Bob lets us in on opening a drive-thru pizzeria
North Royalton, Ohio
The Rybak family opened My Pizzetta in 2013. The pizzeria is a drive-thru only, build–to-order concept using a gas-fired dome oven.
My Pizzetta is America’s first, made-for-you, pizza drive thru. Each pizza is baked fresh in a stone oven. Customers become the designers of their own artisan pizza. Pizzas bake in 90 seconds and are served through the drive-thru window.
Having the experience of eating pizza in Italy we recognized that unbelievably delicious pizza could be made quickly in a stone oven. Heading into retirement, we wanted to build a family business. Our son, Paul, with 17 years of food-service experience, heads up operations, recipes and food preparation. Sharon leads the creative design elements, I manage the building renovation and equipment and Sarah, our daughter, works on marketing and social media.
We source ingredients locally whenever possible. Our dough is made daily in an Italian mixer that folds the dough much like it would be if it were kneaded by hand. The only cooking surface in our operation is the stone oven — no microwave, no stovetop. Everything is prepared and made at various temperatures and times of day. Consequently, prepared ingredients such as our fresh sautéed mushrooms, roasted chicken and hand pulled sausage are all cooked in the oven on a schedule. Portion control, oven management and a customized POS allow us to deliver that high-quality pizza quickly.
We worked extensively on our menu, and we considered it one of our biggest risks because our customers are asked to create their own pizzas each time they order. We worried that the customer that just wants a pepperoni pizza would balk at being asked to choose crust, sauce, cheese and type of pepperoni, but that has not happened.
We assigned a number for each ingredient so our customers can call out their pizza number. “I want a medium 1, 4, 10, 17, 23 and 36.” Of course the customer can call out the item name but many are now calling out their numbers making the ordering a fast, unique, fun and creative process.
We worked for two years to build a concept that could be replicated as a franchise. Our store is 900 square feet — so small our walk-in cooler had to be installed outside. We are off of a main street, and we opened on December 16th during one of the most brutal winters in Cleveland history. We had a terribly challenging start.
We are in the process of building our operations manual that will be linked to our technology tools. Our next step is to find a partner(s) that will work with us to build an establishment that will incorporate drive-thru with dine-in capacity while developing the franchise structure for My Pizzetta.
Advice for pizza start-ups…
We would tell them to find collaborators if they are going to design something from the ground up. They will be doing things for the first time but there are people with a variety of expertise that may have knowledge and experience in specific areas of their work. We were lucky to work with Cleveland’s Economic Community Development Institute (ECDI). ECDI funds the small business entrepreneur to fill a gap that lending institutions were not providing. Talking to other business owners helped us find a company for payroll, accounting and software services. Finally we would tell them to have a clear vision that they can communicate easily to everyone. We feel blessed to have been associated with so many excellent individuals and organizations that have helped move My Pizzetta forward.
One of our biggest learning curves was with marketing. Many different organizations came to us seeking our advertisement dollars, but we’ve stuck to grass roots marketing by dropping flyers in snowstorms, delivering introductory pizzas to local businesses, and worked with the local schools. The most successful tool, however, has been our social media networks. Word of mouth travels 100 times faster with social media. Before opening we had a fully developed website, app and Facebook. These networks along with Twitter have allowed us immediate access to our customer base. We keep them informed on a personal level and build loyalty programs using these tools.
We have also been fortunate to get news coverage on TV and in print. This has had a huge impact on our business and challenged our abilities to handle volume at times. We were named one of the top 10 pizza restaurants in our region after 7 months of being open. It hasn’t been without bumps but we are learning and growing together as a business and a family.