Photos by Josh Keown
Giovanni Di Palma, owner of Antico Pizza Napoletana in Atlanta, Georgia, has created the scenario many operators dream of. Most nights and weekends, a line of eager customers wrap around the parking lot and down the block.
Most Saturdays, Di Palma says, Antico sells more than 1,000 Neapolitan pizzas. The high-volume shop near Georgia Tech in the Midtown district generates $4.5 million in annual sales with no salads, pastas, other entrees or alcohol.
Pizza Today visited Antico during a midweek lunch in the spring to discover what drives this successful operation. Upon opening, the crowd has already lined up, extending out the door.
The shop, which opened in 2009, is split into two rooms. In the front area, two employees operate registers and fill carryout orders, which account for a stunning 35 percent of sales.
It’s Antico’s other room where all of the action takes place. Three Grande Forni ovens, weighing 10,000 pounds each, hand made from refractory Sorrento stone and shipped by sea from Naples, Italy, dominate the focus of the space. Communal picnic-style tables that sit on concrete floors fill the area. The Dough Room, literally a walled area with large windows to showcase the dough-making process, is captivating and manned constantly because of the sheer volume of dough needed.
There are a dozen employees flowing seamlessly through the open kitchen area fixated on their tasks at hand. They are center stage.
That’s intentional, Di Palma says, adding there is a theatrical component centered on the art of pizza making. “The experience and atmosphere are really second-to-none,” he continues. “That was important to me that people really see the artisan craft. They see us making dough. They see us crushing tomatoes…they are seeing everything while they eat.”
A communal approach also produces a “wow” factor as people wait, watching aluminum pans of Neapolitan creations atop brown paper arrive to neighboring guests. “They are seeing the other pizzas, so they are saying which pizza they are going to try when they come back,” Di Palma says.
The Margherita D.O.P ($18) is most popular. The San Gennaro with salsiccia, sweet red pepper, bufala and cipolline ($21), and Diavola with spicy sopressata, pepperonata and bufala ($21), have become famous and Atlanta cult classics.
Pizza makes up 78 percent of Antico’s sales. Though its calzone has won awards, Di Palma says, they don’t sell a lot of them. Another menu item Antico does sell a lot of is its cannoli — 2,500 of them a week.
But, Di Palma contends, it’s all about pizza. At Antico the product markets itself. “My pizza is extremely photogenic,” he says of the pizzeria’s social media buzz. “I let the customers do it for us. They take pictures and send it to everyone they know.” Add in celebrities tweeting the pizzeria to millions of followers and the word-of-mouth for Antico’s drives traffic. If fact, Di Palma says he has never bought any advertising.
“I’ve made price irrelevant,” Di Palma says. “I went to a terrible neighborhood…and I’m the most expensive pizza in the city of Atlanta…people stand in line in the rain and the cold for it. They want quality and that is why Neapolitan pizza is so wildly popular now and booming.” Di Palma goes to great lengths to showcase the craftsmanship he has created at Antico.
Growing up in New York in an Italian family, Di Palma always valued his Neapolitan roots. In 2005 he began a quest to learn the ways of his grandfather’s craft in the small village of Cimitile, just outside of Naples, Italy. He was amazed by the flour mills there — the variety of formulas and the freshness of the product — yielding a major difference that he saw between American pizza and Neapolitan.
Throughout his years of training in Italy, Di Palma sought answers to one question: “How can I do this in America?”
In addition to becoming a maestro pizzaiolo, Di Palma says, “I learned logistics and importing.” Di Palma goes beyond using traditional distributors. Antico has its own warehouse, which aids in importing products based on his criteria. “When I buy a product, it goes this way: quality first, freshness and logistics second and price third,” he says.
He buys direct from an Italian flourmill. He has bufala mozzarella and fior di latte mozzarella flown in from Naples once a week. Each fall, he travels to the fields of the Sarno Valley in Italy to look at produce first hand.
Food cost at Antico remains low, Di Palma says. “Our food cost is in the mid-20s because I am buying such massive quantities directly from the sources,” he says.
“What makes Antico’s so magical is having those products and the freshness of them and meeting very, very skilled people.”
Finding craftsmen to reproduce what he learned in Italy, consistently, Di Palma says, would take five years. Instead, “What I did was I broke myself down into five different skills and I teach one guy one skillset and that’s all he does,” he says, adding each person also trains a back up. Everyone has one specific task, whether it’s opening pizza, making dough, or working the ovens.
The Antico staff is a family, Di Palma says, adding that he’s loaned employees money and paid hospital bills. Each month he takes his 22-member crew and their families out for dinner. “Those are things that you have to do as an independent proprietor to stay successful,” he says, resulting in little to no turnover.
The final component of Antico’s is Di Palma. Guests get to see his passion for Neapolitan pizza and the energy he brings to the pizzeria. u
Atlanta's Little Italy
Giovanni Di Palma, owner of Antico Pizza Napoletana, knew that he wanted to open his pizzeria in an old bakery. When the former French bakery became available in Atlanta, he says: “When I saw it, I had a feeling this was going to be the perfect place.” Forget the fact that the location was in a dilapidated area that was notorious for its drug problem and crime. He saw the neighborhood for its potential. He purchased two city blocks around the pizzeria with the vision of opening an entire Italian village. The neighboring Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano recently opened. This summer, Di Palma is also set to open Bar Antico, a lemoncello bar, gelateria and café. Piazza San Gennaro will also join the project across the street from the pizzeria, featuring a fountain surrounded by pastry and pasta shops, along with Italian street carts — a Little Italy in Midtown Atlanta. It’s beautiful — revitalization centered on a pizzeria, he says.
Denise Greer is associate editor of Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
I love this business,” says Sean Kelly, co-owner of Buckhead Pizza Company in Atlanta, Georgia. “I love pizza…more, I love the dining experience.”
Sean Kelly, co-owner of Buckhead Pizza Company.
Kelly and partner Sam Abdullah have engineered the Buckhead concept around the dining experience. “It’s a fine dining look at pizza,” says Kelly, whose background is fine dining, while Abdulla previously owned a chain of New York-style pizzerias. “No ordering at a counter and we don’t do slice.”
Their vision has paid off with $4 million in annual sales generated from three Atlanta-area company locations. Pizza Today met up with Kelly in the spring at its Buckhead district location, an urban setting of high-rise office buildings, hotels and condominiums.
Walk into the Buckhead store and it becomes quickly evident that attention to detail is front and center. From its sleek sophisticated look to its flow from the waiting area (which features a half-wall separation from the open dining room that seats 130 to the bar area with high tables and dark stone tiled bar), every detail is thought out. A wall of windows backs the bar and opens to a large year-round patio that seat another 50.
A curved wall, that’s actually part of a parking deck, sets off the right side of the room and provided some challenges during the build out. But, in the end, it added to the contemporary design. As a bonus, the shape gave way for a private dining area in the back that is loaded with A/V equipment and able to seat 30.
The original Buckhead location in the Atlanta suburb of Buford, which is now a licensed store, opened in February of 2008, followed closely by a Cummings store six months later. In March of 2009, Kelly and Abdullah opened the Buckhead location. “We signed all three leases at the same time,” Kelly says. “Then we staged them so we could have time to get one staffed, trained and opened and then move on to the second one. It was ambitious.”
The partners were comfortable with the concept to move forward with all three locations, Kelly says, adding that the newest location opened in the Galleria district in June of 2011.
Kelly says they also had a lot of confidence in the product. Pizza makes up 60 percent of the company’s sales with another 10 to 12 percent coming from the remainder of the food menu. Buckhead offers regular, whole wheat and gluten-free dough for pizzas, calzones and flatbread. The Buckhead location produces 500 pounds of dough in house each day. Kelly found semolina to be beneficial to Buckhead’s signature crust for whole wheat and regular dough. “It gives a little more structure to the pizza — lets the bottoms get crispy, but still lets them stay elastic enough that we are able to hand toss them in a timely fashion,” he says.
No raw vegetables go onto pizzas at Buckhead. “All of our toppings, we sauté, roast or bake and season ahead of time,” Kelly says. The restaurant also makes its sausage and sauces in house at each location.
With more than 15 specialty pizzas, several are appropriately named after Atlanta points of interest, like the Piedmont Park, a veggie pizza with eggplant, zucchini, broccoli, yellow squash and sliced tomatoes (a medium for $17); the Smoked Midtown with marinated grilled chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, red onions, fresh basil and smoked mozzarella (a medium for $18) and The Chastain with roasted chicken, onions, capers, a light cream sauce and ricotta (a medium for $17.50).
Buckhead’s menu has been devised with upsell potential. Appetizers are broken down into two categories: small apps (hummus, bruschetta, mozzarella sticks, etc.) that are priced at around $5 and full appetizers (calamari, chicken wings, fried ravioli, etc.) that range in price from $6.50 to $14.95. The strategy was two-fold: it gives servers an easy sell with the small apps and it also provides a promotional avenue to offer a free small app. “I’ve only roped myself into these $5 items that my cost is a buck or $1.25, instead of saying free appetizer,” he says, keeping Buckhead from giving away a higher food cost item like chicken wings.
Kelly has introduced a $5 lunch menu. “That’s the starting point,” he says, and everything is an add-on, whether it’s proteins for salads or extra toppings on pizza. “The last time I looked, for January, our average lunch per person was $10.89,” he adds. The company’s locations are in prime areas to attract a business lunch crowd.
In addition to lunch, Buckhead tapped its business district for catering opportunities. Catering makes up one-third of the restaurant’s sales. Kelly attributes its popularity to not setting limits on a catering menu. “I try to tell people there is nothing that we can’t do,” he says, elaborating that they’ve even hosted a Caribbean luau with a Jerk chicken that inspired a popular Jerk Pork Pizza special on its regular menu.
Buckhead also hosts meeting, cocktail parties, and special occasions in the restaurants. Kelly says he works with a hotel chain based in Atlanta for store buyouts. With great audio/visuals and a comprehensive catering menu, Buckhead has positioned itself to capitalize on its neighboring business community.
Kelly has discovered an added attraction for groups: a pizza-making class. It started with offering kids the chance to make their own pizzas. Since kids loved it, Kelly looked for a way to package it for adults as well. Each Buckhead location offers two pizza making classes — The Allegro ($25 per person) that includes hors d’oevres, instruction and ample toppings and The Maestro ($35 per person) which includes hors d’oevres, instruction, ample toppings, dessert-making instruction and a wine tasting.
Meeting planners also sign up for its pizza-making class during business meetings at Buckhead. “When you can get up, stretch your legs, get your hands dirty, make pizza and have a fun time with coworkers…you are totally refreshed and open to the new information.”
Just as marketing to the business community is key to Buckhead’s success, the restaurant also relies on its returning patrons. At the Cummins location, with a main customer base of families, Kelly shoots to get them in the store a couple times a week, he says, “Whether it’s on Wednesday for trivia, Tuesday for kid’s night, on Sunday for brunch or on Thursday for martini night.”
Buckhead tries to gain as many impressions in the Atlanta market as it possibly can for the four percent of its annual sales that’s devoted to marketing. Kelly finds great value in the $400 to $500 he spends on mass mailers, as well as the expense for traditional advertising. He says even if it doesn’t prompt a visit, the mailers put Buckhead top of mind with consumers. “When we do that radio spot or billboard on the expressway, there is the second time and then when they drive by the restaurant and they see the signage, it all comes together,” he adds.
With several hotels in the area, Buckhead markets directly to concierge, valet and bell services staff. “We issue them all a gift card and I can add value to the gift card remotely,” Kelly says. “So every time we get a delivery to the hotel when they are on duty, they get $5 on their gift card.” He also gives them free small app coupons to hand out to guests. Kelly provides the same opportunity to shuttle, limo and cab drivers in the area and a similar program to pharmaceutical reps and meeting planners.
“Those kinds of things are a little off the beaten path, but are very specific and successful,” he says.
Kelly plans to continue these programs as the company grows. Within two years, he looks to add another Atlanta location, as well as one in a new market out of state.
Denise Greer is associate editor of Pizza Today.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
Jason Petro, owner of Red Star Pizza Company in Seymour, Indiana, borrows from a popular sales mantra in his approach to closing procedures: “Always be closing.” With a limited staff, it’s a method that has served his small pizzeria well.
“The main thing is time management,” Petro says. “You know what needs to be done. You just got to get it done as soon as possible.” The best way he has found to accomplish this is to make efficient use of his various day parts and his employees’ time while he has them available. “We have a closing checklist,” Petro says. “It’s loose but we have it tiered so that we can get some of it done early and some of it done later.”
Cleaning is one task Petro likes to have completed well before closing. Red Star’s dining room closes at 10 p.m. and his staff may begin the cleanup as early as 7:30 p.m. after the peak of the dinner rush. He makes pre-closing tasks part of staff members’ side work.
Petro warns that his style requires a caveat — pre-closing tasks cannot interfere with the quality of food or the customer’s dining experience.
Adhering to a pre-close technique allows Petro to begin cutting staff members early, leaving himself and a delivery driver to handle the remainder of the closing process.
In 2012, Petro began offering late night delivery service a few days a week. Since he prefers to do his dough prep after closing, he added a delivery driver to help. It allows Petro to concentrate on dough, while the other closer cuts produce, stocks the prep table, reorganizes dough balls by time and date, gathers trash and handles orders and delivery. Since Red Star only offers delivery after 10 p.m., Petro says he feels it’s safer and, without walk-in traffic, they can focus on prepping for the next day.
Carmelo Lamotta, owner of LaMotta’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria in Ft. Myers, Florida, applies safety protocols during closing. “I make sure the doors are all locked before I do registers,” he says.
He also wants to be certain his employees are safe. “If the girls walk out to their cars, someone has to watch or walk out with them,” he says. Lamotta takes advantage of that time when the dinner crowd dies down to run through his food-ordering checklist and begin cutting employees.
Inventory counts at night gives you enough time that if you have to put in a rush order with distributors or make a run to the market in the morning you can do it before lunch service. It solves the problem before it becomes one.
After closing, Lamotta’s team focuses on cleaning and prepping for the next day. They clean and disinfect sensitive areas, like around soda machines and beer taps (which attract insects). They pour hot water and bleach down all drains, and three nights a week they hose down the floors with hot water to loosen grease on tiles and in the grout.
Paul Gainor, owner of Pizza Zone in Spring, Texas, operates a carryout and delivery store. His crew floats between the counter area and kitchen. “When it starts to slow down some of the inside people will go to the back and start washing dishes and get the back cleaned up and generally just cleaning the place,” he says.
For night employees who are not designated closers, Gainor leaves their schedules open-ended to create flexibility for late rushes and early lulls. Up to an hour before closing the only employees left will be a manager and two drivers.
Each closer walks through Pizza Zone with their checklist to be sure nothing is overlooked. A manager will conduct a sweep of the restaurant, double-checking that tasks are completed. Security is also top-of-mind with Gainor. He instructs his team to leave registers open after the drawers are pulled for the night. “It’s a good tip because if you leave your cash drawer closed then people are going to get a crowbar and break it open to see if there is money in there,” he says.
He says it’s also important to scan the restaurant to make sure there isn’t anything on that will trip motion sensors, such as fans. It’s a lesson he has learned with a few wakeup calls in the middle of the night from his security system.
Communication with the morning team is vital. Gainor leaves notes for the opening manager when something was not completed or if the store is out of an item.
A well-executed closing comes down to efficiently managing time and resources. Evaluate your procedures to see if there are better, faster ways of finishing tasks. Says Petro: “After you do something for a long time, you can always figure out a better way to do it.”
Just as checklists are vital to opening, they are instrumental to a successful closing, especially with many of the cleaning duties being performed after closing. Below are items that commonly appear on a pizzeria’s closing checklist:
- Check server/counter staff side work and area nightly and weekly special duties. v Cut appropriate staff as business slows.
- Turn off open sign and lock doors.
- Turn off all dining area sound and video systems.
- Check restrooms to see if they are empty and clean.
- Pull registers and count drawers.
- Run end of day reports.
- Balance cash.
- Prepare paperwork for the next day.
- Complete deposits.
- Place all money in a time-delay safe.
- Empty steam and prep tables.
- Clean walk-ins —be sure product is properly stored.
- Turn off ovens, warmers and other kitchen appliances and empty crumb trays.
- Wash all dishes.
- Wash and sanitize work areas and sinks.
- Sweep and mop floor — rinsing and storing mop and buckets properly.
- Inspect freezers and refrigerators to make sure they are closed tightly and the seals are functioning properly and the temperature reads appropriately.
- Conduct a security check of the interior and lot.
- Empty all trash and sanitize receptacles.
- Secure and lock back door.
- Do a final walk-through dining room and kitchen to verify closing checklist.
- Set security alarm and lock doors.
Denise Greer is associate editor of Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
As the Pizza Today crew travels the country and interacts with operators at events like International Pizza Expo, there is one trend that shakes the core of traditional advertising. In lieu of radio, television and newspaper spots, many independent operators are gravitating towards innovative solutions that bring pizzerias closer to their patrons and potential customers.
Tom Hirons, president and CEO of Hirons & Company in Indianapolis, says he looks for alternatives to advertising first. “The types of advertising that we are seeing most effective — or communications that are most effective — at stimulating repeat visits are those that have engagement with the customer,” he says.
Crowdsourcing, online social and viral campaigns and guerilla promotions are all the buzz now. “Crowdsourcing is a really interesting strategy for social media, where essentially you pose a problem and ask your customers to vote or weigh in,” Hirons says. He adds that it could be as simple as asking what your pizza special should be.
We talked to four pizzerias that have found creative outlets to target consumers in four different markets: Minneapolis, Minnesota; New Orleans, Louisiana; Dallas, Texas; and Chicago, Illinois. Check out how the pizzerias are redefining marketing:
Anne Kim, owner of Pizzeria Lola in Minneapolis, doesn’t do traditional advertising. Instead, she opts for tactics that build community. Earlier this year, she posed a question on the company’s Facebook page: “Would you dine at Lola’s if we were open for lunch on weekdays? Discuss.” The post elicited dozens of likes and 33 comments. That is crowdsourcing. It brought her customers into the folds of the business.
There is no better in-store advertising at Lola than an entire wall filled with photo strips of happy customers. For $3, patrons hop into a custom-designed photo booth and get two retro three-photo strips with Lola’s information on the back. Customers began leaving behind the duplicate for the wall. “People love it and associate the photo booth with our brand,” Kim says.
The restaurant’s promotional video displayed on its Web site has also caught fire. It features the pizzeria’s namesake Lola, a Weimaraner. Kim found traditional videos of the pizza-making process to be a bit boring. And people always presumed she was Lola. “I wanted a fun video that would be memorable,” she says, adding it showcases the restaurant and shares the K-9 behind the name.
Freebies are another great marketing tool at Lola’s. Kim went with retro matchboxes that are printed with “I love pizza,” in Korean, as well as ones printed with Kim’s toddler passport photo.
Reginelli’s Pizzeria’s nine New Orleans locations also take a different approach. “Advertising is tough,” co-owner Darryl Reginelli says. “We would rather put the budget into churches and schools.” The company provides donations, buys booths at events and sponsors activities.
Guerrilla marketing is also a key component to Reginelli’s strategy. During the last local election, Reginelli’s went into the community where the political parties campaigned and gave out pizza.
Reginelli’s also takes to Facebook to generate votes for New Orlean’s Where Y’at magazine’s Best of the Big Easy. It’s a common crowdsourcing tactic that a lot of restaurants use to get their patrons fired up about their product.
A billboard is the one piece of traditional advertising Reginelli uses. The billboard depicts Reginelli pointing at one of his pizzeria locations. “It’s fun and different,” he says, adding that it draws attention and serves its function to direct traffic to the store.
Il Cane Rosso in Dallas uses its iOS-based reservation system to capture customers’ cell phone numbers. “When they are finished dining, the system will ping them with a text message asking them if they want to ‘opt in’ to our marketing list,” owner Jay Jerrier says, adding that he is careful not to overload them with texts. Cane Rosso only texts new happenings, like operating-hour changes, brunch or seasonal items.
Jerrier demonstrates the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words.” He rotates the cover art of his Facebook page with mouthwatering shots of his menu items. With the Facebook timeline layout, the cover art is prime advertising space.
Instagram, a photo sharing smart phone app that uploads images to social media sites, is gaining popularity, providing great opportunities for restaurants. Jerrier loves it. “We use Instagram the same way we use Facebook and Twitter — to drive reaction and interaction,” he says. “We want people to comment on our photos and share our posts.”
Cane Rosso has married the three outlets together with great success. “We’ll post a picture and everyone wants to know what it is, like our Honey Badger (mozzarella, hot soppressata and house-made habanero honey),” he says. “It’s not on the menu but it is one of our most popular pizzas — all driven from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.”
Jim Furrh produces creative ads for Piece Brewery and Pizzeria in Chicago.
Instead of placing them in traditional means, the ads are posted to Facebook and Twitter and printed on posters and table tents in the store.
Piece ads are witty and humorous. “We target adults 22 to 35, so we can be a little more contemporary or edgy,” Furrh says. He adds that a Piece ad consists of a trueism or human insight and it only presents one idea.
The quirky ads celebrate any holiday, even ones the staff makes up. For Father’s Day, the pizzeria’s ad read, “Your father loved pizza and beer long before he loved you. Take your dad to Piece for Father’s Day.”
Reaching customers may be as simple as thinking outside of the box. Look for innovation everywhere and harness it to spark your own creativity.
Advertising and marketing can be a costly and time intensive endeavor. Tom Hirons of Hirons & Company in Indianapolis offers strategic planning advice. Before you jump into an advertising tactic, ask yourself the following questions:
- What are my objectives? (Is it to stimulate new trial? Is it to stimulate a certain period of time?)
- How am I going to measure this and to determine my return on investment?
- Exactly who is it that I want to target demographically and psychographically?
Denise Greer is associate editor of Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
The hours before opening — while sometimes hectic — are the few times in a busy pizzeria’s day when customers are not continually walking in and the phone is not ringing like crazy. It’s the perfect opportunity to lead the day in a positive and profitable direction. Paul Gainor, owner of Pizza Zone with two locations in Spring, Texas, uses the time to get ready for the day’s rush — making sure the prep table is stocked, turning on the ovens and vent hoods, checking voicemail and the fax machine (which prints the shop’s online orders), pulling dough out of the refrigerator, heating the pizza sauce, counting the safe, bringing all of the washed utensils (pizza cutters, cheese cups, scale, etc.) to their stations, checking inventory and ordering food.
Dough is also made before opening at Pizza Zone. Gainor says mornings are the best time for dough production because there are limited distractions during the delicate process.
It’s the most obvious — but vital — things, he says, that most frequently get overlooked, such as turning on the “Open” sign and remembering to unlock the front door.
That’s where a trusty checklist comes in handy. “The most important thing is that people follow the checklist,” Gainor says. “Otherwise things get forgotten. Give some incentive to your employees that they better use the checklist or they will be in trouble.” He verbally reprimands employees for ignoring items on the sheet. Habitual offenders can even lose out on raises.
Carmelo Lamotta of LaMotta’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria, Fort Myers, Florida, says there is no excuse for missing a task that is on the checklist. Having his employees initial each item leaves little room for rebuttal. The sheet is broken down into daily tasks as well as the schedule for weekly and monthly duties.
Lamotta handles many of the kitchen opening duties with one helper. “It saves on labor and it saves on waste and food cost because I control the food cost.”
In addition to kitchen prep, Lamotta brings a server in 30 minutes prior to opening to prepare the dining room. “Hygiene is No.1 for me,” he says. The server is responsible for making sure tables and chairs are sanitized, the floor is swept, menus and special inserts are wiped down, windows are cleaned and everything is stocked in the counter and service areas.
Morning is also a good time to take advantage of the quiet to hold meetings and training sessions. Run through the numbers of the previous day, highlighting the positives and negatives and things like recognizing employees for exceptional service.
Have a new menu item? Use mornings to introduce the new dish to your lunch staff so they can more effectively promote it. The tasting also gives the kitchen crew practice, without having to focus on other entrées.
With a small staff, Jason Petro, owner of The Red Star Pizza Company in Seymour, Indiana, handles opening differently. While Petro focuses on closing duties, his wife, Nicole, opens the restaurant. Petro relies on his evening and closing staff to tackle many of the tasks that some operators would consider opening duties.
The goal, Petro says, is to get everything ready for the next morning so that Nicole can come in one hour prior to open to turn on the ovens and then make a bank run or other errands that need to be completed. Occasionally, he leaves Nicole tasks written on their large checklist wipe boards in the kitchen to be completed before opening.
The Petros also make use of their midday lull to prepare for Red Star’s dinner rush instead of prepping for the entire day prior to open.
There are a number of approaches to take to make daily operations run smoothly. Make a game plan, be ready and execute.
Checklists not only give you a reminder of all of the tasks that need to be completed, it also provides you with accountability when staff members initial each item that is finished. Common tasks on an opening checklist include:
- Check the exterior for security breaches and litter.
- Unlock doors for staff, disarm alarm and lock doors upon entering. u Conduct an interior security walk-through.
- Turn on ovens.
- Double check food orders and inventory levels to be sure the pizzeria is ready for the day’s business.
- Check manager’s log from previous night. Make sure employees clocked out appropriately and review labor hours.
- Check voicemails, e-mails and faxes for advanced orders and employee schedule conflicts.
- Scan the labor schedule to be sure you have enough employees scheduled for each shift.
- Inspect freezer and refrigerator units for proper temperature readings.
- Check appearance of kitchen and dining room, cross-checking with nightly checklist.
- Make appropriate amount of dough and verify prepped dough has been rotated for use.
- Set up steam table and make line and start prep work.
- Count the safe and assign drawers.
- Check deposit slips.
- Verify there is enough cash and change for the day’s operation.
- Go to the bank to make last night’s deposit and get change.
- Review specials and be sure they are displayed in the store.
- Check the restaurant calendar for large parties and/or catering.
- Be sure the dining room temperature is comfortable.
- Turn on lights, fans and television and sound systems.
- Take out the trash and pick up litter.
- Conduct an opening meeting with instructions, training and motivation.
- Do final walk-through of dining room and verify opening checklist.
- Turn on open sign and unlock doors for customers.
Denise Greer is associate editor of Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
When Sara Griffith, husband Joe and partners Shawn and Barb Griffith bought a Sam & Louie’s franchise location in Omaha, Nebraska, in August 2012, Sara was looking to update the pizzeria’s interior. She found inspiration from Pinterest, a visual-based social networking site, to use chalkboard paint to cover the entire wall behind the order counter.
“It’s the first thing customers see,” Sara says. “It really makes an impact.” She created an attractive focal point with half of the wall used to promote Sam & Louie’s lunch specials and the other half to depict colorful drawings related to the season and to highlight the restaurant’s features.
“It’s such a quick update,” Sara says. “It’s new and it’s fresh.” The DIY project cost only $20 for the gallon of chalkboard paint and her time. In the next few months, she also plans to paint a faux brick wall, a signature look in many Sam & Louie’s locations.
“Paint can certainly make a big difference,” says Deborah Ward of Deborah Ward Interiors in Tacoma, Washington. Ward specializes in restaurant interior design.
She cautions to plan ahead — calculate the area’s square footage so you know how much paint the walls and possibly ceiling will require. Depending on the size, painting may cost $5,000 or more if you use a professional crew. Also be sure to use low VOC paint to limit fumes.
One of the most obvious, but overlooked, aspects of a worn dining room is simply cleanliness, Ward says. “A lot can be done with just cleaning it,” she adds.
Go beyond your daily and weekly cleaning routines. While closed, take the opportunity to give your dining room a thorough, deep clean. Wash walls and ceilings, scrub upholstery, steam-clean floors, polish metals and dust all light fixtures and décor. Don’t forget to focus on hard-to-reach areas.
Evaluating the space for repairs and updates is vital to a fresh interior, Ward says. Make a list of everything — from wobbly tables, torn upholstery and ripped and worn flooring to an outdated color palette, poor dining room flow and mismatched decoration.
Some high-impact, low-cost dining room touch-ups include freshening up the front counter with a new pattern of plastic laminate, wood or other finishing material; swapping out outdated menu boards; re-upholstering furniture; touching up any wood elements and applying new stain; bringing new art and wall décor and updating light fixtures.
Prioritize the list. But when it comes to execution, Ward recommends that you make the changes all at once. It allows the grand reveal. “You just have to look at it all at one time — what the place needs — so it works together,” she says, adding that you should try to avoid piece-mealing the changes. While there’s usually additional cost involved, many subcontractors will work around your operating hours.
But if you have to phase in updates, Ward says, plan everything out that needs to be done. Poor planning can result in a look that is not cohesive and exceeds your budget to correct the problem.
“Sometimes you don’t know what you are going to get yourself into,” Ward says. That is why planning is so important. “Get all of your prices together so you know exactly where you are,” she says, adding that planning should be done far in advance. If new furniture is ordered, it may take a month or longer to receive. She adds, “when you start getting into plumbing and electrical, those are big dollar items.”
Some questions operators should answer before embarking on an interior project is: How large of a project is it? How much will it cost? How long will the project take to complete? Will it require a designer, architect or contractors? Is the update ADA compliant? Will the pizzeria be able to remain open during renovations?
When Tony Koehler, owner of Boulevard Pizza in Sparks, Nevada, was ready to replace his retro-looking menu board, he mapped everything out, which resulted in a well-executed finished product and saved him money.
Koehler tapped employees with graphic design and photography talents to come up with the new menu boards. “We outsourced only the printing of the menu files to a local print shop, whom we traded the work for a few pizzas,” he says. The Boulevard team spent nearly 50 hours total on the project that included building the backing boards, affixing the printed menus to the boards, framing to the walls, and installing ceiling mounted light fixtures.
Boulevard’s new menu board cost $325. Moreover, Koehler says, the change is photo-rich, draws attention to higher margin menu items and emphasizes descriptions over price. He says his customers now have a better impression of the pizzeria.
What a customers see
Walking through your dining room everyday means you may not notice its flaws. Restaurant interior designer Deborah Ward suggests that you select a person you trust who will be honest with you to evaluate your dining room. Create a checklist that focuses on the following areas:
Floors: Are they worn to the point of replacement? Are there rips, stains, or cracks and can those be repaired? If carpet is in place, does it look dirty or have an odor?
Ceilings: Are there stained, broken or missing tiles? Are all light fixtures working and have the correct wattage bulb in them? Do the fixtures look dated?
Walls: Is the paint discolored or faded? Are there dings in the wall that require plaster? Is the art on the walls dated? Does the color palette and art best represent your restaurant? Would adding visual blockage to undesirable sightline enhance the dining experience? Does your menu board represent your current offering effectively?
Furniture: Are chairs or tables wobbly or broken? Is the upholstery in dire need of replacement? Can furniture be reconfigured for better dining room flow? If so, will it require moving light fixtures?
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
There is something noticeable about the staff’s look at Cocco’s Pizza in Primos, Pennsylvania, — expression of individuality and brand awareness. Employees sport graphic T-shirts with the pizzeria’s name and logo. Owner Michael Cocco says his dress code reflects his crew’s personalities.
Everyone is wearing something just a little different from one another. They can select from new and retro designed T-shirts. With 35 years of designs, they have a lot of options. Cocco works with a neighboring printing company to keep the shop’s designs on file. If someone doesn’t find one they like, Cocco says, they are welcome to buy their own style tops and he’ll have the print shop screen print on them.
“They are able to express how they want their shirts to look,” Cocco says. “I like the individuality of our shirts. It makes us a little different.”
It may appear like the pizzeria doesn’t have much of a dress code, but at closer examination there’s method to Cocco’s casual presentation. The dress code standards are outlined in its employee handbook, though he always verbally reinforces his expectations.
Cocco supplies the shirts — the more days they work, the more shirts he gives. If employees want extra, he charges $5. There is a $10 replacement penalty if employees forget their shirts.
Cocco isn’t too strict about the rest of his employees’ attire. He doesn’t allow sweat pants or gym shorts. There has been confusion on what constitutes sweats or gym shorts. In those instances, he says he makes the final decision. He doesn’t mind a few holes in the jeans, but he has sent people home for wearing pants with an overabundance of holes.
“They just have to use common sense,” Cocco says. “We really try to set a family atmosphere. Customers watch what you wear.”
Having your dress code spelled out in writing, formally stating specific uniform standards — no matter how loose — and courses of action for failures to comply with requirements, is good business.
After all, employees’ appearance reflects a restaurant’s brand. Choosing not to have a set dress code creates confusion, says human resources expert and trainer Roberta Matuson. “You just have to be very specific as far as what does a clean, neat attire look like? The more you can do to eliminate people from having to make those decisions themselves the better.”
Haley’s Pizzeria in Litchfield, New Hampshire, also has a loose dress code. In fact, staff members simply wear jeans and t-shirts. The key, says owner Mike DeMarco, is outlining what is not acceptable — no sleeveless shirts, no low-cut or sagging pants, nothing vulgar or explicit on t-shirts, nothing that shows cleavage or posterior and no Yoga pants or jeans. DeMarco gives each employee a Haley’s T-shirt when they are hired, but it is not a required piece of uniform.
Having a uniform accessible and clean can be stressful for employees, DeMarco says. “I would rather them put their energy into the product and the customers,” he explains.
While Cocco’s and Haley’s take a casual approach to dress codes, Mama’s Famous Pizza & Heros in Tucson, Arizona, and Aldo’s Ristorante Italiano & Bar in Naples, Florida, have stricter requirements.
Mama’s four locations have a dress code, requiring employees to wear kakis or white pants, a brown Mama’s shirt, green apron and hat. Manager Liz Biocca says, “it’s the image that we want them to present and staff appearance should be consistent.” The restaurant supplies one of each, costing the restaurant under $10 per piece. But if the uniform gets stained or torn, Mama’s will replace it free.
Common violations of Mama’s dress codes are forgotten hats and shirts that are not tucked in. There’s a warning process when the policy is violated, Biocca says.
Kelly Musico says Aldo’s goes for a classy, sophisticated look — black button down shirt, black pants, black bistro apron and black non-slip shoes. The uniforms, she says, also make staff easily identifiable to customers, especially when Aldo’s caters off-site.
Aldo’s dress code is always enforced and gives employees multiple chances. “First offense, we will issue a loaner; second offense, employee will get sent home; third offense, employee will receive a written violation; and fourth offense, termination,” Musico says.
It is important to set reasonable standards, Matuson says. Expecting a white shirt to stay clean in an environment filled with red sauce is not going to be effective. Nor is supplying a style of uniform that does not fit everyone. If skirts are a piece of the uniform, she suggests also offering pants as an option. Be flexible.
Success of a dress code, Matuson says, comes down to communicating what’s in it for the staff. “You have to appeal to people’s self interest,” she says.
Also, make sure you and your managers are modeling the attire policy, Matuson says. It difficult to get employees to adhere to the rules when they see management disregard them.
Whether your style is extreme casual or formal, let your employees know how you expect them to dress for work. It is your image that they are representing.
Tips for Success
Dress codes are not complete without appearance standards. Many requirements, like pulling hair back in a ponytail or a hairnet, come down to local health code mandates. Some things like not displaying visible tattoos are image representation.
Where your dress code can get into legal hot water is if it violates federal and state employee discrimination laws. The rules are in place to protect employees from “unfair treatment because of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 and older), disability or genetic information,” enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Make certain that the policy you’ve set into place doesn’t leave you vulnerable to lawsuits. Run your dress code standards by your attorney.
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
Hundreds and even thousands of people pass by your pizzeria on a daily basis. What message are your windows sending?
How to approach window signage and advertising varies from pizzeria to pizzeria. Westshore Pizza in Tampa, Florida, has large, wide front windows facing a busy thoroughfare. Operations Manager Tyrell Reed says, “We like to give patrons a positive impression of Westshore Pizza before they even step foot inside our restaurants — clean design, good food, fair pricing.”
Reed says they accomplish that message by providing clean, appealing vinyl graphics in vibrant red and checkerboard white and black.
Westshore’s windows display the pizzeria’s best deals, like an 18-inch one-topping pizza with a pitcher of beer or soda for $11.99, and highlight favorite menu items, like the Philly Cheese Steak. “We constantly change the specials and pricing to stay relevant and competitive,” he adds.
While Westshore Pizza takes a window graphics approach, Sweet Tomatoes in Newton, Massachusetts, applies a minimalistic strategy to its windows. Of its three locations, one restaurant has bare windows. Owner Hedy Jarras says that decision was intentional. It is in a historic building with a small paned window. “Nothing goes on that window,” she says, explaining that window graphics wouldn’t fit the establishment. Instead the pizzeria relies on its quaint building signage to draw customers in.
The two other Sweet Tomatoes locations have a single piece of vinyl signage — the pizzeria’s logo and “Neapolitan Pizza” written underneath. “I’m just very into the clean look where people can look in and out,” Jarras says.
The placement of the Sweet Tomatoes logo was strategic for Jarras. “I don’t want them straight in the middle because people can’t necessarily look in,” she says. “So I have them closer to the bottom. We are at a main intersection so you hope that everyone can see it.”
There are only a couple of items that may appear on Sweet Tomatoes’ windows: an occasional “Now Hiring” sign and a banner advertising their Matzo Pizza for Passover. The Matzo Pizza is the perfect example of a promotion Sweet Tomatoes has where “I really need to draw people in immediately,” Jarras says. “That’s a big draw for us.”
Scott Anthony of Fox’s Pizza Den in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, agrees on the less-is-more tactic. “Windows should be considered part of your four walls marketing,” he says. “I feel this space is just as important and useful as any. It is a view into your ‘world.’”
He offers some “Dos and Don’ts” when it comes to windows. “Windows provide a view of a restaurant with satisfied customers eating inside a clean restaurant and happy employees working inside,” Anthony says. He advises not to obstruct views inside.
Covering the windows with posters, banners and signs also may pose security risks. “Someone could have entered your establishment and no one will ever see them moving around,” Anthony says, a lesson he learned first hand.
The information you provide is crucial to passersby. He says must-haves include an open sign, store hours, phone numbers and web address. “We use window-scapes and die cut graphics,” Anthony says. “These are informational, plus give the benefit of allowing a view in and out. They are also reflective so they show up great at night.”
Whether you go for bold dominating statements on your windows or minimal coverage, remember to keep it clean, appealing and in pristine condition.
Vinyl is King
Many operators are drawn to a common window product — vinyl. There is an abundance of options for vinyl graphics to place on your storefront windows. What do you look for when you need new vinyl or need to replace worn out treatments? There are new products hitting the market constantly and it can get a little confusing at times.
Sam Cassel, vice president of Cassel Promotions in Spokane, Washington, shares what drives new window graphics. “When someone comes out with a new product that is a breakthrough product, generally it’s a price breakthrough that they are trying to hit price points that this product performs better than another, but it’s half the price,” he says
“They come out with vinyls that perform a little better, meaning they are easier to install and vinyls that will accept a richer, more vibrant image,” he adds.
When shopping for vinyl, consider that high-end products may run $8 to $9 per square foot, with lesser expensive products running $4.50 to $5 per square foot. Using full-color graphics and even high-resolution photography is common. Also, most graphics companies do not charge for cutting shapes in the vinyl.
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
Photo by Josh Keown
“Your pizza sucks,” signed an ambiguous online customer reviewer.
Most operators can relate to receiving a similar review on one of the many user-generated customer review Web sites. It’s just sitting out there for the world to see when someone searches for your pizzeria online.
There’s a buzz from owners who are finding online user-generated reviews frustrating and downright unfair. Others choose to ignore them all together. Big mistakes, says Kathleen Ion, Internet marketing consultant at WSI IM Solutions, LLC in Phoenix, Arizona. “You have an online reputation whether you want one or not,” she says.
With the popularity of mobile devices and apps designed to make reviewing quicker and easier, Ion says the use of online review sites is only going to grow.
Your online reputation encompasses more than review sites, it also includes comments on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, as well as the wide blogosphere.
Projecting a positive online reputation lies in your hands. As the saying goes, “The best defense is a good
offense.” There are a number of avenues you can take both on and offline. First things first –– claim your business on customer review sites, putting you in charge of those reviews by giving you the option to respond to positive and negative reviews. It also gives you the ability to post menus, photos and links to your Web address and e-mail.
Monitor your online reputation, whether you do it yourself, assign it to a crewmember or hire outside help. The first two may not cost you a dime. But if you choose to hire an outside monitoring service, prepare to pay. “It’s really comparable to advertising,” Ion says, adding that a proprietary system that monitors a company’s rep can cost $400 per month to several thousands depending on how aggressive they want to monitor.
If you’re handling it yourself, Ion suggest that you should visit Google, Bing and Yahoo daily to search your restaurant’s name to see what is popping up. She also suggests searching review sites, as well as Facebook and Twitter for comments about your place.
There is nothing wrong with asking your loyal customers to post reviews. “Institute a process or procedure for their wait staff — when customers are very happy — to ask them to post a review,” Ion says. If the occasional bad review occurs, Ion says, “if there is enough (positive) stuff out there about them, before long the good is going to outweigh the bad.”
Post QR Codes directing customers to review your restaurant on sites like Yelp, Urbanspoon, Google, etc., Ion suggests. Place flyers at the register and table tents requesting reviews.
It’s not tragic to have the occasional bad review, Ion insists. Operators can learn of areas to improve. She adds, “it makes things sound more believable instead of seeing nothing but five-star ratings.
So what do you do about a bad review? Respond. “If it’s someone you know, then by all means call them,” Ion says, explaining that the customer may pull down the review if you attempt to rectify the situation.
If your only option is to reply online to the comment, “Explain your side but don’t be contrived and don’t insult them…just be professional,” Ion says.
An area of concern for many operators is “fake” comments by competitors and former employees. In this case, you have an option to appeal to the review site itself. Have your ducks in a row with the information on the individual in question. Review sites require its posters to sign up so they do have some information regarding the person. Ion says in those cases sometimes the site will take the reviews down.
Los Angeles-based Fresh Brothers Pizza has a strong online reputation, with a four-star rating on most review sites. They stay proactive by receiving Google alerts, a free service that lets them know when the pizzeria is mentioned. When Fresh Brothers receives a bad review, owner Debbie Goldberg says, they “remain calm, cool and collected. We address the problem or complaint. We ask for their address so we can send them a gift certificate and then we encourage people to update their reviews.”
Craig Mosmen at The Couch Tomato Café in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, says the pizzeria’s online rep is important. “Our marketing feedback forms provide us with proof that many new customers find us online, and try us out because of our online reputation.” He personally checks his Web site feedback and comments left on Urbanspoon, Yelp, Menupages, Yahoo, Bing, Google,
Zagat, and Insidepages almost daily.
Melissa Ferriman of Crazy Dough’s Pizza in Boston is quick to respond to online comments and she’s noticed a trend. “I have found that if they know you are out there actually reading and responding to your online feedback, they will spend the time to give you real information that can help you improve your business and gauge how you are doing,” she says.
And sometimes, it’s just good to have a little fun with reviews. Staff members at Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco were brainstorming ideas for new crew shirts. “As a joke, they thought it would be fun to print bad Yelp reviews on t-shirts,” says owner Anne Stroll.
Ann chose the five worst reviews like “This Place Sucks!” and “The pizza was soooo greasy. I am assuming this was in part due to the pig fat.” The reviews were placed in large, white, all-caps lettering on black t-shirts. Staff members loved them and still continue to wear them today, she adds.
Not intended to be a publicity stunt, Pizzeria Delfina made local and national news for its staff’s ingenuity.
Just like other aspects of your business, have a plan to create a positive online rep.
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
Photo by Josh Keown
Imagine this scenario: You’ve just launched a series of four pesto-inspired pizzas. To promote your new menu items, you gear up for a one-day promotional event, practically giving away the pizzas. You’ve advertised the heck out of the promo and even received local media coverage.
But are you ready to handle the big day?
Executing a limited time promotion is an intricate operation. The difference between success and a flop lies in the planning, says Richard Allum, director of marketing at Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria Restaurants in Montara, California. In March, Amici’s drew more than 1,000 people to a two-hour autograph event with 19 NHL San Jose Sharks players at its Cupertino location, raising $14,400 for the San Jose Sharks Foundation.
“It’s very important to make sure everything is set up with the team, everything is set up with various media partners, and obviously internally within the organization to be able to handle the volume of business that we think we are going to be able to get on that day,” Allum says.
Anticipating volume is one of the more challenging aspects of planning a large promotion. “You have to plan for the best case scenario in terms of being absolutely swamped,” Allum says.
This year in Brooklyn, New York, Chipp Neapolitan Pizza offered a free six-inch pizza to nearby Kingsborough Community College’s student body of more than 20,000. Owner Lenny Veltman circulated 5,000 fliers on campus.
Milas King of DaVinci’s Pizzeria in Smyrna, Georgia, took a limiting
approach to the volume for his combined “Take Over Smyrna” and “Facebook friends eat free” promotional day last fall. DaVinci’s offered a free small pizza to 540 people who “liked” the restaurant on Facebook. The company also partnered with 50 Smyrna businesses, which gave their customers 1,500 free small pizza coupons redeemable for that day only. Creating a finite number to work with made it more manageable. Also, King says he can now project a 30 percent redemption rate after going through several successful runs of the event. In the beginning, King says, he figured a 15-percent redemption would constitute a good day.
Once the numbers are projected, it’s time to move on to logistics. Months leading up to the promo are spent calculating product supply orders for your promo week based on volume projections and normal orders for the day.
Kitchen prep is the focus a day before and especially the morning of an event. “We prep everything at 5 a.m.,” King says. Doubling the amount of meats and vegetables, DaVinci’s staff chops and seasons all morning. “We have tubs that we rotate,” he says of how the kitchen organizes supplies. “It really keeps from having inventory problems.”
Inventory and kitchen prep for most operators is the manageable part. The big question becomes: how can your restaurant handle the volume you’ve projected while keeping with your standards of quality?
For Allum, Veltman and King, honing in on their restaurants’ capabilities and capacity made all of the difference. There are so many components that affect the efficiency of the promotion from the selection of product(s) offered during the promotion to the layout of the restaurant.
Veltman wanted people to try Chipp’s pizza in its truest form, making the offer dine-in only. “The real taste is 100-percent straight from the oven to your plate,” Veltman says.
Veltman adds: “You never know what exposure you are going to get. But no matter what, I was ready.”
There were operational considerations at Chipp’s with the promotion. With one 800-degree oven built for speed, cooking 10 six-inch pizzas in about a minute, Chipp’s provides quick service. Even with a small dining area, Veltman turns tables over rapidly due to the size of the product and the lack of wait time to fill orders.
DaVinci’s promo was the exact
opposite, made available for carryout only. King says the limit helped to not disrupt their regular dine-in and delivery business, saved on labor costs and optimized the store’s layout. “Our restaurant is shaped like an L,” he says. “So they place their order on one side, get their pizza and go out the other door. So it creates this flow.”
Allum knew that the Amici’s location wouldn’t seat 1,000 people in a few short hours, so the restaurant made a few deviations. He brought in staff and managers from locations near two major venues, because these employees were accustomed to dealing with high volumes in short time periods. And even though Amici’s doesn’t normally offer slices, they did for the event. “It’s just a great way to get people to sample our product,” he says. “We sell two slices for $4. It was very inexpensive. We know from experience that there is no better advertising for what we do than to actually get people to eat the pizza.”
Though high volumes may be chaotic at times, lines outside your restaurant aren’t a bad thing, according to King and Allum. Amici’s and DaVinci’s are on busy roads, so the lines create, as King puts it, that “what’s going on over there?” buzz.
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
Fruit pizza toppings add a whole new flavor dimension
BY DENISE GREER
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
Hawaiian Pizza and its variations broke the mold years ago, combining sweet, tart pineapple with savory, salty ham to create a menu favorite across the country. While pineapple has become a mainstay on many pizzerias’ toppings lists, there is a world of fruits just waiting to find their way onto your pizzas. Mango, cranberries, apples, cherries, figs, avocados and even watermelon might be just what you’re looking for to ignite a wave of enthusiasm from your customers. Watermelon, for instance, may seem like an odd pizza topping. But when Executive Chef Jason Sondgroth at Paesanos in Sacramento, California, paired watermelon with prosciutto, feta and a balsamic reduction, it became a wonderland of palatable sensations. He says he wanted to create something that was reminiscent of a picnic. It became an instant hit, along with another creation: the Gorgonzola & Fuji Apple Pizza with olive oil, garlic, caramelized onions, spinach and mozzarella. If you are already offering fruit-based, house-made desserts, it’s as easy as creating a crave-able pizza, making those fruits available on the pizza line and training your pizza maker to get the right formula down and your servers to entice adventurous diners. What should you think about when it comes to incorporating fruit on pizza? The flavor combination is key. It’s a balancing act, according to co-owner and chef Brandon Case of Peel Wood Fired Pizza in Edwardsville, Illinois. Working with co-owner Patrick Thirion, Case says, “we like to pair the sweet and savory together and the hot and cold together.” For some pies, the fruit is baked right in, while for others, Case says, chilled fruit is used as a garnish. Either way, Case says the options enhance Peel’s menu offerings and carry a similar food cost to many of the other vegetables his restaurant uses.
Last fall, the Crème de Brie Pizza debuted on Peel’s menu with prosciutto, Granny Smith apples, Brie cheese and fresh sage. Case says it’s a lighter style pizza that customers responded so well to that it will stay on the menu through the next cycle this year. Peel introduces many of its fruity concoctions through its chef’s specials, like the Wood Fired Chicken and Strawberry Pizza. The slightly smoky flavor of the chicken really pairs well with the strawberries, as well as many other fruits, Case says. John Gutekanst, owner of Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio, experiments often with various fruits. He finds they hold several benefits. “Fruit is a champion because it acts as a palate cleanser, flavor enhancer and intensifies savory flavors all at the same time,” he says. When looking for the right accompaniment to fruit, Gutekanst says, consider the following meats:
“These go great as long as you have a perfect combo of additional strong, sharp and ‘stinky’ flavors,” Gutekanst says. He suggests:
To enhance the texture, Gutekanst suggests giving the pizza a little nutty crunch with walnuts, almonds, pecans or cashews. Vegetables like arugula, spinach, sunflower sprouts and watercress can add an extra bite. Using fruit on pizza does result in one baking issue: water. “Baking is always a challenge with water,” Gutekanst says. “That’s why I prefer to use dried fruit and rehydrate in hot water.” Gutekanst says rehydrating is easy — plus dried fruit is packed with flavor. “The best thing is that this gives you double intensity of dried fruit and a limper, more digestible fruit,” he says, adding that he buys bags of dried mango, blueberry, cherry and cranberry and rehydrates them overnight. Is your mouth watering yet with the flavor combinations available? Experiment with an original pizza in your shop. It may hit big.
The Purple People Eater
John Gutekanst, owner of Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio, says “I’ve been turning to fruit more and more these days as a complimentary or juxtapositional flavor, especially for salty and spicy pizza toppings.” He has created numerous insatiable pizzas that incorporate a variety of fruits. Try this sweet and spicy pizza:
1 dough ball
1 medium to large onion
3 chipotle peppers from a can with adobo sauce
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup dried blueberry
5-8 leaves of raddichio del Traviso (regular raddichio will do in a pinch) slice thin or thick depending on what you like
1 rasher of thick-cut bacon, cut into thin batons
5-7 ounces of fresh curd torn into chunks
Toss onions with olive oil in oven proof pan. Tear the chipotle peppers up and add to the pan with a small amount of adobo sauce (1 tablespoon). Heat in the oven for 12 to 16 minutes, tossing halfway to incorporate flavors. Remove from oven and toss dried blueberries, then put back in oven for 5 minutes until onions are limp. Remove and toss again, then put into a small container and cover to let the blueberries rehydrate with the steam.
Place chipotle mix on the dough, then place the sliced raddichio, the bacon and the fresh curd. Bake.
Denise Greer is associate editor of Pizza Today.
A Neighborhood Place
TORTORA'S EXPANDS TO SERVE ITS SUBURBAN HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA RESIDENTS
BY DENISE GREER, ASSOCIATE EDITOR
PHOTOS BY RICK DAUGHERTY
A January Pizza Today visit to Tortora’s Pizzeria in Owens Cross Roads, Alabama, came amid a flurry of excitement at the four-year-old business. Owner Joe Moore displays his multitasking mastery, fielding questions about his pizzeria while coordinating with his kitchen and dealing with construction issues for a quarter-of-a-million dollar expansion project. As Moore shared his story, the installation of a refrigeration unit that is expected to cool 16 beers on tap in his main restaurant wasn’t cooling properly and one of the beer taps needed an extra costly part to support a famed Irish beer. He takes these renovation bumps in stride, as he’s seen a few since he had envisioned expanding to include a patio for live music and a separate bar facility more than a year and a half ago. The pizzeria itself added a bar with high back seating to its open dining room with high ceilings, three sides of large picture windows and the pizza line in full view. Projecting the separate bar, Tortoras Bar & Grill, to open in September, Moore secured a $1,200 city liquor license. But, the bar and grill didn’t open until December 14. “So basically I got 17 days for $1,200.” he says, shaking his head. “But that is the way it goes in the restaurant business.”
Moore spared no expense when it came time to build out the bar and grill that accommdates 50. A heavy slate bar and high bar tables line the narrow space. There are six draft beers on tap with plans to expand to 10. Just off the bar is a pass-through window to a small kitchen offering different items than the pizzeria with emphasis on burgers, steaks, fish and appetizers. Moore says the menu is still evolving. The patio, with its capacity of 75, has a retractable canopy with a built-in guttering system, lighting and heaters, allowing for year-round use. With the additions, Tortora’s aims to be the neighborhood destination for the Huntsville bedroom community of roughly 30,000 within a five-mile radius, Moore says. Since the December opening, it’s been a slow start for the bar and grill, but Moore says a marketing push is underway. He expects his sales to bump 40 to 50 percent with the expansion, nearly doubling Tortora’s $900,000 annual sales from 2011. He hopes to recoup his recent facility investment within a couple years.
Tortora’s has already built a strong family following in the Huntsville area. The pizzeria just earned a “Best Pizza” in Huntsville title from a Huntsville Times reader poll in February. Moore says he had a lot of help when Tortora’s opened in 2008. “Joe Carlucci was a big part of that,” he says, adding that he consulted with World Pizza Champions Carlucci and Tony Gemignani and received advice from Big Dave Ostrander. Carlucci stayed on at Tortora’s after the grand opening to act as its general manager for two years. Tortora’s even has a pizza named for Carlucci with gorgonzola, mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, prosciutto, fresh basil, and a reduced balsamic vinaigrette. There’s also one named after Gemignani with mozzarella, gorgonzola, prosciutto, arugula and a reduced balsamic vinaigrette (no tomato sauce). Both pies are offered at $16.95 for a 12-inch. A top-seller is the Tortora’s Supreme (mozzarella, pepperoni, Italian sausage, ham, salami, red onions, mushrooms, black olives and green peppers at $16.95 for a 12-inch). Tortora’s Sydney Pizza is an award winner that features mozzarella, chorizo, sauteed cherry tomatoes, caramelized onions, bacon and fresh basil (also $16.95 for a 12-inch). Tortora’s menu is well-rounded with appetizers, salads, calzones, pastas, entrees, wraps, and pizzoli, in addition to its pizza. Even with more than 60 dishes, the restaurant runs a 26 percent food cost.
Tortora’s location provides both benefits and challenges. It sits perpendicular to a state highway, creating a challenge to see the restaurant from the street. In addition to signage, Moore has a billboard just as commuters come over the hill from Huntsville’s business district directing customers to Tortora’s. Right across the street is an elementary school, making community-based marketing a driving force for Tortora’s. Besides holding school nights, which give 10 percent of its sales back, Tortora’s also throws a pizza party for the home room with the best attendance. Each spring, Moore gives 100 percent of Tortora’s sales on one evening to support the Melissa George Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. “It’s a win-win because we give back and people come out and support us,” he says. As the community gets a feel for Tortora’s new layout of family dining, an adults-only bar and a lively patio, Moore says he keeps his vision in mind. “Ideally, I want to expand to a second location — but we have to get the patio wrapped up and streamline operations,” he says. “That’s what needs my focus.” u
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
HOLD THE MEAT
A variety of vegetarian and vegan options help diversify your menu
BY DENISE GREER,
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
While there are varying degrees of vegetarianism, let’s use the simplest terms. A vegetarian does not eat meat, fish or poultry. Veganism is where it gets a little more complicated. Vegans also abstain from meat, fish and poultry, with the addition of not consuming any animal products or by-products. They will not eat dairy, usually honey, or anything derived from an animal.While there are varying degrees of vegetarianism, let’s use the simplest terms. A vegetarian does not eat meat, fish or poultry. Veganism is where it gets a little more complicated. Vegans also abstain from meat, fish and poultry, with the addition of not consuming any animal products or by-products. They will not eat dairy, usually honey, or anything derived from an animal.
To clarify, here is a short list of some animal by-product ingredients you may have in your kitchen that would not be acceptable to a vegan:
Some breads (if they contain whey, butter, eggs or sugar)
Most beers (if they are filtered with gelatin, egg whites or sea shells)
Some salad dressings (if they contain lecithin, which are derived from animal tissue or egg yolk).
A good rule of thumb, Cunningham says, is this: “When in doubt, leave it out.”
Although there is no official guideline for restaurants to follow, Cunningham offers some helpful hints where vegetarian and vegan menu items are concerned. “It’s really helpful if the restaurant provides as much information as they can so the customer can make their own decision,” he says.
Cunningham also suggests providing an ingredients list, especially for items not made in-house. Kitchen and prep areas are vital to maintaining the authenticity of a meat-free offering. “Try to limit the opportunities for cross contamination between vegetarian and non-vegetarian items as much as you can in the limited space that you have,” he says.
Don’t forget to train your wait staff about how to answer questions about vegetarian and vegan offerings. Never let servers guess or suggest meaty menu items to those who have indicated that they abstain. “I’ve had servers who are eager to please me, so they tell me what they think I want to hear,” Cunningham says. “Actually what I really want to know was what the truth was.”
Carefully select items that appeal to a vegetarian or vegan. Vegetarians are looking for more than a cheese pizza. Diversify vegetarian and vegan options with ingredients that you already have in-house like veggies, fruits, beans and nuts. There are also a variety of meat substitute products like tofu and tempeh. There are a number of non-dairy cheeses based on the flavors of mozzarella, cheddar, Gouda, etc. Test them for consistency and be sure they melt to your liking.
“If you have to choose between a vegetarian and a vegan option, always pick the vegan option,” Cunningham says. “Even though there are fewer vegans than vegetarians, the vegan option is the most accepted to the widest range of vegetarians.”
It’s not just vegans and vegetarians looking for meat-free offerings. There are a number of reasons customers choose vegetarian or vegan pizzas. Some abstain from meat due to religious reasons. Those who follow a Kosher diet will often seek vegetarian and vegan options to be certain they do not violate animal restrictions. Some customers may not eat processed meat or are simply limiting their meat intake. “It could be people looking to reduce their calories or looking to cut back on saturated fat,” Cunningham says.
Peace o’ Pie, a vegan pizzeria in Boston, Massachusetts, has created quite the general public following. “The majority of our customers are neither vegan or vegetarian,” co-founder Miguel Danielson says. “In general, we think that more and more people are opening themselves up to eating more plant-based foods, and we offer a delicious and unique way to do so.”
Peace o’ Pie’s most popular pizzas include the EP, which features fresh spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic and smoky tempeh crumbles, and the MD (vegan apple sage sausage, onion and zucchini, sautéed in herbs and spices).
Creating a well-thought-out meatless menu may do more than get vegetarians or vegans into your store; it could also possibly be just what your current customers seek.
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
More and more, customers are making dining decisions on the fly. They take to their phones while in transit to find their next meal. One unfortunate trend among restaurants is to display their menus online as PDFs.
Not to get too technical, PDF (Portable Document Format) can only be opened with an Adobe Reader program. While it’s a free program, some people don’t want to hassle with it. The more significant point is that a majority of cell phones, at least right now, cannot read PDFs. If they can’t load your menu, they will move on to other restaurants to view their menus.
Other online menu faux pas are presenting your menu as an image file or Flash. A JPG or GIF menu is hard to read, slower to download and doesn’t allow the search engines to find specific menu items. Flash is that cool, fun animated effect on Web sites and it’s also a format that few phones have.
Instead, present your menu online in a clean, Web appropriate typeface and size on your webpage. You can also provide a downloadable PDF version, but the PDF shouldn’t be the go-to menu.
Protecting your restaurant with adequate insurance
BY DENISE GREER, ASSOCIATE EDITOR
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
Catastrophe — it’s one of those words you try not to utter in the restaurant industry. But it’s hard not to think about “what if there’s a fire, someone gets hurt in my place, the delivery driver has an accident?” or the infinite number of other scenarios that could take place.
That is when your insurance policy should set your mind at ease. But, is your coverage good enough?
For Dan Collier, owner of Rusty’s Pizza Parlor in Ventura, California, the answer was “no,” costing his shop $100,000 more than an insurance claim paid after a fire. He says he didn’t understand that his $250,000 contents insured amount didn’t cover his building.
“A good insurance broker will review your lease and let you know what is required by the lease,” Collier says of coverage requirements.
Karen Kiernan, business insurance agent with Willis Insurance in Concord, California, agrees. “Every lease is just a little bit different,” she says. She suggests bringing a lease with you when you visit an agent so it can be reviewed line by line. Some leases require tenants to pay for glass breakage or even wiring and lighting.
“Usually if there is a loss, you get a shell to start with and you have to build out from the shell out,” she says. “If (tenants) are responsible for the air conditioning, heating, lighting, all of the light fixtures, carpet, tile … how much is that if they need to replace that? They need to do an inventory list and they actually need to do it on the replacement cost, not what they anticipate they can get it for as a used item.”
The same goes for business contents. What is the replacement value if you have to buy an item new, whether it’s an oven or tables?
Darryl Reginelli of Reginelli’s Pizzeria in New Orleans, Louisiana, thought his contents were covered by his insurance policy after Hurricane Katrina in 2004, along with food spoilage and business interruption. Much of his claim was denied due to flooding and wind damage that was not covered under his policy.
“We spent $500,000 to redo the store,” he says, adding that he only received about $110,000 from the insurance payout.
With demolition, architect fees and the note on the property, Reginelli says, “By the time we got the shell ready, we spent the insurance.”
When his rates rose astronomically after Katrina, Reginelli got insurance savvy about selecting a policy from an insurance company that he felt was stronger, more aggressive and more pro-business. When Hurricane Gustav damaged a Reginelli’s location in 2008, he was confident in his coverage. “They sent out adjusters right away, getting a payment within 30 days,” he says, making interaction with his new insurance company a positive one.Reginelli’s and Rusty’s had a common problem with their insurance: they were underinsured. Kiernan says being underinsured is a frequent issue. For instance, an owner may have $250,000 in business improvements and business personal property and they only insure for $100,000.
“If they did have a loss…it’s harder for them to rebuild their store if they are working with a value that is half of what they should have had.”
Kiernan says there are key areas of insurance coverage that a pizzeria should have:
All areas but the workers compensation can be grouped into one business coverage package, Kiernan says. The workers compensation carries its own policy.
Kiernan says auto is an important coverage to not be overlooked. “That is probably the No. 1 exposure that they do have because they have their employees on the road at all times and in all weather conditions.”
She also warns that expecting an employee’s personal insurance will kick in is risky. “More and more carriers on the personal line side are adding an exclusion into the policy that says any type of delivery or pizza delivery specifically — then there is no coverage afforded on the policy.”
There are also add-on policy items that might be pertinent to your business specifically. Kiernan says that some of the hot topics right now are data compromise and credit card security. It’s a good idea to see if these areas are covered in your general policy.
Once a plan is in place, Collier advises: “You should meet once per year and discuss any changes to your business. When you leave the meeting, you should know exactly what you are covered for and what you have decided to leave to risk.”
Denise Greer is associate editor of Pizza Today.
Is your business properly insured?
The Insurance Information Institute, a nonprofit organization supported by the insurance industry, offers four important questions to ask your insurance agent to be sure you are adequately insured:
1) Do I have enough insurance to rebuild my business property and replace all merchandise possessions? This includes all personal business property — furniture and fixtures, machinery and equipment; stock; all personal property owned by you and used in your business; labor, materials or services furnished or arranged by you on the personal property of others; improvements you have made (if a tenant); and leased personal property that you have a contractual obligation to insure.
2) Do I have enough insurance to protect the personal property of my employees? This is an additional coverage area to a general policy.
3) Do I have enough insurance to keep my business open? The types of business interruption insurance include: business income coverage, extra income coverage and contingent business interruption insurance.
4) Do I have enough insurance to protect my assets from a lawsuit? A commercial general liability insurance policy covers four areas of business liability claims—bodily injury, property damage, personal injury and advertising injury.
There is an ever-present theme that weaves its way through Sacramento, California-based Paesanos’ 16-year-old operation: evolution, revolution even. Co-owner Mark Scribner and Director of Operations Dana Scarpulla showcased its original Midtown location during a recent Pizza Today visit to talk about Paesanos’ concept and its growth. When the first Paesanos opened in the trendy Midtown area, Scribner says: “We wanted it to be affordable. We also wanted it to be a dining experience at the same time.” It surrounds creative pizzas and pastas and an urban theme with an open kitchen, dining area and bar, brick walls with mirrors and funky art, high ceilings with large, dark wood beams and fun, eclectic music.
The Midtown store set a benchmark for the following years of success. Last year, the single Midtown store pulled in more than $2.8 million in sales. But its volume is merely the beginning of Paesanos prosperity. In 2005, Paesanos opened a location in Elk Grove, a bedroom community of Sacramento and in September 2011, the company took its concept to the college town of Davis, California. Each new location has added another $2 million to $2.8 million in annual sales. At Midtown, Paesanos initially generated about half of the volume it does today. “We’ve had to retrofit it as we’ve gone because of the volume,” Scribner says. “Every year we’ve added something to it.” The restaurant has optimized all of its available square footage, even leasing office space from a neighboring business. While the Midtown store exudes a natural, old building characteristic, Scribner says they’ve tried to emulate that in the Elk Grove Paesanos that was built out from scratch. “We tried to recreate that in a strip center by bringing in faux finishes and doing murals on the walls,” he says. Elk Grove also attracted a different crowd than the Midtown’s young urbanites. Scribner says that subtle changes, like a more family-friendly playlist of music, helped win over suburban families. Scribner was somewhat surprised by the patronage of the newly opened Davis Paesanos. Retirees have added to the mix of families and the college community prompting them to think beyond the university, Scarpulla says. “You have to get past the seasonality because summer and winter breaks 25,000 people leave the local area,” she says, “so you really do have to build that local clientele.” The strategy was even more vital with a fast-casual concept that Paesanos introduced to Davis in 2008. Paesanos’ by-the-slice pizzeria and bar, Uncle Vito’s, backs up to its pasta restaurant, Pronto. Combined, Uncle Vito’s and Pronto generate another $2 million in annual sales. But when the lulls comes, Scarpulla says, “it’s a matter of being smart about it and adjusting your staffing levels in anticipation of that.” After three years, Scribner adds: “We really can see the ebbs and flows.”
Though the concepts’ finances are controlled separately, Paesanos, Uncle Vito’s and Pronto are operated together. Owners Scribner and David Virga have a corporate management team consisting of a director of operations, executive chef and dining room manager with a management team at each store reporting to them. A key to Paesanos’ quality control is Executive Chef Jason Sondgroth. “All of our recipes he has either adopted or he’s created on his own,” Scribner says. Sondgroth has created a master book with standardized recipes and prep procedures, freeing him from being tied to a single kitchen. “Being able to have an executive chef in the position to float around from store to store and oversee kitchen operations has really helped us maintain consistency,” Scribner says. Sondgroth’s flexibility, training practices and reference guides also have helped Paesanos keep a handle on its food costs. Scribner says there is one other factor that has really driven food costs down. “We linked together with a group of people a few years back for buying power,” he says of the Leverage Buying Group. “We’ve gone out and put to bid our broad line vendors and produce companies, credit card processing, anything that costs us money.” With 60 restaurants in the group, Scribner says it’s been a great tool for the business to control costs. After joining the affiliation three years ago, Paesanos’ food cost dropped below 20 percent.
Scribner says he believes in creating strong partnerships. Paesanos helped initiate the creation of the Handle District in its neighborhood last year. Still in its infancy, he says the district will provide many benefits to area businesses. “It is a small tax that goes on the bill for every business owner in the district and that money goes towards graffiti abatement, security, marketing, and special events,” he says, adding that once the district is in full swing the revenue potential will be substantial. The Handle District joins area businesses together as a joint marketing vehicle. Scribner says money has started to filter into the district. “It is going to start blooming soon,” he says. Paesanos rarely invests in traditional advertising. Instead, the pizzeria focuses its efforts on in-store marketing and social media. Brightly colored boards are placed strategically throughout the restaurant, highlighting anything from its $4 Happy Hour appetizers and house made sangria to its specials menu. Scarpulla, who handles the marketing, says the signs are subtle but effective. “It’s something as simple as putting this brightly colored sign up,” she says. “It’s a focal point.”
Paesanos is known for its Sangria, which accounts for sales comparable to its liquor sales. All three Paesanos do about 25 percent in bar sales, while its Uncle Vito’s concept generates nearly 40 percent bar sales. Scarpulla says the suggestion of sangria really gets patrons to take advantage of it. “The specials board — we change these up about four to five times a year,” Scarpulla says. “We focus on seasonality in our specials.” During the Pizza Today visit Paesanos’ specials board featured a Little Italy Burger at $9.95, Sage-Butternut Pizza at $10.95, Four-cheese Lasagna at $10.95 and Braised Beef Short Ribs at $12.95. Offerings change seasonally and sometimes make their way onto Paesanos’ printed menu like the Gorgonzola & Fuji Apple Pizza with olive oil, sautéed apples, caramelized onions, spinach, gorgonzola and mozzarella. Sondgoth has brought a bounty of flavors to Paesanos like the Watermelon Prosciutto Pizza with caramelized onions and a balsamic vinegar reduction. His newer creations join menu favorites like the Sicilian with a spicy red sauce, Italian sausage, prosciutto, salami and mozzarella topped with basil, oregano and Parmesan cheese and the Greek with artichokes, garlic, roasted peppers, spinach, red onions, black olives, feta, mozzarella and fresh lemon. Veggies also take center stage on Paesanos pizzas with the Mushroom Formaggio with portobello and crimini mushrooms, smoked mozzarella, Parmesan and rosemary and the Patata y Pollo with red potatoes, roasted chicken, lemon-white wine sauce, mozzarella, goat cheese and rosemary. Pricing is broken down into Mezzo (six slices) at $10.95 and Grande (12 slices) at $18.95. Any pie can also be turned into a calzone at $12.95.
With a full menu, Scribner says, pizza and pasta equally comprise sales. “We are as much a ‘pasteria’ as we are a pizzeria,” he says. Its most popular pasta is the Carbonara, spaghetti with smoked bacon, cracked black pepper, garlic, cream and Parmesan at $8.95. Scribner says there is a great profit margin with its popular starters like its Bruschetta at $6.95 and Polenta Fries that are served with balsamic ketchup and gorgonzola sauce at $6.95. Besides its specials and regular menu, there are 10 to 12 items that regulars know about and can order. “We actually have in our POS system a special screen that is for the secret menu that has all of those items in it,” Scarpulla says. “We’ve been around for so long and our menu had evolved and changed. But many of the things that we’ve done in the past we can still make. They are just not listed on the menu.” Paesanos’ has garnered its share of fans and thrives off of its regulars. Scribner credits its staff, some of which have been with Paesanos from its beginning. “Everyone is family,” he says.
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
Solar powered and community minded—Brooklyn Pizza Company brings New York-style pizza to Tucson, Arizona. Opened in 1996, the pizzeria is centered in the hip, eclectic business corridor of Fourth Avenue, nestled next to the University of Arizona (UofA). It’s usually a busy district of foot and street traffic, taking in the mix of restaurants, bars and shops.
Owner, Tony Vaccaro
But, the block was a buzz of construction during a Pizza Today visit this summer. Fourth Avenue was closed and the sidewalk in front of the pizzeria was a maze of fencing, weaving around the crossing street intersections. The beeping of steamrollers, bull dozens and dump trucks, the blowing dust and flurry of construction crews about, and Brooklyn Pizza Company remained open, even while some neighboring businesses closed.
The construction—continued through July— is part of a $196.8-million modern streetcar line transit system, that will link Fourth Avenue with UofA, downtown Tucson and the historic Westside. “The construction has hurt business obviously,” Vaccaro says. “It’s hard to get here.”
To accommodate Brooklyn’s customers, Vaccaro’s team put up signs to direct traffic to the building. He also sent out mailers with maps. Brooklyn ran a “Construction Special,” giving a free pint of its house-made Italian ice with any purchase over $15.
Even with Vaccaro’s efforts, Brooklyn’s sales were down 20 percent from its previous year during the street project. He says he was kept abreast of the streetcar updates and he sent a staff member to community meetings.
The inconveniences and loss in sales, Vaccaro says, will all be worth it. “Afterwards, business will be up 20 percent and that will last for many years to come,” he says, adding that a new residence hall being constructed a block away will also increase sales for the long run.
A sustainable transit system that improves the environment and reduces congestion is quite fitting for a pizzeria that was the first in southern Arizona to become 100-percent solar powered. When Vaccaro bought the building that housed his pizzeria and a neighboring nightclub SkyBar nearly six years ago, he immediately began to retrofit the facility with solar panels. Adding the units in three installations, the final stage was completed in 2010. The rooftops of Brooklyn and SkyBar are filled with solar panels. The last
stage was its most creative. Vaccaro turned his parking lot into covered parking with panels lining the tops of custom parking structures. It’s become an added relief for customers in the sun-soaked desert.
Vaccaro was able to install the entire $600,000-solar system for $150,000, thanks to federal grants, state rebates and local power company rebates. He says the solar will be paid off within five to seven years, adding that the panels last more than 30 years. “It’s great on so many levels and the customers love it,” he says.
When patrons enter the 50-seat pizzeria, they can view Brooklyn’s live energy production on a wall-mounted monitor, along with rotating renewable energy facts. Having the monitor, Vaccaro says, gets a lot of attention. Customers are able to witness firsthand
the impact of the system that * generates over 160,000 kilowatts of electricity per year, resulting in more than $488,000 in utility cost savings over the next 25 years. Going beyond solar, Brooklyn participates in other green programs including recycling, delivery service using a Smartcar and an electric Zap Car and water collection to run the water-cooling system for the Italian ice machine.
Vaccaro says, Brooklyn’s commitment to the environment is part the pizzeria’s unique selling proposition and separates it from competitors.
Brooklyn is also one of the few pizzerias in southern Arizona to have an open kitchen to the dining area where guests can watch the pizzaiolo hand-toss dough and make its New York-style pizza. A hard-working deck oven bakes a lot of pizza. Vaccaro says Brooklyn’s $2-million annual sales comes almost exclusively from pizza. “We keep it simple,” he says. “A lot of other places get convoluted with too many different things.”
Brooklyn doesn’t offer a long list of specialty pies, instead presents a list of toppings and lets customers pick their favorites on a slice or a whole pie (16 inches). A cheese pie costs $14.21, with an upcharge for additional toppings.
Recently, Brooklyn changed the way toppings are priced. Vegetable toppings are now priced several cents lower than meat toppings. “We know veggies are better for us than meat so I encourage people to eat the veggies,” he says. “Our costs are lower on veggies so why not pass that along to the customer.” In addition to meatless toppings like onions, peppers and mushrooms, Brooklyn also offers artichoke hearts, broccoli, potato and eggplant.
The pizzeria menus sandwiches, pastas, salads and house-made gelato and Italian ice for customers who want variety, but Brooklyn’s bread and butter is its pizza. For Vaccaro, “The cheese pizza is the tell-tell pizza because you can’t mask it with other toppings,” he says. “You can really taste the cheese, the sauce and the crust.”Cheese and pepperoni are the most popular toppings.
Though beer only comprises about seven percent of Brooklyn’s sales, Vaccaro says beer and wine make great upsell items. The pizzeria carries a special permit to deliver wine and beer. Deliveries account for one-third of Brooklyn’s sales.
It wasn’t a coincidence that Vaccaro, a native New Yorker, got into the pizza business. While attending a UofA graduate program, he decided that grad school wasn’t for him, but pizza may have been in his blood. His pizza recipe came from an old recipe his grandfather created for his own pizzeria in Brooklyn, New York in the 1970s.
Before opening Brooklyn, Vaccaro brought water from Tucson to New York to test his grandfather’s recipe. Within a few weeks, he comprised the recipe that
would become a contender for “Best Of”Tucson in local media polls.
Word of mouth and advertising have been effective marketing strategies for Vaccaro. He concentrates marketing dollars towards monthly mailers sent out to 20,000-30,000 area residents, as well as bus bench, radio, television, online and alternative and collegiate newspaper advertising. Philanthropy is an area, while
difficult to measure, Vaccaro says, ives people the opportunity to try ooklyn’s pizza. “We give away a lot of pizza every week,” he says. One of his favorite programs is the summer reading initiative at countywide libraries, where kids receive gift cards when they read a certain amount of books. “That amounts to almost $10,000 (retail value) worth of food for a summer that we gave away the last few years,” he says.
Brooklyn has donated pizza to a wide variety of events and organizations in Tucson from local government and non-profit organizations to schools kindergarten through graduate school. The Tucson community has taken notice of Brooklyn’s environmental and philanthropic efforts. In April, the shop received the Paw of Approval Award from Tucson’s Reid Park Zoo.
Brooklyn’s philosophy is not only good for business, but it’s good for the Tucson community and the environment.
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
A piece of the Windy City is found nearly 2,000 miles away in a small, stand alone building situated on the busy thoroughfare of North Broadway, in Tucson, Arizona. The 50-seat pizzeria is decked out with Chicago paraphernalia from a large city transit map and autographed Bozo the Clown photo to Bears, Cubs and White Sox signs. Fittingly to Wrigley Field, its 28-seat outdoor covered patio is adorned with ivy over its red brick half walls. When owner Rocco DiGrazie and his wife Elizabeth opened Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria in 1998, he says, “I had no idea how many Chicagoans and Midwesterners were out here. They came out of the woodwork to try us out and tell their friends.” It’s not just Midwest transplants who frequent Rocco’s. The shop draws regulars from its neighborhood of business people, retirees, 20-something hipsters, middle class families and University of Arizona (UofA) students.
Owner Rocco DiGrazie
The location is old school by design, DiGrazie says. “I wanted it to be a place I would go—the dive with good food that isn’t too divy.” The narrow dining room has four tall wood booths balancing two- and four-seat tables with red cloth, glass-covered tops across the isle and wall-to-wall windows on two sides.
A small, galley kitchen and prep area has just one conveyor oven, a fryer and a sauté station. “We do a lot of food out of this little spot,” DiGrazie says. Rocco’s records annual sales of $800,000, averaging $1,000-$1,500 at lunch and more than $4,000 on a Friday night. Rocco’s sales derive from a nearly 60/40-percent split between dine in and carryout, with a very small percentage of lunch office deliveries, which is the only time the pizzeria offers delivery.
DiGrazie says the space only allowed for a single conveyor oven. But’s that’s not stopping him from producing his childhood deep-dish pizza. “I’m doing the best I can with my digs,” he adds. Rocco’s churns out three styles of pizza: thin crust, stuffed and deep dish.
Deep dish in a conveyor oven? “It has to be configured for both deep dish and thin,” DiGrazie says. “So we use heat sinks, which put the heat in the center of the deep dish,” He adds that the system works great for each pizza styles with a few modifications on his part. Cooking time for all the styles runs at 14 minutes, which is slower for the thin crust than many quick-serve shops, but much faster for traditional Chicago-style, which can take up to an hour to cook. The stuffed and deep- dish pizzas require more oil than the thin crust, making for a flakier finished crusted. DiGrazie has created an art form out of knowing where each pie needs to be placed on the conveyor for the best results. He says he puts his deep dish up against the best that the Windy City has to offer. His pizza cooks are critical to baking quality control, especially with the timing intricacies. While he enjoys manning the pizza line himself,
DiGrazie is fortunate to have experienced cooks. Out of his 20 employees, 15 have been with Rocco’s for more than five years. The key to his retention rate, DiGrazie says, “I don’t have any magic formula. I just try to be the kind of boss I had.” Employees have flexible schedules and receive free food while they are on duty. “I’m trying to be as good as I can to them within the confines of what I can pay them, which isn’t extremely substantial because I am just a little pizzeria.”
Rocco’s has an open book policy. There are no secret recipes that only DiGrazie knows. In fact, “we have a number of items that are named after or thought up by our employees,” he says. DiGrazie came up with his dough recipe by trial and error. He tried to match the taste to pies that he liked while he worked in pizzerias in Chicago and Champaign, Illinois years prior. He blends three different tomato products, herbs and spices for Rocco’s red sauce. “We tried really hard to get a good balance of sweet and spicy,” he says. “It’s authentic to some of the pizza on the south side of Chicago that I remember sauces tasting like filtered through my modern palate.”
DiGrazie also focused on the sausage used, sourcing it from a local Italian grocery that makes it fresh weekly for Rocco’s. “They already had the recipe and I told them how to doctor it up so we would buy it,” he says. The attention to detail really comes through with the product. Popular pies include the Spin City with spinach, fresh basil, four cheeses, garlic and olive oil and the Kitchen Sink with pepperoni, sausage, green peppers, mushrooms and red onions. A large deep dish is priced at $21.99. With nearly 10 percent of sales coming from vegetarians, DiGrazie menus both vegetarian and vegan items. A popular veggie pizza, that is also a top seller, is the Fungus Humongous with grilled portabella and white mushrooms, onions and garlic.
A vegan employee came up with one of Rocco’s most popular appetizers, Spicy Hot Sticks, twisted up dough, fried and tossed with the pizzeria’s signature wing sauce (6 for $6.99). Rocco’s is known in Tucson for having some the city’s best chicken wings (12 for $7.99). Wednesday night is Wing Night at Rocco’s—35- cent wings and $2 Old Style beer.
Other hot sellers are giant, house- made chocolate chip, peanut butter and oatmeal cookies ($1.59) and house-made soups ($2.79 a cup). The cookies are Elizabeth’s recipe while the soups are Rocco’s creative outlet. “It’s something I can do in an hour of the day and I can do whatever I want with it,” he says. “That is my one flexible thing.”
DiGrazie prides himself on the pizzeria’s beer list. Beer and wine make up 12 percent of Rocco’s sales. He keeps a rotating inventory of Mexican, microbrews, local and European beers. “We have between 20-30 beers at any given time, plus a half a dozen kinds of wine,” he says.
Word of mouth is the primary marketing vehicle and it shows as Rocco’s ranks as a Top-3 pizza by various “Best Of ” polls through Tucson’s local media. DiGrazie invests approximate $1,500 a month into advertising, consisting of ESPN radio daytime spots with a weekly gift certificate giveaway spot, a small local station morning drive spot, and specialty advertising in Tuscon’s weekly alternative newspaper and UofA student newspaper. Rocco’s is on Facebook and DiGrazie looks to increase social media marketing and add Twitter. Broadway is a high-traffic road. And Rocco’s makes full use of huge sign in front with changeable letters to advertise daily specials. DiGrazie’s and crew also use the sign to simply grab the attention of drivers with funny sayings, like “Make out in our secluded patio” and “Cooks hotter than your sister.” Customer data is hard to come by, especially for an “old school” shop without a POS system. With his small location, a POS system just wasn’t in the cards. His longtime counter staff members are essential to collecting data. They know everything, he says. They often know orders of returning customers before they order. DiGrazie participates in Tuscon Originals, a local restaurant association offering a loyalty program and marketing/ partnership opportunities. It has allowed him to track those customers.
The location has been able to grow organically over the years, DiGrazie says. He sees a time within the next couple of years when he will need to move into a larger building. For now, he continues to optimize his space and produce high- quality Chicago-style pizza.
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
Think of dangerous work environments. Factories might come to mind, but a restaurant can be just as dangerous. With hot ovens, knives and slick floors, your kitchen provides ample probability for minor or even major injuries.
There are nearly 200,000 non-fatal occupational injuries in food service establishments each year, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Big Dave Ostrander has analyzed kitchen safety as an operator of a successful pizzeria and as an industry consultant and trainer. Often times, Ostrander finds that “we assume that employees are never going to slip on a slippery floor, they are never going to accidentally come in contact with a hot surface or a sharp knife. Thus, you bear your scars and I bear mine.”
Training is the most vital component of kitchen safety. When confronted with hazardous situations, Ostrander says, “If your employees don’t know what to do, shame on you.”
Ostrander elicited the help of fellow operator Michael Shepherd, who owns Michael Angelo’s Pizza with two locations in Kenton and Rushsylvania, Ohio. Each came up with his own strategies and procedures to address kitchen safety specifically.
Shepherd has created a complete training course about each dangerous piece of equipment, proper lifting, knife skills, chemicals and fire extinguishers with manuals, videos and tests. A local company helped transfer everything online a few years ago and assists with testing.
Michael Angelo’s employees spend six to eight hours in front of the computer with company policy, kitchen safety and food safety modules before they are allowed into the kitchen. They also must pass tests in each area with multiple choice, true or false and essay questions.
Ostrander also tested his staff. At Big Dave’s, new employees had 10 weeks to pass his training. He says the employee could take it as many times as it took until the 10th week and they had to score 80 percent or they were let go. By testing, Ostrander says: “They just simply can’t fake it.”
Ostrander says there are three key kitchen injuries to focus your training: cuts, falls and burns.
Let’s examine each injury. Ostrander and Shepherd provide the following preventative tips for cuts, falls and burns:
Cuts. Teach knife skills. “There is a way to rock your knife and you can get a lot of work out of a knife effortlessly and quickly,” says Ostrander, who chopped 25 gallons of onions every day during his first job in the business.
The skills go beyond just using the knife but also handing it to another person. “There is only one way to pass a knife,” Ostrander says. “That’s hand to hand and eye to eye and you have to say ‘thank you.’ It tells the passer that you got it.”
Never place sharp objects into the sink, including knifes and slicer blades. At locations that have a dishwasher, Shepherd instituted a policy that all sharp objects must be washed in the dishwasher.
Michael Shepherd, owner of Michael Angelo’s Pizza in Kenton, Ohio, offers the following approaches to kitchen safety:
You have to idiot-proof everything. Make things simplistic. You cannot underestimate how easily an employee can get hurt.
Build some kind of safety plan or safety training plan, whether it is super simple or really in-depth. It could be as simple as here is my three-page written plan on how I am going to train every employee and then I am going to document that they have been trained and they are going to sign off.
Make sure you provide the necessary tools to do the things safely. You have to provide them what they need and make sure they are using it.
Wash all cutting utensils immediately after use. Regardless of how busy Michael Angelo’s is, the policy stands. Take the tomato slicer, Shepherd says. After a few hours, juice and seeds stick to the blades, requiring someone to hand scrub blades and posing a risk of a cut.
Never compress trash with your hand. Another good tip for trash, Shepherd says, is to use a two- or four-wheel cart to transport trash to the dumpster.
Falls. Make everyone wear anti-slip shoes. “We give a spending allowance of $30 towards the shoes,” Shepherd says. “That has eliminated about 99 percent of all of the slips and falls.”
Put down anti-fatigue mats in main areas, especially splash areas like dishwashing stations and stoves.
In Addition, Ostrander says mats must always be in their designated location. “We never work without them under our feet,” he says. If they need cleaned, choose a time when the kitchen is not in use.
Clean up all spills immediately. “You can never walk around a spill,”
Burns. Supply hot pads. Having the right holders in place will help employees resist the temptation to grab a damp rag, which can seriously scold skin.
Communicate when you are passing by the oven. “If someone is passing by the ovens, they have to announce that they are coming through so they don’t get a peel in the face,” Shepherd says.
If a hot object is falling, let it go. There is a natural tendency to grab something that is falling. In the case of a hot pizza or pan, Ostrander says, let it fall. You can always remake the product.
There are other kitchen safety rules to which Ostrander and Shepherd recommend strict adherence. Follow all OSHA and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) guidelines for chemicals.
Ostrander says, when it comes to your equipment, never override safety systems put in by the manufacturer. He sees this happen with mixers. People will remove the safety cage to gain speed. Not only will your insurer not cover the equipment, but also you’ve put your employees at risk.
Many injuries result from employee conduct. Never allow horseplay. Shepherd has a zero-tolerance policy for horseplay at Michael Angelo’s. “It shows really bad judgment,” he says. “If they are willing to do that, what else are they willing to do.”
Kitchen safety boils down to training. “Going through all of the what ifs and training, you are doing your staff a major favor,” Ostrander says. “You are saving yourself a lot of stress down the line because it’s a matter of it’s going to happen sooner or later.” u
Denise Greer is the associate editor of Pizza Today.
WORD OF WISDOM
Michael Shepherd, owner of Michael Angelo’s Pizza in Kenton, Ohio, offers the following approaches to kitchen safety:
You have to idiot- proof everything. Make things sim- plistic. You cannot underestimate how easily an employee can get hurt.
Build some kind of safety plan or safety training plan, whether it is super simple or really in- depth. It could be as simple as here is my three-page written plan on how I am go- ing to train every employee and then I am going to document that they have been trained and they are going to sign off.
Make sure you provide the neces- sary tools to do the things safely. You have to provide them what they need and make sure they are using it.
Denise Greer is the associate editor of Pizza Today.
Photos by Rick Daugherty & Josh Keown
Last fall, Aldos Ristorante Italiano & Bar in Naples, Florida was tapped by Pizza Today to host the finale party for Slice of Hope, a fundraising event uniting the nation’s pizzerias in the fight against breast cancer.
Owners Kelly and Aldo Musico
Talk about an event. Owners Kelly and Aldo Musico, their crew, partners and volunteers created a grand festival-style event with a touching tribute to local breast cancer survivors, live music, an auction, bounce house, sticky wall, face painting and more. They sold tons of pizza and other items for the cause. The result: an estimated 1,000 people came out to Aldos.
The Musico’s commitment to serving their community is no surprise to the small city of Naples. It’s all part of what Kelly and Aldo do. Every Monday night, Aldos prepares a family style meal for Youth Haven, a residential emergency shelter for abused, neglected and abandoned children. “We cook them a family dinner and bring it to them every Monday night to give them a sense of security around them,” Kelly says.
Kelly and Aldo serve on the board of directors for Able Academy, a non-profit organization specializing in services to children with developmental disabilities. The restaurant hosts donation nights. Aldos also hosts Pizza with Santa, a fundraisung event for Able Academy, in December. Children have their pictures taken with Santa and eat pizza and cookies.
Each year, Aldos also adopts families for the holidays. But last December, with the devastating Superstorm Sandy that hit the East Coast, Kelly and Aldo adopted families in Tom’s River, New Jersey. The restaurant became a donation center. “It’s the little things we can do,” Kelly says. “The community has a place to drop things off and feel like they are a part of something.” Three pallets filled with necessities and gifts were sent to Tom’s River over the holidays.
The Musicos say taking an active role in the community is simply how they were raised. “I think we should give back and not just take, take, take,” Kelly says.
The Musicos and their restaurant’s visibility as community champions have had a positive impact on Aldos’ $1 million annual sales. Some Slice of Hope attendees noted that it was their first experience with the restaurant and indicated that they would be back for more.
Aldos’ generosity has created a buzz. From its beginnings, the restaurant has thrived from word of mouth. Aldo, who was born in Naples, Italy, and Kelly opened the restaurant as a six-table lunch, carryout and delivery place in an industrial park, in 2002. Within its first year, Aldos received a positive review from the local Naples Daily News, bragging about its pizza. “A lot of these people in Naples read the paper and they think it’s the Bible,” Kelly says, adding that the write-up brought a flurry of business.
Within a month, Aldos moved into its current location in a strip mall tucked away from the tourism-rich downtown and beach sections of Naples. The move increased dining space to 70 seats and gave the Musicos the kitchen space to provide a full Italian menu and beer and wine. The restaurant continued to build steam among their clientele of families, snowbirds and the golfing community.
The Musicos were looking to expand even more and provide liquor, as well, in 2005. To acquire the proper liquor permit in their area, they increased their seating to 150, including a 60-seat private room. With their resourcefulness, the entire project cost under $10,000, including a liquor license. “We were able to acquire used tables and chairs,” Kelly says. “We had friends build booths so it was just material. Another friend did the stone wall.”
Aldos, during the peak season months of January to April, uses the private room for general seating. The room is used for meetings, wedding rehearsal dinners and family gatherings, year round.
After the renovations, Aldos stocked a full-service bar. Ten percent of the restaurant’s total sales come from wine, with an emphasis on Italian varieties, with beer and spirits adding another five percent of sales.
Alcohol sales get an added boost from Aldos’ 15-percent carryout business because of its inviting bar. “People love to order a pizza and then come sit at the bar and have a drink while they wait for their food to be ready,” Aldo says.
Pizza is No. 1 at Aldos, and makes up 60 percent of its annual sales. Its specialty New York-style pizzas, like the Gorgonzola with ricotta, garlic and mozzarella, are popular among patrons. The Musicos infuse specials into their traditional menu. Each year, Kelly and Aldo evaluate their menu, ridding it of items that don’t sell well and adding specials that were customer favorites, helping keep food costs at a steady 26 percent. The Campania made the menu last year with fresh arugula, cherry tomatoes, shaved Reggiano tossed with extra virgin olive oil and lemon over a white pizza.
The Musicos also look for ways to improve their menu offerings. They recently changed up the lasagna, using more cheese and less noodles. Kelly says the dish’s sales have doubled.
Kelly says signature dishes sell well, including Chicken Aldo and Veal Aldo (chicken breast or veal sautéed with roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, provolone in a pink sauce), and Veal Carmelita (Veal medallions wrapped in prosciutto and provolone, sautéed in a caramelized white wine sauce).
In a coastal state, seafood is also a must. Mussels, clams and grouper make regular appearance on its specials menu.
For the Musicos, their business is always moving forward. Aldos recently charted new territory — niche marketing. Having never participated in advertising before, Kelly says they elected to place colorful, photo-rich ads in Golf Shore Life magazine, so that locals and tourists could see their offerings. Aldos has also partnered with the AA hockey league Everglades. The team’s mascot, Swampy, gives away Aldos gift certificates and coupons during all 34 season games, with a viewing of an Aldos commercial thrown in for good measure.
Aldos recently opened a new lunch daypart operation. The restaurant already provides lunches to a local private school. “Aldo and I are here anyway, so it was a no brainer,” Kelly says. “We use all of the same ingredients, so all we had to do was modify the dinner menu by adding some hoagies and stromboli/calzones.”
The Musicos hired a marketing consultant to get the word out that Aldos is now open for lunch. They send lunch specials, like a two-slice deal for $5, to Aldos’ more than 1,000 Facebook fans and advertise them on sidewalk signs. Kelly has personally called all of her contacts to let them know of lunch offerings and the free meeting space that is available.
Aldo says the lunch business is slowly growing. The Musicos are focused on building lunch sales, with a goal of elevating it to 20 percent of Aldos total sales.
Denise Greer is associate editor of Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
Why bother roasting? Roasting intensifies an ingredient’s natural flavors. it also cooks away the rawness and pulls out some of the moisture that can result in a soggy finished pie.
It is a cooking method where the vegetable is exposed directly to the hot, dry heat in an oven. it promotes browning. There is also a caramelization in which the sugars from carbohydrates turn brown, giving off a unique flavor profile.
Peppers, onions, potatoes, zucchini, squash, garlic and asparagus lend themselves well to roasting. experimentation is key.
While roasting is seen as a simple method, the variety of pizza ovens can impact outcome. Let’s look at deck, wood-fired and conveyor ovens and three operators who have optimized their ovens, while diversifying their menus.
Clori Rose-Geiger co-owns Mia Pizza and Eats, a small pizzeria in Cumming, Georgia. With a small kitchen setup, she says, it’s more efficient to make use of her deck oven as much as possible. She roasts mainly onions and squash.
“We cut up a bunch of red onions and we will do a little bit of brown sugar, salt, pepper, olive oil and fresh or dried thyme,” rose- Geiger says, adding that the onions go onto a large sheet pan and cook at 500 F until they are caramelized.
The squash is different. “I’ll cut them into small round disks,” she says. “we do salt, pep- per and olive oil. i don’t cook it too much — it’s almost al dente. my whole purpose is I’m trying to take the raw out.”
While Mia Pizza preps the onions in large quantities to use for a day or two, she finds it easier to roast the squash in small batches to keep them fresh.
A wood-fired oven is where roasting gets a bit tricky, says Patrick Thirion, co-owner of Peel Wood Fired Pizza in Edwardsville, Illinois. “It’s not a gas or electric oven, where you can train somebody and set a time and temperature and cook it,” he says. “it’s more hands-on.”
With an active specials menu, Peel has experimented with roasting — from broc- coli, mushrooms, and tomatoes to cauliflower, celery root and even meats.
Each vegetable is treated differently to get a nice browning. Thirion says mushrooms roast well without a flame, but for his butter- nut squash he puts a lot of logs on the fire so there’s a good flame rolling over the dome.
Cutting vegetables to the right dimension makes all the difference. root vegetables should be cut smaller, while more delicate veg- gies should be chopped larger. Keep in mind how the pieces will look on a pizza, Thirion says.
With a 900-degree oven, Thirion says the pans you choose are crucial. For most veggies, he uses a standard sheet pan. For items that require a longer cooking time, like his oven- roasted maple bourbon bone-in pork loin, he went with a thick cast-iron plate, which helps distribute heat evenly and keeps the bottom from scorching.
Darryl Reginelli, co-owner of the nine-unit Reginelli’s Pizzeria in New Orleans, Louisiana, maximizes his conveyor ovens — roasting eggplant, red peppers, tomatoes and garlic. One run through the conveyor takes about 6 minutes at 525 F.
Peeled garlic cloves are drowned in olive oil with salt, pepper and rosemary. They run through the oven on a sheet pan twice. The garlic can be spread like butter afterwards.
The red peppers and tomatoes are roasted whole, with six to eight passes through the conveyor. They have two applications: skinned and added to the prep line and pureed with skins for a spicy roasted red pepper sauce. The sauce is a big hit and would not be the same without roasting, reginelli says. “It sweetens it and gives a great color,” he says. “It gives it that roasted smoky flavor and takes the acidity out.”
Reginelli offers an efficiency tip: cook the peppers and tomatoes in the morning during prep — place them in the oven, turn off the conveyor and don’t forget to set a timer. a few quick tricks of the trade from rose- Geiger, Thirion and Reginelli:
Keep seasonings basic (salt, pepper, olive oil) to bring out the vegetable’s natural flavors
Keep careful watch while roasting
Test shapes of veggies for optimal cooking time
Offer roasted items across the menu to limit waste.
Now get roasting!
Roasted Vegetable pizza
11/2 pounds red and yellow bell pepper
11/2 pounds Roma tomatoes
1 pound zucchini 1 pound red onion 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil Salt to taste
Fresh rosemary to taste
Fresh oregano to taste Fresh basil chopped to taste
1/2 cup fresh garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup whole milk mozzarella, shredded
Garlic/herb/olive oil sauce
Place vegetables in a bowl. Add salt, herbs and olive oil. Completely coat vegetables with mixture.
Place vegetables on a roasting pan in 400 F oven for 45 minutes. (Oven temperatures may vary. Vegetables may need longer or shorter cooking times.)
Place pan on a cooling tray, about 15 minutes, until steaming stops. Place vegetables in cooler until ready to use.
Throw out fresh pizza dough. Using a pastry brush, brush on garlic-herb-olive oil sauce, covering the dough. Layer vegetables (reserving leftovers) and lightly sprinkle on cheese, Then bake.
Roasted Pepper & Tomato Pizza
1 12-inch pizza shell
1/2 pound shredded Asiago or fontina cheese (about 2 cups)
6 (3/4 pound - 1 pound) large fresh plum or Roma tomatoes, sliced crosswise 1/4-inch thick
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
3/4 cup roasted red bell peppers cut into strips
15 (about) leaves fresh basil Extra-virgin olive oil
Sprinkle half the fontina evenly over the pizza crust. Arrange the tomatoes evenly over the cheese. Sprinkle on the Parmesan. Lay the bell pepper strips in a pattern on the pizza. Add the remaining cheese. Bake the pizza.
After the pizza comes out of the oven tear or snip (with scis- sors) the basil leaves and scatter them over the pizza. Drizzle some olive oil over the pizza.
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today