cooler the next day. You can do it, too!
Clayton Krueger: Some operations could survive, but ours could not. We are a full-service, growing restaurant that strives to cater to all different appetites, regardless of their opinion on pizza. We don’t want to lose any business because we don’t have alternatives to pizza on our menu. We are also able to increase our average guest check significantly by selling our calzones, sandwiches, salads, etc. A smaller operation could definitely survive on pizza alone, but their product would have to be really good.
Jeremy White: What specific item on your menu generates the highest profit margin? How do you push it?
Scott Anthony: Pizza. Specifically our signature item, the Big Daddy pizza — a 21-slice, 12x24-inch pizza. Since this is a signature, we nearly always feature this in a combo meal, although it sells well on its own. I will tag it with ‘Family Favorite’, ‘#1 Seller’ or ‘feeds 7-8 adults.’ This is the pizza we offer to non-profit organizations and for catering needs, so it gets a lot of exposure.
Jeremy White: What specific item on your menu generates the highest profit margin? How do you push it?
Mike Bausch: Our 1889 Margherita of Savoy (classic Margherita) is very profitable, but it is for a reason. We sell the story on each pizza and push for quality. I mean just look at the name, it connotates the historical authenticity of the pie. We make the whole milk mozz from curd, use very expensive high-quality olive oil, source real DOP San Marzanos and use fresh basil. Even though all the ingredients are super expensive, the amount we use of each is light to create an authentic Margherita. So the perceived value is high, as it should be, but the actual cost is minimal.
Adam Borich: Our five premium pizzas. We have them first on our Web site on their own page before you can even see the other Pizzas on offer. We also have them prominently placed on our menu and in our store so that people are more likely to choose these.
Zach Current: FUEL’s highest profit margin item is our 12-inch pizza. The way we promote our 12-inch is through bundle packages that include two Medium pizzas and either a salad or wings. We also promo the 12-inch pizza with the purchase of a 14-inch or 19-inch at full price. Even though the 12-inch is our highest margin, if our customers are going to order just one pizza, we’d rather sell a 14-inch or 19-inch where our Gross Dollar Profit is higher.
Mark Dym: Margherita pizza. It our best seller. It pushes itself. It’s the cheapest pizza on the menu at $12.
Jeffrey Freehof: In my restaurant, since I make my own desserts, they are what have the lowest food cost percentage, generating the highest profit. My servers understand that they are not just order takers, but in a sense, they are sales people working on commission! Once they understand the more they sell, the more they make, they get a whole lot better at selling. Since I want to sell as many desserts as possible, I’ve learned there’s only one real good way to do that. A dessert tray with a piece of everything you offer must be displayed on it and must be presented to the guest. My servers are instructed to ‘just bring it.’
Clayton Krueger: Our Classic Breadsticks are a top-seller with an incredibly high profit margin. The cost to make is minimal, they are easy to produce, and they’re a great stand-alone item as well as the perfect start to a meal. Everyone loves them, so we’re able to use them as a promotion tool. For example, one of our ongoing Takeout Specials is, ‘Buy 2 Pizzas, Get a Free Order of Breadsticks,’ which provides an incentive for our customers to spend more. Breadsticks hardly cost us anything to make, but they add a ton of value to our guests.
Jeremy White: Has employee recruitment and retention been easier or more difficult in the past couple of years during the prolonged economic downturn?
Scott Anthony: I really have not seen much difference in finding or keeping employees. Our town is small and already depressed with an average income in the low 20’s to begin with. We have always tried to run a smaller crew to make sure they get enough hours to make it worth their while to be here and so they were here enough to progress in our organization.
Mike Bausch: Not really. We got a good thing going and our staff knows that. I’ve had guys leave other higher paying restaurants to work for me for less because they know I’m not going to cuss them out on the floor, I’m not going to mess with their check, and I’ll work to get them a set schedule, work around their school schedule, etc. Things like that have helped me gain high staff retention and manageable labor costs.
Adam Borich: Recruitment has been easier as there are many people coming in each day looking for employment.
However retention seems to be difficult as many people in Los Angeles are here following a dream of acting, music, etc. and the downturn has made those dreams harder to achieve. Many of our employees move back to their home states when they don’t make it out here.
Zach Current: In this business, it is never going to be easy. I will say, however, that the economic downturn has amplified our attention to service, friendliness and overall good attitude. Bad attitudes and poor service will not win our customers’ loyalty. So during this downturn we set the bar high and communicate more acutely the importance of separating ourselves from our competition. Pizza is happy food and we demand that our team is happy.
Mark Dym: We have been open three years. We haven’t noticed any difference. It’s weird — it comes in spurts. People stay for a while and retention seems great. Just when you think you have it all figured out a bunch of people leave and you start all over again.
Jeffrey Freehof: It really shocks me with how many unemployed people there are and how hard it still is to find great employees. That just proves that when companies had to eliminate staff due to the economy, they eliminated their weak players (for the most part). Those are the folks we are interviewing. I have found that there are still some really good folks out there looking for work, but perhaps don’t have the experience we’re looking for. I’ve spent more time in the interview process looking for those good people and am willing to spend a little extra time during the training process to have them get it right!
Jeremy White: What style(s) of pizza do you serve?
Scott Anthony: We have a traditional Italian/American style pizza — not a thin or thick crust. Our sauce is an award-winning, 100 percent authentic Italian sauce. Our gourmet pizzas have the same crusts. We keep an eye on the industry for new menu options and will add a new gourmet pizza after some test marketing and tweaking a recipe idea to make it our own. Recently we added gluten-free crusts to our line.
Mike Bausch: New York-style crust, sauce and cheese with the eclectic influences of California and several Italian nuances like egg, speck, arugala, DOP San Marzano, etc. We’ve been dubbed TulsaStyle because we mix California and NY, and we’re right in the center.
Adam Borich: Gourmet New York-style.
Zach Current: We serve New York-style pizza by the slice and in three sizes: 12-inch, 14-inch and 19-inch. FUEL offers dine-in, takeout and delivery. We are planning on introducing a pan pizza in October.
Mark Dym: Neapolitan.
Jeffrey Freehof: As we all know there are many different kinds of pizza, thick and thin crust, sweet or zesty on the sauce and so on. My crust is more of a NY-style pizza that has a medium crust, with a sauce that is perfectly flavored without being sweet or spicy. I will never try to compete with $5 pizza chains, although I do offer that if I’m teaming up with an organization to help with their fundraiser. That gives folks a chance to try our awesome pizza. We are winning over pizza fanatics every day with our ‘perfect’ pizza!
Clayton Krueger: We serve hand-tossed, gourmet, wood-fire pizza, cooked on stone in front of an open flame. We call it the “Northwest-style pizza.” We use the best ingredients we can source; quality is paramount in our company. We also offer 100 percent honey whole wheat dough for those who want a healthy option, as well as a gluten-free pizza crust alternative. We have recently incorporated a bistro-style Neapolitan-inspired crust for those who prefer a thinner pizza crust option.
Photo by Rick Daugherty & Josh Keown
What keeps you awake at night? For me, 25 years in pizza has provided tremendous fodder for 3 a.m. nightmares. I read Pizza Today and attend International Pizza Expo because I want to learn from the successes and mistakes of others. I’m not too proud to tell you some of my most expensive mistakes. These costly errors have turned into valuable lessons for me. A wise man once wrote, “You will learn more from your mistakes than from your successes.” I am probably the poster boy for that saying! So, without further adieu, I have put together my “Top 10 Mistakes” list in the hopes that it saves another pizzeria operator from the heartache I have endured.
No. 10 — Minors
I had a 16-year-old employee wash dishes and it cost me $2,000.
Labor code varies from state to state. In California, the employment of anyone under the age of 18 has restrictions not only on the hours they work, but the actual work they perform. We removed the metal guards from a Hobart slicer and put them in the dish sink. Apparently this constitutes dangerous equipment.
Solution: I no longer hire minors for restaurant work.
No. 9 — Bank Statements
A bookkeeper wrote more than $5,000 in checks to a company that did not exist. The checks were cashed with a forged signature. This was finally caught when I opened a bank statement that contained the copies of the checks that cleared. I was able to recover the money, thankfully.
Solution: Open all bank statements personally.
No. 8 — Breaks and Overtime
A 10-year employee sued for lunch breaks. It cost me $2,500. Another salaried manager sued for overtime. It cost me $5,000.
Again, while labor code varies, in California a 30-minute break is required for all shifts over five hours. There are no exceptions to this rule. Salaried employees are not exempt from overtime. In other words, restaurant managers working over 40 hours need to be paid for those hours at the overtime rate.
Solution: Every payroll sheet is signed by the manager, who checks for lunch breaks and overtime. All restaurant employees, including managers, are paid hourly and given overtime pay as required by the state.
No. 7 —Cutting Marketing Dollars
I cut my marketing for two months with the hope of saving $10,000. It cost me over $30,000.
Like many restaurant owners, I was looking for ways to cut costs in a slow economy. I stopped door-hanging and direct mail efforts. My sales dropped 10 percent within four weeks. Worse, it took another four weeks to recover once I re-instituted these programs.
Solution: Never cut marketing. Only change it to make it more effective.
No. 6 — Yellow Pages
I stopped all yellow pages ads and it cost me thousands of dollars.
I believe that yellow pages advertising is a thing of the past. But when I pulled my yellow pages ads, the phone book ‘accidentally’ removed my listing altogether. Yes, I mean the white pages. Of course, this is where the 411 service gets its info. The result was one year with no number in the phone book.
Solution: A free in-line listing in the yellow pages setup in writing.
No. 5 — Insurance Policy
I had a restaurant fire that cost me $100,000 more than the insurance paid.
I keep minimum limits on my policy to keep the cost down. If you have a fire claim, you will be negotiating the amount to be paid by the insurance company. It is not a given. Your cash flow will take a hit and any late fees will not be covered by the insurance company. Verify that your insurance includes ‘Loss of Business Income.’
Solution: Review insurance limits each year with your broker.
No. 4 — Credit Card Refunds
An employee swiped a pre-paid credit card and refunded themselves $5,000.
Because of the large sum, the credit card processor alerted me … two weeks later! It took eight weeks to get the money back. Because of the problem, we went back and reconciled our credit cards (something we had never done effectively) and discovered the thief had experimented with smaller amounts previously.
Solution: Have your credit card machines password-protected on refunds. Also, reconcile your credit cards weekly.
No. 3 — Telephone Credit Cards
I had over $20,000 in credit card chargebacks in a three-month period.
We stopped taking checks and switched to credit and debit cards for delivery. The credit card processor came in and helped us set up the credit card machines in our phone center. They also programmed the machines. Three months later, the chargebacks started rolling in. Apparently it was our fault because we were not getting the three-digit code from the back of the card and the billing address. It is a shame the credit card processor didn’t share that this was possible in the programming feature. We corrected this and now have about $50 per month in chargebacks on more than $100,000 in credit card sales.
Solution: For telephone orders, make sure your credit card machines are programmed to ask for card number, expiration date, three digit (or four digit for AMEX) code, billing address and billing zip code. Always enter this information.
No. 2 — Payroll
A restaurant manager reported an extra $4,200 in pay for hours she did not work.
As I opened more restaurants, I saw less office time, which meant I skipped reviewing the labor reports each week. After three months, I finally returned to looking at my key indicators and discovered 25 hours every week in overtime for one manager. My investigation revealed that the overtime hours were not worked.
Solution: Have 10 Key Performance Indicators that you review every week. Make payroll reports one of them.
No. 1 — Unsupervised Managers
I promoted and trained an area supervisor and discovered $216,000.
As I opened more restaurants, I continued to wear the area supervisor ‘hat’ along with all the other ‘hats.’ When I finally promoted an area supervisor, we improved food costs by 1.5 percent and labor costs by 3 percent — including the pay of the area supervisor!
There is no substitution for daily supervision and support for the manager.
Solution: A good area supervisor will control costs to more than cover his or her pay. A great area supervisor will make you incremental profits.
Well, there it is: nearly $400,000 in mistakes. You can bet I’ve learned from each and every one of them. Hopefully this article helps prevent you from making the same costly mistakes I’ve made.
Photo by Josh Keown
Making sausage in your restaurant is easier than you think, and fresh sausage cannot be beat. Take a minute and think about how many dishes use sausage. Go beyond topping your pizza and consider sausage sandwiches and even soups like sausage and roasted red pepper soup. Sausage is a main ingredient in many dishes in your restaurant, so why not make your own? I make sausage in my restaurant, Seasons Pizzeria Sports Bar Grill in Rohnert Park, California, and the options are endless, from sweet Italian to a spicy chipotle blend. In fact, chances are you already have the necessary equipment to make sausage. A food processor or large dough mixer with a grinding attachment works great. You can also use a good old meat grinder — I found mine at a local used equipment dealer for $100. Here, the casing tool comes with the meat grinder, mounting to the end of the grinder and allowing you to case your sausage. You can source your casing through your food distributor, or you can go down to your local specialty market and buy it there. The casing slides easily onto the end of the grinding tube, then you simply tie a knot in it and you are ready to make your sausage links.
So let’s start with the basics. First, cut a boneless pork butt into small pieces and grind it with a ¼-inch course-grind disc (this is the standard grinding die that comes with your grinder). Next, you’ll want to add your spices, and this is where you make it your own. Be creative –– you can use chipotle peppers, fresh basil, fennel or just experiment with any of your local fresh ingredients. I start with about 10 pounds of pork butt, grind it and then add my seasonings. Mix them either by hand or in your mixer with the paddle for about five minutes. After your sausage is mixed, cover it and set it in the walk-in or fridge overnight. This allows the flavors of the seasonings to infuse the pork, beef, chicken or turkey.
When your sausage is ready to prepare, you have a couple of options. The first is to pinch and cook your pizza topping. In a large skillet, just pinch and roll your sausage into pieces and sauté them until firm, but not completely cooked. A little pinkness inside will ensure that when you top your pizzas and fire them the sausage will come out perfectly cooked rather than dry.
The second option is to case your sausage into links as previously described. Remember to keep your casing wet and feed the sausage through the grinder slowly at first until you get the feel for it. Sizing your sausage links for production takes time, so I usually make long links and par-cook them for sandwiches, soups and pasta dishes.
So what’s the bottom line on house-made sausage? Anything made in-house and fresh is worthy of mention, so use that information on all your marketing pieces and on your menu. Blast it out on Facebook and Twitter daily and you will see the results.
You’ll also see results in your food cost savings –– and it’s a big savings: pork butt has an average cost of $1.43 per pound. Spice prices are fractional since you’ll use them across the board –– about 25 cents per pound, depending on what kind of ingredients you use. The average center plate cost for eight ounces of sausage will be about $1.25. Now compare that to pre-made sausage, and the savings quickly add up to big profits for your bottom line.
Your options for making fresh sausage are endless, and if you are anything like me you will experiment with a lot with different ingredients. Here are a few of my favorite sausage dishes:
• grilled chicken sausage and smoked mozzarella
• Italian hot sausage with chipotle peppers
• fresh basil and Parmesan chicken sausage
• original sweet Italian sausage, the most popular of all pizza topping sausages.
Finally, here is a simple — but very tasty — sausage recipe.
10 pounds ground pork
4 tablespoons salt
2 cups ice water
½ cup red wine
1 tablespoon cracked fennel seed
2 teaspoons coarse black pepper
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 tablespoon coriander
3 teaspoons crushed hot peppers
Combine all ingredients, mix well and prepare for pizza toppings and links.
Glenn Cybulski is the executive chef and managing partner at Seasons Pizzeria Sports Bar Grill in Rohnert Park, California. He is a speaker and chef demonstrator at the annual International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Photo by Josh Keown
I was born in New York, and I lived there — on and off — for the first 30-something years of my life. During that time I managed to put away more than my share of pizza. And the fact that I was born and raised next door to an Italian bakery that made pizza as a sideline did a lot to further my education about the “tomato pie.”
The fact that I am writing this article in Chicago and not New York City gives me an advantage. If I were in New York, I might be tempted to call some of my friends there and get an opinion or two. The mistake in doing that is directly connected to the fact that every New Yorker has an opinion (or three) about New York-style pizza: “It has to be this, it has to be that.” “You cannot do this, you cannot do that.” “You have to use this kind of cheese (or tomato), not that kind of cheese.” “The secret is ... ”
It never ends, and I hope it stays that way. The luxury those of us connected to the pizza business have is that we are passionate about this wonderful food called pizza.
So, to me, what makes New York-style pizza “New York” in style? First, the crust has to be about 1/8-inch thick through the middle. This part of the crust must have the “folder” effect –– when the baked pizza is sliced (triangles, not squares), the slice should be such that it can be folded down the middle. Yes, the crust must have just the right degree of crispiness, but not to the point that a slice cannot be folded in half without it cracking. In Naples, the birthplace of pizza, street vendors known as lazzari used to walk the city streets selling pizza by the slice. A piece was folded in half lengthwise, and eaten on the run. The folded slices were called libretti, or “little books.”
The crust must also have a raised edge, a “frame” (il cornicione). In other words, you cannot push the tomatoes or the topping to the very edge or you will lose the “frame.” How much the edge is raised relates to who is making the pizza and the style of that particular pizzeria. Simply put, the more dough you pinch or press with your fingers to form the edges, the higher the edge will be.
Putting that all together, it is easy to see the crust for a classic New York-style pizza has its roots in the Neapolitan style.
On to the sauce. The tomatoes should not be laid on too thickly. Doing so negates the “folder” effect and makes the pizza gummy. A light smear of sauce is really all that is necessary.
As for the cheese, whole-milk mozzarella is a good option; however, you must be careful with it — it melts differently than part-skim mozz, so you could end up with a goopy pizza if you aren’t diligent.
Regardless, for everyday usage I advocate a blend of 70 percent whole-milk or part-skim mozzarella along with 30 percent provolone.
But it all starts with the crust, so let’s get back to that. When I make a NY-style pizza, I like to use the dough two to three days after it is made. I use just five ingredients: flour, yeast, salt, olive oil and water.
Keep in mind, though, that some of the best-known pizzerias in New York cook in coal-fired ovens. The high heat of these ovens put out a crispy crust while taking enough moisture out of the tomatoes to keep sogginess out and flavor in. It’s a delicate balance that isn’t easy to achieve.
NY-Style Pizza Dough
Yield: 30 pounds of dough
20 pounds all-purpose flour, 13-14 percent protein content
2 ½ tablespoons dry yeast (instant)
5 ounces salt
4 ounces olive oil
10 ½ pounds water
Pour the flour in the mixing bowl, then add the yeast to the flour. Add the salt. Combine the olive oil and water.
With the mixer running at low speed, add the oil/water mixture in a steady stream. Mix for 7 to 8 minutes at medium speed until the dough cleans the sides of the mixing bowl and is soft and pliable.
Scale and ball the dough to the required sizes. Retard the balls of dough in the cooler, covered, for 2 to 3 days to age it. Take the balls of dough, as needed, out of the cooler at least one hour before rolling and stretching.
Photo by Rick Daugherty
2011 marks the 150th anniversary of Italian unification. As anyone who has ever driven a car in Naples can tell you, it has taken a while for reality to catch up with Giuseppe Garibaldi’s noble vision.
The fact is that Italy has always been a land of individualism — and this is particularly true of culinary traditions. Every region (every village, in fact) seems to have its own hotly debated and fiercely protected cooking styles and dishes. Is it any wonder that this trait was continued and expanded when the first pizza makers immigrated to the new world? In truth, it can be said that the only hard and fast rule in pizza making is that every pizzaiolo is convinced their way is the best.
When my cousin, Sam Facchini, and I moved to Las Vegas to open our first pizzeria in 1980, we had a world view that was typical of Brooklyn born pizza-makers of that time: New York was the culinary center of America, and any variation other than New York style pizza was irrelevant. With this in mind we named our first business “The Original New York Pizza.” Imagine our surprise when the first customer walked in to our shop and asked for “a thin pizza with no edge, cut in squares” and proclaimed that, as a Chicago native, he knew that this was “the way a pizza is supposed to be.” This guest was immediately followed by a customer who requested a thick-crust pizza with a rolled edge and a side of honey to dip the crust in, “you know…the way they do it in Colorado.” We quickly realized that our plan to provide New York style pizza to “deprived” Las Vegans needed a revision. People were moving to Las Vegas from all over the world, and it became obvious that just as in the old country, everyone had very strong opinions and sentimental attractions to their local pie. In response, we changed our business name to Metro Pizza and began modifying our menu to reflect the unique demographics of our city and our commitment to offering our guests a slice of home — wherever home might be.
Over time we became adept at recognizing a guests’ place of origin by what they ordered. If a guest asked for “ah-beetz with clams,” we knew they had a special connection to New Haven, Connecticut. Searching for “pepperoni rolls” meant the customer most likely came from West Virginia. If a patron requested “tomato pie” we would reply, “OK, will it be the Philly-style in a pan, or the Trenton, New Jersey, variation which is similar to a New York-style pizza, but with the sauce on top of the cheese?” Rather than debate the customers about which pizza was best or most “traditional” it became our mission to learn, embrace and honor the unique place that pizza holds in the hearts and memories of our customers.
As our business and our menu evolved, several factors emerged and validated our instinct to expand our pizza repertoire. For example, the most influential developments in our industry in the past few decades have been the Internet and the growing variety of cooking and travel shows on television. While in the past, our customers’ preferences were determined mostly by their childhood exposure to a local pizza variation, today’s guests are constantly reading about and seeing interesting variations that offer us incredible opportunities to expand our menu and increase our customer counts. Diversifying your pizza offerings will not only draw transplanted customers hungry for a taste of home, it will also bring in culinary adventurers and well travelled guests seeking to re-create the pizza experiences they have heard about or enjoyed elsewhere.
While champion pizza maker Tony Gemignani has chosen to offer many of the world’s most prominent pizza variations at his San Francisco-based Tony’s Pizza Napoletana and his fledgling New York-based outpost 900 Degrees, it may be best to offer only a few types based on an evaluation of your market and needs. With so many different pizza styles to choose from, how do you decide which variations are right for your pizzeria? I have found that the most important factors are equipment, service style, ingredient availability, staffing and training.
Some of the more unique pizza variations demand specific ovens and mixers to create authentic renditions. Obviously, New York-style coal-fired pizza must be baked in a coal oven. Does a Roman style pizza, which is up to a meter long and is often cut with scissors and sold by weight, have to be baked in an electric oven? Many of Chicago’s great pan pizza landmarks insist on using a rotating or revolving deck oven, yet years ago my kitchen visit to the original Pizzeria Uno revealed that they were baking outstanding pizzas in well used standard deck ovens.
It is important to consider flexibility. Your beautiful wood-burning oven may be perfect for classic Neapolitan style or even California-style pizza, but will probably be much too hot if you want to offer Sicilian-style pan pizza as well.
What about service? You may love the idea of walking up to a window in New York and ordering a thin, crispy slice of pizza like John Travolta did in the opening of Saturday Night Fever, but unless you are in an area that has the foot traffic of Brooklyn, pizza by the slice may not be right for you.
Largely, pizza variations evolved in response to social influences. While you may have a great recipe for Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, your customers may be unwilling to wait 40 minutes to get one. You must also consider the effect that offering this type of pie will have on your table turns. Many Chicago pizzerias evolved from taverns, where the objective was to keep customers in the establishment all night. Pizza makers in Naples want the pizzas to cook in 90 seconds so they can serve you and make room for the next customer. Even climate can affect the type of pizzas that will be popular: In Las Vegas, with extreme summer temperatures, we find that sales of heavier stuffed pizza will slow down while sales of lighter fare such as pizza margherita may increase. To that end, you may want to consider offering different pizza varieties on a seasonal basis. Just keep in mind that you must determine the economic goals of your pizzeria, your clientele and the limits of your facility when selecting the styles that you will offer.
Also keep in mind that different types of pizza require very specific ingredients. What you stock is going to be influenced by availability and space considerations. You may want to offer St. Louis style pizza, but unless Provel cheese (a blend of Swiss, white cheddar and provolone) is available in your area, that may not be a viable option. It is also possible that demand may not justify taking up space on your cook line or in your walk in cooler. In some cases certain ingredients may not be available because of health code restrictions. While bromated flour is the choice in New York, it is not widely available on the West Coast. That is why, over time, we have developed a basic dough that can be modified with various fermentation and shaping techniques to provide a broad range of pizza options.
As with any element of your restaurant, success is largely going to be dictated by staff training and education. Once you have determined which styles are right for you, your pizza makers and servers are going to need to be immersed in the history and rationale behind each pizza type. This can be an exciting journey that should include tastings, classes and even field trips for key employees so that they can experience the authentic pizza versions in their place of origin. Over the years we have taken dozens of employees to visit pizzerias that we admire and feel exemplify a particular pizza style. We also hold frequent tastings with long time customers who are invited to share their early pizza memories with our staff as a way of educating our employees and reinforcing the special connection people have with their hometown pies.
The pizza landscape is rapidly changing. Consumers are more adventurous and more knowledgeable. It is inevitable that more enterprising pizzamakers are going to begin offering a selection of pizza variations in order to stimulate customer interest.
Each year, International Pizza Expo brings thousands of pizza makers with diverse backgrounds to Las Vegas to showcase their talents and teach the unique methods of their specific pizza renditions. Once-hidden secrets and information about little known regional variations can now be easily accessed. By offering a variety of regional pizzas you can keep your guests and your staff engaged in the diverse world of pizza, honor our craft and keep your pizzeria vibrant, exciting and profitable.
John Arena is co-owner of Metro Pizza in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is also an adjunct instructor at the University of Nevada, where he teaches a class on the culture of pizza.
When I was told my mother had breast cancer, I wasn’t sure how to react. I was 15 years old and my grandfather, an important influence in my life, had recently passed away. I was still reeling from the effects of that loss when my mother told me about her diagnosis. The doctors said the outlook was encouraging, but the treatments were going to be anything but easy.
They were right on both counts. The treatments were harsh, but my mother survived and has been breast cancer free for two decades.
Unfortunately, not everyone diagnosed with the disease wins the battle. That was the case for Karen Mullen, wife of my friend Garrett Mullen. Though she fought the disease courageously, there was no cure for the type of breast cancer she had. Eventually, it was too much for her body to handle and she slipped away.
The sad truth is that approximately 40,000 women will die from breast cancer this year. That’s roughly 110 breast cancer deaths each and every day. That’s simply not acceptable — but what in the world could I, or anyone else who isn’t directly connected to medical research, for that matter, really do about it?
As I pondered this last November and December around the holidays (a time of year in which we tend to be thankful for those we love), the light bulb went off: October is National Pizza Month and National Breast Cancer Awareness Month … considering I’m the editor of Pizza Today, why not find a way to put the two together?
This started a long chain of events that eventually led to Slice of Hope. The first thing I did was talk to my publisher, Pete Lachapelle. He is an avid cyclist and had recently gotten me into the sport as well. Together we’d discussed the fact that we’d like to put together a pizza industry cycling event, but we weren’t quite sure where to go with it. When I thought of pairing up pizza and breast cancer research, I went to Pete and said, “Here’s our cycling event. We’ll bike from Point A to Point B to raise awareness for breast cancer research. We’ll encourage pizzerias to donate to the cause. That way, not only will we do something good for society, but we’ll also help out our industry by showing the world how caring and giving and community-oriented pizzerias are.”
Pete liked the idea and told me to run with it. So I called Joe Fugere, founder of Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria in Seattle. Joe is not only an astute businessman, but he’s quite the philanthropist. I asked him what he thought about the idea. He loved it and said, “Let’s make this happen.”
Joe introduced me to Garrett Mullen. Since that time, Garrett and I have become good friends. I learned just before meeting Garrett that his wife, Karen, had lost her battle to breast cancer on December 15, 2010. Needless to say, Garrett was motivated to take a swing at the disease.
I had dinner with Garrett one night and told him about Slice of Hope. Garrett works with restaurants across the country, including pizzerias, and he was on board from the start. He even offered to launch a new charity, a legal 501(c)3 entity that could take tax-deductible donations. Initially, one of the many roadblocks I ran into when trying to launch and plan Slice of Hope was the fact that Pizza Today is a business, not a charity. Hence, any donations made to Slice of Hope wouldn’t offer a tax benefit to pizzeria donors. I didn’t like that. If a mom-and-pop shop were going to donate $500, I wanted that to be tax deductible. If a large chain like Domino’s were going to donate $10,000 (which the company did earlier this summer, by the way), I knew that would need to come with a tax break.
I looked into launching a legal charity. Let’s just say that it is time-consuming and expensive. So when Garrett offered to take on that heavy lifting, I was more than thrilled.
A few months later, the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation was formed. The money the pizza industry collectively raises through Slice of Hope will be handed to the Foundation. Because of this step, any money a pizzeria donates will be tax deductible. The Foundation has a six-person Board of Directors that has been charged with studying the effectiveness of America’s breast cancer research labs. Four of America’s leading breast cancer research institutions will benefit from funding from the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation. More importantly, the Foundation is committed to passing on 100 percent of the Slice of Hope money it receives. Because the Foundation is volunteer staffed, it is in a unique position to do this.
In other words, every dollar America’s pizzerias contribute will be used for the cause. That was important to me from the beginning.
Now, all we need is your participation. Have you made a donation to Slice of Hope yet? If not, visit www.PizzaToday.com, click on the Slice of Hope icon and fill out the electronic pledge form. Your involvement is crucial and can make a real difference.
When Pete and I cycle from Portland to Seattle October 4-7, we’ll be making sure every media outlet that shows up to cover the event knows how giving and community-oriented the pizza industry happens to be. Now, you just need to get the word out locally. See Scott Anthony’s take on this over the next couple of pages. He’s got some great ideas to get you started.
On October 7, you will be a businessman and a philanthropist, and your sincerity for the cause is essential. Consumers love it when their local businesses get involved and give freely. And, remember, the cause here is twofold — to battle breast cancer and to unite the pizza industry and show the world just how giving and caring we are.
We want our donations to make a difference, but we also want to be able to promote our involvement without a lot of overhead. If we play our cards right, we’ll not only do a great thing for society, but we’ll also be able to draw on the goodwill of our communities. When our neighbors see how giving and connected we are, they’ll want to thank us by patronizing our pizzerias. It’s a win-win!
Here are a few tips to help you promote Slice of Hope in your community without taking on prohibitive PR expenses:
• Show your sincerity. Let your customers know that you are passionate about the cause, and tell them why Slice of Hope means something to you.
Here is what I was told about Slice of Hope by a few pizzeria owners that I talked with recently:
“Once I saw the article in Pizza Today, about Slice of Hope and it being national pizza month, along with breast cancer awareness month, I saw that it was necessary to join the Slice of Hope program to help in any way possible to contribute to such a great cause. My mother is a breast cancer survivor and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to honor her in some way.”
— Thomas W. Barrett, Owner, Tommy’s Pizza & Family Restaurant in Hertford, North Carolina.
“We are a new restaurant and my husband and I have both had breast cancer. Early detection is key. We will donate 20 percent of sales to the event.” — Patty Stump, Westshore Pizza, Mason, Ohio.
“My family has been fortunate to be unaffected by this tragic disease. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Being a woman, maybe I’m biased, but I think most women put taking care of everyone else as their priority. I want them to know that this time, they can’t. Early detection gives a 98 percent five-year survival rate — that’s huge!” — Danielle Burger, Co-Owner / Manager, Wally’s Pizza and Subs, Carson City, Nevada.
• Get the word out. Make a list of your local media outlets (newspapers, TV, radio, newsletters, church bulletins, social media). If you have filled out a Slice of Hope pledge form, then you will soon (or may have already) be receiving a press release that you can send to these outlets. All you have to do is customize it by adding your name in a few spots and updating the quote, then it’s ready to roll.
Don’t forget to invite the media to stop in to your “pizza party” on October 7th.
• Do something unique in-house. One idea would be to purchase Slice of Hope t-shirts (available at PizzaToday.com or by calling 800-489-8324) for your staff to wear on October 7. You could even purchase extra shirts and offer them for sale to your customers.
Beyond that, consider creating a special “Slice of Hope” pizza or menu item. Stump, for example, says she will be selling pink cupcakes. She also intends to set up a donation jar in case her customers want to give to the cause. Out west in Tacoma, Washington, Farrelli’s Wood-Fire Pizza is also accepting customer donations. Beyond that, the company is going to menu a Slice of Hope pizza for 2 to 4 weeks and donate $10 from the sale of each pizza to the Karen Mullen Breast
Personally, at my Fox’s Pizza Den in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, I will be creating radio spots using a customer who is also a breast cancer survivor. She’ll serve as a spokeswoman and encourage people to support the event.
Stump says she’ll use box toppers to saturate her market, while Barrett is going to pre-sell coupons for his featured menu item and will use in-house flyers and signage to create awareness of the upcoming event. Adds Burger: “We will, of course, be posting to Facebook, Twitter, our Web site and the specials board in our restaurant.”
• Can you cross-promote? Are there other like-minded businesses that would like to be involved? A medical supply company, insurance agency or fitness center, perhaps? Perhaps they’d like to make a donation to the charity in exchange for putting their logo on your Slice of Hope box topper? The more local businesses you can enlist, the more this feels like a local community event.
Lastly, don’t forget to be on top of your game with your food and service. On October 7, you’ll expose a multitude of potential new customers to your product. If the quality is high and the service is good, you’ll convert them to regulars. Buying from you will make them feel good. But you have to execute operationally to convert them.
One way to do this might be to streamline your menu for the day. Or feature a particular item, which benefits Slice of Hope, in an effort to keep things simple for your make-line.
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.
When Facebook was first introduced, the site was the online version of the Wild West, devoted primarily for collegiate use and of little consequence to a young suburban mother like myself. Fast forward a couple of years, and just about everyone I know –– including my in-laws, my 83-year-old great aunt and my friend’s dog –– has a Facebook account. Facebook reports a whopping 750 million active users –– and of those, 50 percent log on to Facebook on any given day. That’s a lot of potential customers you’re not reaching if you haven’t already built an online social media presence.
Twitter, on the other hand, hit the social networking scene in 2006 and has had more than 200 million users. Here, users send out microbursts of text-based messages called Tweets in 140 characters or less. That 140-limit includes your user name (e.g., @BellasPizza) and photo or Web links.
As a small business owner, you’re not limited to using one or the other. There are pros and cons to both, but the capability to link the two sites –– for example, to post on Facebook and have it also applied as a Tweet on Twitter –– makes it a win-win for users.
(For the record, Facebook overtook ailing Myspace as the No. 1 social media site in April 2008. Since then, audience measurement site Quantcast estimates that Myspace’s monthly U.S. visitors ranked at just under 20 million and in June of this year, Myspace laid off a substantial amount of employees.)
Setting up a Facebook page and a Twitter account is free and easy –– all you need is someone to maintain them. Bill Jacobs at Piece Brewery & Pizzeria in Chicago maintains the majority of his company’s social media presence through apps on his smart phone. He can Tweet a new special, upload a photo of one of the company’s new signature brews to Facebook or give a shout out to the employee of the month on both sites –– all without leaving his busy dining room. “We are active on Twitter daily and we update Facebook either every day or every other day,” Jacobs says.
Ray Perkins, owner of Chubby Ray’s Louisville Pizza Co. in Louisville, Kentucky, also uses Facebook to update his customers. “It's all about making friends,” he says. “People are going to eat and they like to buy from their friends. It doesn't hurt that we have excellent food, too.”
Here are some tips to set up and maintain accounts for two of the most popular social media sites:
• Twitter. To set up a Twitter account, visit www.twitter.com. You’ll need to submit your full name, e-mail and create a password. On the next page, you’ll then be prompted to tighten your password if it’s easily detectable (use a combination of numbers and letters for maximum security). You will also learn if the username you’d prefer to use is taken –– all usernames begin with the @ symbol (our own is @PizzaToday). If your restaurant’s name is Bella’s Pizza, there could be dozens of similar names in use across the country. Try adding on a street name or city abbreviation if you’ve got several locations. You’ve got the option to create separate Twitter accounts if your company’s units act independently (for instance, a downtown location may offer slices while its sister suburban location might not). A good example of this practice is exhibited by Tutta Bella, which has several locations in the Seattle area. The company’s different locations have their own accounts and Tweet separately –– @tuttabellaWL is the company’s West Lake location, while @MyTuttaBella is its corporate account.
Once you’ve set up your Twitter account, start advertising it on your marketing by encouraging your customers to follow you. To do so, those that have Twitter accounts simply hit “FOLLOW” on their own pages, and your Tweets become visible in their new streams.
It’s important not to inundate your followers with too many Tweets (I’ve often “unfollowed” companies who seem to be clogging my feed with Tweets every three minutes). Tweeting your lunch special once every half-hour in the morning will get the attention of those who glance through their Twitter feeds periodically.
Other potential topics to post on Twitter:
• new drink specials
• happy hour offerings
• special events such as karaoke, live bands or kids’ nights
• job openings
• special awards
• Facebook. Here at Pizza Today, we originally set up our company Facebook account as a private account that required approving anyone who wished to join our social network. We shuttered that account for the more user friendly Facebook fan page about 18 months ago.
Global online intelligence service Experian Hitwise reports that social media users spend more than four-and-a-half hours a month on Facebook, compared to two hours and 12 minutes on Twitter. Much of that is due to the fact that Facebook moves at a slower pace –– posts tend to remain in users’ news feeds for a longer time than on Twitter. Here, you’re able to post longer messages to your users, maintain galleries of photos and create events to which guests can RSVP.
A great example of a Facebook fan page is Eddie’s Pizzeria Cerino in Ohio. “We have been managing a Facebook page for the pizzeria for over two years. We find it to be an extremely effective and cost efficient marketing tool. We post at least four to five times a week, usually with a food picture,” says owner Eddie Cerino, who maintains a personal page for his own private use, but his company’s fan page features daily specials like the Veal Saltimbocca, pictures of his chefs in the kitchen and gorgeous food photography shot by his wife. “Having a wife who is a professional food photographer and graphic designer allows us to post great photos of our product cheaply and easily. We constantly have guests tell us that the latest post on Facebook is the reason they are dining with us tonight,” he says.
Still, you don’t need professional photography to get your point across –– feel free to post simple cellphone shots of new dishes, bands in your dining room and behind-the-scenes shots of cooking (Pizza Today’s Facebook fans enjoy photos of our in-house chefs and artists during photo shoots –– and I shoot many with my smart phone).
To set up a Facebook fan page, you’ll first need to set up a personal account for yourself. Next, go to www.facebook.com/facebookpages and click the ‘Create a Page” tab on the right side of the page. On the next screen, click “Local Business or place” and the site will then prompt you through the easy process.
You also have the option to link your Facebook and Twitter pages, so that if you post on Facebook, it automatically posts on Twitter. The only downside to this practice is that if you post pictures on Facebook, it will link to Twitter — but if users are on Twitter and do not have a Facebook account, they will not be able to see the photos.
When it comes to maintaining your social media, it’s best to either do it yourself or delegate to someone you trust, such as a manager or longtime employee to avoid abuse or accidental slips (last March, car manufacturer Chrysler issued a public apology after an inappropriate Tweet went out on its corporate account via an employee of its social media agency of record who thought he was on his own account. Oops). Also, avoid multiple accesses to your accounts –– you don’t want three people Tweeting or posting on Facebook the same announcement.
It’s also important to track your Facebook comments and return Tweets –– this is direct feedback from your clientele and is a great communication tool. “We also notice interaction with our staff and customers on our site,” says Cerino. “The staff loves discussing specials and how many they sold on their last shift. They also enjoy commenting and posting photos of company functions such as Christmas parties and holiday cookouts. Customers appreciate and feel as they are part of the pizzeria family.”
Finally, should you monitor your employees’ personal social media? Two years ago, Domino’s Pizza had to deal with public backlash concerning YouTube videos of two errant employees conducting multiple violations in a store that was eventually shuttered. (The company later earned a public relations award for its handling of the events). California Pizza Kitchen tracked down and fired an employee who complained on Twitter about a uniform change. In a world where social media is the everyday norm, it is wise to include a section concerning social media in your employee handbooks. Policing your employees’ social media use is time consuming, but ultimately can affect your brand’s image and your bottom line.
Once you've got your social media designed, this is not something to "set and forget." You’re going to need to stay atop of the constantly changing landscape of social media sites, such as the recently launched Google+. Doing so will help you stay on top of your marketing game –– and your competitors.
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today. Visit our own social media sites by using the Facebook keywords PIZZA TODAY and following us at @PizzaToday on Twitter.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
This is the greatest pizza in the world.” That was the mantra that my dad, Dick, repeated to my three brothers and me as kids growing up in New Haven, Connecticut. Sally’s Apizza on Wooster Street was our place. Dick, a lifelong New Haven resident, ate there as a child going back to 1938 when Sally’s first opened its doors. And this is where it all started for me — my love for New Haven pizza and my desire to have it in Chicago, my home since 1983.
New Haven pizza earned its reputation from the Neapolitan-style pies baked in the hot brick ovens at Sally’s, Pepe’s and Modern Apizza, arguably the area’s holy trinity. At these places, hand-formed “pies”— or apizza, pronounced “ah-beetz” — are shoveled in and out of the ovens on long wooden peel boards. They are chewy and crisp, with just the right amount of bright fresh sauce, mozzarella (“mutz”) and toppings. Toppings are not piled on with a heavy hand, but added carefully and in a lighter quantity to enable the customer to taste and enjoy the wonderful fresh flavors. It’s addictive stuff. Slices from a large pizza are thin tapering triangles, different from the fat wedges you get in a New York slice. Every slice can and should be held in your hand, pinched in at the crust, and eaten with gusto, your other hand supporting the floppy point of the triangle. This is tasty, no-nonsense food eaten communally from an 18-inch by 26-inch metal pan lined with paper. A knife and fork is somewhat of a faux pas — unless you are the Queen of England.
Unlike in New York, New Haven pizza is sold only as a whole pizza, not by-the-slice.
While the majority of pies have the traditional red sauce and mozzarella, two styles of pizza are indigenous to New Haven: the plain pie and the white pie. The original pizza was the plain (or “tomato”) pie. This pizza comes with fresh tomato sauce, a little garlic and a smattering of good flavorful Parmesan. It does not have mozzarella. It’s a subtle, delicious classic that harkens back to the early days of New Haven pizza making, when a pizza, according to my dad, cost twenty five cents for a small at Sally’s.
The white pie, “Bianca” in New Haven, is light, moist and full of flavor, made with an olive-oil base, topped with mozzarella, Parmesan and toppings. The white clam pizza is also a New Haven classic, often using native New England clams.
In July of 2001 I opened Piece, my pizzeria/brewpub in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. Life as a food industry entrepreneur was nothing new to me. Prior to Piece, my brothers Andy, Pete and I had developed a chain of bagel restaurants, Jacobs Bros. Bagels, from 1983-1999. Fresh out of college, we had moved to Chicago after identifying it as a market sorely in need of the great authentic bagels you find in the Northeast. Over the years, we never stopped craving New Haven pizza, searching for something similar but finding only the deep-dish style that Chicago had been known for. So after selling the bagel business, I seized the opportunity, putting together a business plan to bring New Haven pizza and outstanding micro-brewed beer (which we brew in-house) to Chicago. I wanted to fill the astounding void for top-notch thin-crust pizza, which was missing from this world-class city.
Naysayers everywhere chanted a new mantra to me: “You’re crazy!” Bring an East Coast thin-crust pizza to the very Midwest birthplace of deep-dish, and then call it New Haven style? But remember: I grew up eating the greatest pizza in the world. I knew in my heart that if I could serve a pie that came anywhere close to that, even die-hard deep-dish devotees would nod in approval.
With help from a childhood friend who was baking pizza in New Haven, combined with my bagel business background, we opened our doors to a warm reception. It certainly helped to have employed two girls from MTV’s “The Real World: Chicago,” whose house was fortuitously located across the street. The pizza was good, but frankly not as consistently good as it is today. And the beer has always been fantastic, thanks to our brilliant award-winning brewmaster Jonathan Cutler.
When we opened, our customers were curious about this pizza marketed as New Haven style. Unless you were from Connecticut or had some tie to the area, this New Haven pizza thing was completely foreign, never heard of. But we’ve been fortunate with the success of Piece, and today, thanks in no small measure to the foodies, their blogs and forums, the Travel Channel and the Food Network, New Haven pizza is rightfully recognized here. Chicagoans embrace it.
Today, between Piece and our adjacent delivery and take-out space, Piece Out, we sell an average of 3,600 hand-made pizzas each week. Sales continue to grow even as we hit our 10th year.
If you saw last month’s issue of Pizza Today, then you know the magazine named Piece the 2011 Independent Pizzeria of the Year. The question I’m sure you have is: “how did we do it?”
I think our success is tied to a number of factors. For one, we have remained focused on our core product. With the exception of a couple of salads and several appetizers, the menu is all about the pizza. No wings. No mozzarella sticks. Just hand-formed, made-to-order New Haven pizza. And beer.
Our location helps. People love the still-somewhat edgy and artsy Wicker Park neighborhood. And the premises themselves are impressive, situated within an old industrial bow-truss building with exposed wooden trusses and a thirty-five foot high open ceiling lined with skylights. It’s a great space with a really fun vibe.
Service is also key. Piece has trainers and training programs for every area of the operation. Our managers, servers, bartenders, bakers, dough makers, hosts and phone-order takers are the face of the company and the engine that makes the business run. Our staff retention is terrific. After 10 years of operation, we continue to employ members of our original staff.
While we do not spend much money on running print ads, we market actively at the point-of purchase on tables, banners, posters in bathrooms, and on pizza boxes. We are active on Twitter, Facebook and our Web site. Our marketing has a witty sensibility to it, and we keep the same tone in all of our materials. This approach, combined with the memorable Piece logo, has effectively built a well-respected and recognized brand in Chicago.
I’m going to do something I don’t do very often in print: brag. The news is so good that there’s no way I can keep it to myself.
Pizza Today and International Pizza Expo already comprise the best magazine and tradeshow in foodservice. I have absolutely no qualms about making that statement. And now, I’m ecstatic to announce that the best just got even better.
At the end of July, as we were preparing to print this issue, Pizza Today was notified that we had won four TABBIE awards. Approximately 400 trade magazines from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, India, New Zealand and South Africa were considered for awards by the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI). Of those, only seven magazines — 1.7 percent — won four or more awards. Not only was Pizza Today in that very select top two percent — but we were the only foodservice publication to win an award.
Pizza Today took home bronze honors in the Editor’s Column (“Is Pizza Fast Food,” July 2010) and Focus/Profile Article categories (for our Independent of the Year coverage of Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizza in Seattle in August 2010). We also were selected as the first honorable mention in the Opening Page or Spread design category (“Flavorful Pasta,” March 2010) and earned 9th over all in the Best Single Issue: Top 25 category (March 2010).
Needless to say, I’m proud of these achievements. I’m blessed to work with the best editors, designers and photographers in the business. But I’m even more blessed to be part of a vibrant industry that makes it easy to pump out good stories and photos. When the subject matter is strong, half the battle is already won.
That’s also the case for my colleagues at International Pizza Expo. After the last two tradeshows, I wondered how it would be possible to make the world’s largest and most-respected pizza event any better. But trust me — there are big things coming March 13-15 in Las Vegas. Expo staff members have been examining every aspect of the show, top to bottom, with critical eyes. As a result, more seminars and demonstrations than ever before will be led by highly successful pizzeria owners. While professional speakers are polished and have a place at the Expo, they don’t necessarily understand the pizza business inside and out. That can’t be said of the pizzeria owners who will lead educational sessions this coming March. Stay tuned in the upcoming months as Expo brochures that detail the 2012 speaker lineup will be published. I think you’re going to like the changes that have been made.
Jeremy White, editor-in-chief
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