Ciao! Wood-fired Pizza & Pasta
Ithaca, New York
No. 85 on Pizza Today’s Hot 100 Independent Pizzerias list, Ciao! features rustic wood-fired pies and Tuscan pasta. The pizza oven and make line take center stage in its dining room. Strong word-of-mouth traffic is driven by a successful youth outreach program and theme nights.
Ciao! is a casual restaurant. We specialize in Italian food with a Tuscan flair. Our pizzas are all hand-crafted and cooked to order in a wood oven in the middle of our dining room. Everything we serve is homemade, 99 percent. The ambiance and décor have a distinct personality that sets the mood automatically for high energy fun, which makes it viable for a lot of different markets.
Open pizza kitchen — We wanted to highlight the oven and the whole pizza-making part of our restaurant. Showcasing the oven and the pizza making area, we are sticklers on cleanliness. That is the No. 1 focus we have constantly. That is something that our guys are good at maintaining — the clean as you go program. This is key for people sitting at the pizza bar and people in the dining room watching, that (our pizza line employees) are all moving with purpose and direction. It is like a well-oiled machine. Everyone knows what they are doing. It is not a really big space, so we have to make sure guys are positioned properly. When it gets busy and we are doing 400 to 500 pizzas a day, we have to keep things moving very, very quickly and in order. That is paramount for us.
Community Outreach — We generally deal with youth-related programs, like the family reading partnership. We do something called Camp Good Days, a camp for kids with cancer. Last year, all of our gift sales we donated to the camp for kids. We have a strong relationship with our YMCA, which is right behind us. I could go on and on. The kids are the future of our country and we try to help wherever we can. These things generate a lot of attention. We don’t look to make money on these things. These are things that are strictly community outreach. Ithaca is a very family oriented town. A lot of things we do stay right here in town, which is a reason why we participate in these particular ones.
Theme Nights — I come from a strong Italian background, so Sunday was always pasta day in our house. We felt like, ‘Why not carry that tradition through to the general public and offer them an opportunity to not have to spend a lot of money?’ They can enjoy Ciao! and an old Italian tradition and we can give them a bit of a break financially. For $10, they can have salad, they can pick their pasta, they can pick a meat with it… all they can eat. Take Out Tuesday came along because people started asking for larger pans of food. Based on the demand, we decided to offer a specific night for specific food and customers could grab dinner for four for $20. We give them a great container that is easy to transport. We do movie nights on Mondays three-quarters of the year because we are in very close proximity to the mall and we thought we would capitalize on a slow Monday for us to give them a chance to get a half-priced movie ticket. The movie theater was happy to partner up with us because it helps them as well.
Marketing theme nights — It’s generally word of mouth. We do Facebook, our Web site and an e-mail list. The word of mouth travels really fast in our area. It’s extremely successful.
Gluten-free menu — We give them a little bit of a selection of everything, whether it’s an appetizer or a salad combination, pastas and pizzas. They appreciate having a separate menu handed to them. We were lucky enough to find a bakery that’s not far from here and they specialize in producing all gluten-free products. They make our gluten-free pizza shells that come in an aluminum tin so there’s no cross contamination. They make our gluten-free gnocchi and meatballs. We take our (regular) menu and convert those into gluten-free items, also.