Affinity for Artichokes
Artichokes add sophistication and flavor to pizzas
BY MELANIE WOLKOFF WACHSMAN
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
When G. Terrill Brazelton, head chef at Slice Stone Pizza and Brew in Birmingham, Alabama, developed his pizza menu, including artichokes was a no-brainer. After all, Brazelton grew up eating steamed artichokes from his parent’s California garden. Today, he places artichoke hearts on the “Very Veggie” pizza alongside spinach, mushrooms, Kalamata olives, onions, jalapeños, garlic and feta. The “Mediterranean” combines artichoke hearts, red onion, Kalamata olives, sun-dried tomato, spiced lamb, pine nuts, feta and is finished with a cucumber sauce made of Greek yogurt, cucumbers, dill, lime juice, salt, pepper and minced garlic.
“We use artichokes on our pizzas because obviously they taste good, but they also have a unique trait that makes every food you eat after an artichoke sweeter,” Brazelton says.
Brazelton’s not alone in his affinity for artichokes. Once considered a “far out” pizza topping five or 10 years ago, artichokes are now common on gourmet pizza menus.
Giovanni Annunziato, owner of The Olde World Bakery & Cafe in Easthampton, New Jersey, also developed his love for artichokes during childhood. Today, artichoke hearts appear on the restaurant’s “Capricciosa” pizza (tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, sopressata, Gaeta olives and mushrooms); the “Olde World Signature” pizza (tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, roasted peppers, garlic, Gaeta olives and mushrooms) and the “Quattro Stagioni” pizza (tomato sauce, mozzarella, parmiagiano cheese, prosciutto, mushrooms and roasted peppers). To prepare, Annunziato marinates artichokes in an olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic mixture for 24 hours prior to baking.
“We want to stay true to our roots and want all the Mediterranean flavors that remind us of our childhood in Italy to be included on our pizzas,” Annunziato says.
Brix Iverson, corporate chef and general manager of The Rock Wood Fired Pizza & Spirits in Tacoma, Washington, also enjoys utilizing artichokes. “Their mellow but distinct flavor makes them an excellent choice for pizzas because they can be combined with so many other ingredients,” he says, noting that artichokes pair well with capers, tomatoes, basil, oregano and meats like ham, prosciutto and sausage.
Iverson should know. He runs The Rock’s test kitchen. His successful “Evil Ways” pizza starts with hand-tossed pizza dough that is topped with pesto cream sauce, quartered artichoke hearts, diced red onions, sautéed spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, and Pecorino, Romano and mozzarella cheeses. “Artichokes lend themselves well to the sharp flavors of the sun-dried tomatoes and the freshly diced red onion and garlic,” he says.
Jacksonville, Florida-based The Loop Pizza Grill menus two pizzas starring artichokes: artichoke and smoked bacon and artichoke and roasted red pepper. (The Loop Pizza Grill has 14 locations throughout Florida, North Carolina and Georgia.) “Artichokes do not have an overwhelming flavor of their own, so they pair nicely with other full-flavored ingredients like red peppers and bacon,” says Cathy Manzon, director of marketing at The Loop Restaurant Group. She also lists sausage, green peppers and caramelized onions as complementary flavors.
Brazelton says there’s not an ingredient artichokes doesn’t pair with well. “Because of the way artichokes are processed, they pair well with any food you are looking to create a slightly sweeter taste such as olives, hot peppers and mushrooms,” he says.
Artichokes don’t need to be limited to pizzas. Let artichokes adorn antipasti plates or stir into cream-based soups. Entice diners with a battered and deep-fried hearts appetizer.
“Artichokes are delicious in a variety of appetizers and salads,” says Brazelton, who places artichokes in his spinach, chicken and artichoke lasagna. Iverson places baby quartered artichoke hearts in spinach artichoke dip, jalapeño artichoke mini-sized calzones and chicken picatta.
Operators do need to be aware of certain artichoke handling and prep tips. To avoid a soggy pizza, operators must drain canned products well. To prevent artichokes from watering out during baking, Brazelton gives them a quick chop and squeeze before adding to pies. When preparing fresh artichokes he puts a small amount of lemon juice in the cooking water to mellow the flavor. Artichokes are a member of the thistle family, “so always inspect for thorns that are left behind,” Iverson reminds.
Artichokes are available year-round in sizes ranging from baby to jumbo, either canned, jarred, frozen or fresh. Processed artichoke hearts and bottoms can be found whole or quartered. Quartered artichokes are the least expensive, but also the most delicate. Operators must practice caution when using since the product can fall apart. Whole artichoke hearts are the most expensive.
Many operators prefer canned product for its consistency, minimal prep and easy portioning. Iverson purchases imported baby artichoke hearts from Spain, canned and quartered. “If you purchase a prepped artichoke product, most of the work is done for you,” he says. Manzon agrees: “Canned artichokes allows us to get greater coverage on pizzas so the guest gets a little artichoke with every bite.”
Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky. She covers food, business and lifestyle trends.
ALFREDO THE GREAT
A must-have sauce in pizzerias, so why not make it in-house?
BY KATIE AYOUB
PHOTO BY JOSH KEOWN
Alfredo is a rich, decadent cream sauce with legions of followers. Created by Roman restaurateur Alfredo di Lello in the 1920s, classic Alfredo sauce sees a blend of heavy cream, butter, Parmesan and a generous grinding of black pepper. Fettuccine is Alfredo’s favorite pasta, but this versatile sauce is finding its way across the menu — as a base for white pizza, a dipping sauce for fried apps and as a sauce for pastas other than fettuccine, like ravioli and baked rigatoni. Some restaurants are making their Alfredo signature — with either pitch-perfect execution or memorable variations (Cajun-spiced Alfredo, anyone?). But like all cream sauces, making it takes care and attention…and the raw ingredients used in Alfredo aren’t inexpensive. Why make it in-house? Pizza Today spoke with operators who make Alfredo from scratch—with the profit margins to prove that it’s a worthy endeavor.
“When I’m interviewing a new line cook, one of my first questions is, ‘Can you make an Alfredo sauce?’” says Monte Salem, manager/co-owner of Marco Polo Pizzeria in New Haven, Connecticut. Fettuccine Alfredo is one of this 40-seat Italian-style pizzeria’s most popular pastas. Another bestseller? Cajun Alfredo with Grilled Chicken. For his Alfredo sauce, Salem combines heavy cream with Parmesan and light spices. “We don’t add butter,” he says. “If you add butter, it’s too heavy.” For the Cajun version, he adds Cajun seasoning to the sauce. “It’s a simple variation, but a really successful one. People like the added heat,” he says. When cooking the sauce, he recommends patience. “You have to be patient with Alfredo. If you leave it too long on the stove, it will scorch and get too thick,” says Salem. The staff cooks the dishes to order, so Alfredo sauce is made continually throughout service. He pegs the food cost between 25 and 30 percent.
Salem says from-scratch cookery is an important benchmark for Marco Polo. “Our business is based on homemade sauces and soups,” he says. “Our customers expect it. It’s a mark of freshness, so it’s very important to them. You can try to save time with pre-made, but you’ll pay for it in other ways.”
Mama Roni’s Pizza in Fort Collins, Colorado, has learned that lesson and is changing up its back-of-house strategy. This two-store concept just switched to house-made Alfredo. Previously, the line cooks mixed a powdered sauce with milk and water, doctoring it with cheese to bolster the flavor and texture. And before that, the restaurant sourced a ready-made bagged product that tasted good, but was costly. It also blocked the brand’s ability to claim craftsmanship. “We used to get pretty good feedback on the bagged sauce,” says Owner Greg Thomas, “but the first question we would get after they complimented it was, ‘Is it homemade?’ We wanted a better answer.”
At press time, Thomas was working on the Alfredo recipe. So far: heavy cream, Parmesan, other cheeses, seasoning and garlic. “We’re just trying to figure out how much butter to add, or maybe cream cheese instead,” he says. “We’re trying to make a signature, out-of-this-world Alfredo, so we’re tweaking it until it’s perfect.”
How will it impact the bottom line? “It’s really not going to affect food cost too much, but it will add more in labor,” says Thomas. “But, it’s worth it. Not only can we brand it as homemade, but we’re putting money into the local payroll to people who really need it.”
Mama Roni’s from-scratch Alfredo shows up across the menu. On its Chicken Alfredo Pizza, housemade dough gets topped with Alfredo sauce, minced garlic and mozzarella. Sliced chicken, tomato, mushroom and more mozzarella go over the sauce. Once baked, shaved Parmesan finishes the pizza. In its Cheesy Fettuccine baked pasta, pre-boiled noodles get tossed in Alfredo sauce and then placed in a foil round, topped with bacon and a mix of provolone and mozzarella. It is then baked until brown and bubbly.
At Sal’s Pizza & Italian Eatery in Santa Barbara, California, Alfredo sauce stars in five dishes. Salvador Esquivel, owner of this 26-seat restaurant with a bustling take-out and delivery arm, says the challenge with Alfredo is in the details. “You need to pay attention to the sauce,” he says. “You can’t heat the cream too fast or it will burn and evaporate, then you have to throw it away.” He recommends cooking it over a low flame for 15 minutes, stirring regularly. He has trained two employees how to make the Alfredo sauce. “I will only let those two make it, and when I trained them, I watched them closely until they got it just right,” says Esquivel. The restaurant makes a big batch of the sauce before service, keeping it on a low flame throughout the shift.
His recipe diverges from the classic, calling for heavy cream, butter, Parmesan cheese, white wine, garlic, salt and white pepper. Penne Peppe, starring Alfredo, roasted red pepper and sausage, is one of Sal’s top three pastas. Pizza Bianca is a solid performer on the pizza menu, and boasts a thin crust, Alfredo sauce, mozzarella, mushrooms, tomato and chicken. The No. 1 seller? Cajun Fettuccine. This pasta sees Alfredo blended with Cajun spices and topped with Cajun-spiced chicken. And food cost? “The ingredients are expensive, but they balance out with how inexpensive pasta is, so it still makes the numbers look good, and you just can’t beat the word-of-mouth you get from a good Alfredo,” says Esquivel.
Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.
Q&A: Menu Development
BY BIG DAVE OSTRANDER
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
I haven’t updated my menu in a couple of years except for price adjustments. Is it worth it to pay a professional company to do this for me?
I’m rarely stopped dead in my tracks. A few years ago, however, I did a double-take as I passed an exhibitor’s booth at International Pizza Expo. It was setup day, and I was getting a sneak-peak at what attendees would see on the show floor. This particular booth showcased menus and flyers that were stunning in layout, design, photography and professionalism. It was eye candy for me.
Too often, restaurant menus are uninspired price lists. That’s a shame, because your menu is a powerful marketing and sales tool. Analyzing and costing out your menu is part of the equation; designing it smartly brings it all full circle.
A well-thought-out menu design will bring about sales increases, sometimes in the double-digits. The key is to produce classy, eye-catching pieces that convey your quality, brand and image.
Remember, your menu is a marketing piece. Its performance should be scrutinized the same way you critique the results generated by your flyers, newspaper ads, door hangers, etc.
Perception is reality in your customers’ eyes. If your menu looks amateurish and boring, your guests will unconscientiously think your operation is amateurish and boring. If it sizzles with color, photos, stories and mouth-watering descriptions of your entrées … Well, you get the picture.
Many of my single-unit clients have been asked if they were part of a larger franchise company because of how refined their image happens to be. Trust me, putting a pretty face on your current menu will do good things to your top line sales. Menus are like pizzeria managers — they are either moneymakers or money losers. Pretty menus coupled with current and updated data, and backed up with period reports, are guaranteed to generate gobs of new cash you may be leaving on the table today. Get started!
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.
Behind the Curtain:
An inside look at judging the International Pizza Challenge
BY SCOTT WIENER
PHOTOS BY RICK DAUGHERTY
You make the best pizza in town. Your ingredients are fresh, you have the perfect oven and nobody will ever guess what’s in your secret sauce. People always say you should enter a pizza competition so you can bring home a trophy and legitimize their claim to friends that yours is the best pizza in the country. But how do these competitions work? Who picks the winner and how do they decide what’s good and what’s garbage-bound? As someone who has judged several of these competitions, I’d like to take you behind the scenes to tell you what I am looking for in the perfect pie.
First, let’s find out who’s in the judges’ booth. Every panel offers a cross-section of your peers. Restaurateurs, consultants, managers and chefs are just a few of the categories from which judges are culled. Some are from Italy, some are from Canada, some are from Chicago and some are from Ohio. I make a living leading tours through significant pizzerias in New York City and I spend much time visiting pizzerias beyond the five boroughs, so I serve as a representative of your customer base. Panels are evenly split so your score will reflect a true average of the pizza industry.
How does the competition work? Every round consists of 8 to 12 entries, after which the panel changes. The objective for a judge is to eat just enough of every slice to properly critique it without filling up. My personal mantra is “take a bite of the tip and a bite of the lip.” This way, I can factor in all textures of the slice before making my decision. Sometimes it’s hard to put down a slice, especially at the beginning of a round, but self-control goes a long way toward the good of the competition. I know I’ve done a good job when I’m still hungry after completing a cycle.
Even with limited tastes, it can still become difficult to distinguish between slices. That’s why I bring a small arsenal of palate cleansers into the judges’ table. My beverage of choice is a simple mineral water with light carbonation to stimulate the palate. Sometimes I’ll add a squirt of lemon because the acidity clears the palate while also aiding digestion. Since the lemon is already on hand, we’ll chew on small pieces of rind after a particularly powerful slice. Entries in each round are scheduled randomly, so a light slice could potentially follow a much heavier one and vise versa. Apple wedges are also great palate cleansers, but it’s best to use a neutral variety rather than something excessively sweet or sour. Finally, I’ll keep a small container of strong coffee beans on hand to keep the nasal passages sparky. One whiff is like hitting a reset button for your olfactory system. Scent is a key component to taste, so it’s important to maintain proper sensory response in order to get a dish’s full impact.
As important as taste and smell are to the judging process, always remember that we eat with our eyes before a single morsel hits the lips. That’s why my most valuable judging tool is a digital camera, which allows me to keep visual records of every entry. I take a shot of the surface, the cross-section and the underside. It’s easy to see from a photo if there was an issue with the bake or a mismanagement of toppings. After completing a judging round, we often review photos of each submission and make final changes to the score sheet.
Now that you know how judges manage an onslaught of flavor, let’s look into the grading process. Scores are split into several categories: crust, toppings (includes cheese and sauce), bake, presentation and overall taste. Assigning a numeric grade to food is extremely difficult since taste is subjective. As judges, we have to overlook personal preferences in favor of what I call “Intent and Execution.” Did this pizza achieve its goal? If you’re submitting a BBQ duck pizza, I should be able to taste both the richness of the duck and the smoky BBQ flavor. Think critically about your entry before the big day arrives because there might be a key element missing from your all-star pie that your customers aren’t concerned with.
The biggest mistake a pizzaiolo can make is what I like to call K.S.S., or Kitchen Sink Syndrome. They think the best way to achieve maximum flavor is by loading up on toppings, but nothing could be further from the truth. A heavy hand usually does more harm than good. That might not be the case on Superbowl Sunday, but this is a culinary competition and you have to approach it as such. Don’t pile five cured meats, three imported cheeses, fresh veggies and a dozen carefully blended spices only to neglect the pizza’s overall taste. The mark of a great pizza maker is not the ability to go shopping for impressive ingredients, but the technique to construct a balanced flavor profile.
As a byproduct of K.S.S., there’s usually some neglect in the crust department. Don’t forget that there are two sections of the score sheet dedicated to your crust since we grade “bake” on its own line. The one common element of every pizza you will ever eat is that they all involve a bread base. Toppings are interchangeable, but crust is what makes this a pizza and not a pile of saucy cheese. Pay close attention to your bake because a nasty gum line will certainly be reflected in your score.
Competing in a culinary competition like the International Pizza Challenge is no walk in the park. We understand that you’re away from your home court, baking in an unfamiliar oven in a room that’s 10 degrees colder than your restaurant. Just remember that every contestant has the same restrictions, making it a truly level playing field. The best pizza makers overcome these obstacles to create something special. At the end of the day, your customers are the only judges who really count, but I’m sure they’d be proud to see you come home with a first-place trophy from the International Pizza Expo. Now that you’ve had a look into the judges’ booth, you’ll be better equipped to bring home the big prize and give your loyal customers the greatest gift of all: bragging rights.
Scott Weiner owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.
Perennial staple among customers’ top appetizer favorites
BY PASQUALE "PAT" BRUNO
PHOTO BY JOSH KEOWN
Bruschetta (broo-SKEH-tah) has emerged as a very popular appetizer (running a close second to fried calamari). In the Italian repertoire of appetizers, offering bruschetta makes a lot of sense. It’s easy to prepare, it holds well (meaning it can be prepped well ahead) and it can be offered at an attractive price. The food costs are low, and that helps balance out the average food costs over, say, appetizers as a category.
The simplest definition of bruschetta is that it is toasted bread topped with one thing or another. To elaborate, bruschetta is a slice (oval or round) of toasted bread that is rubbed with a clove of garlic followed by a drizzle of olive oil, followed by whatever topping (much like pizza) that enhances its ability to sell. In the Tuscan region, bruschetta often shows up using its alias, fettunta, and is a way to salvage bread that is a day or two old or on the road to going stale. The Spanish version of bruschetta is called pan con tomate (bread rubbed with tomato). When I was doing pizza-consulting work in Spain, I cannot recall any restaurant (or tapas bar) that did not offer some version of pan con tomate.
Bruschetta is not a menu offering that you have to over think. For example, you can use whatever bread you have on hand (fresh or day old). What you top that slice of bread with is limited only to how deep into the creative well you wish to go. Common sense must prevail, however. Obviously, topping a slice of bread with costly ingredients will ramp up the menu price, and the average customer does not expect to shell out a lot of bucks for a rustic appetizer. So keep it simple, but keep it good.
Let’s start with a slice of bread –– size and shape to be determined. Then we take a look at what might work as a topping for that piece of bread. Other considerations include the toasting of the bread. Not too little, not too much. Work it so that the customer is able to pick up the slice easily and take a bite or two. Or allow for an easy cut using a sharp knife.
Garlic adds an important dimension of flavor to a bruschetta, so toasting or grilling the bread to create a coarse surface allows using the bread as a grater. As you rub the garlic clove over the bread, note the amount of garlic (it might be more than you bargained for).
Here are some topping combinations that I have used in the past with great success. If you want to put a name to each one to enhance customer appeal by all means, do so. For example the first one could be called “Caprese.”
Note: In each version below, assume the toasting or grilling of the bread and a fresh garlic rub. Add EVOO where it makes sense (over the bread or over the toppings). Top each slice of bread with:slices of fresh Roma tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, a chiffonade of fresh basil and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan;
smear of pesto sauce, strips or roasted red peppers, a sprinkle of Parmesan and a few leaves of fresh basil (optional);
slices with crushed (actually crushed into a paste) of cannellini beans, crushed red pepper flakes, grated Parmesan and dried oregano;
a smear of ricotta, thinly sliced Roma tomatoes, grated Parmesan;
a “relish” made of chopped fresh tomatoes, red onion, olives, capers and EVOO;
a mixture of finely chopped romaine lettuce, shingles of Parmesan, fillets of anchovies and EVOO (obviously, I would call this a “Caesar Bruschetta”).
You can add even more interest by shaking up the cheeses. For example, crumbled Gorgonzola with roasted plum tomatoes would be an excellent idea. Use crumbled feta with pitted and chopped Kalamata olives and tomatoes to do a Greek version of bruschetta.
If you wish to do a “grilled cheese” version of bruschetta, sprinkle shredded mozzarella (or a combination of cheeses) over the toasted and garlic-rubbed bread slices. Slide it under the broiler to melt the cheese. Serve at once.
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 former food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.
JEREMY WHITE, EDITOR IN CHIEF
The good foks at International Pizza Expo are making a push to acquire more Twitter followers and Facebook fans. We all know social media is a hot commodity and, really, who in this industry doesn’t want to know what’s going on at the world’s top pizza show?
Speaking of hot commodities, is any gift more exciting than an iPad2 these days?
If you’d like to have your very own, connecting with Pizza Expo on popular social media platforms just may pay off in a big way. Now through the end of the show (which runs March 13-15 at the Las Vegas Convention Center), International Pizza Expo organizers are giving away a total of 4 iPad2 devices. And you don’t have to be present at the Expo to win one (but, really, why would you miss it?).
Want a chance to win? Entering couldn’t be easier. Simply “Like” Pizza Expo on Facebook and then share its current status. Or follow @PizzaExpo on Twitter and retweet one of its current Tweets.
While you’re at it ... don’t forget to follow Pizza Today (@PizzaToday) and like us on Facebook (search: Pizza Today). We’ve got a lot of things to say each and every day ... and a small portion of it just might be worth reading!
Lastly, Big Dave Ostrander and Pat Bruno, two fan favorites, will, unfortunately, be missing from this year’s Expo lineup. Life has a way of throwing us curveballs from time to time, and these two heavy hitters are dealing with that fact at the moment. Though both men are battling cancer, they remain resilient, hopeful and dedicated to this great industry.
While their current treatments preclude them from traveling to Las Vegas, they have continued to write articles for Pizza Today each month. See Big Dave’s latest on page 18 and Pat Bruno’s on pages 50 and 54. For those of you who would like to pass on well wishes to Big Dave and Pat, I encourage you to send them cards, notes, jokes, etc. You can mail them to my attention at 908 S. 8th Street, Suite 200, Louisville, KY 40203 and I’ll pass them on ASAP.
Jeremy White, editor-in-chief
A Conversation with Shawn Randazzo
Shawn lets us in on sending pizza anywhere in the U.S., catering and growth strategies
Our “Send a Pizza Anywhere in the U.S.” was created to make it convenient for people who have moved out of state to still enjoy our authentic Detroit-Style Pizza that they crave and miss so much. With this service anyone can easily order a pizza package through our Web site, whether it is for a gift or for themselves. When ordering they have an option to enclose a card or message, which is included in the package. All the orders we receive throughout the week are baked fresh on Sunday, cooled down, individually sealed air tight, and then quickly frozen. Monday we put the packages together using insulated shipping boxes and a combination of dry ice and a product called techni-ice.
There are several steps we took to ensure the quality of our pizzas upon arrival. Starting with the pizzas, we bake them fresh the day before they are sent out. Each pizza is individually sealed airtight in a FDA approved poly. Since the pizza sauce goes on top of our pizzas, we separately package the sauce, as the pizzas turn out much better when the sauce is applied right before baking them in your home oven. Testing with friends and family out of state has been very helpful. We also have tested several packages in different climates by recording the time and temperature of the package. Recording temperatures and times, we were able to create a system to determine the amount of dry ice and techni-ice needed for each shipment to arrive in great condition. Just like other parts of our business, feedback from our customers will always help us evolve and improve our nationwide delivery system.
Some catering orders we do bring in more than our regular business for the whole day. Our catering orders tend to be much more profitable, and it also gets us in front of a lot of potential new customers. Our delivery area is pretty big for catering, so there is a lot of opportunity. We cater to big corporate buildings in downtown Detroit to the boat races in Port Huron, which is over 35 miles apart. Our most consistent catering comes from pharmaceutical reps we have built great relationships with.
I believe the main thing that sets us apart is our style of pizza … which until recently was rarely seen beyond the Detroit region. Our pizza has a deep history and we are fortunate enough to serve Gus Guerra’s recipe that was first introduced in 1946. Besides the well-seasoned blue steel pans and quality ingredients we use, the passion and love put into creating a pie is also a thing worth mentioning.
Our growth strategy will consist of appealing to new markets with our thin crust pan pizzas and other offerings targeted toward younger generations. We are very well known for our deep-dish Detroit-Style pizza. Offering a lighter version of (these) pizzas will bring in different, more health-conscious crowds as well. Besides trying to target new markets we plan on putting more effort into promoting our online sales and mail orders. In the next five years, we plan on opening several more Cloverleaf Pizza Carryout & Delivery locations. We plan on opening a third location by fall of 2012. Franchising may come to play in 2013. Besides growing our business, I think personal growth comes hand in hand, so we plan on investing in our key employees and ourselves consistently and continuously.
Seven tips for renegotiating your lease
BY ROBERT LILLEGARD
PHOTOS BY RICK DAUGHERTY
While the recession is coming to an end, many operators are still struggling. The good news? Your landlord is feeling the squeeze, too. According to the National Association of Realtors, retail vacancy rates nationwide were at 12.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011, and retail rents actually declined during the year. With empty space everywhere, it’s easier than ever to renegotiate your lease.
Real estate agent Jim Ronding has worked with several restaurants and recently sold a building to VIP Pizza in Superior, Wisconsin. He says the downturn has made real estate deals easier for tenants.
“There are more vacancies now than there have been in the last five years,” Ronding says, adding that it’s definitely a buyers market.”
How much can you expect to save? While that depends on your location (retail vacancies in San Francisco, for example, were only 3.7 percent last year), smart operators in most areas are in a position to save significantly. Ronding, for instance, has seen local rents fall over 20 percent from peak years.
There’s “some of the retail where the high-end traffic is $24 a foot,” Ronding says. “If you’re paying that much in rent per foot you have to be honest with the landlord. $24 a foot space is probably now $19 a foot.”
So how should you as an operator go about approaching your landlord? Here are tips for making sure you get the best deal you can.
When it comes to leasing, timing is crucial. If your pizzeria is struggling, you want to move quickly. Brad Erickson, owner of Duluth, Minnesota’s Vitta Pizza, says landlords are willing to cut their tenants a break immediately to save themselves the hassle of finding someone new.
“A lot of landlords will renegotiate just not to have a new tenant in there,” Erickson says. “And (high turnover) is a black eye on the space. They don’t want that. They want stability and good tenants that pay their rent and don’t give them a lot of headaches.”
Have an honest talk with your landlord, and be ready to prove your case with your balance sheets. It’s embarrassing to admit that you’re not doing well, but your landlord is on your side and probably willing to accommodate you.
If you’ve been successful in spite of the recession, however, you won’t be able to use the pity approach. Instead, run down the clock to around 18 months before your lease is set to expire before starting talks. That way, you’re close enough that your landlord will start feeling the heat, but not so close that you can’t walk away from the deal and find a new place if you need to.
“The smart ones are going out there before their lease is up, with plenty of time,” Ronding says. “If you do it with three months to go, they know you’re not going anywhere.”
Any landlord would rather work with a good tenant than a bad one. Do you pay your rent on time? Are you easy to deal with? If not, start thinking about ways you can improve before you start throwing down requests.
“If you’re going to attempt to renegotiate your rent, you’ve got to know your landlord,” Erickson says, “How much do they value you as a tenant?”
Once you’ve nailed the basics, little niceties like holiday cards or a free pizza dinner for your landlord’s family can further smooth out rough edges. And don’t be afraid to play two landlords against each other. “You have to know your market,” Minnesota-based real estate lawyer Paul Kilgore says. “I would never tell a tenant not to shop around. If it’s a tenant’s market it can be to their advantage.”
Start talking to other businesses and look for places you could move if you needed to. Even if you’re hoping to stay in your existing space, it’s to your advantage to look at other options.
“They’ve got to be able to convince the landlord that they’ve got other options,” Kilgore says. “For example, if there’s a new shopping area that’s being constructed nearby, the landlord may have to worry.”
Once you’ve gotten your landlord on your side and learned your options, think about the ways you could structure a deal. The most common approach is a cut in rent in exchange for a lease extension — you stay seven more years and your landlord cuts your rent. But now is the time to consider a package deal. Could you shovel the sidewalks in exchange for two more parking spaces? Would your landlord be willing to build you an office in exchange for another year on the lease? Since it will be several years until your next lease renewal, make the most of the opportunity while you have it.
A weak economy means strong tenants, and that can translate into major savings. So find a good lawyer, consider your options, and strike a deal with your landlord. After all, you’ve probably had to cut prices for your customers —why shouldn’t you get a break too?
“It’s worse than it was last year, but prices are so low that people are starting to get a little bit of faith here,” Ronding says. “There’s some good deals out there. People are still going to go out and have a pizza.”
Three Big Mistakes When Signing A Lease
Not getting counsel. Since a lease is such a big investment you need a good commercial real estate agent, a quality real estate lawyer, or both, says Brad Erickson, owner of Duluth, Minnesota’s Vitta Pizza.
“Especially people on a tight budget, they may be apt not to hire a lawyer,” Erickson says. “They’ll think, ‘No, that’s too expensive.’ That could save you thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars in the long run.”
Not looking carefully at the lease. Especially if lawyers are involved, lease language can be quite hostile to tenants. Landlords can ask for personal guarantees or even prevent you from selling your business. So, it pays to look carefully at every aspect of your agreement—and then fight for a good deal.
“Assume nothing,” Erickson says. “It sounds so simple but it isn’t. My lease negotiation didn’t happen overnight — it probably took two months. You’ve got to put your fighting gloves on.”Being unrealistic. While it’s good to drive a hard bargain, make sure not to overestimate your position. Even in a down market, newer or less stable operators shouldn’t expect to get prime terms. You may have to start smaller than you think. “I think the tenant has to be realistic about how long the term of the lease is,” says real estate lawyer Paul Kilgore. “If it’s a start up business maybe signing on to a 10-year lease isn’t such a good idea.”
Robert Lillegard is a Duluth, Minnesota, freelance writer.
In 1889, Don Raffaele Esposito created the Margherita pizza.
McKinners Pizza Bar // Mustang Pizza & Subs // The Village Pizzeria & Ristorante
2389 W. Main Street
Littleton, Colorado 80120
With Denver’s light rail system making a stop right in the heart of downtown Littleton, McKinners Pizza Bar has become a regional favorite for Denver-area pizza and beer lovers. This eatery has a vibe all its own thanks to weekend evenings, when Main Street passersby can catch a pizzaiolo throwing dough and a band jamming through its large front windows. Additionally, local artists exhibit on its long walls. McKinners’ pizza menu is just as eclectic, from the Oystermiller with smoked oysters, sausage and mozzarella (13-inch at $13.75) to the Prosciutto & Pear with fontina and mozzarella (13-inch at $15.50). There is also the Mandarin with a house vinaigrette, fresh spinach, mandarin oranges and mozzarella topped with a balsamic vinegar reduction and honey glazed pecans (13-inch at $15.50).
45 Pennsylvania Avenue
Westminster, Maryland 21157
Mustang’s deals are front and center at its five Maryland locations. Complete meal packages are highlighted at each store and prominent on the company’s Web site. Take the Family Special, for example, which comes with an extra large one-topping pizza, two 12-inch super subs and two two-liters for $20.99. The Wings Picnic includes 50 wings and a two-liter for $27.99 (or make it 100 wings plus two two-liters for $49.99). Mustang has even put together a meal for two that offers a pair of eight-inch subs, two large fries and a two-liter or two 20-once bottles for $16.99.
2727 Route 29
Middle Grove, New York 12850
This pizzeria sits in a small town that is flooded with tourists in the summer. Other seasons, The Village is a relaxing spot for locals, with a covered patio that has a charming country feel overlooking a lawn with a bocce court for patrons to enjoy. Its pizza menu offers plenty of seafood toppings, including shrimp, lobster tail meat and clams. Most medium pies range from $14 to $19. Plus, an assortment of wines complement the wood-fired pizzas. In fact, the wine cellar boasts more than 4,000 bottles. Having a temperature-controlled cellar allows The Village to offer more than 120 wines by the glass. No wonder this shop makes a name for itself with wine pairings, flights and tastings!
Whole-wheat crust requires special handling.
BY TOM LEHMANN
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
Q: We get a lot of requests for a whole-wheat pizza, but all of our attempts to make one end up with dry, hard texture and poor flavor. What is the secret to making a good whole-wheat crust?
A: Like so many other things in life, once you know the secret, it really isn’t all that difficult. The thing to remember about whole-wheat flour is that it has two main components — white flour and bran/fiber. In rough numbers, 100 pounds of whole-wheat flour is comprised of 80 pounds of white flour and 20 pounds of bran. The white flour portion, for all practical purposes, is just like your regular white pizza flour, so it’s the bran portion that’s causing all the problems.
The white flour portion hydrates just like any other white flour, but the bran hydrates very slowly, and this is where the problem lies. When a whole-wheat dough is mixed in the normal manner (add water, flour and all other ingredients and begin mixing) the bran exhibits very little influence on the absorption properties of the dough while in the mixer, so the error is hydrating only the white flour portion and then, sometime later (about an hour) the bran portion begins to hydrate and absorb water. This is where things begin to get interesting. The dough now becomes very tight and dry feeling. It won’t press, can’t be tossed or slapped and, when passed through a sheeter, the rolls just shred the dough. Sound familiar? Pizzeria operators are not alone with this problem, bakers making whole-wheat breads and rolls face the same issues and address them in the same way that I’m going to propose.
The trick to making a decent whole-wheat dough and high-quality finished crust is getting enough water into the dough to satisfy the hydration needs of both the white flour portion and also the bran portion, but since the bran is so slow to hydrate, the resulting dough would be excessively soft and sticky after mixing, thus making any type of handling an impossibility. We could allow the dough to set in the mixing bowl for an hour to hydrate, but that poses two problems: one, it will tie up the mixing bowl and two, the dough will continue to ferment for that hour, thus making it more difficult to effectively cool after balling and boxing the dough and placing it in the cooler.
The best approach is to use what is called a “soaker.” A soaker, in this case, consists of nothing more than the whole-wheat flour and the total amount of dough water. A good absorption for most whole-wheat flour based doughs is 67 percent. Since the soaker doesn’t need to be mixed to any level of gluten development, it can be made in any suitably sized container. To make the soaker, first add the water, then add the whole-wheat flour and stir to thoroughly wet the flour, then set aside and allow the flour to hydrate for an hour or more.
For convenience, you can set the soaker ahead of time and store it in the cooler overnight for use on the following day. After hydration, the soaker will have the consistency of oatmeal. This is added to the mixing bowl along with the remainder of other dough ingredients and mixed just to the point of forming a well-defined dough ball in the mixer. You may need to experiment a little with the exact amount of water used in the soaker to get the correct finished dough consistency for your specific shop conditions and procedures.
When the dough is finished mixing, it should be slightly tacky. This is normal for a whole-wheat dough. The dough can then be taken to the bench for scaling and balling in the normal manner. It can then be used either as fresh dough or refrigerated for use on the following day. I’ve found that whole-wheat doughs do not keep very well much beyond about 36 hours in the cooler, so keep this in mind when making your inventory. To use the dough that has been managed through the cooler, remove a quantity of dough, keeping it covered to prevent drying, and allow it to temper at room temperature for one-and-a-half to two hours, then begin opening the dough balls up into pizza skins in your normal manner. This procedure will give you a finished crust during dine-in that is moderately crispy on the outside while soft and slightly chewy on the inside. My experience is that whole-wheat doughs lend themselves better to slightly thicker, thin crust styles as opposed to very thin crust styles, as well as thick and pan style crusts.
There are a few things to keep in mind when formulating whole-wheat flour dough:
Use butter to replace the usual olive oil or vegetable oil in the dough. This imparts a wonderfully rich flavor to the finished crust.
While not needed, if you opt to use sugar in your dough, try using either honey or non-diastatic (non-enzyme active) malt powder or syrup in the dough as this will provide for a very nice background flavor in the finished crust.
In addition to whole-wheat crusts, multi-grain crusts are also growing in popularity. Multi-grain doughs are made in a very similar manner to the whole-wheat dough in that they require the use of a soaker for best results. Typically, multi-grain doughs will contain 15- to 30-percent of a commercial multi-grain blend (available from any bakery ingredient supplier). The total dough absorption for a multi-grain dough will vary based on the type of multi-grain blend used, as well as the amount used. So some experimenting with total dough absorption may be needed to find what works best for you.
Here is a good way to get started. Lets assume you want to use 15 percent of a multi-grain blend (this is based on the weight of white flour you have in the dough). If you have 25 pounds of white flour, in this case you would be adding 15 percent, or 3.75 pounds of multi-grain mix. Place the multi-grain mix into a suitably sized container and add 75 percent of its weight in water (75 percent of 3.75 pounds in this case is 2.8 pounds). Blend the multi-grain mix into the water and set aside to hydrate as described for the whole-wheat soaker above. Then, add the hydrated multi-grain blend to the mixing bowl along with the white flour and remainder of dough ingredients. Add water to the dough at 45 percent of the weight of the white flour, mix the dough in your normal manner and assess the dough consistency after a few minutes of mixing (you will probably need to add a little additional water.)
Keep track of the amount of water used so you can add this to the amount of water initially added. When making future doughs you can now just add the full amount of water up front and mix the dough in your normal manner. As in the case with whole-wheat crusts, multi-grain crusts are enhanced by the addition of butter and honey or malt to the dough formulation. Unlike whole-wheat though, multi-grain doughs lend themselves well to making thin crust pizzas too. Pair these crusts up with vegetable and poultry toppings and you just might have what your health conscious customers are looking for in their next pizza.
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
Eating with the Eyes
Front-of-the-house display cases put ancillary products in customers’ sights
BY DANIEL P. SMITH
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
Whenever Tony DiSilvestro designs a new YNot Pizza, an endeavor he’s tackled three times since opening his first restaurant in 1993, he encounters the same conundrum: where to put the 28 feet of display cases he says are vital to his business.
In each of DiSilvestro’s four current Virginia-based outlets, five separate display cases are a must: a six-foot case holding Italian cookies; another six-foot case containing cakes, tiramisu, and other pastry treats; a pair of four-foot cases, one housing a dozen flavors of YNot’s homemade gelato and the second hosting chopped salads and a final eight-foot case displaying various pizza options.
Though some might argue DiSilvestro dedicates too much valuable real estate to the display cases, space that might otherwise add dozens of chairs to his 180-seat eateries, DiSilvestro counters by actually pushing other elements aside to make room for the cases, which he says provide a tenfold increase to his dessert sales.
“I feel the display cases are that important to my bottom line,” DiSilvestro says. “I sold 3,000 pounds of cookies last December alone and those type of add-on sales add up quick.”
As DiSilvestro can attest, display cases — and what’s inside them — can help boost an operation’s overall revenue, particularly in carryout venues that can play to impulse purchases. From pre-made salads and bottled drinks to homemade breadsticks and salad dressings, highlighting a pizzeria’s peripheral offerings in fresh, eye-catching ways can heighten incremental sales, steer purchases, and entice product trials.
Much like DiSilvestro, Adam Goldberg knows the power display cases can produce. Each of Goldberg’s six Fresh Brothers pizza outlets in southern California feature a 24-inch-by-24-inch custom-made glass case displaying a sample of a thin crust personal pizza and a deep-dish counterpart as well as two take-out salad samples. The case sits adjacent to Fresh Brothers’ registers, a spot all customers visit with their wallets in hand.
While customers think of Fresh Brothers as a pizza destination, Goldberg says showcasing the eatery’s various product offerings promotes additional sales while simultaneously linking the pizzeria’s menu to sensory marketing.
“When people see a product in the case, they can almost taste it,” Goldberg says. “That’s not true when they’re just looking at a menu.”
Dritan Saliovski, who runs Luigi’s Pizza in Frisco, Texas, believes too few operators assign a retailer’s eye to the display case and its point-of-sale potential, a profitable concept his establishment only mistakenly learned. Originally, Saliovski used his display case to showcase the cheese and fresh tomatoes Luigi’s used to create its pizzas. When people started inquiring about purchasing blocks of cheese, Saliovski saw an opportunity to exhibit his own products, namely the pizzeria’s homemade Moni’s salad dressing line. By displaying 20 to 30 bottles of salad dressing and putting them within reach of customers, 75 percent of whom are carrying out, Saliovski witnessed an immediate uptick in sales.
“When we began displaying the product, we saw people make impulse buys,” Saliovski says.
Saliovski also shares Moni’s story with signage. Using buzzwords such as “natural” and “local,” he says, creates a persuasive, contemporary story that prompts the add-on sale.
Indeed, many pizzeria operators utilize a range of proven merchandising techniques to catch customers’ eyes. During the holidays, DiSilvestro packages his cookies in bags with festive ribbons and packs cookies into YNot coffee mugs. He also places small children’s toys on colorful cupcakes, a marketing-savvy, minimal expense that makes YNot a favorite of local kids and tugs on the parental heartstrings.
“The more colorful and clean the products look in the case, the better they sell,” DiSilvestro says.
Both DiSilvestro and Saliovski, meanwhile, adhere to the stack-it-high-and-watch-it-fly mantra. Both veteran operators assemble extensive product inside their cases, a visual display they say informs guests that the products are available for purchase and worth a trial.
For Goldberg, who does not sell product out of his cases but rather uses them solely to showcase product, less is more. Much as an advertiser uses white space to call attention to a particular item, Goldberg limits the products he places inside his display cases, often emphasizing higher-margin items or salads high in color and vegetables to enhance the value perception.
“By not overcrowding the case, we’re highlighting the suggestive sell right in front of our customer,” says Goldberg, who rotates display case product throughout the day.
Similarly, DiSilvestro seeks the right product mix, making sure the best-selling products and high-margin treats are most visible.
“You want items in there that move,” DiSilvestro says, adding that YNot servers, eager to boost the check average and their subsequent tip, often parade dine-in guests to the display cases to entice a dessert purchase.
In fact, every YNot customer confronts the display cases at some point: carryout patrons are tempted by the savory goods as they await their order, while all dining room seats have clear views of the various cases.
“Every moment they’re in the store, I want them pondering what we have,” DiSilvestro says, adding that case placement must always flow with the restaurant and not impede the mobility of servers or guests.
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
It's TIME for Pizza Expo!
March 13-15, 2012 - Las Vegas Convention Center
BILL OAKLEY, EXECUTIVE VP
In today’s business climate, it’s not just about knowing how to produce a quality pizza or understanding your customers’ needs and wants to maintain and grow your pizzeria. Attending an industry trade show is the best vehicle for obtaining new knowledge, insight and ideas that can help you position your pizzeria for future growth.
Below are a few tips that will help you get the most out of your trade show experience:
Time is at a premium. Come prepared with a plan of attack. Schedule appointments with key contacts. Make a list of what you want to learn and see. Review the seminar program and pre-show workshops to see what’s being offered that will have the greatest benefit and impact on you and your business.
Take charge! You may want to arrange to meet with suppliers and/or other pizzeria operators to find out what they’re doing and what they see happening in the future. Or better yet, just make plans to attend the Beer & Bull® Idea Exchange.
Take time to walk the show floor thoroughly and completely. Jot down the products, companies and booth numbers that grab your attention. Pay particular attention to new products being offered at the show, as well as any new exhibitors.
Knowledge is power! Gather as much information as possible while at the show. Find out what products, services and techniques are available to you that will improve your menu, your productivity and best of all, your bottom line.
Take time to talk to industry consultants and experts and pick their brains to find out what they’re thinking and doing. What are the new trends, and how can they help or hurt your business?
Can you leverage vendor/supplier expertise?
Is there an opportunity to expand your menu?
What can you do differently to outshine and outperform your competition?
Last but not least, this may be one of the best times ever to purchase new equipment … certainly a buyer’s market. The fact of the matter is: no one wants to take their equipment and products back to the warehouse. Take advantage of the show specials and steep discounts being offered by our exhibiting partners. You may not have an opportunity like this ever again.
Finally, write down what you learned at the show and rethink or analyze your business strategy and philosophy. How can you better position your pizzeria in the marketplace? What new ideas can you implement to achieve your goals?
There will always be winners and losers, but only those pizzeria owners and operators who arm themselves with new industry knowledge and are willing to take action toward positive change will have the ability to compete and win in today’s economy. At International Pizza Expo® you’ll gain new industry insight, as well as the knowledge that will help you strategize, improve operations and make the right decisions for you to compete and WIN!
See you in Las Vegas!
Executive Vice President
In the Know
Educated operators know to fight an unjustified unemployment claim
BY HOWARD SCOTT
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
& RICK DAUGHERTY
You receive a notice in the mail that an ex-employee is filing for unemployment. But he quit the company and one doesn’t receive unemployment for that. He wasn’t fired; he wasn’t demoted and sulked off in dejection; he wasn’t harassed into submitting his resignation. Even though you believe that, in these tough times, ex-workers need all the help available, you decide to appeal the claim on the principle that the former staffer doesn’t deserve the benefit.
The question is, how do you do it so that you win the challenge? Unemployment is state mandated, so each state does things a little bit differently. Nevertheless, the basics are the same. The employer can challenge the claim. There’s a hearing, then a binding determination is made. The employer generally needs to prove his case to win.
One issue is that most employees feel that unemployment compensation is their given right. They feel that they pay into the system –– that money is taken out of their paychecks, which becomes part of the unemployment pool. That belief is incorrect. Employees don’t pay into unemployment. Only employers do. So they don’t deserve the aid just because they are out of work.
Here’s why it matters. Each state sets an experience rate ranging from 1.5 percent to 12 percent of payroll (up to the first $14,000 of wages for each staffer) that employers pay into the pool. That rate is based on a formula of how much unemployment claims the company has had as a percent of the total staff contribution. If low, the rate will be 1.5 percent. If high, the rate will be 12 percent. So if you have a $50,000 payroll contribution, paying 1.5 percent would mean $500 outflow while paying 12 percent would mean a $6,000 outflow. If you maintain a low employee turnover rate, you pay $5,500 less into the system each year. Thus, having a low unemployment experience rate is to your benefit.
The first step in fighting an unemployment claim is to request a hearing. You will be assigned a date and place at some unemployment office. There will be an arbitrator, who is an attorney, who will listen to your case. Both sides give their version of the story. Each side can ask questions.
The arbitrator asks some questions. Then he dismisses the parties and the hearing is over. The whole session takes maybe 20 minutes.
Three or four days later, you’ll receive a notice in the mail announcing the ruling. The decision is binding, and the ex-employee will begin to collect unemployment compensation if he/she wins or may not collect if he/she loses. A few states, including Massachusetts, are attempting to handle these claims via the Internet.
What do you have to do to win the case? If the employee actually did quit, you need to prove that he quit beyond a shadow of doubt. Having something in writing or on tape –– such as a voicemail –– is often a clincher. For instance, bring along the employee’s letter of resignation or a video or audio of the phone conversation in which she would not work unless the company did such and such. However, in the absence of anything written, you have to be persuasive. You could bring a witness. One owner won the case because he brought an employee who said the ex-employee was getting more and more disgruntled, and was threatening to quit.
Preparation is key. Come up with a presentation that indicates the ex-employee left on his/her own volition. Just saying the person quit, when the other side denies it, doesn’t typically work. Secondly, conduct yourself professionally. Don’t act aggressively. Stay calm and state the evidence as clearly as you can. Don’t get into a shouting match with the ex-employee. Don’t be bullying. The arbitrator will not look well upon your case if you try to overwhelm him with power. Remember, everyone in the room is a human being.
Lastly, there is another possibility. If the employee willfully disobeys company policy and continues to do so, then he can be terminated and it can be construed as quitting. For instance, if an employee is not supposed to accept tips, but does so and insists he has a right to accept tips despite the fact that it is against company policy, then he is in effect, asking to leave the company. The employer has a perfect right to fire the individual. But, in the hearing, if the ex-employee questions the provision, you need to have this policy in writing. A company manual will be sufficient. Having an employee signature stating that he or she did receive and read the manual is efficient and effective.
Make your unemployment challenges count by marshaling the facts and preparing your case in advance.
The following are situations in which a former employee might file for unemployment, and how you argue why the benefit is not deserved:
An employee quits because he feels he’s being unfairly treated, and applies for unemployment. Your argument: ask the ex-employee to document the unfairness.
An employee takes a month off for injury and will not come back and applies for unemployment. Your argument: the employee still has a job.
An employee doesn’t go along with the program and refuses to do several tasks. Your solution: don’t fire him, lower his pay. Thus, he still has a job.
An employee quits because he feels discriminated against and files to collect. Your argument: There is never any company discrimination. It is just that the employee is not doing the job he was hired to do. Secondly, if there was discrimination, it must be proven in black and white.
Howard Scott is a former business owner and longtime business writer. He has published 1,600 magazine articles and five books.
On the Go
Does a dedicated carryout area make sense for your restaurant?
BY ALYSON MCNUTT ENGLISH
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
When Teresa Corea-Golka’s grandfather started Roma D’Italia in Tustin, California, more than 40 years ago, he wasn’t thinking about creating a carryout concept for his sit-down Italian restaurant. He just wanted happy customers.
But Roma D’Italia’s original location only had seating for about 35 guests, and it was the only Italian place around. The restaurant gained a loyal following quickly, but seating supply wasn’t keeping up with dining demand. “Customers started requesting take-out early on,” Corea-Golka says. “And Grandpa was happy to satisfy their needs, whether they dined with us or at home!”
Today, Corea-Golka’s family still operates the original Tustin restaurant, and they recently opened a second location in Orange, California. When designing the new location, the family knew they needed a dedicated area for carryout orders. “Dine-in and take-out customers have different needs,” Corea-Golka says. “Having a separate area for (take-out customers) speeds up how quickly we can serve them.”
A well-designed carryout area shouldn’t take up too much space, says Matt Vetter, whose firm River Edge Project Management specializes in helping quick-serve and fast-casual restaurants manage store design, construction, additions and renovations. “Space considerations are paramount,” he explains, noting that dedicating an area specifically for take-out uses space that would otherwise be given to the kitchen, lobby or dining.
Kirk P. Mauriello, director of franchising for Aurelio’s, a Chicago-based pizza franchise, says their locations shoot for a minimum of 100 square feet for the carryout waiting area. In combination with the dedicated entrance for carryout customers, this allows guests to get in, get their food and get out comfortably and efficiently.
Mauriello says for Aurelio’s, having a separate space is a no-brainer. “If you combine the carryout customers picking up orders in the lobby where the dine-in customers are waiting to be seated, you end up with total chaos and unhappy dine-in and carryout customers,” he says. “Customers who carryout want to get in, pick up their order and head home to the hungry family waiting for dinner.”
Also, put some thought into the overall look of your carryout space. Eric Horsley is a managing partner for Brixx Wood Fired Pizza, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based chain, and he just spearheaded a complete interior redesign of all 21 Brixx’s locations.
While Brixx doesn’t have a separate entrance for carryout, their interior design puts the take-out customer front-and-center…literally. The Brixx locations all have a central bar-seating area, and in the middle of that stands a brightly-tiled cylinder that grabs your eye as soon as you walk in — the carryout counter.
With the recent redesign, they doubled-down on both the carryout area’s form and function. “Aesthetically we wanted a focal point, but functionally, we knew it needed to be in a prominent but easily-accessible area of the store,” Horsley says. “So we aligned it with the oven and the door so when you walk in, the brick oven is the focal point, and the carryout cylinder is directly in line with it.”
The carryout area is also differentiated by its counter-height, Horsley explains. “The cylinder has a granite counter, just like the bar, but it is positioned about three inches higher so it stands out and has a little more ‘presence,’ but it’s not so tall you can’t see over it easily.”
Space and design can make or break a carryout area, but no matter how well-thought-out the flow is or how wonderfully-designed the counter may be, you can still kill it all with clutter. “Everything has its place, and that helps us avoid clutter,” Mauriello says, noting that at Aurelio’s the carryout areas have POS terminals, a phone bank, warming units, cold storage and an under-counter storage area for additional supplies. “Nothing else should be at the carryout area,” he says.
While clutter can turn off a guest quickly, don’t forget that for some customers the take-out experience may be the only time they walk into your store. At Aurelio’s, branding photos (shots illustrating Aurelio’s history as well as food images) hang behind the carryout counter. “Though these customers are not dining with us, we still want them to feel like they are having the Aurelio’s experience,” Mauriello says.
Finally, remember customers won’t spend a lot of time (hopefully) in carryout. The time they do spend makes an impact on their perception of your store — and the value of your product. To Vetter, that makes one idea paramount when designing and building take-out areas: craftsmanship.
“I require my contractors to really focus on the appearance of the customer waiting areas and lobbies –– the rest of it has to look good, of course, but the lobby really has to shine,” he explains. “You have only two chances to impress (take-out customers): the food, of course, but the other big one is the vibe the customer area gives off.”
Alyson McNutt-English is an award-winning freelance writer specializing in home, healthy, family and green topics. She is based in Huntsville, Alabama.
Out in The Open
Letting employees in on your books fosters goodwill
BY ANNEMARIE MANNION
PHOTOS BY RICK DAUGHERTY
Nick Sarillo, owner of Nick’s Pizza and Pub, takes home $120,000 a year, and he doesn’t care who knows it, including –– and perhaps most importantly –– the 200 full and part-time staffers who work for him.
Sarillo, who operates pizzerias in Elgin and Crystal Lake, Illinois, has an open books policy, which means he makes available to his employees every detail of how his business operates financially, from daily sales information to how much paper napkins cost to how much he and his managers earn and how much it costs to rent space.
Ian’s Pizza, which has four locations in Madison and Milwaukee in Wisconsin and Chicago, also follows an open books policy.
“We find it breeds a culture where employees take a bigger interest in the company and have a bigger interest in the success of the company,” says Nick Martin, general manager at one of Ian’s two locations in Madison, Wisconsin.
Since establishing open books in 2002, Sarillo says his business has seen profitability increase from an average of between 8 and 9 percent to between 12 and 16 percent. At its highest, pre-recession point, he says profitability was 18 percent.
“The average net profitability in the restaurant industry is three percent. With open books, profitability goes through the roof,” says Rudy Miick, president of Miick and Associates in Boulder, Colorado, which worked with Nick’s to put open books in place.
The policy allows employees to see and understand financial information, to take a role in trying to push those numbers in a positive direction, and to have a share in profits or in some other way reap a reward from the company’s success, such as with a party or a salary increase, says Miick.
The main cost centers around which information is shared, and which have the most potential for being moved in either a negative or positive direction, include food, beverage and labor costs. Other information on money going out also is shared, but is not as variable, like the cost of renting a business space, Sarillo says.
When instituting the policy, Sarillo also established a daily cost system that provides up-to-the-minute numbers and started holding weekly meetings for staff that he calls huddles, at which they review financial information and set goals.
Each employee takes responsibility for a line item such as lunch sales or average amount of check per guest. The employee reports previous data on that line item, such as how the restaurant fared the week, month or year before on that day of the week; looks at what factors might affect that number, such as an impending snowstorm or a weekend homecoming game; and forecasts a goal.
“We have everyone from 16 year olds to 40 year olds involved in our numbers,” Sarillo says. “It energizes the team. It gives them something where they feel like they have a real impact on the business.”
Sarillo says he has white boards at the meetings on which important financial information is outlined. “If there’s any area that needs attention, we’ll put it on the board,” he says.
Knowing how much the owner earns also dispels any misconceptions employees may have that a business just opens its doors and the owner rakes in the dough.
“When the team comes in and sees that a pizzeria is really busy, they think those pizzas, at $10 a piece, is pure profit,” says Miick. “This takes away any sort of misunderstanding from the team and we get to deal with real, hard data.”
It also helps staff better understand why when a shift is slow, the restaurant may need to send some employees home.
“It energizes our people to be the best crew and do the highest number of sales they can,” says Martin. “They’ll say, ‘Look at all the sales we did with just this few number of people.’ And any employee can punch in their employee code and see what our labor costs are. They understand why they’re being cut on a slow night.”
Both Martin and Sarillo agree that the most challenging aspect of the open books policy is putting in the time and effort to educate staff in what those financial numbers mean.
“There is a big teaching aspect to open books. Employees get a crash course in bookkeeping and finance,” says Martin. “We hire a lot of college students, and for a lot of them it’s their first real job. It’s great for them to see how a real business operates.”
“It’s a matter of getting in the habit of having those weekly meetings,” Sarillo adds. “The hard part is getting started and you have to be disciplined to not give up.”
Armed with knowledge, employees are more likely to make better financial decisions even in small details, advocates say. “They aren’t going to grab a stack of paper napkins when they just need two,” Miick says.
Another challenge of the policy can be assembling a management team that is willing to share information. “You need to have managers who aren’t afraid to be open and transparent,” Sarillo says.
Employees at Nick’s are rewarded with the potential for profit sharing that can range from as little as $2 to up to about $120. “Every four weeks there’s a potential for a bonus,” says Sarillo.
Those amounts are paid based on how many hours an employee works and other factors in their control such as taking additional leadership training classes offered by the pizzeria or getting a certification.
“A server who wants a pay raise goes after a certification to be a bartender and that makes them more valuable to the restaurant,” says Miick.
Sarillo adds that even during trying economic times, he has found open books to be a benefit. “When things are down it’s almost like you don’t want to tell anyone,” he says. “But having more heads working on a problem are better than one. The team rallies together.”
For people used to playing their financial numbers –– representing either increased or decreased performance –– close to the vest, Miick says embracing the concepts behind open books may be hard, but worth it. He says: “It’s counter-intuitive, but it works.”
Annemarie Mannion is a freelance writer living in the Chicago area. She specializes in business and health stories.
Return on Investment
It's all about ROI and how to maximize it
BY SCOTT ANTHONY
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
Wait, what? How so?
Allow me to explain: many companies spend countless dollars marketing a sub-par product and mediocre service. But if you promote a ‘dog’ more people will know it’s a ‘dog’ no matter how it is portrayed. Marketing campaigns are important, but they can backfire if your staff isn’t trained to provide exemplary service. And, even if your staff is trained to provide great service, if they aren’t trained to sell effectively, your marketing ROI isn’t living up to its potential.
When (and only when) your restaurant is running at the optimal level of service, you can then let loose great marketing. Until then, it makes no sense to attract more guests into a restaurant that doesn’t wow the customer. The best scenario? Fix the product, make it outstanding, then market it. You can implement numerous marketing strategies such as TV or radio ads, newspaper coupons or signage. These external methods, however, aren’t nearly as important as what you do internally to get guests coming back.
The biggest asset in business is relationships (better than cash because they can be turned into cash over and over again). It’s a new era in restaurant business, the era of Relationship Marketing. If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, do it now.
Mag Retelewski, president and founder of Clarteza, a Chicago-based marketing consulting company, says, “The way a consumer experiences each marketing element has changed dramatically, especially in the areas of promotion, communication and advertising. The consumer is in the driver’s seat, and brands and services, including restaurant businesses, are switching from a ‘monologue’ with consumers, to a ‘dialogue’ where consumers directly engage with a brand or a product and collectively influence the overall state of consumer perception. Restaurant reviews on Twitter, Facebook or simply through word of mouth can make or break your restaurant, so treat your customers right and they will reward you; if not, they can break you.”
In this regard, our ROI is measured by the positive or negative buzz created by our restaurant. We must be invested in this relationship with the consumer to keep the buzz positive, respond to complaints, answer questions, address dietary concerns, tell your story and have the consumer embrace your culture. The No. 1 reason people will not come back to your restaurant is because they have encountered an attitude of indifference or unconcern by one or more employees. This accounts for 68 percent of why any restaurant will lose business. This is an issue that you can attend to by training on hospitality and the idea that the customer comes first! Build a relationship, boost your ROI.
We have heard it said time and again: ‘You get out what you put in.’ The National Restaurant Association reports that 52 percent of adults are likely to make a restaurant choice based on how much a restaurant supports charitable activities and the local community.
Retelewski adds: “Investigate the possibility of participating in an interesting event or promotion, something tied back to the community which can create some ‘buzz’ around your restaurant business that your customers will care about. Again, it’s about a bigger meaning and creating a conversation.”
Note this recent comment on my Facebook page: “I love Fox’s pizza because they have a great pizza, but I like the fact that they go out of their way to help out the community with fundraisers. That’s awesome. Thanks.” Here is someone who, along with his family, eats at my restaurant 3 to 4 times per week. Why? I have an established relationship with the family and that is reinforced by quality product and community activity.
So how does all this affect your bottom line? In its simplest form ROI is a calculation expressed as percentage:
ROI = [(Payback - Investment)/Investment)]*100
Your payback is actually the total amount of money earned from your investment in your company. Investment relates to the amount of resources put into generating the given payback. This is usually thought of as ‘how much did I spend on that ad?’ and ‘how much profit did I make from the sales it generated?’. In general it can be said that as long as the percentage is greater than zero your investment was good. Why? It is because our marketing goal is for long-term results. Even if you did not make your first million today, the foundation you are laying will produce greater results to build on during your next marketing campaign.
“Most important are fundamental marketing elements, such as defining your restaurant’s target market and positioning territory and the tailoring of your message to appropriate communication vehicles,’ says Retelewski. “Ideally, your marketing plan will be integrated, including multiple channels of communication to optimize your reach and allow for targeted messaging.”
Measuring ROI is a complex matter that can be approached in many different ways. Naturally, as a business we need to have a stable bottom line — we can also see that payback is a direct result of many marketing elements working together. You maximize your ROI when you and not just your message reach the consumer and touch their lives and their communities.
Scott Anthony is a Fox’s Pizza Den franchisee in Punxsutawney,PA.
Decision-making for a well-managed bar
BY DENISE GREER, ASSOCIATE EDITOR
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
& RICK DAUGHERTY
Dram shop laws, underage drinking, over serving, altercation risk, staffing and training: operating a bar within a pizzeria can be a mess of liability. But managed effectively, a bar can enhance your pizzeria and drive traffic with not only alcohol sales but also food sales.
A bar is not something an owner enters into lightly. “Serving alcohol is not just a liability for our servers and the business,” says Keven Kinaschuk, owner of McKinners Pizza Bar in Littleton, Colorado. “It is our civic duty to serve it responsibly so we respect and protect our community. This is our livelihood…protect it.”
When it comes to managing his bar operation, Kinaschuk leads the effort personally at his small shop. “I place all orders, receive, write the checks,” he says. “I put it (stock) away, rotate the old stock with the new stock, and perform the EOM [end of month] inventory count and data entry. I price-check my bottle/keg costs and plug into a price matrix to make sure my liquor cost is working with my menu costs.”
Employees at McKinners handle the day-to-day serving and bartending. Where there is an alcohol product, there’s a threat of an employee swiping a bottle or providing free drinks for themselves or others. It’s important to have procedures in place to limit theft. Liquor is kept in a locked cage at McKinners, removing that temptation. “The only people that can get the key is the bar back and the bartender from their MOD (manager on duty), or I will pull bottles throughout the night.”
Kinaschuk says that he develops a strong relationship with his employees. “I treat them as responsible adults. So, with this, I expect accountability,” he says. But he’s also never far away. “I’m not an absentee owner.”
Training a good staff has become essential for making sure that McKinners follows Colorado’s liquor laws, from maintaining the appropriate hours of bar service to confiscating fake IDs.
Kinaschuk has instituted a solid training program, employee handbook and price list — removing all doubt of company policies. His employees have been certified through either a BARCODE or ServSafe class to give them the tools to help prevent intoxication, drunk driving and underage drinking.
“I train my employees to work as a team, being proactive rather than reactive,” Kinaschuk says. “They need to read guests, communicate and intervene sooner than later on any sign or indicator that relates to alcohol.”
Ultimately, Kinaschuk has the servers and bar staff include him in the decision-making process, but there are times when it’s not possible. “I rarely get angry at a decision they make,” he says. “Sometimes I coach them that there might have been a better way.”
Jeff Constance, COO of St. Louis, Missouri-based Pi Pizzeria, also thinks it’s a good idea to take some of the liability away from a bartender or server to stop serving an intoxicated person.
Pi’s policy does not allow a bartender to cut someone off. “They have to get a manager involved,” he says. “It removes them from the situation because it could be their guest. It allows the manager to make the final decisions. The managers are all trained in our systems of when to make those decisions.”
Missouri allows establishments to give away free drinks and run two-for-one specials, something that many states do not allow. Pi dedicates a small percentage of its bar budget to courtesy drinks. “From a hospitality standpoint, I would rather my bartenders honestly give something away than try to hide it from me,” he says, adding that a manager must approve the offering. “We do that on the front end, so that takes away the idea that they may want to do it for themselves to improve their tips or give something away and take the full tip for it.”
If theft is still too irresistible, Pi locations all have surveillance, making it easy to catch an employee skimming the till, offering up free drinks, or not carding someone who looks under 30, which is the cutoff age to ask for ID at Pi.
While guests see a bar area as a fun place to congregate, it’s serious business for the pizzeria and its employees. An onus on responsibility is fundamental to an operation’s success.
Many states have taken an active role in assisting businesses in developing alcohol policies, procedures and training. Maine has produced “A Guide for Bars & Restaurants Serving Alcohol” to help state businesses comply with state policies and promote best practices from hiring and training staff to alcohol promotion and advertising. While state-to-state rules may vary, the guide suggests considering the following measures:
- Alcohol cannot be given away; this would also cover “buy one, get one” type specials
- Do not use advertising, which contains either subject matter or illustrations, which may induce minors, young people, or high-risk groups, such as college students, to drink excessively.
- Do not plan contests or activities that encourage or contribute to excessive alcohol use.
- Do not use advertising that would be inappropriate or offensive to patrons.
- Do not use advertising that depicts a person in the act of drinking alcohol.
- Do not have specials or contests that require the purchase of alcohol or award alcohol as the prize.
- Check with your state agency to see what resources can help you comply with state liquor laws.
Denise Greer is the associate editor at Pizza Today.
Creative desserts boost check averages
BY KATIE AYOUB
PHOTO BY JOSH KEOWN
Gaining a competitive edge in today’s crowded market is more crucial than ever. Diners expect the moon and the stars — preferably locally sourced, homemade and at a great price. Desserts offer a great way to distinguish an independent from the chain restaurant down the street — or from the pizzeria around the corner. Look beyond the borders of the tried-and-true tiramisu and cannoli — a sweet world of menu distinction awaits.
At Twilight Pizza Bistro in Camas, Washington, all eight desserts are made in-house, and a couple of the desserts change out seasonally. “Calling out ‘fresh daily’ and ‘homemade’ on your desserts really helps your positioning,” says Jess McColum, manager of the 50-seat gourmet pizza shop. And the dessert menu boasts unique items, such as the bestselling Sugar Cookie Sundae. It hits the sweet spot of unique, but familiar — making it memorable and craveable. Tillamook vanilla ice cream gets a drizzle of caramel-Bourbon sauce, a sprinkling of sea salt and then a nice homey touch of fresh-baked sugar cookies. It sells for $4.25 and runs a low food cost. “You’re using basic ingredients and making it yourself, so it gives you a good return,” says McColum. “It’s our bestselling dessert with good reason — you get a fantastic combination of flavors and textures presented in a familiar sundae.” Those homemade sugar cookies featured in the sundae? They’re also available at the restaurant for 75 cents each.
Seasonal desserts include a fruit crisp and a cheesecake. At press time, they were featuring a chocolate-raspberry cheesecake and a rhubarb crisp. For the latter, the rhubarb is tossed with sugar, butter and spices, then placed on a cinnamon-infused individual pie crust and baked until ready. For service, it’s topped with Tillamook vanilla ice cream and homemade raspberry sauce. It sells for $5.75.
“It’s very hard to leave our store without a dessert,” says Tony DiSilvestro, co-owner of YNot Pizza, which has four stores in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Indeed, this New York style pizzeria boasts just under 30 desserts, including 30 different flavors of homemade gelato.
Bestsellers include a four-layer chocolate cake with chocolate butter icing and a carrot cake studded with carrot, pineapple and pecans, and layered with a cream-cheese frosting. Both sell for $5.95. Diners can order Italian cookies, paying $2.50 per quarter pound. Most of the desserts are brought in from gourmet bakeries. “We just can’t make them better than these specialty bakers,” says DiSilvestro.
Although it’s difficult to compete against the chocolate cake, YNot Pizza added a contender to the menu about a year ago. Selling for $5.95 is the simple Italian dessert affogato. “We parade it around the dining room, and it garners a lot of attention,” he says. “It’s unique, and once diners try it, they love it.”
Affogato, stemming from the Italian word for “drowned,” traditionally sees vanilla gelato or ice cream topped with a shot of hot espresso. Here, DiSilvestro starts with 3½ ounces of housemade stracciatella gelato (vanilla with chocolate shavings). He pours a shot of espresso over top, then finishes the dessert with whipped cream, chocolate sauce and a lace cookie. It runs a food cost of 20 percent. “It was hard to promote at first because it’s not commonly seen over here,” he says. “We took a picture of it from our trip to Florence, Italy, last summer. We put that picture on the menu and pushed it out across all four restaurants.” He also offers a version featuring decaf espresso.
At Tomato Pie Pizza Joint in Los Angeles, diners can choose from 10 desserts—all out-sourced from both a local specialty baker and a larger bakery. “We find it more economical, efficient and consistent to outsource,” says Garrett Policastro, owner of this 70-seat, two-unit concept that features hand-tossed New York-style pizza. Its two bestsellers hail from the specialty baker. No. 1 seller, outselling the ever-popular cheesecake? A red velvet cake filled with honey-infused cream-cheese frosting. The cake arrives at Tomato Pie pre-sliced and individually wrapped in wax paper. A slice costs $1.75 and Policastro charges $3.50 each. Chocolate chip cookies ring in at No. 2. They are 5-inches wide and feature a dusting of fleur de sel on the bottom. They cost $1.25 each and run on the menu for $2.25. “There’s a reason these specialty desserts from the local baker sell so well — they are delicious and they are unique,” he says. Answering whether or not his diners care if the desserts are homemade, “We’re a fast casual. People want dessert as a quick, sweet accompaniment. Is it affordable? Is it delicious?” he says. “No one asks if we make them in-house.”
Diners at Tomatoes A Pizza in Farmington Hills, Michigan, only have one option for dessert. What started as an add-on to the lunch buffet has now been added to the menu. “We wanted to have refinement in what we sell, so we didn’t want a long list of desserts,” says Michael Weinstein, owner. But, the chocolate piadina was just too popular and too easy to produce to ignore. Inspired by celebrity chef Mario Batali’s ham and cheese piadina (an Italian flatbread), Tomatoes’ version sees dough spread with Nutella, folded in half, then baked for a few minutes. The air gets pressed out, then it’s cut into portions. Weinstein charges $8 for a small, which serves two people, and $15 for a large, which serves four or five. He runs a food cost of 25 percent. “I took it off the menu at one point because I didn’t see it as a serious dessert,” he says. “But it’s back. It’s delicious. It’s ridiculous. That’s the thing with dessert — you make it craveable and people remember it.”
Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.
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