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.
Owner of Happy's Pizza
When we opened the first Happy’s Pizza location in Detroit, we never dreamed that we would open our 100th store 17 years later. That is exactly what 2013 has brought our team, though, and we’re looking forward to seeing what else the future holds.
I was 18 years old when I opened my first Happy’s Pizza location in Detroit, Michigan. The Motor City is my home. I was working at a video rental store when the idea to open a pizzeria came to me. Night after night, customers would ask me where they could find a good pizza that delivered nearby. At that time, nobody delivered pizza in the area, so I wanted to fill that void. I thought opening a Happy’s Pizza across the street from the video store would be a great idea. In 1996, the first location was built on the corner of Hoover and 7 Mile Road.
Our pizza was an instant hit, but people came for more than just our pies. Our barbecue ribs, fried chicken and seafood created a huge demand and soon we began to open Happy’s Pizza locations about every three to six miles from each other in Detroit. We didn’t stop in Michigan, though. After seeing the success of Happy’s Pizza in Detroit, we began to expand to Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, California, Texas, Georgia and Nevada. We are currently located in eight states. We also offer franchising opportunities to parties interested in adding Happy’s Pizza to their communities. It’s important for us to serve as many as possible and do so at an affordable price.
Happy’s Pizza is known for two main things: our extensive variety of menu items and the low cost of those items. We have over 220 menu items ranging from our delicious pizzas to jumbo shrimp, pasta, rib tips and an abundance of desserts. But there’s no reason to offer these items unless they’re available at an affordable price. At Happy’s Pizza, we really do pride ourselves on our ability to feed a family of four for under $15.00. We also deliver within a five-mile radius of the store, which is why you’ll always find a Happy’s Pizza location every few miles in Detroit –– we want to make sure everyone in the Motor City can enjoy our food.
In 2013, the new year brought us more than our 100th store, though. We also unveiled our first Happy’s Pizza and Pub location. The new store features a full restaurant atmosphere, making it a great place to connect with family and friends while watching the big game. The pizza and pub will also have a full bar while still providing customers with the traditional Happy’s Pizza menu and service.
We love serving our community by providing them with quality and affordable food, but also enjoy giving back to them through our charitable efforts as much as possible. In November we hosted the 4th annual Happy’s Coats for Kids drive, giving away over 4,000 coats to children in Detroit and Cleveland. Detroit played a pivotal role in the success of Happy’s Pizza and we take every opportunity we can to give back to the community. We have also partnered with the local charities, schools, fire departments and hospitals providing food and service when needed.
Happy’s Pizza continues to grow and expand across the United States, offering a wide variety of quality food items at an affordable price and always putting service to our customers and community above all. At Happy’s Pizza, it’s about more than just good pizza –– it’s family.
According to NBC News, 10 million pounds of frozen pizza and other snacks were recalled last month over fears the products may be contaminated with E. coli 0121.
// Brooklyn Central / Ballard Pizza Company / Pizza Brain
289 5th Ave.
Brooklyn, New York 11215
Owner Roberto Patriarca is a born pizzaiolo, literally. He comes from a line of pizza makers. Last year, he brought his artisan craftsmanship to Brooklyn. The pizza offerings are split into two categories: Old World and New World. Old World staples include the Napoli with sauce, mozzarella di bufala, anchovies, oregano and basil ($17) and Marinara with sauce, mixed herbs and fresh garlic ($9). The New World adds an artisanal flair like the Coney Island with mozzarella, taleggio, pistachios, truffle spread and honey ($18) and the Bushwick with meatballs, sauce, ricotta and pickled chilies ($18). Brooklyn offers pizza lovers of all ages the chance to try their hands at creating a Neapolitan-style pizza through its pizza making workshops. Though the pizzeria opens at 5 p.m. most days, it has capitalized on the brunch craze by offering a weekend brunch with a tailored pizza menu like the Bacon, Egg & Cheese with sauce, mozzarella, applewood bacon and eggs ($12) and the Dumbo with banana, cinnamon, pecans and maple syrup ($12).
5107 Ballard Ave.
NW Seattle, Washington 98107
This Seattle pizza shop brings entertainment into the folds of its business. Each week, it hosts a family movie night, where customers even get to vote on film options on Facebook. In March, Ballard hosted its first Toss Like a Boss, a competition showcasing 11 area pizza makers. The pizzeria’s menu offers medium and larges pies, as well as “Fat Slices.” Adventurous diners might try The Big Moses, where they leave their selection to the pizzaiolo to create a unique pie for them ($17 for a medium). There is also the Staple & Fancy with pepperoni, pineapple and jalapeno ($16 for a medium) and the Whole Pig with spicy coppa, guanciale, pancetta and prosciutto ($18 for a medium). Ballard also boasts a lively happy hour with a slice of pizza and a pint for $5 special.
2313 Frankford Ave.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19125
Pizza Brain is a destination for pizza fanatics. It’s part artisan pizzeria, part museum, touted as the world’s first pizza museum. Pizza Brain has the largest collection of pizza memorabilia, according to Guinness Records. The pizzeria has rank among Philly’s best pizzas through online media and polls. Menu features “red” pies, like the Wendy Wedgeworth with mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, arugula and honey goat cheese ($19 for a 16-inch) and “white” pies, like the Bob Shieldsmoose with blue cheese, mozzarella, house roasted beef brisket, garlic, horseradish, black pepper and fresh rosemary ($22 for a 16-inch). Topping off the menu is small-batch, hand-dipped ice cream by the pint ($8) with flavors like Bourbon Vanilla, Peanut Butter Maple Tarragon and Coconut Chai.
Piedmont native Daniele Barbos is the pizzaiolo and executive chef of Basil Brick Oven Pizzeria in Astoria, Queens, New York. As his restaurant approaches its second anniversary, Barbos recently quadrupled the size of his dining room and more than doubled the size of his menu. The following are five of his expert recommendations on what it takes to have a successful expansion.
1. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Patience is essential to success. You should plan for and expect delays. We recently expanded our seating capacity from just fourteen seats to over 60 (with 100 more seats opening outdoors this summer.) Though the space looked ready to open, due to Hurricane Sandy, our inspections for the newly expanded kitchen were delayed several months by the power company. It also took painstaking time and care finding the proper additional staff. But, it is absolutely worth the wait to do it right.
2. Cutting costs never pays off. With Italian food, the history is in the ingredients. Everyone has their own version of a recipe, but the ingredients reveal regional history and culture. You simply cannot skimp. I use over 100 toppings on 60 various pies on the menu, and quality comes first over cost. My customers are very smart, and can tell the difference. Several regular patrons are Italians visiting from other boroughs and Long Island, and if I use Canadian prosciutto instead of Italian, they can tell. Carefully source quality ingredients. It took a while, but I found a guy who imports rare cheese and meats from my hometown in Piedmont. It costs more, but the payoff is worth it. When it comes to mozzarella, I can call it fresh because I personally make 60 pounds of it every single morning during prep.
3. It takes a village. Surround yourself with a quality team you can trust. This may take some time. It took so long to find an assistant I could trust to maintain the integrity of my pies that I finally stopped looking at resumes. An applicant would walk in, and I would just hand them an apron and instruct them to make a margherita pizza. It was a quick litmus test to see how much experience someone has, and how much training would be involved. Remember, every single member of your staff reflects your establishment and its quality. Before, I was working seven days a week, 18 hours a day, but that’s neither realistic nor healthy.
4. Use what you’ve got. Once you have a strong team, and have built a loyal clientele, take full advantage of it. Invite regulars to sample new dishes and offer feedback. Try potential new menu items as specials, and then ask guests what they think. It’s a great way to work out the kinks, and also introduce new dishes to regulars who may already have favorites.
5. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Often times, chefs remove popular dishes just to ‘keep things fresh’. Instead, I keep the dishes that my customers love, and focus on adding new things to broaden the menu. If you have built a clientele on a quality product people enjoy, why remove it and play games? There are other ways to change things up.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
In the literary world, the phrase “write what you know” rings true for many writers. That same principle can be applied in the restaurant industry –– and that’s what Corbett and Julie Monica have done in their 2,770-square-foot trattoria-style restaurant, Bella Monica, in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Owners Julie and Corbett Monica
Corbett, whose grandparents owned a restaurant in New Jersey, has worked in restaurants since the age of 16. Julie worked her way though college serving and bartending as well, and the two eventually married and landed in NYC. “We knew we wanted to open a restaurant, but it wasn’t necessarily happening in Manhattan,” Julie says. “Corbett’s mother had moved down a few years before to this area, and we had visited and fell in love with the area. There was a lot of opportunity here.”
They made the move to Raleigh and opened Bella Monica in August 2000, opting for an Italian focus simply because “this is our heritage,” Corbett says. “My family’s from Naples, and this is the food I ate growing up, both in the restaurant and (at home). It was a very easy decision. It’s what we know, and it’s the food we love.”
Today, Bella Monica brings in $2.4 million annually and was No. 81 on Pizza Today’s Hot 100 Independents in 2012. Pizza accounts for about 40 percent of sales, but the restaurant has a full menu of traditional Italian offerings. “We started with a smaller menu, certainly, than we have today,” Corbett says. “We focused primarily in the beginning on pizzas and just a few pastas –– zitis and lasagnas. Things that we could execute well. As those things worked and as we got more business, we were able to execute more.”
Part of that success is having a staff capable of creating the recipes that have been in Corbett’s family for years. The restaurant employs around 40 people, and the kitchen staff works with two conveyor ovens in a former takeout and delivery space.
“It’s not the most efficient, but we’ve made it work,” says Corbett as he inspects his small bustling kitchen. Those two ovens are able to push out nearly the entire menu, including creamy polenta, baked pastas, fish, fried eggs and the restaurant’s thin-crust pizza.
“When we first thought about taking this place over, it would be the first restaurant that we owned. I was perplexed on how we were going to get it done in a conveyor oven,” Corbett says. “It’s been a blessing in disguise. You want to fry an egg? You put it in halfway. They guys have formed a system, and so far, it works.”
The house specialty, baked ziti, was Corbett’s grandmother’s signature dish. Lasagnas are popular, both meat and vegetarian, and the pizza’s flatbread-style crispy crust separates Bella Monica from other pizzerias in the area. The Margherita is a top seller, and they recently added the Frisco pizza which features broccoli rabe, sausage, caciocavallo, garlic, olive oil and chilies.
Bella Monica’s extensive menu requires smart ordering, and they receive shipments several times a week to ensure freshness. Limited storage in the kitchen reduces their ability for buying in bulk, but “we have pretty good relationships with most of our vendors,” Corbett says. He regularly compares prices with other restaurateurs in the area. “We’ve been loyal customers to most of our vendors, so we have fairly good pricing, I think, for being a single store. That, and we’re pretty watchful. We don’t have a lot of waste.”
Lacking the space for a full bar, the restaurant serves beer and wine only. They’ve implemented an extensive wine program, which has earned the restaurant accolades from Wine Spectator. Beer and wine make up to 20 percent of sales. They have an off-site facility where they store Italian varietals for several years –– even up to 10 years –– before opening and “our clientele is very wine savvy,” Corbett says. “Over the years, we’ve kind of exposed them and taught them about Italian wines.
“One of our big focuses (for employees) is wine training. And most of them enjoy it. … Our wine list is only Italian wine by design.”
As an independent restaurant, word-of-mouth advertising has become crucial at Bella Monica, and “we really try to pay attention to people inside so that they go out and spread some good word-of-mouth,” Corbett says. Social media like Twitter and Facebook have worked well, and one of the company’s assistant managers handles that aspect. “We’re very active in the community,” Julie adds, including donating food to and participating in local school and charity events. While they could spend more dollars advertising in more traditional outlets, Corbett prefers to participate in local cooking and “Best of” contests. “This is more social,” he says. “It’s just more fun.”
After nearly 13 years in the industry, the Monicas say they have found a balancing act when it comes to being owner/operators. While they used to be chained to the store from open to close, they realized after the birth of their daughter that they could scale back and trust in their management. They’re still in the store every day.
“I love the business myself,” Corbett says. “For me, if I’m not in my own restaurant, I want to be in somebody else’s restaurant.”
Julie says back office management is time consuming, but she still wants to be in the dining room daily to greet guests, feel the pulse of the restaurant’s clientele and gauge customer satisfaction. “I don’t want to be bogged down and locked in the office,” she says. “I want to be out where the fun is!”
The Monicas have considered opening another store in the future, but when the economy took a nose-dive a few years back they instead launched a retail gluten-free frozen pizza line that eventually made its way into grocery stores.
Made by an off-site vendor in a full gluten-free facility, the pizzas are privately packaged under the Bella Monica name and helped the bottom line without relying on expansion or franchising. In addition, “we have a full gluten-free menu now,” Julie says.
“The (gluten-free) pizzas that we sell here are actually the same pizzas that we sell in grocery stores because we can’t make that pizza here,” Corbett says. But for salads, gluten-free pastas like Eggplant Parmigiana and Cheese Ravioli, they use separate utensils and pans in-house to reduce cross contamination.
“As a lot of people were seeing (sales) taper off (during the recession), we had a lot of gluten-free folks coming in,” Corbett says. “It has boosted our business.”
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor of Pizza Today.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
From left, owners Jeff Janik and Lindy Janik, manager Kristal Johnson, general manager Patty Imperial, manager Edgar Sanchez, manager Kevin Lail, manager Mary Anne Janik and catering director Steve Hooker
This is the best pizza!” says a diner coming out of the door at Milton’s Pizza & Pasta on the day of our February visit. “We’ve been coming here, what –– 27 years now? The buffet is just perfection.” And that was our first introduction to the Raleigh, North Carolina, company owned by Jeff Janik and his wife, Lindy. “This is the only job I’ve ever had,” says Janik. “I started washing dishes for a gentleman named Milton Papadopoulos back in 1976 … for $2.13 an hour. It gets in your blood. I knew the first week. It’s either in you or it’s not. The restaurant business and I hit it off from day one.”
That was in Chesapeake, Virginia, and when Papadopoulos’ sons moved to North Carolina to expand in 1981, Janik went with them as a manager. He eventually bought the business in 1983 and opened a second location in 2004.
Today, Milton’s sales sit at $4.6 million with two stores, earning the company the 40th position on Pizza Today’s Hot 100 Independents list in 2012. Pizza accounts for 75 percent of sales. The restaurants have a heavy dine-in component but don’t deliver mainly because “we couldn’t handle a busy in-store restaurant and that, too,” Janik says. “It’s two separate businesses. The only way I could do it was if I did it out of a separate location with separate people. It seems like a natural fit –– you’ve got people here and you’ve got ovens, so why not? But when you’re busy, you’d be that much busier.”
Carryout makes up a hefty 23 percent of sales, “and that’s not an insignificant number at all,” Janik says. “I think it’s pretty awesome that our customers drive here to get our food when there are so many delivery options around. I always felt that if we started delivering right away, we’d just start trading off our take-out sales for delivery.”
Milton’s specializes in pan pizza baked in the company’s deck ovens and while pepperoni is the top seller, they offer a line of “showcase” pizzas, of which the Milton’s Special Pizza is king. That’s a whopper of a pie topped with pepperoni, ground beef, sausage, ham, salami, mushrooms, black olives, green peppers, onions and extra mozzarella cheese –– and jalapeños and anchovies can also be added.
Much is made by hand, including dough, sauces, grinding cheeses, and prepping pasta. “We’ve got a team of six guys who come in at six o’clock in the morning” to start prep, Janik says. “I’ve got friends who own breakfast restaurants and they laugh at me because they don’t get in as early as we do.
“It is a handful every day. It’s not a readily duplicatable concept that we have here, that’s for sure. That’s probably why we’ve stuck with the two (units) that we have and kept adding on.” The menu also features salads (and they have a fresh salad bar available), plated dinners like Pasta Primavera and Beef Lasagna, gluten-free offerings and an extensive dessert list made in-house. A lunch buffet features more than just pizza –– including ribs, fresh chicken, spaghetti and sweets.
A full bar was added two years ago “because I wanted to offer the option for those people who wanted to go out and eat and maybe have a drink. Somebody in the party would say ‘I want to have a margarita,’” Janik says. He initially worried that the addition of liquor would affect their bread-and-butter clientele –– families –– and he didn’t want to offend anyone. “Everybody serves alcohol now. It hasn’t been a big issue for us,” Janik says
Like most operators, Janik is working to keep his food costs down without compromising the integrity of the menu. The company weighs and measures ingredients and uses a “more is not always better,” approach to topping pizzas, Janik says. Those procedures help consistency across the brand.
“In addition to meeting with vendors, and staying sharp on portion control and recipes, there are a couple of other things we are doing that have helped,” he adds. “We have never been able to make a ‘prime vendor’ contract work for us. We have two great vendors that we have a long-standing relationship with. The opposite of a prime vendor agreement would be the cherry-picking method. I am not a fan of that either. I think it destroys loyalty and costs more in money and headaches in the long run if you try to buy from everyone that knocks on your door offering cheaper prices. We do a sort of ‘hybrid’ method. We do shop our two vendors, Reinhart and Sysco, against each other. We offer to send our Reinhart order guide to Sysco, and our Sysco guide to Reinhart monthly. We do not include pricing, and we make sure that we are doing an apples-to-apples comparison. This has saved us some very real dollars.”
Janik also credits the nearly 110 employees for Milton’s long-term success. “We’re very lucky to have so many of our management team who have been around for so long,” he says. “I really do believe that has been the success of Milton’s –– the people.”
Building a positive working environment is critical, and Janik realizes that “most people don’t get up and say, ‘You know… I want to be a server for the rest of my life, or I want to be a dishwasher.’ Certainly, most people aspire to do more or do something different. We will always be a way station for some people while they work their way through college (or are) single mothers.”
Milton’s employees take pride in the product they put out, however, and Janik strives to find those people who buy into that philosophy. He’s been challenged with helping his staff see that the restaurant industry “provides great, honorable professions,” he says. “You don’t have to hang your head and say ‘I’m a waitress’ or ‘I’m a cook.’”
As a result, he has some employees who have been with the company for 20-plus years. Since Janik himself has worked in nearly every job in the company, “I do have a profound appreciation for what they do, all of them,” he says. “I like to think that the staff does see that.”
Although word of mouth is Milton’s No. 1 advertising avenue, they review their marketing budget quarterly and drop what doesn’t work. Janik likes social media because it can boost business quickly during slow periods with immediate impact. He also relies on customer comment cards but avoids deal-a-day sites because they don’t generate repeat business. Instead, Janik prefers the company e-mail club, which “is the most effective form of advertising that we use,” he says. “We have been building that list for a long time and currently have over 20,000 Milton’s guests that subscribe. We offer a free pizza or pasta to guests as an incentive to join. We try to mail twice per month –– sometimes a special offer for them, sometimes just an announcement to keep them in the loop as to what is new at Milton’s.”
“We have been building that list for a long time and currently have over 20,000 Milton’s guests that subscribe. We offer a free pizza or pasta to guests as an incentive to join. We try to mail twice per month –– sometimes a special offer for them, sometimes just an announcement to keep them in the loop as to what is new at Milton’s.”
Janik would rather focus on providing a good customer experience over crunching marketing numbers. “We’ve tried everything over the years –– you know, radio, television –– and there’s no one silver bullet that we’ve been able to find. … Whenever we have our marketing discussions and our managers’ meetings, we always end up saying ‘You know, at the end of the day, we have to do an outstanding job with the guests that are here.’ That’s going to be our best marketing, always.”
With the company’s great food and longevity in the industry, Janik has been approached to franchise in the past. But, he still spends a good amount of time in his two stores. While he says his management team is strong enough to support another store, he has been reluctant to expand in the current economic climate, choosing to focus instead on maximizing day-to-day operations in his existing units. “After 30 years of this? It’s still exciting to come in to work every day,” he says. “There are still things you can do to make a difference in the restaurant, and I think that’s lucky.”
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
More than 10,000 pizza professionals gathered under one roof at last month's International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas
Kentucky has 942 pizzerias
Hungry Howie's Pizza, based in Michigan, has more than 550 stores in 20 states.
Flour & Stone / Uncommon Pizza / The Pizza Studio
355 E. Ohio Street
Chicago, Illinois 60611
Flour & Stone opened in February, bringing a fresh face to the Chicago pizza scene with its Brooklyn-style pies. Settled in the Streeterville neighborhood, the pizzeria puts a rustic spin on the Brooklyn style. A couple of featured pizzas include the Florentine ($19) with red sauce, spinach, mushrooms, red and white onions and fresh garlic and the Bacon ($16.75) with white sauce, bacon, red onion and crushed red pepper flakes. The small corner space features a modern interior of white tiles and black and metal chairs, tables and countertops. A line of high-back seating faces an open kitchen and its gas-fired ovens.
616 Paxton Place, Suite 104
Lititz, Pennsylvania 17543
Before entering the pizzeria, guests can see Uncommon’s commitment to fresh ingredients by walking past its seasonal garden. The shop highlights its house-made bleu cheese and ranch dressings appearing on specialty pizzas ($14.99 for a 14-inch) like the Buffalo Chicken and Ranch pizzas. A favorite appetizer among patrons are the Loaded Nachos ($8.49), tortilla chips topped with chopped chicken, bacon, jalapenos, black olives, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, and served with sides of salsa and sour cream. Uncommon offers the Mini Garden Salad at $2.69. With its patio and comfortable seating, it also offers free wifi.
3584 S. Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, California
The University of Southern California location is a “create your own masterpiece” concept where patrons customize their order — from crust, cheese and meats to sauces and vegetables. The individual pizzas (unlimited premium topping for $7.99) can even be spiced up with chipotle powder, garlic powder, Jamaican Jerk, Old Bay Seasoning and Truffle salt or finished with Italian herbs, garlic olive oil, arugula, basil, or a drizzle of BBQ sauce or balsamic glaze. For every $25 spent by a guest, the pizzeria donates a meal to Feeding America, an initiative that supplies food to 37 million Americans. The Pizza Studio also supports the community by displaying local artwork for sale.
RedRocks Neapolitan Bistro operates four locations in the Washington DC metro area and specializes in Neapolitan-style pizza. RedRocks co-owners Doug Baj (left) and James O’Brien opened their newest location in Arlington, Virginia, on February 1. Their fourth location is scheduled to open at the end of April.
We opened our third location on February 1 in the up-and-coming Columbia Pike neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia. We’re also in the final construction phase of our fourth location on H Street NE in Washington D.C., located in the Atlas neighborhood. H Street was recently named in Forbes Magazine’s list of America’s Top Hip Neighborhoods.
We weren’t planning on opening our new restaurants within three months of each other; however, the site locations and funding came together and we decided on an aggressive expansion. The challenge is switching gears between managing daily operations of our existing restaurants, while overseeing the construction and contractors. As an owner, you have to manage everything from the delivery of the wood-burning oven to selecting the size of the walk-in coolers to selecting the furniture. After the night of our grand opening in Arlington, where we were doing everything from clearing tables to placing orders, we were back on the construction site at H Street working on the placement of the A/C ductwork. It’s challenging, but in the end it’s worth it.
Growth timing — It wasn’t an exact science. We knew that the profitability of our first two restaurants gave us an opportunity to secure bank funding to expand. We had spent about a year determining the best neighborhoods to do this, and locations that fit the parameters of our business model. When you grow, all the pieces have to come together quickly — the location, the terms of the lease and the financing. We were fortunate to have all of our criteria coalesce at both locations. We were also fortunate to secure construction loans as opposed to taking on personal investors.
The neighborhoods we chose had a lack of full-service, upscale pizza restaurants that focused on Neapolitan-style pizza. Both neighborhoods were up-and-coming, and the demographic makeups fit our business model. At our first two locations we proactively secured sites through negotiations with faltering businesses who occupied the spaces. At our new restaurants, the owners from both locations approached us and gave us their pitch to bring RedRocks to the respective neighborhoods.
Because both restaurants are located in residential neighborhoods that are home to young, progressive, working professionals, we’ve implemented an online marketing strategy with a focus on social media. In Arlington, the opening was delayed by more than a month and a half, so we had to make adjustments along the way. We updated local bloggers with our progress and placed construction photos on Facebook and Flickr. These were linked to banner ads that we placed on local neighborhood blogs.
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Roses are Red, Violets are Blue. Here’s a Vday Deal, Just for YOU! Medium Pizza + 1 Bottle of Wine or 2 Gelatos for $20 at RedBrick on Vday!
Why it works: This Valentine’s Day deal was pretty sweet all around. Some folks might not have made plans for the work-week holiday and the attention-grabbing poem complemented the great bargain RedBrick offered. It also let followers know that the company offers wine AND gelato. A win for all!
Today & every Wed & Fri during Lent enjoy our fish fry; Breaded Cod, Perch or Bluegill or Baked Cod. See you soon!
Why it works: Posted on Ash Wednesday, Riverfront Pizzeria let customers know that they have fish options available. And offering baked versions appealed to diners seeking healthier options. The restaurant also posted the days the menu offerings were available. Smart thinking!
First Ever Pizza Today Tablet Cookbook
BIG NEWS! We have launched our first ever tablet cookbook, and you can download it NOW for 99 cents from the iTunes store! Made and shot entirely in the Pizza Today test kitchen and studio, this cookbook features amazing recipes that are surefire winners. Check it out!!
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East of Chicago Pizza Company
Like and share this status for a chance at a free 14” pizza of your choice at the Berne East of Chicago. There will be one winner each each week. One person, at random, who likes and shares, will receive the free pizza. Try buffet everyday for lunch at 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and supper from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Or call for specials at 589-8891.
Why it works: Getting people to share your status/photo/link is solid gold. Not only is that viral marketing easy to administer but it’s also easy to track. You can track how many times the post has been shared, how many people have seen it and build your Facebook fan base quicker. Who doesn’t like free pizza? East of Chicago also managed to slip in their hours and a phone number in this post. Great job all around!
NYPD Pizza Winter Garden
Buy an order of our homemade wings and get a Free order of Zeppoles... All day today till 10 pm. :)
Why it works: Few people are going to call and just order wings for the free dessert. There’s sure to be a pizza or two involved as well, and BAM! You’ve got yourself a package deal and sold wings, which some people might not normally add. The fact that this promotion was posted on a Monday afternoon shows just how quick and easy a Facebook offer can be.
Meet the Players:
Mother Bear's Pizza
Fresh Brothers Pizza
Los Angles, California
Farrelli's Wood Fire Pizza
Crazy Dough's Pizza
Q: What is the most effective promotion you ran in the last year?
Ferriman: The most effective promotion we ran last year was a bundle promotion of buying one large Signature Pizza and getting a large cheese for $5.
McConn: Our most popular promotion in 2012 was also our most popular in 2011 and 2010 and 2009, etc. I’m referring to our Munchie Madness special (10-inch one topping pizza, breadsticks w/sauce, 2 home-made brownies, and a 2 liter of Pepsi product for $10.95) that’s good 24/7. It offers strong value, fulfills a need in the sales lineup, is very memorably named and is prepared and processed very easily. We have a few others that offer similar value that are aimed at different facets of our customer base.
Krueger: We ran a super successful pizza school series, inspired by Tony Gemignani’s International School of Pizza, which our Director of Kitchen Operations, Michael Rutledge, attended. We asked ourselves how could we leverage that higher learning that Mike had received as it pertained to our guest experience? We recognized that we had an opportunity to better educate our customers on the quality of products we source and the pride we take in the preparation and baking of our pizzas. We figured, why not give our guests the opportunity to go through Pizza School? The idea was to keep it fun and simple at the same time — informative and hands-on. So we came up with three courses: 101 was all about dough … making, rolling, storing and opening the dough. 202 was all about toppings and really getting people to think outside of the box when it came to sauces and ingredients, with an emphasis on quality. 303, or the capstone as it became known, was a competition where the customers would make and present their own pie to a panel of judges that we compiled. The best pie was chosen to be featured on the cover of our menu for the following quarter, and the proceeds from the sale of the pizza were donated to the Washington Restaurant Association Education Foundation in the form of a scholarship for an inspiring young culinary student. Essentially, what this campaign did for us was drive traffic on slow nights in our stores … Secondly, it gave people an experience in our stores that they would most certainly share with their friends via positive word of mouth. It also gave us a bunch of stuff to talk about through our social media channels. Most importantly, though, the winning pizza raised money for a charitable cause which really helped us showcase our commitment to neighborhood nourishment at Farrelli’s.
Shepherd: I am not a fan of gauging success on single promotions. Rather, I like to build out a solid marketing strategy that relies on many small items all working together. But, if I have to choose just one I would go with our Upselling Incentive program for our phone staff and servers. Over the course of a month we were able to increase our check average by over $3! Employees were given incentives such as cash, gift cards, and free food to help them encourage customers to try new pizzas, specialty drinks, appetizers, and desserts. The suggestive selling was backed up by management who would parade eye-appealing food through the dining room, give out free samples, and keep the staff motivated.
Q: What is the most pressing issue facing your business in 2013?
Ferriman: The most pressing issue facing our business in 2013 is keeping our food costs down. Continuous training for proper portion control will help us in this rising commodity world we live in.
McConn: Rising costs. Given the global nature of food, if a gnat farts in Australia, flour rises 2 percent in Chicago, or so it seems. Seriously, we are at the mercy of global harvests and availability of natural resources. When there is a failure in some part of this chain, we all have to pay the price. Given the wild fluctuations of weather and changing weather patterns that we’ve seen in the past few years, I think we all need to be prepared for shortages and the consequent rise in prices.
Goldberg: Our most pressing issue is finding great locations for new stores — a good problem to have. We find that we are competing with major national QSR chains for retail space.
Q: How often do you re-evaluate your menu offerings and pricing?
Goldberg: We evaluate our menu options and pricing twice a year. We’ll add menu items when it’s appropriate, such as our January 2013 launch of the Fresh Brothers skinny crust. New menu items tend to refocus customers’ attention onto the food, and away from price changes. Ultimately, our focus is on our food. Always.
Krueger: We re-evaluate our menu selection and pricing every 3-6 months. We go through a menu engineering process to determine our Stars, Dogs, Puzzles and Plow Horsers so that we can figure out what needs to stay on our menu or come off, or which items need to be put in a better location on the menu or have the recipe or presentation re-tooled to be more effective. We want our menus to always be current and fresh and to do the very best job possible at driving profit to the bottom line. We research the gaze patterns that the human brain will make when staring at different menu layouts so that we can have our most profitable items placed in the sweet spots of the pages.
Gold: We re-evaluate our menu and pricing every three months. We only print 3 months of menus at a time.
Ferriman: We re-evaluate our menu offerings and pricing twice a year when we reprint our menus. We evaluate what pizzas sell and don’t sell, their contribution margin and their ingredient prep time and cost. Pizzas that don’t meet the standard for these factors either get a price increase or face elimination from the menu.
Q: How often do you re-evaluate your menu offerings and pricing?
McConn: Ideally we review menu and prices once a year and make changes to coincide with the start of the university school year. You can go bananas poring over POS data and trying to tweak your menu every week or month. To us it makes more sense to be patient with your new offerings and give them a chance to develop “legs”. Price increases that occur outside of normal seasonal fluctuations are evaluated to determine if they are fleeting or the new norm. Being an independent, we can literally react within minutes to a situation such as an outstanding new product or price consideration.
Shepherd: I generally review my food costs on a monthly basis. Considering the precarious economy, I am very reluctant to raise prices unless I really must. Instead I have been focusing on adding new offerings that are by nature low in food cost to help offset the rising costs in other areas.
My menu is ever changing. I try to update and refresh my menu at least quarterly. Customers want solid consistent offerings, but also want new things that they can get excited about.
Q: What advice would you give new operators who are entering the industry?
McConn: Whenever I read answers to this question, I’m always disappointed by the nebulous, redundant nature of the responses. The reality is that you need money, and of course a passion/interest, and then more money, and experience, and if you don’t have experience then a lot, lot more money. A good location helps, but nothing substitutes for financial depth. Yeah, you can make it without financial wherewithal, but you can also put your money in a pile in the middle of the street and hope it’s there the next day. Nothing, including sweat, intelligence, industry, effort, 80 hours a week, free advice, expensive advice, your wife’s family, your second cousin’s blessing, Aunt Thelma’s secret recipe that came over on the Mayflower, etc., substitutes for having ample cash. That’s just how the game is played. If you can’t play by these rules, then you really shouldn’t play.
Shepherd: You must know your numbers! Know how much profit your location can make, know how much in sales you need to make, know your break even numbers, and know when to call it quits.
Gold: Be realistic on the amount of return on your effort and investment. Be truthful to yourself why you are getting into the pizza business.
Ferriman: My advice for new operators is to first make sure your “Will Power” tank is full, and then become obsessed with learning everything about operational efficiencies, portion control, quality ingredients, customer service and how you put all those together to create success.
Q: How has social media impacted your marketing?
Gold: The return on investment is better than any other type of paid advertising out there now.
Ferriman: Social media has given us a much broader reach for a fraction of the cost. We are constantly creating new pies to sell by the slice and social media is a perfect medium to get the message out about something new and innovative we are doing. I will create say a Filet Mignon pizza and take a picture of it, tweet and Facebook it out and say....“Come in now for a new Filet Mignon slice...and just for trying the new creation I will buy your fountain soda.” Social media also allows us to interact more easily with our customers, i.e. people always put pics of pizzas on Twitter, which I see, and I subsequently direct message with a “thank you” and bogo coupon.
McConn: Social media? What’s that? Although we have a Facebook account, a Twitter account, and advertise on Yelp, we also have a yellow page ad, daily placement in our daily newspaper, and table tents. We really don’t use social media to any great extent. Why? Because we don’t have to! For all the benefits that are purported to be gained from social media, they don’t come free. To be truly effective, you or your designee need to be fairly active in pursuing the different electronic avenues, and creatively developing ad copy for them. This is spelled “time and money”. Our disdain for this venue is also based on our market position. We are acknowledged as the best pizza in 43 states (okay, we’ll settle for Bloomington for now). We have created a system of marketing that has been tested through the years to be exceptionally effective for us. Business is still increasing on an annual basis. If I was starting my first store, I would be highly involved in social media. Since Mother Bear’s has been here for 40 years, we play the game differently.
Goldberg: We consider it a valuable tool alongside traditional marketing tools like print advertising, billboards and radio. Social media is like adding another distribution channel. It allows us to interact directly with our customers, so we’re more engaged and present to our customers, which is very important to us.
Krueger: The thing I often think about is, ‘What would life be like without social media?’ I can hardly remember a time when we weren’t interacting with our friends, family and favorite organizations through various online social networking sites. For us at Farrelli’s, we were early adopters of social media, having a MySpace page for our company early on and since transitioning our efforts to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube & Yelp to name the primary ones. These sites have helped our business to have a stronger brand presence and to engage with existing and potential guests through mediums that they are already using … Additionally, we are hearing about areas of opportunity for us to improve through these sites as opposed to not hearing that feedback at all. It also gives us an opportunity to fix any issues that someone may have encountered in our store to help retain them as a valued guest, sometimes even while they are still in the store, so that we can correct the issue before they ever leave. Our objective with social media is not to utilize it as a “free” advertising medium, as some people might be inclined to do, but rather to stay engaged with our guests so that the next time they think pizza, they think Farrelli’s ... It’s about top of mind awareness.
Shepherd: Social media now makes up the majority of my marketing. I don’t push coupons and specials through social media, but rather use it as a platform to get my customers talking about us. It is instant, free, and makes the customer feel a part of something. We recently started a campaign at one of my stores focusing on getting my customers to know my staff. We take photos of the staff, post on Facebook and the first customer to come in and say the correct phrase to that employee wins a free pizza. Next month we will encourage our customers to “steal” a certain branded item, take a photo of themselves with it at a notable landmark, post it to our Facebook page and then pass it on. I hope I can get the item across the country.
JOIN US: Beer & Bull Idea Exchange® Tuesday and Wednesday, March 19 & 20 4:30 - 6 p.m.
Have you ever wondered what it’d be like to sit at a table with 10 other pizza operators from all over the country—or in a room with 500 colleagues—free to discuss whatever issues are foremost on your mind? It happens every Pizza Expo at Beer & Bull, where attendees wind down from the day with a cold drink and friendly information sharing in a non-competitive environment. You name the topics; you ask the questions—at your table and over the microphone in the larger room. Pizza Today publisher Pete Lachapelle moderates the discussion to ensure that someone will have the answer you seek.
Photos by Josh Keown
A ‘Go West’ inclination during a carefree time was the recipe that resulted in Gerald Strader and his business partner, Scott Leist, setting up shop — literally — in Austin, Texas. Once they made the move a whirlwind of events quickly conspired to produce both jubilation and unexpected challenges, but, really, what business doesn’t face both, the two men reasoned? More than three decades later, the partners operate a company, Conan’s Pizza, that ranks No. 95 on Pizza Today’s list of Hot 100 Independents.
“We opened Conan’s on July 19, 1976,” explains Strader. Leist was unable to be present during our visit in January. “We had graduated form college in Florida and wanted to open a pizza place. We knew we wanted to be in good weather, so the parameters were that we would go somewhere West of the Mississippi River and South of the Mason-Dixon Line. If Austin didn’t work we were going to go to Tempe next, and then on to San Diego. We literally loaded up our vans and drove out here. We fell in love with Austin. It was booming.”
Those were the days when Janis Joplin and Willie Nelson reigned supreme in the city, and Strader said Austin’s artistic bent coupled with its growing population made it a good choice for a restaurant. The fact that there weren’t any pizzerias serving the pan-style for which Conan’s has become known made it an even better place for the two new graduates to give their concept a shot.
“My first ever pizza job was in Stillwater, Oklahoma,” says Strader. The son of a military father, Strader has lived all over the U.S. and other countries. “It was a full-blown Italian restaurant. I saw a lot of stuff there and learned a lot. But our pizza recipe didn’t come from there. It is an extension of what I learned in college. When I was in Gainesville I worked for a place called Leonardo’s. I took what I learned there and brought it here.”
What made Strader think that style of pizza would be a hit in Austin? “I loved it,” he says. “I was a huge fan. I thought this stuff was so good that it would sell anywhere. And I was right. It went really well.”
Just about everything went well for the partners early on. After working daily to get Conan’s open, the pay off didn’t take long. After only six months in business the pizzeria was so busy that it nearly doubled in size, from a mere 800 square feet to 1,500 square feet. But one day a legal notice arrived in the mail and Conan’s faced a major hurdle. Its identity, inspired by a comic book character that was later immortalized in Hollywood movies, was placed in the crosshairs of threatened legal action. You see, the pizzeria didn’t just use the name, Conan’s Pizza. It also featured artwork of the character. After some legal wrangling and a trial, Strader and Leist emerged with the right to continue using the name and using the images within the three company-owned stores. Though any future licensees or franchisees can’t use the artwork, the pieces still remain on display in the three stores owned by the partners.
With the legal hiccup aside, Strader and Leist were free to grow their business. That, of course, comes with its own trials and tribulations.
“We opened about a dozen stores over the years,” says Strader. “And just about everyone of them were successful. One closed due to crime; one closed because the landlord went bankrupt. The building was literally condemned and the whole place was bulldozed. Then, in 1986 Texas was hurting despite what was going on in the rest of the country. We had to close a San Antonio store in ‘86. The first five were gold mines. It just goes to show it really is location, location, location.
Strader’s sons are involved in the business now and his eldest, Chris, has come back to lead a management and marketing role after spending time working in political circles in Washington, D.C. While in the nation’s capital he worked on campaigns, as a driver for Rahm Emanual and as a clerk on the Ways & Means Committee for Democratic U.S. House of Representatives member Charles Rangel of New York. Though those experiences no doubt shaped him, he says some of the skills that have translated to Conan’s the most did not come from time spent in government buildings, but in a more unlikely place.
“Some of my best experience was actually managing a lawn and garden center in D.C., believe it or not,” he says. “They gave me a lot of responsibility. I started a newsletter and did social media, and that certainly spills over.”
For Strader’s part, he says the itch to grow never fully subsides. With that in mind, he says burgeoning markets like areas in Dallas, Houston and along the Interstate 35 corridor may present opportunities for Conan’s to expand.
“We’re dying to open more stores,” he says, “but it has to be the right fit. We don’t open losers.”
So, for now, the plan is to continue focusing on production and providing customers a good experience. In 2012, Conan’s experienced 12 percent growth as compared to the year prior. Now, Chris is working to maintain that track by keeping Conan’s in the mix through advertising and social media channels as Austin experiences an influx of newer, trendier dining options.
“Things are going well right now, and we have a lot of cards in our hand yet to play,” he says. “The next time we feel a bubble we can start to use some of it.”
With today’s advanced POS systems, say the Straders, so much more information is available at the operator’s fingertips than ever before. Things like identifying and courting so-called “lazy customers” to return is easier now than ever.
“From a marketing standpoint,” intercedes Chris, “the pickup customer is the customer I get the least amount of information on. If you think about it, with a delivery customer I get their full address and I can market directly to them.”
Delivery makes up 15-20 percent of sales at Conan’s, and that is without making a conscious effort to increase that segment of the business. In part, Conan’s hasn’t had to since it has made a name for itself with longevity.
“We’re an icon now,” says Strader. “UT (University of Texas) students all over the state want to come back to visit, and when they do we’re on their check list.”
Consistency is the real key to that. For Conan’s, a commissary is one of the drivers that helps all three stores produce the same product all day every day.
“We’ve always had a commissary,” says Strader. “We do it out of one of the stores now. We have three guys work it, and two of them have been here for 20 years. They come in and make the dough, prep and load the van. They deliver fresh product to the stores seven days a week.”
That results in quality control some independents don’t always have. Says Strader: “We’re labor intense. I know that. But we’re quality. I really think quality and labor go hand in hand."
Jeremy White is Editor-in-Chief of Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
The story has been repeated time and again in cities all across America: an aspiring man or woman moves to a new locale after years in New York and is disappointed by the pizza offerings of the adopted city. This time, the city in question is Austin, Texas, and the heroine of this twice-told tale is a former NYU student who made her living in Austin as a food editor. But the clichés really are only circumstantial, because behind the concept developed by Jen Strickland (seated in the black dress in the photo at the right), her husband Joseph and business partner Terri Hannifin (far right) there’s substance. Together, the trio opened Home Slice at the end of 2005. They were part of a boom on Austin’s now-popular Congress Avenue and have reaped the benefits of hard work, location and a fun concept ever since.
There was a time when Congress Avenue was less than desirable. Street walkers and drug pushers owned the nights on this busy street with a distant view of the Texas state capitol building. But just as other cities such as Indianapolis and Charlotte have undergone successful revitalization efforts in years past, something was brewing in Austin. An educated, hip and artsy population does not remain stagnant for long, and Congress eventually became the focus of like-minded entreprenuers who saw potential in the area. Now the avenue is a growing, buzzing hotbed of activity. And with both residential and business areas nearby, the restaurants benefit with crowds during both the lunch and dinner dayparts. Such was the case when Pizza Today dropped in on Home Slice Pizza in mid January to observe the goings-on. The main restaurant was packed with business professionals and young families. Next door, More Home Slice — a small extension meant to deal with takeout overflow — was packed as well. Its limited seating was taken by students and biz pros on a time crunch. Slices waited for re-heating in the deck ovens, while the warm sunshine outside meant the outdoor seats were occupied with slice enthusiasts as well. We chatted briefly with Chris Harlan, a student at the University of Texas who was shopping at a nearby specialty store. He said Home Slice was his “go-to joint” when he felt the need for pizza.
“You get in and out fast, and the vibe is cool,” he says. “The slices are large and they always hit the spot.”
The menu is designed to hit the spot New York style. Whole pies and slices reign supreme, but other options include salads, antipasto, calzones, sub sandwiches, espresso and dessert. Beer and wine complete the dining experience and work to elevate overall sales. Though native to New York, the trio of owners did not already possess pizza-making expertise when they decided in earnest to make a run at pizzeria ownership. Instead of trying to acquire it in the Lone Star State, Jen Strickland instead went back to NYC for an unofficial apprenticeship. With that experience under her belt, she returned to Austin with what Home Slice’s Web site calls “street cred.”
To play up the New York pizza experience as much as possible, More Home Slice, which opened in February of 2010, features tile work that conveys some iconic New York personalities — Spike Lee, Run DMC and J.D. Salinger, to name a few. Back in the original Home Slice, the decor has more of a circus feel to it. Tastefully done and fitting (what pizzeria kitchen isn’t a circus act, after all?), the look complements the menu and the restaurant’s overall mentality.
Speaking of mentality, Home Slice carries its kitsch over to social media as well, where it has managed to excel and set itself apart when compared to its competitors. Home Slice has more than 16,000 Facebook likes and more than 7,000 Twitter followers. The company uses the former primarily to interact with customers (it shares photos of fans as well as pics sent in by diners) and the latter to advertise daily specials.
Then there’s the Carnival O’ Pizza, an annual event the restaurant stages late each fall. Complete with a pizza-eating contest, music, games and other activities, the Carnival O’ Pizza has become Home Slice’s claim to local fame. It’s an event that puts the restaurant’s name front and center for hundreds of Austin residents and ensures a new wave of rabid fans each year as the it continues to grow both in size and popularity.
“You’ve got to see it sometime,” says Harlan, the student we caught munching a slice of pepperoni on our visit. “It’s insane.”
Jeremy White is Editor-in-Chief of Pizza Today.
What movie would you rather see: one on the life and times of Babe Ruth or one about Barry Bonds? I think even the most ardent Giants fan wants to be in with the original. Think of other originals and their imitators: the Beatles to the Monkees, “Baywatch” to “Acapulco H.E.A.T,” “Armageddon” to “Deep Impact,”and everything in between. Then ask yourself: “Is my pizzeria a true original or an imitation?”
We see it all the time in movies, TV and music — and we call it out as phony. What we seem to not call out is when it happens in the restaurant industry. Exactly the same generic Chinese joint, the same enchiladas at Señor Fill-in-the-Blank’s and the same stock photos on the wall at every pre-packaged pizza place. Even Original Ray’s ain’t original.
You may be an independent, but is your business independently minded? Are you buying the same stock items from your food vendor and doing the same stock things with those items that every pizza place is doing? Saying: “But we use grated Parm instead of shredded!” is not a real differentiator. Maybe you’re lucky and you’re the only one in town doing it (now), but if someone could open shop and duplicate everything you do, including using grated Parm, then you are anything but safe. Just being “Home of the_____” is not enough. You need to dig deep and be the original You — and have your brand follow that lead.
That’s why YOU have to build a brand, and then respect that brand. Cultivate that brand: what are the ideals of your brand? What does it say about what’s important at your place? Figuring out if it says anything at all at the moment would be a good place to start.
In 2005, Andolini’s Pizzeria hit a point where money was tight. Anyone could buy the same frozen raviolis, throw some sauce on them and –– boom!, we would become just another pizza and Italian place. Facing that reality, we decided instead to make everything from scratch.
Along with that we decided to come up with food items that no one else was doing. We were always asking ourselves: “What would we need to do and be to survive the New York or San Francisco dining scene?” and not just simply to make it in Tulsa.
That strategy has paid off for us and I write this not to say: “Hey look at me! I think I’m fancy and special.” No, I write this because I wish someone said it to me the day Andolini’s Pizzeria opened and saved me some heartache. I wish someone had reminded me that being an individual is why you opened this place. Don’t try to do your competition’s brand better than they do; try to invent a new brand identity that has never been done. At the very least, that hasn’t been done in the place you’re operating.
When someone copies you, know that it’s a sign of desperation. Don’t be desperate yourself and return the favor. Just be you. I don’t remember the Beatles trying to cover “Daydream Believer.”
Here’s where to start: what is generic about your store? The menus, the pizza names, even the pepper shakers — what have you seen already? Now slowly change that in your image. Does your logo and name inspire confidence or does it perpetuate clichés? Is it instantly recognizable as you? There is no one right answer to this other than to say if someone plopped into a seat at your restaurant in Anytown America, when he left, would he know and remember where he had just been? Or would he (or she) more likely say: “Yeah, I’ve think I ate there once. It was pretty standard.” If you got into this to make fantastic pizzas, then I applaud you. Get that idea and goal out to as many people as possible by increasing and bettering your brand. u
Photos by Josh Keown
Many of you have contemplated adding pasta to your menu but may still be reluctant. Well it’s time to cast your worries aside. I’ve written about pasta in the past and have even lead demos at International Pizza Expo. My goal now is to bring you through the most important part of making it happen — perfect pasta preparation!
Let me start with the very basics. There are two things that must happen before a single noodle can hit the pot of water. First, the water must be heavily salted. If you’ve ever been in the ocean, I imagine at some point you have gotten a mouth full of seawater. I hope you remember what that tasted like because that’s how salty I want your pasta water to taste. You can achieve that by putting 2/3 cup of salt into 4 gallons of water. Secondly, make sure your water comes to a full boil before you place your pasta in the pot. I’m not talking about a slight simmer either. Get the water to a full, rolling boil.
Now, you are ready to cook your pasta but there are a few things that are critical to successful pasta prep. One, don’t overcrowd the pot with too much pasta. Remember if you are using dry pasta, the pasta will absorb the salted water and expand in size. I’ve seen cooks put two parts pasta into three parts water, and before the pasta is fully cooked it has absorbed all the water and can’t continue to cook properly. They inevitably scorch the bottom of the pot and that burnt flavor will permeate through the rest of the pasta and ruin it all. Eight pounds of dry pasta in 4 gallons of boiling water is a good ratio that you should cook in a 5-gallon pot.
The second critical point I want to make is that you must frequently stir and move your pasta around, especially once it first goes into the boiling water. This is what keeps it from sticking together. I like to use an extra long pair of tongs to stir my pasta so I can pull the strands apart from each other. The wider the pasta’s surface, the more opportunity it has to cling to one another. Fettuccini will stick more than linguini, and dry lasagna noodles just love sticking together. I don’t like to waste oil, so I don’t oil my water. Some people say it will prevent your pasta from sticking. I say that simply adding oil to your water won’t achieve that goal and a few minutes later will simply go down the drain. The oil will come in handy after the pasta is cooked, however.
Although these points that I’ve shared with you thus far are all important, this next step, if not followed correctly, will throw all your previous efforts down the drain. You must cook your pasta about 90 seconds less than al dente. Al dente literally means “to the tooth.” As a culinary term that means to the bite, slightly firm or not overcooked. Most Americans and many restaurants overcook their pasta. Since I’m teaching you a method of cooking pasta that will be rinsed and chilled and then dipped in boiling water to order, you must slightly undercook your pasta in order to get it to the perfect texture as you are serving it to your guest.
I remember one of my first jobs as a teenage cook in a diner-type restaurant that had spaghetti on the menu. They would pre-cook the pasta and then store it in water, which is the absolute worst thing you can do! Another foolish thought is to think if you shut the heat off under the pot of pasta, that since the water is not boiling any longer, that the pasta is no longer cooking. Wrong! As soon as your pasta is slightly under al dente, I want you to drain it and immediately rinse it in cold water. This will mean that you’ll have to move the pasta around under the running water. This process should be completed within a couple of minutes.
Do not allow there to be any warm spots at all, otherwise the pasta will continue to cook slightly. While the pasta is still wet from rinsing it, pour about a half-cup of oil over the pasta and massage it in. Now you are ready to store your pasta under refrigeration. I would suggest that with portion bags, you portion out your pasta to the appropriate size (8 to 10 ounces for an entrée-sized portion). This will allow you to stock only what you need for each shift on the line instead of having a large container of pasta where your staff will never consistently portion the same every time. You will have a three-day shelf life on your pasta, so only cook what you anticipate serving for a two-day period. Have a small pot of water (unsalted this time) with a strainer basket on a grill or burner on at all times during meal periods. You will need to replenish the water many times throughout the day. When you get an order for pasta, as long as the water is at a boil, you only need to submerge the cooked pasta in the boiling water for 30 to 40 seconds. Then be sure to drain it well before it goes into the dish to ensure you are not serving a watery pasta entrée.
Although the cooking procedure is the same for all pastas, the cook time will vary from pasta to pasta. For example, thin spaghetti will take approximately seven minutes to cook where angel hair will take only three minutes to cook.
Tip: If you are using fresh pasta, use all the same procedures but know that your pasta will cook in approximately three minutes.
Rigatoni al Filo di Fumo
Yields: 4 Servings
¼ pound pancetta in a chunk about ½ inch thick
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 cups canned plum tomatoes (juices drained), crushed
½ cup frozen peas
1 pound cooked rigatoni
½ pound shredded or chopped fresh mozzarella
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Pare the rind from the pancetta and cut the meat into a small dice. In a large sauté pan set over medium heat, cook and stir the pancetta until it starts to get crisp around the edges.
Add the oil to the pan. Put the garlic through a garlic press into the pan. Add the tomatoes and peas. Raise the heat and bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce, breaking up the tomatoes with a fork or spoon.
Add the rigatoni to the pan with the tomatoes. Immediately add the mozzarella and toss to combine.
Divide the pasta among four heated pasta bowls. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese over each serving.
Jeff Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and a speaker at the Pizza Expo family of trade shows.
What makes our pizza healthier is a combination of things. It first starts with the dough we use — our organic ancient grain crust is a nutritionally rich proprietary blend of ancient grains without the added sugar, molasses, high fructose corn syrup or other fillers in a lot of other pizza dough. It’s the pure grains delivered to you in pizza dough form. Since our bodies need good carbohydrates, this dough has been really well received by our diabetic customers.
The sprouted ancient grain is a proprietary blend of grains including, but not limited to, quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat. It has only a small amount of wheat to provide the gluten necessary to transform it into pizza dough. Because it is only a small percentage of wheat, it tastes nothing like traditional wheat crust. The flavor profile is nutty and earthy and quite unique. The characteristics of the crust are light and airy, thin with the perfect amount of chew and crisp.
We then use an organic, low-sodium tomato sauce and a variety of low-fat cheeses as the base for an unbelievable finished product. Our toppings are sourced through our local farming community or organic grow houses in the Southeast. We believe in supporting agriculture that practices organic and sustainable farming methods. Inherently, it all goes into our bodies — the chemicals, antibiotics and hormones used in most conventional/commercial approaches — therefore we choose to be a part of a healthier solution for our future.
Our current location adds to our mission because we are nestled inside of an urban space — The 7th Street Public Market. We are surrounded by other locally focused food purveyors with a common goal of offering high quality, local and organic foods that focus on our region. It’s a very collaborative space. We are fortunate because we buy from several of the other shopkeepers — things like cheese, produce, bacon, ground beef and olive oil/vinegar. We are a “location within a location” so there are definite pros and cons. We are the benefactor of ambient traffic flow, but then again, we are one of the major drivers of foot traffic within the market.
Because we are a different kind of pizzeria, we really had to make a strong connection with those pizza lovers out there. And, because of our location, we had to establish our own identity. So well before we sold our first pizza, we were social media crazy!
It was a hard sell at first to convince my business partner of the need to hire a professional videographer to film us. But when he saw the first video produced and the response to it from our social media outlets, we were off to the races to produce more. The intention was to create a visual interpretation of Farm-2-Fork. We went on location to a variety of our partners to show who they are and what they do; everything from a mushroom farm, a 40-year organic farm, one of Charlotte’s favorite local breweries and a bee keeper. The followers really connected in a resounding way. We had fans says, “How can I be craving something I’ve never tasted!”
Each year, we mail out surveys to independent pizzerias across the nation. Using their responses, we compile our Hot 100 list — a ranking of America’s 100 largest independent pizza operations (based on sales). This issue is eagerly devoured by Pizza Today’s readers and the list you’ll see on pages 32 and 33 is a testament to the ingenuity, diligence and skill of the pizzeria owners who make the grade.
1. Buddy’s Pizza
Buddy’s first introduced its famous square pizza in 1946, sparking the unique Detroit-style pie. The pizzeria has grown to nine locations, generating $20 million in annual sales. Last year, the Motor City declared June 23 Buddy’s Pizza Day, honoring the restaurant’s history and its longstanding commitment to the community.
2. Marion’s Piazza
Marion Glass opened his Italian piazza-themed pizzeria in 1965, with an emphasis on large capacity seating. Marion’s has grown to eight locations. In 2012, the company grossed more than $16 million in annual sales. Marion’s has been voted Dayton’s Best Pizza in more than 30 local surverys.
3. Frankie, Johnnie & Luigi, Too!
The D’Ambrosio family opened the original pizzeria in 1958 in the Bay Area. Family-owned for more than 50 years, Frankie, Johnnie & Luigi, Too! earned $12.5 million in 2012, with its five stores. Co-owner John D’Ambrosio is a World Pizza Champion, garnering both “best pizza” and “pizza pioneer” in Salsomaggiore, Italy.
4. Glass Nickel Pizza Co.
Glass Nickel’s ecofriendly philosophy is found throughout its eight-unit, $13 million operation, from its LED lighting to its alternative fuel delivery vehicles. Owners Brian Glassel and Tim Nicholson opened their first pizzeria in 1997 and have grown with strong commitment to its neighborhoods and community.
5. The Original Giuseppi’s Pizza and Pasta
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Thriving in each of its six locations as neighborhood places, The Orginal Giuseppi’s has a “cut no corners” approach to pizza.
6. Woodstock’s Pizza
San Diego, California
What began as a fun hangout for college students at Oregon State University in 1977 has grown into an eight-unit, $12.2 million pizza company. The pizzeria prides itself on providing a lively pizza experience and a signature pizza sauce from a Woodstock family recipe. Today, Woodstock’s is owned by longtime employee Jeff Ambrose.
To View List of HOT 100 Independents Click Link Below
Photos by Josh Keown
In our experience, there are a few necessities that make a winning pizzeria. There’s personality, of course, and great food. There’s a good business model and experience to back it up. Finally, it takes gumption to tie them all together, and that’s precisely what Kelvin and Mandy Slater have done. Their company, Blue Moon Pizza, has two locations in the
Atlanta area, and brings in a combined $3.2 million annually. We had to see for ourselves what made Blue Moon so successful, and it did not take long to figure out that the Slaters are the operation’s heart and soul.
The husband and wife team have a natural give and take that began when the pair met while working for a fast casual restaurant chain in Florida. They have experience in several corporate brands, and “we bring a lot of that to this concept –– the structure, and the training and the staffing,” says Mandy. “But, we’re also kind of mom-and-popish in that we have a small staff (and) we’re closed on Sundays –– we’re a nice little mix of both.”
The original Blue Moon Pizza opened in 2003, with the second three years later in a mixed-use facility that includes homes and businesses. Why pizza, especially with the couple’s background in corporate cuisine? “We felt that you didn’t have to introduce it,” Kelvin says. “When you think about other concepts, not everybody eats those things. Everybody loves pizza.”
When coming up with their own concept, the Slaters wanted a place that was inviting and would appeal to many different demographics. The two locations are polar opposites when it comes to day parts –– one is surrounded by businesses and does a better lunch, while the other caters more to the dinner crowd. Dine-in accounts for about 40 percent of business, with delivery about 30 percent. They deliver within a three-mile radius. How does the Smyrna location, which is surrounded by homes and other restaurants, manage with so much competition? “We’re the only pizza place,” Mandy says. “Everybody’s a little bit different. There’s a tavern, there’s Mexican, there’s sushi –– there’s one of everything. We do have a lot of regulars who live in the complex. But the tavern does a great bar business, while we close at 11. We’re just different.”
Blue Moon has its deck ovens front of the house, allowing guests to watch as their pizzas are created and baked. “People like to see the ovens,” Mandy says. “They’re attractive. (People) want to see the guys cooking … Our line guys, they have a lot of fun. We try to include our guests in some of that fun as well. It is an entertainment factor.” On a busy Friday or Saturday night, the ovens –– manned by seven or eight employees –– can pump out more than 200 pizzas. “I can cook 20 large 18-inch pizzas every 8 minutes. I can do 24 mediums and probably 40 personals,” Kelvin says.
Both locations have full liquor licenses, and alcohol accounts for about 10 percent of sales. “We have a nice list of specialty martinis, and we do a Martini Night and different drink specials every day,” Mandy says. “People do tend to gravitate towards beer and wine here, although we do have some higher-end beers on tap and also by the bottle. … We don’t just have the regular, average beers. We try to offer something for the connoisseur as well.”
That same philosophy applies to the food menu as well. Blue Moon offers appetizers, salads, calzones and stromboli sandwiches, pizza and desserts. While traditional pizza is available, a line of specialty pizzas sell well. At the beginning of their business, “we started
asking our friends what was an absolute must –– what’s the best part? Is it the sauce? The cheese? The dough?” Mandy says. “Hands down, everybody said the dough.”
The Slaters put their own signature touches on traditional toppings, lending a unique spin to their eclectic pizza menu. For instance, the bestselling Classic uses red onions over white and tri-colored peppers instead of the more traditional green. Their barbecue sauce is a blend of sauces they liked, they season their own chicken and they flavor their bacon with brown sugar. It’s labor intensive –– the staff starts prep at 9 a.m. –– but it’s what makes Blue Moon unique. “We make our own meatballs –– it’s actually Mandy’s grandmother’s recipe –– we make our own mozzarella sticks (and) chicken Parmesan. Everything that we have, we season,” Kelvin says. “We want the flavor, not just the ingredients.”
Kelvin says that while many pizzerias limit the size of their gourmet pizzas, Blue Moon offers theirs up to 18 inches. They also offer a Grandma’s Pizza, a 16-inch Sicilian-style topped with cheese, EVOO, hand-crushed plum tomatoes and fresh basil.
To keep food costs down, the company orders daily and “we have a good understanding of what we need day in and day out so we don’t over-order,” Mandy says. “As far as keeping food costs down goes, we measure cheese to some degree. … We cut portion size and we make sure the cuts are right. But, that’s the corporate side of us. Measuring is nice for two reasons –– of course, you want to cut costs, but you want people to get the same pizza every time. … Your regular customers notice the big differences there.”
They also try to use ingredients across the menu to avoid waste. “We use our pizza dough for anything we can –– sandwiches, rolls, appetizers, salads … anything,” Mandy says.
For many pizzerias, opening a second location is often the hardest, as restaurateurs struggle with operations and management issues. Now that the Slaters have two stores under their belt, are there more Blue Moons in the future? Kelvin says they have three leases in the works and plan to utilize managing partners in future corporate stores. “We know we can’t be in all these places at once, but we’re just going to have to rely on hiring the right people,” Kelvin says.
Mandy agrees. “It’s going to be hiring the right people and developing the right training materials and manuals.”
What’s in a name?
Where does the name Blue Moon Pizza come from? Co-owner Mandy Slater says she wishes she had a better story, but their partner at the time suggested it. “We were saying that pizza this good only comes along once in a blue moon. We’ve since done a little branding and refined it a little bit. … The actual blue moon event is a rare and special event and we try to be a rare, out-of-the-ordinary place.”
Of course, Blue Moon is also the name of a popular beer. Do the Slaters have to worry about trademarking issues? “They love us,” Co-owner Kelvin Slater says. “We sell a lot of Blue Moon beer for them. Everything you see, they give us, like the mural, the umbrellas, the beer, the glasses, the coasters. … It’s been a good partnership. I’m just waiting for them to come to us and want to do a brewery and pizza place together!”
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
Less than three years removed from high school, childhood friends Mark Gold and Lou Siecinski moved from pizza-happy Detroit to Milwaukee to open a pizzeria. Twenty-six years later, Pizza Shuttle is one of the nation’s highest grossing single-store independents.
It’s a place many envy, yet, not a spot Gold and Siecinski reached by accident.
“Every decision we’ve made through the years has been critically evaluated, particularly in terms of ROI,” Gold says. “We know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”
Seasoned operators know it takes even more than a great pizza to attract guests and profits; it takes bold, strategic decisions in all areas of the business. Some of the nation’s top independent operators share the best practices that have spurred their success.
Among operators’ chief advice is to work smarter, not harder. Jeff Janik, head of Milton’s Pizza in Raleigh, North Carolina, has a saying: “Sometimes working hard makes you lazy.”
For many operators starting out, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Operators make pizzas, pay bills, greet customers, toss trash and extinguish various operational fires each day — all vital elements, Janik acknowledges, for a beginning operator hustling to survive.
“But if that’s all you do,” Janik says, “then you’re doing your business a disservice.”
In the early 1980s, Janik did the daily hustle, cooking the pizzas himself because it was easier than teaching someone else to do so. Over time, he learned to delegate some tasks with thorough training while focusing his efforts on building the restaurant with big-picture thinking.
“It was scary to make that leap,” Janik confesses, “but I had to step away from the daily grind and examine the areas of the business that could bring greater ROI. That’s how the business was going to grow.”
These veteran operators have also learned to differentiate their businesses. In 1993, when Gus Nassar purchased the seven year-old Rome’s Pizza in San Antonio, he noted the Texas city’s lack of any gourmet pizza options. A self-described foodie, Nassar jumped at the opportunity to be first to market.
Nassar added menu toppings such as spinach, artichokes, gyros meat, and sun-dried tomatoes, while simultaneously creating unique pizza combinations. His still-evolving menu remains inventive as well as popular, with some customers driving 45 minutes for a Rome’s pizza.
“I knew what the other pizzerias were offering and I was intent on being different and exciting,” Nassar says.
And while the temptation is there to work 24/7, many operators have learned to bring managers into the business. When Darryl Reginelli and Bruce Erhardt had just two Reginelli’s Pizza locations in New Orleans, one partner ran each establishment. When the partners opened a third location, they had to entrust daily operations to a manager. In quick time, that store faltered, prompting both Reginelli and Erhardt to relinquish their duties at the original outlets and focus on a third-store turnaround.
“The first two stores were successful because the product was good and we were present,” Reginelli says. “We had to find a way to make that model work at the third location.”
The turning point came when the partners handed their knowledge to the shift managers, eliminating the excuses and providing managers the ability to implement ideas within the framework of Reginelli’s business model, which included training, portioning, projections and budgets. It’s a decision that has proven fruitful, as Reginelli’s now has seven locations.
“The worst mistake is allowing employees with a diluted self interest to define policies and ignore the business’ needs,” Reginelli says. “The restaurant should run the same whether you’re there or not and, for us, that came about when we forced our managers to think more like operators.”
It’s also crucial to be a good neighbor. Over his 18 years in French Lick, Indiana, Dave Childers has worked to establish Chicago’s Pizza as the friendliest business in town, a reality his customers appreciate.
“I bring that ‘it-takes-a-village’ mentality to my business,” he says.
Churches and schools represent 90 percent of Childers’ advertising budget, as he offers a 30-percent discount for church and school-related functions, provides raffle prizes, auction items, and pizza for concessions. When a club, team or youth group requests a donation, Childers obliges every time.
“This has proven to have a much greater impact than blabbing my name on the radio,” he says. “People in town will say, ‘Go see Dave. He’ll take care of you.’ It creates such a positive buzz that people rally around us at this point.”
As an operator, keep in mind to handle only what’s in your control. In her 21 years operating Lillian’s Pizza in Pensacola, Florida, Lillian Walsh has endured hurricanes Ivan, Dennis and Katrina, the 2010 Gulf oil spill and a recession. It would be easy to point the finger and play the blame game, but Walsh doesn’t.
Rather, Walsh has analyzed and reanalyzed her business, consistently pursuing ways to attract and appease customers within the areas she can control.
When she moved into a more sizable spot across the street in 2005, for instance, she eliminated her lunch buffet, confident that the glossy new 225-seat eatery would pull in guests. After three years and a precipitous drop in lunch sales, she restored the lunch buffet in 2008. Lesson learned.
“We had to reverse course and bring the buffet back. It’s a lot of work, but we’ve dug in, made it happen and seen positive strides,” Walsh says.
When possible, cross-train staff for maximum efficiency. At Fargo’s Pizza in Colorado Springs, longtime GM Barry Manis trains staff in various operational areas; some veteran team members are capable of filling as many as five different positions.
With the ability to step into other operational areas and know the position’s requirements, cross-trained staff fills voids and responds to rushes while ensuring that labor remains active and engaged. In addition, Manis says, cross-trained staff creates labor savings and helps employees secure hours.
“This creates an efficient workplace and keeps employees involved, two definite keys to long-term success,” Manis says.
Ultimately, consistency wins. Central to the success of Northbrook, Illinois-based Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria has been a consistent product from year to year. While commodity prices have risen and trends have swayed, Lou Malnati’s has held the line on their 40-year-old winning formula, demanding consistency and stability from vendors in the process.
As others have added pineapple and chicken to their pizzas, for instance, Lou Malnati’s has investigated the possibilities, but rejected the additions given concerns over pizza standards.
“The critical decision for us has been to stick with what we know rather than trying to be everything to everyone,” Lou Malnati’s COO Jim D’Angelo says. “We do what we do and repeat it time and again. That’s the winning formula for us.”
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
STELLA ROSSA PIZZA BAR // SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA
To begin to try and define what makes good pizza might take years of in-depth research, highly elevated arguments and countless caloric consumption. And after all is said and done, you would still be where you started. Pizza varies from region to region, city to city, and even street to street. The best part about this is that everyone thinks that they have it correct. I remember sitting down with my partners and discussing what Stella Rossa Pizza Bar should be. We listed ideas, inspirations and goals on sheets of paper. Some were eventually crossed out, some were underlined and others highlighted. The end result? We created our own philosophy and style. Much of it was rooted in our own traditions and values, while leaving the door open for new.
While much of the pizza industry is traditionally associated with red checkered tablecloths and chianti bottles with slow burning candles for centerpieces, we set out not to recreate the pizzeria, but rather put our own spin on it. From the restaurant design to the food served and down to the vibe created, each part of Stella Rossa was intentionally thought of and then tested and retested. We wanted to create an approachable atmosphere that would not only be inviting to large parties of friends looking for great drinks and delicious pizza, but welcoming to first dates and single diners. We desired Stella Rossa to be a destination restaurant while still being your neighborhood joint. Ultimately, we strived to serve the best pizza we possibly could without any gimmicks and show. Needless to say, we had a lot of ambition.
I have taken an approach to pizza that I cannot say is absolutely original or unique, but is grounded in the years of experience I have had working in fine dining. This doesn’t mean that I’m creating pizzas with foie gras or caviar; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. I crave simplicity. It’s the hardest form of cooking that I have found or practiced. Simplicity means that there is nothing to hide behind. Each bite and every flavor needs to be at its best. We have gone to great lengths to pursue this idea. We have taken the time and energy to locally source quality ingredients, such as our flour, which is grown and milled nearby, and build relationships with local farmers. We have experimented and perfected our mixing and resting process for our dough, a process that takes about 30 hours. Additionally, we place our dough into individual containers to proof. This allows each of the boules to proof separately, consistently and to be the best it can possibly be each time a pizza is made.
I’ve spent much time thinking about what sets Stella Rossa Pizza Bar apart from other pizzerias and it keeps coming back to hard work and quality. Each day we have one goal in mind –– to take one thing and make it better. This goal has no parameters and can range from the food, to the service. If we keep this in mind, imagine what we will be in the years to come. However, the bigger question may be –– have we broken the mold from the everyday pizzeria? To answer this question is simple. We never started with a mold. We had an idea and we worked hard on it, and continue to do so. Our restaurant represents our values –– to make great food.
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
It’s February, and that means the folks in the International Pizza Expo offices are putting the finishing touches on the annual event that brings more than 6,000 pizzeria operators under one roof. Slated for Tuesday, March 1, through Thursday, March 3, the show –– now in it’s 27th year –– will be held in the Las Vegas Convention Center and includes a host of seminars, events, contests and a show floor designed to help pizzeria owners and operators boost or start their businesses. “This year we’re pulling out all the stops to make sure International Pizza Expo 2011 is the biggest and best show ever,” says Bill Oakley, vice president of Macfadden Protech LLC, the Expo’s parent company. “In fact, I’m pleased to announce that this will be the largest show ever in our 27-year history with more than 940 booths of pizza-related goods, equipment and services.” New to International Pizza Expo is a series of seminars for new and potential operators and first-time attendees. “Monday, February 28, is being designated as ‘New Operator Monday,’ ” Oakley says. “The best news is this new 5-hour educational program is free to registered attendees.” Industry insider and consultant Big Dave Ostrander will moderate a panel discussion answering questions from attendees. “The cards are stacked against you when you open a new restaurant, and there’s no need to go it alone,” Ostrander says. “You risk losing your life’s savings! I have 30 years of experience and have helped in hundred of (store) openings. I’m here to answer all your questions. It all comes down to why on earth would you not sit at the feet of someone who’s done it and made all the mistakes there are?” There are also several pre-show workshops available for attendees. Ostrander will host seminars for those hoping to open their own shops in the future and another on menu pricing. “We’ve also added a new dough workshop that will be conducted by Master Instructor Tony Gemignani. If you’ve never heard of him, then all you have to do is Google him and you’ll see why we’ve invited Tony to offer this brand new three-part dough-making program.” The costs for these additional workshops range from $150 to $325 per participant.
Sean Brauser, president of Ohio-based Romeo’s Pizza, will kick off the first day of the event with a keynote address on Tuesday, March 1. Brauser bought a single location and has grown his company to 31 stores with 600 employees in just under a decade. The keynote speaker on Wedneday, March 2, is Joe Fugere, founder of Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria in Seattle, Washington. Pizza Today named the company’s its 2010 Independent of the Year and Fugere, a former executive with Starbucks, will share his passion and wisdom with the industry. Following the keynote addresses, attendees will take part in business-boosting seminars beginning at 9 a.m. that address topics ranging from dealing with difficult employees to legal issues and taking advantage of gluten-free opportunities. “We’re expanding our educational program to include more than 80 business-boosting seminars and demonstrations,” Oakley says. “We’ve also lined up several new speakers, developed new topics and planned new events to make this the only show you’ll need to attend to find out about new trends, products and services in the pizza industry.”
The International Pizza Expo show floor will open for action at 10 a.m. on both days. At presstime, officials said there were 940 booths slated for the show with more than 400 companies exhibiting. The show floor is the place to source everything from olives and POS systems to new ovens. Several free seminars will be held in the demonstration area during the course of the show. Among the many topics are: using ricotta; making fresh mozzarella; expanding your menu; the art of making Neapolitan pizza and creating house-made sausage. Times vary on Wednesday and Thursday.
Pizza Today Publisher Pete Lachapelle and the Pizza Today staff will host the Beer & Bull Idea Exchange at 4:30 p.m. on both Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s here that operators ask crucial questions and discuss the critical business issues relevant to the industry. Additionally, the International Pizza Challenge is back this year with two divisions ––Traditional and Non-traditional. In the traditional category, contestants use their own dough and sauce but may use only two of the following toppings: pepperoni, sausage; bacon, ham, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, onions and olives. The Non-traditional division allows no restrictions on dough, cheeses or toppings used. Entries are judged on the basis of taste and appearance; and in the non-traditional division judging, creativity is also considered. All 60 contestant slots in each category were filled by the first week of January. Contestants will bake in regional heats with the winners –– including two wild cards –– announced following the completion of preliminaries. The regional winners will compete in the finals of their division on Thursday and the overall winners will receive a trophy and $10,000 each. First and second place from each category will compete in the 2011 Pizza Maker of the Year contest, a blind box bake-off with a mystery ingredient that all competitiors must use. The winner will be named the World Champion Pizza Maker and will receive an additional $5,000. New to the show this year is the Best of the Best Pizza Box Challenge. The first 50 boxes entered at the designated staging area will be pitted against each other for attendees votes. The winning box’s operator will receive a $500 cash prize.
The World Pizza Games return with six categories this year: freestyle acrobatics with masters and first (novice) divisions; largest dough stretch; fastest dough; fastest box folding and longest spin. Finalists will compete at the World Pizza Games Finals & Rockin’ Party on Wednesday, March 2, beginning at 6:15 p.m. The games are facilitated by the World Pizza Champions, a group of international award-winning pizzaiolos and dough tossers from across the country. Members include former International Pizza Challenge and World Pizza Games participants and winners.
International Pizza Expo concludes on Thursday, March 3, with the $20,000 MEGA BUCKS Giveaway. Attendees who visit sponsoring booths and enter their gamepieces are eligible for the contest –– but you must be present to win. “In the current economic environment, it’s more important than ever to discover new, innovative ways to boost profits and improve efficiencies,” Oakley says. “What are you doing to increase sales and reduce expenses? Do you have financing and cash flow issues? At this year’s Pizza Expo, you’ll find solutions to these problems and more.” Specifically designed for pizzeria owners and operators, there’s something for everyone at Pizza Expo, whether you’re an industry veteran or just opening your first store. u
Ask Thomas Marr if he launched his business with a massive advertising campaign, and he shakes his head and offers a slight smile. His company, Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza in Washington, D.C., is a well-branded concept. As for marketing, though, Marr keeps it basic. He prefers to divert his resources elsewhere.
“We try not to advertise too much,” says Marr. “We simply can’t get the value from advertising that larger companies can get. The larger guys can put out an ad and cover 300 stores with it, but that value isn’t there for us. We can’t get enough out of the ad to make it worthwhile.
“So instead, what we try to do is get involved in our local communities. We had a night recently where we gave 25 percent of our proceeds to a high school crew team. Basically, they advertised it to the whole school and the community list that they have. We got our name out there and got credit for the goodwill. Plus, a lot of people that didn’t know us came in and tried us out.
“Then, a couple of weeks ago I did a ‘Farm to School’ cooking demo for a local elementary school. I went there and put together one of our antipasti dishes for all the kids. I talked to them about the benefits of eating locally. We buy produce from a local, organic, co-op farm. So I told the kids about the farms, told them that there are several farms all around that provide fresh produce that is healthy.
Marr and his business partners also refrain from the discount game that pervades the pizza industry.
“When you discount your product,” says Marr, “I don’t know how much that is perceived in a positive way. I think people just say, ‘Oh, great ... wow. I get 10 percent off’.”
What customers at Pete’s New Haven look for, insists Marr, isn’t a cheap price, but a high-end twist on a comfort food. Before entering the pizza category, Marr was a fine-dining chef. He says people might be surprised at just how much the two sectors cross over. At least that’s how it works out at Pete’s, where Marr takes a from-scratch, quality-first approach.
“We caramelize our onions, for example,” says Marr. “There’s a lot of labor in getting in whole onions, peeling them, julienning them, and then cooking them for two hours in pots until we get them caramelized. We don’t just take onions and cut them up, or buy them already sliced and throw them on a pizza. We roast our peppers. Our mushrooms are a blend of wild mushrooms that are sauteed with herbs and garlic and oil.
“I’ve had plenty of people walk in here — higher end cooks from higher end restaurants — and they look at it as a part-time job. Then they come to me and say, ‘We cook more from scratch here than we do in the fine-dining restaurant that I work in at night.
“That’s what really helps us, though. We go that extra step. We only use all-natural ingredients. We only use antibiotic- and hormone-free dairy and meat products. We use china and glassware in the restaurants, and we use biodegradable to-go ware. Those are some of the big things we do to set ourselves apart.
“I mean, we really make pretty much everything in house. We make our own sausage, we grind the meats ourselves, we make our own gelato and desserts. We’re a casual restaurant — we’re just a quick-casual pizzeria — but we really focus on going that extra step.”
That thinking extends to the soda listing as well.
“We don’t use Coke or Pepsi or any of those products, because we don’t want high-fructose corn syrup,” says Marr. “We use an all-natural soda company.”
The menu at Pete’s, as the company’s name implies, is stocked with New Haven-style pizza. Salads, panini, pasta and house-made desserts also tempt diners.
The pizzas are mostly priced in the $18.95 to $24.95 range, though there is a $7.95 offering highlighted on the menu and designed to appeal to value-conscious consumers (it features soppressata, ricotta and mozzarella). Slices are a popular option as well, particularly at lunch ($2.50-$3.25).
“Most of the credit for our pizza goes to my partner (Joel Mehr — there’s also a third partner, Tri Nguyen),” says Marr. “His wife is from New Haven, and my wife’s family is from Connecticut as well. I never thought much about pizza in the general area, but when my partner came to me about opening a pizza place, we ended up coming together on a hybrid concept where we offer New Haven pizza, but do it in more of an Italian setting where we offer salads, pastas, panini and things like that on the menu.”
Marr adds that while he always wanted to own his own business, he knew he didn’t want to dabble with a fine-dining establishment.
“It’s the least profitable segment of our business,” he asserts. “And it’s the hardest hit in economic downturns. I’ve worked all over. I’ve worked in these places, and I’ve seen it.” u
Jeremy White is editor-in-chief at Pizza Today.
METRO PIZZA // LAS VEGAS, NV
In 1970, Pogo, a famous and beloved cartoon character, uttered the phrase, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” While the reference was made with regards to man’s negative impact on the environment, those words certainly
apply to today’s pizza industry as well.
In my conversations with pizzeria
operators around the country, I am always asked the same question: “How much do you charge for a pie?” Invariably, my answer is this: “As much as I need to.” That typically invokes a follow-up question regarding the competition. To that, I quote a statement from the menu of renowned pizzaiolo Anthony Mangieri: “ I have no quarrel with the man who charges less for his pizza … he knows what his is worth.” I believe that one of the greatest challenges for independent pizzeria operators is hidden in that statement. We all must know what our product is worth.
All too often, our primary marketing tools involve some sort of giant discount. Even the most experienced operators forget the most basic rule: Low price alone is not an indication of value. In truth, value is a ratio of price to quality. You can have the lowest prices in town and still be a lousy deal. More importantly for independent operators, you can have higher prices and still be the best value — if you offer the very best food and service.
One thing is certain, however: you cannot be the best and the cheapest if you intend to stay in business. Over the last several years, the major chains have done our industry a huge disservice. They have turned an artisan product into a commodity. The $5 large pizza creates the illusion that all pizzas are created equal. Furthermore, it sets the bar so low that it becomes impossible for any of us to earn a fair profit for our work.
The large chains have staked out the low end for themselves. Fine. I say, “Let them have it.”
It is time for pizza makers to understand that what we do has real value. As independent operators, we must resist turning towards the discount game as an easy fix for sales challenges. Every time a piece of advertising goes out that stresses low-priced pizzas, we diminish the value of what we do.
Engaging in a price war is a fatal exercise. Your rivals buy ingredients by the trainload. They function with a core of low-paid employees. They make the best real estate deals for prime locations and they have collective advertising power that can’t be matched.
So, how do we compete? Ironically, Sam Walton, the biggest of all big boys, provided an answer when asked what he would do if he were a small
retailer and Wal-Mart came to town. His answer: Specialize and concentrate on giving a level of quality and service that the big chains can’t match.
As independent operators, it is essential that we dictate the rules of engagement. The best part of this is that once you have made the commitment to compete on quality and service instead of price, your life will become much easier. Every decision that you make will be based on only one question: Will this improve the experience at my pizzeria?
Calculate what it costs you to provide a world-class pizza experience, and then add in a fair profit margin. There’s your price point. From there, let those other guys worry about how they are going to compete against the best pizza experience in town.u
Established in 1994, Cornerstone Pizza is owned and operated by my partner, Dave Shearn, and me. Cornerstone is a small delco shop that specializes in pan-baked pizza. On December 28, 2010, I received a call from a customer at the Philadelphia airport. She said, “How fast can you get 50 pizzas to the airport? Can you get them by 2 p.m.?”
Mind you, it was 1 p.m. I asked if she could give me until 2:30, and she agreed. Still, it was going to be a tall task. I began by entering the order in our system when she requested: “We need another 100 pizzas around 6:30 tonight.” As soon as I hung up the phone, we began to rip out 50 pizzas. Our manager, Keith Allen, called in off-duty employees. That initial order of 50 was delivered on time, as promised. But getting the next 100 pizza order out on time was going to be a challenge since we had to get new dough ready for same-day use.
Once we made the dough, we allowed it to rest at room temperature for a few hours (covered, of course) to speed up the proofing time. Then, we sheeted it into the pans and gave it 60 to 90 minutes to further proof before baking. With our crew coming in earlier than usual, we were functioning like a well-oiled machine. But more orders were pouring in due to a rescheduled NFL game. I assisted with the delivery at 6:30 p.m. to express our appreciation. To my surprise, she wanted another 300 pizzas delivered the next day: 150 at 10 a.m., 150 at 6:30 p.m.
While I was excited about the orders, we had a problem: it was 7 p.m., and we had gone through all the flour in the shop. We had an order coming in on Wednesday, but not before noon. We called another pizza shop in town and they were gracious enough to lend us three bags of flour. In the meantime, I called our food supplier sales rep at 8 p.m. to explain that we needed product ASAP the next morning. His response showed me just how dedicated he is to good customer service. Not only did he say, “No problem,” but he went to the plant first thing in the morning and filled his personal vehicle with flour, sauce and cheese. He dropped it off at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday night, a couple of us stayed into the wee hours prepping for Wednesday. I returned at 5 a.m. to find one of my valued employees, Kamal, still there making sauce and prepping various items for Wednesday’s normal business. He had been there since 1 p.m. Tuesday. The morning order of 150 pizzas went out without a hitch. Then, around noon, our customer stopped in at the shop and asked to add 30 pizzas to the evening order of 150. She also asked us to repeat both orders again Thursday — 150 pizzas at 10 a.m., 180 at 6:30 p.m.
Again, distributors replenished our supplies. We even had to fill blanks in the inventory at the grocery store. With much help from our cooks and delivery drivers, we successfully completed all the orders. Believe me, it took some managerial juggling to make sure our regular business was not neglected. Our entire crew stepped up big-time. They worked extra hours, they came in early, they stayed late ... you name it.
Local newspapers and our ABC affiliate covered our big order, which resulted in Cornerstone receiving a lot of good publicity. You can find the stories at our Web site, www.cornerstonepizza.com.
As I wrote this column two months later, we were still experiencing quite an upswing in business as a result of the publicity we received. It has been quite a ride.
My Turn is a monthly guest column. This installment is written by James Villas, founder of Cornerstone Pizza. If you are interested in submitting your own column, e-mail Jeremy White [email@example.com] and let him know what you want to say and what qualifies you to say it!
Photo by Rick Daugherty
2011 marks the 150th anniversary of Italian unification. As anyone who has ever driven a car in Naples can tell you, it has taken a while for reality to catch up with Giuseppe Garibaldi’s noble vision.
The fact is that Italy has always been a land of individualism — and this is particularly true of culinary traditions. Every region (every village, in fact) seems to have its own hotly debated and fiercely protected cooking styles and dishes. Is it any wonder that this trait was continued and expanded when the first pizza makers immigrated to the new world? In truth, it can be said that the only hard and fast rule in pizza making is that every pizzaiolo is convinced their way is the best.
When my cousin, Sam Facchini, and I moved to Las Vegas to open our first pizzeria in 1980, we had a world view that was typical of Brooklyn born pizza-makers of that time: New York was the culinary center of America, and any variation other than New York style pizza was irrelevant. With this in mind we named our first business “The Original New York Pizza.” Imagine our surprise when the first customer walked in to our shop and asked for “a thin pizza with no edge, cut in squares” and proclaimed that, as a Chicago native, he knew that this was “the way a pizza is supposed to be.” This guest was immediately followed by a customer who requested a thick-crust pizza with a rolled edge and a side of honey to dip the crust in, “you know…the way they do it in Colorado.” We quickly realized that our plan to provide New York style pizza to “deprived” Las Vegans needed a revision. People were moving to Las Vegas from all over the world, and it became obvious that just as in the old country, everyone had very strong opinions and sentimental attractions to their local pie. In response, we changed our business name to Metro Pizza and began modifying our menu to reflect the unique demographics of our city and our commitment to offering our guests a slice of home — wherever home might be.
Over time we became adept at recognizing a guests’ place of origin by what they ordered. If a guest asked for “ah-beetz with clams,” we knew they had a special connection to New Haven, Connecticut. Searching for “pepperoni rolls” meant the customer most likely came from West Virginia. If a patron requested “tomato pie” we would reply, “OK, will it be the Philly-style in a pan, or the Trenton, New Jersey, variation which is similar to a New York-style pizza, but with the sauce on top of the cheese?” Rather than debate the customers about which pizza was best or most “traditional” it became our mission to learn, embrace and honor the unique place that pizza holds in the hearts and memories of our customers.
As our business and our menu evolved, several factors emerged and validated our instinct to expand our pizza repertoire. For example, the most influential developments in our industry in the past few decades have been the Internet and the growing variety of cooking and travel shows on television. While in the past, our customers’ preferences were determined mostly by their childhood exposure to a local pizza variation, today’s guests are constantly reading about and seeing interesting variations that offer us incredible opportunities to expand our menu and increase our customer counts. Diversifying your pizza offerings will not only draw transplanted customers hungry for a taste of home, it will also bring in culinary adventurers and well travelled guests seeking to re-create the pizza experiences they have heard about or enjoyed elsewhere.
While champion pizza maker Tony Gemignani has chosen to offer many of the world’s most prominent pizza variations at his San Francisco-based Tony’s Pizza Napoletana and his fledgling New York-based outpost 900 Degrees, it may be best to offer only a few types based on an evaluation of your market and needs. With so many different pizza styles to choose from, how do you decide which variations are right for your pizzeria? I have found that the most important factors are equipment, service style, ingredient availability, staffing and training.
Some of the more unique pizza variations demand specific ovens and mixers to create authentic renditions. Obviously, New York-style coal-fired pizza must be baked in a coal oven. Does a Roman style pizza, which is up to a meter long and is often cut with scissors and sold by weight, have to be baked in an electric oven? Many of Chicago’s great pan pizza landmarks insist on using a rotating or revolving deck oven, yet years ago my kitchen visit to the original Pizzeria Uno revealed that they were baking outstanding pizzas in well used standard deck ovens.
It is important to consider flexibility. Your beautiful wood-burning oven may be perfect for classic Neapolitan style or even California-style pizza, but will probably be much too hot if you want to offer Sicilian-style pan pizza as well.
What about service? You may love the idea of walking up to a window in New York and ordering a thin, crispy slice of pizza like John Travolta did in the opening of Saturday Night Fever, but unless you are in an area that has the foot traffic of Brooklyn, pizza by the slice may not be right for you.
Largely, pizza variations evolved in response to social influences. While you may have a great recipe for Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, your customers may be unwilling to wait 40 minutes to get one. You must also consider the effect that offering this type of pie will have on your table turns. Many Chicago pizzerias evolved from taverns, where the objective was to keep customers in the establishment all night. Pizza makers in Naples want the pizzas to cook in 90 seconds so they can serve you and make room for the next customer. Even climate can affect the type of pizzas that will be popular: In Las Vegas, with extreme summer temperatures, we find that sales of heavier stuffed pizza will slow down while sales of lighter fare such as pizza margherita may increase. To that end, you may want to consider offering different pizza varieties on a seasonal basis. Just keep in mind that you must determine the economic goals of your pizzeria, your clientele and the limits of your facility when selecting the styles that you will offer.
Also keep in mind that different types of pizza require very specific ingredients. What you stock is going to be influenced by availability and space considerations. You may want to offer St. Louis style pizza, but unless Provel cheese (a blend of Swiss, white cheddar and provolone) is available in your area, that may not be a viable option. It is also possible that demand may not justify taking up space on your cook line or in your walk in cooler. In some cases certain ingredients may not be available because of health code restrictions. While bromated flour is the choice in New York, it is not widely available on the West Coast. That is why, over time, we have developed a basic dough that can be modified with various fermentation and shaping techniques to provide a broad range of pizza options.
As with any element of your restaurant, success is largely going to be dictated by staff training and education. Once you have determined which styles are right for you, your pizza makers and servers are going to need to be immersed in the history and rationale behind each pizza type. This can be an exciting journey that should include tastings, classes and even field trips for key employees so that they can experience the authentic pizza versions in their place of origin. Over the years we have taken dozens of employees to visit pizzerias that we admire and feel exemplify a particular pizza style. We also hold frequent tastings with long time customers who are invited to share their early pizza memories with our staff as a way of educating our employees and reinforcing the special connection people have with their hometown pies.
The pizza landscape is rapidly changing. Consumers are more adventurous and more knowledgeable. It is inevitable that more enterprising pizzamakers are going to begin offering a selection of pizza variations in order to stimulate customer interest.
Each year, International Pizza Expo brings thousands of pizza makers with diverse backgrounds to Las Vegas to showcase their talents and teach the unique methods of their specific pizza renditions. Once-hidden secrets and information about little known regional variations can now be easily accessed. By offering a variety of regional pizzas you can keep your guests and your staff engaged in the diverse world of pizza, honor our craft and keep your pizzeria vibrant, exciting and profitable.
John Arena is co-owner of Metro Pizza in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is also an adjunct instructor at the University of Nevada, where he teaches a class on the culture of pizza.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
This is the greatest pizza in the world.” That was the mantra that my dad, Dick, repeated to my three brothers and me as kids growing up in New Haven, Connecticut. Sally’s Apizza on Wooster Street was our place. Dick, a lifelong New Haven resident, ate there as a child going back to 1938 when Sally’s first opened its doors. And this is where it all started for me — my love for New Haven pizza and my desire to have it in Chicago, my home since 1983.
New Haven pizza earned its reputation from the Neapolitan-style pies baked in the hot brick ovens at Sally’s, Pepe’s and Modern Apizza, arguably the area’s holy trinity. At these places, hand-formed “pies”— or apizza, pronounced “ah-beetz” — are shoveled in and out of the ovens on long wooden peel boards. They are chewy and crisp, with just the right amount of bright fresh sauce, mozzarella (“mutz”) and toppings. Toppings are not piled on with a heavy hand, but added carefully and in a lighter quantity to enable the customer to taste and enjoy the wonderful fresh flavors. It’s addictive stuff. Slices from a large pizza are thin tapering triangles, different from the fat wedges you get in a New York slice. Every slice can and should be held in your hand, pinched in at the crust, and eaten with gusto, your other hand supporting the floppy point of the triangle. This is tasty, no-nonsense food eaten communally from an 18-inch by 26-inch metal pan lined with paper. A knife and fork is somewhat of a faux pas — unless you are the Queen of England.
Unlike in New York, New Haven pizza is sold only as a whole pizza, not by-the-slice.
While the majority of pies have the traditional red sauce and mozzarella, two styles of pizza are indigenous to New Haven: the plain pie and the white pie. The original pizza was the plain (or “tomato”) pie. This pizza comes with fresh tomato sauce, a little garlic and a smattering of good flavorful Parmesan. It does not have mozzarella. It’s a subtle, delicious classic that harkens back to the early days of New Haven pizza making, when a pizza, according to my dad, cost twenty five cents for a small at Sally’s.
The white pie, “Bianca” in New Haven, is light, moist and full of flavor, made with an olive-oil base, topped with mozzarella, Parmesan and toppings. The white clam pizza is also a New Haven classic, often using native New England clams.
In July of 2001 I opened Piece, my pizzeria/brewpub in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. Life as a food industry entrepreneur was nothing new to me. Prior to Piece, my brothers Andy, Pete and I had developed a chain of bagel restaurants, Jacobs Bros. Bagels, from 1983-1999. Fresh out of college, we had moved to Chicago after identifying it as a market sorely in need of the great authentic bagels you find in the Northeast. Over the years, we never stopped craving New Haven pizza, searching for something similar but finding only the deep-dish style that Chicago had been known for. So after selling the bagel business, I seized the opportunity, putting together a business plan to bring New Haven pizza and outstanding micro-brewed beer (which we brew in-house) to Chicago. I wanted to fill the astounding void for top-notch thin-crust pizza, which was missing from this world-class city.
Naysayers everywhere chanted a new mantra to me: “You’re crazy!” Bring an East Coast thin-crust pizza to the very Midwest birthplace of deep-dish, and then call it New Haven style? But remember: I grew up eating the greatest pizza in the world. I knew in my heart that if I could serve a pie that came anywhere close to that, even die-hard deep-dish devotees would nod in approval.
With help from a childhood friend who was baking pizza in New Haven, combined with my bagel business background, we opened our doors to a warm reception. It certainly helped to have employed two girls from MTV’s “The Real World: Chicago,” whose house was fortuitously located across the street. The pizza was good, but frankly not as consistently good as it is today. And the beer has always been fantastic, thanks to our brilliant award-winning brewmaster Jonathan Cutler.
When we opened, our customers were curious about this pizza marketed as New Haven style. Unless you were from Connecticut or had some tie to the area, this New Haven pizza thing was completely foreign, never heard of. But we’ve been fortunate with the success of Piece, and today, thanks in no small measure to the foodies, their blogs and forums, the Travel Channel and the Food Network, New Haven pizza is rightfully recognized here. Chicagoans embrace it.
Today, between Piece and our adjacent delivery and take-out space, Piece Out, we sell an average of 3,600 hand-made pizzas each week. Sales continue to grow even as we hit our 10th year.
If you saw last month’s issue of Pizza Today, then you know the magazine named Piece the 2011 Independent Pizzeria of the Year. The question I’m sure you have is: “how did we do it?”
I think our success is tied to a number of factors. For one, we have remained focused on our core product. With the exception of a couple of salads and several appetizers, the menu is all about the pizza. No wings. No mozzarella sticks. Just hand-formed, made-to-order New Haven pizza. And beer.
Our location helps. People love the still-somewhat edgy and artsy Wicker Park neighborhood. And the premises themselves are impressive, situated within an old industrial bow-truss building with exposed wooden trusses and a thirty-five foot high open ceiling lined with skylights. It’s a great space with a really fun vibe.
Service is also key. Piece has trainers and training programs for every area of the operation. Our managers, servers, bartenders, bakers, dough makers, hosts and phone-order takers are the face of the company and the engine that makes the business run. Our staff retention is terrific. After 10 years of operation, we continue to employ members of our original staff.
While we do not spend much money on running print ads, we market actively at the point-of purchase on tables, banners, posters in bathrooms, and on pizza boxes. We are active on Twitter, Facebook and our Web site. Our marketing has a witty sensibility to it, and we keep the same tone in all of our materials. This approach, combined with the memorable Piece logo, has effectively built a well-respected and recognized brand in Chicago.
Beer sales in U.S. restaurants rose by 9 percent last year.
According to American Heritage, the number of American pizza parlors grew from 500 in 1934 to 20,000 in 1956.
Last month’s International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas concluded with a $20,000 giveaway to one lucky attendee.
/// Places That Rock // Green Zone Pizza / Mia's Pizza / Buck & Johnny's Pizzeria
Green Zone Pizza
17008 Kercheval Street
Grosse Pointe, Michigan
Green Zone’s carbon footprint is treading lightly. Its eco-friendly location features walls made of sustainable bamboo, LED lights and a counter made from recycled bottles. It even has a hybrid delivery car. The company has applied for LEED certification (and, if granted, it will be the first LEED-certified pizzeria in Michigan). The menu itself is teeming with environmentally friendly components. Most ingredients are local; meats are all natural with no steroids; and produce is pesticide free. Signature pizzas include the Michigan Cherry BBQ Chicken with free-range chicken, cherry bbq, red onions and mozzarella ($18 for a large) and the Michigan Shrimp Pizza with Michigan farm raised roasted shrimp, cilantro pesto, roasted peppers, spinach and mozzarella ($19 for a large).
4926 Cordell Avenue
Mia’s owner, Melissa Ballinger, has earned acclaim as a top-notch chef in the Washington, D.C. metro area. With 19 small-plate options, Mia’s offers a twist to traditional appetizers with dishes like deviled eggs (which have made a noteworthy resurgence in recent years) and cauliflower fritti for $5 each. Nightly specials that promote entrée dishes highlight the menu including a “Meat Free Monday” feature. Mia’s wood-fired pizzas range from a littleneck with clams in the shell, garlic, capers, spicy sprinkles and Parmesan at $14 to the alsace with pancetta, caramelized onions, gruyere, parmesan and thyme at $13. Beside the usual, Mia’s kid’s menu also features a unique item: a fruit plate at $4.
Buck & Johnny’s Pizzeria
100 Berard Street
Breaux Bridge, Louisiana 70517
Buck & Johnny’s sits in a small town just outside of Lafayette, Louisiana, which has put itself on the map as a culinary capital in the South. Opened in 2010, the pizzeria brings that same flare to an old building that formerly housed an auto dealership and garage. In keeping with that ambiance, oil can light fixtures and tin signs accentuate the dining room. Second story balcony seating overlooks the entire restaurant. It offers an eclectic menu with pies sliced into squares. Buck & Johnny’s has garnered kudos for putting gator on its menu. The Bayou Blast includes red sauce, cheddar, alligator sausage, taco, shrimp, crawfish, jalapenos and onions at $22.50 for a 14-inch. Another Louisiana specialty pizza is the Muffuletta with garlic herb oil, provolone, mortadella, salami, capricola, marinated olives and sesame seed at $22.50 for a 14-inch.
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.
Destination - Independence
BY STEVE RENKE
Twenty five years ago, I was a senior at Northern Valley Old Tappan High School, in NJ. I was a football player, skier, and very social. I had my entire life ahead of me, the world at my feet so to speak. Unlike many of my friends, heading off to college, I had different plans.
Entrepreneurship was on my horizon. I wanted to be independent, I chose to be a Pizzaman and decided to buy a pizzeria with two other partners; I could only invest a small portion which worked out to a 25% share in the business. The timing of the purchase, in fact, required me to provide my school with a note from my attorney, so that I would have an excused absence to attend my real estate closing. It was all a blur; I worked day and night to get the store ready. Every day I went to school, and then straight to work at the pizzeria, and then right after my graduation, I was working full-time. Like many of you reading this, I’m sure you can relate, I worked constantly, I only went home to sleep, and my social life was my business. The pizzeria provided me with everything, including a few headaches at times.
Two years later, when many of my friends were finishing their sophomore year in college, I finally saved up enough money and bought out my two partners. I was now the owner of my own destiny – a pizzeria, in a small town in New Jersey, just outside of New York City. I was on my own, and it was the best feeling ever. Here, I met my wife Moira, and began to grow roots, not only with a family, but in a community where I am known as Steve, the Pizzaman. This little business that I ventured into was now catapulting me into a life that I may have never known.
Over the years, I have changed, and so has my business, as the market has demanded it. I have learned so much, sometimes the hard way. The original business plan was pizzas, and a few traditional Italian dinners, but in the 90s I saw the opportunity to capitalize on the school/education market which gave me a larger customer base. In the early 2000s my customers wanted more; they were looking for gourmet pizzas, and dinners and I gave it to them. They were also looking for healthier options and I started to offer whole wheat pasta, pizza and even gluten-free pizza. This was the way to appeal to many more, while not increasing costs.
It has not been easy, I continue to look at every invoice, compare costs, and do my best to keep my overhead down, which many times meant working more, but offering a quality product was more important to me. I have seen the market rise, and fall and recently with the economy the way it is, my customers have been affected drastically. How have I survived? I have been able to change with my customers’ needs…..and the market.
In 2009 we rebranded ourselves, from Pizza Express to Demarest Pizzeria. We now do more catering, and continue to offer quality products, and I have also been contracted by local pools and sports programs to run their concession stands. I continue to advertise in print, and utilize Social Media ~ which is great! We now have a Facebook fan page which continues to grow every day.
You may wonder if I would change anything — NOPE, if I had to do it all over again, I would not change a thing, just with fewer mistakes. I will continue to know all of my customers by first name, will know their children’s names, and watch them grow up, and at the same time relish in my family’s growth! My wife and I now have three beautiful children, and if I had not owned the pizzeria, I may have never met my best friend. The best advice I can give, is love what you do, and be willing to change! I love being a PIZZAMAN!
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
When you’re located in a large metropolis, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. Luckily, Los Angeles-based Fresh Brothers is not just a standout in the pizza industry but also in the bustling central California restaurant landscape. Since its inception in late 2007, the company has grown to six stores with sales of more than $8 million. Sure they’ve got high volume, but their noteworthy leadership skills and successful operations have garnered the company national attention –– including our 2012 Independent Pizzeria of the Year award.
Adam and Debbie Goldberg, along with Adam’s brother, Michael, launched their first store in June 2008 following careers in television, but they didn’t enter the pizza business blind. Adam and Michael’s brother, Scott, owns Miller Pizza Company in northwest Indiana, and Adam and Michael based their core menu and pizza recipes on their brother’s. They tweaked it for central California, however, and placed a greater emphasis on fresh salads and wings. Today, the company has six stores in the L.A. area with two more slated to open by the end of 2012. Sales are expected to weigh in at just over $8 million this year and are projected for more than $10 million in 2013.
When coming up with a concept, why pizza? The Goldbergs noted a lack of upscale fast-casual pizza in their market, and having the support of their family made the career transition easier. “The big reason, for me, was because I thought I could spend more time with my family and my kids to be an owner-operator business with the intention of growing,” Adam says. “Our business plan was to open five stores in two years, and we ended up doing five stores in about 28 months.”
Fresh Brothers proves that a menu doesn’t have to be large to generate high volume. The focus remains on pizzas, salads and wings even as they expand, Adam says, “and we’ve made the ordering process easy. That’s very important. People can call us here who have never seen our menu and order a pizza.”
They make dough at their Manhattan Beach store and transfer it daily to the other units. “That’s a big end of quality control –– to make sure the consistency of the pizzas (is) the same from store to store,” Michael says. Sauce is made in-house, and in a bit of ingenuity, Fresh Brothers offers a secondary sauce for kids (offered at the cost of an additional topping) that includes a blend of vegetables mixed into the pizza sauce. The idea was even featured on the syndicated talk show “The Doctors” in a discussion on whether pizza was an appropriate menu item in schools. (Fresh Brothers has school contracts to supply pizza to several school districts.) “When we were coming up with the concept, we looked at everything from the perspective of a parent,” Debbie says. “I think our most powerful customer is the mom, and this is one thing that parents just love.”
Like most pizzerias, pepperoni and cheese top the list of bestsellers, but Da Works (Sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers and onion) and the Fresh Vegetable (fresh green peppers, onions, mushrooms, green and black olives) are favorite specialty pizzas.
“We bake everything –– nothing’s fried here,” Michael says. “Our fries, our wings –– everything’s baked. It goes right through the pizza oven.”
The company even hand-chops the vegetables for its popular salad offerings, which is based off a salad bar concept without the self-service, making it easier for the customer and faster for the stores. “We have a 40-item salad table, and we give people the opportunity to create their own salad,” Adam says. “People can choose how they want their salad –– tossed or chopped, do they want the dressing tossed in or on the side –– and (what exact) ingredients. Of course along side of that we have seven other set staples –– our Fresh Market, our Farmer’s Market, our Cobb … but I really enjoy making salads, though, and there (are) very few salad bars out there anymore that aren’t Bristol Farms or Whole Foods that you walk out at 14 bucks a piece. We wanted to do a fair-priced fresh salad.”
Debbie says part of Fresh Brothers’ salad appeal is that they go beyond the Iceberg lettuce and stringed carrots found at many contemporary restaurants. “We knew we could really set ourselves apart,” she says, by offering salad ingredients like hearts of palm, pepperoncini, avocado, fresh eggs and a variety of dressings.
Menuing items beyond pizza would require better packaging, and “we chose nice, clear plastic bowls,” Adam says. “We grew up eating salad in a bowl, not in a Styrofoam container. We thought that was real important as part of the marketing so you can actually see the fresh salad when you were handed it.”
While pizza makes up a significant portion of sales (up to 95 percent), “on a Friday or Saturday night at all of our locations, anywhere from 65 to 80 percent of our salads go with a pizza,” Adam says.
Vendor deliveries four times a week ensure freshness, and smart ordering and reducing waste keeps their food costs manageable. “We’ve actually found that we’ve made our ... walk-in cooler smaller, which forces us to order (product) more,” Michael says. “We’ve found that if we shrink down that walk-in cooler, it really makes you think how your product control is.”
“We’ve also pushed and negotiated with our food purveyors to give us multiple deliveries,” Adam adds. “They don’t want to do it. When you’re a one-store unit ... your terms are not nearly as good. You don’t have that credit yet. They only want to drop once a week.”
And when Fresh Brothers couldn’t source what they needed locally, they weren’t afraid to ship in product, such as the giardiniera they buy from a Chicago company. “We could not find a good giardiniera out here,” Adam says, “so we ended up shipping it by the five-gallon bucket. Now we bring it in by the pallet. We get one to two pallet loads at a time.”
They added gluten-free pizza to their repertoire after finding that many residents in their market had switched not only out of necessity but also as a lifestyle change. Michael says it took trying out six to eight different crusts before finding one that best replicated their thin-crust. “We now sell over a thousand of those pizzas a week,” he says. “We have our own menu dedicated to it, and it’s a big part of our business. The wonderful part of our gluten-free menu is that we’ve been able to bring families together to eat at our restaurants or to eat (pizza) at home because they couldn’t before. Johnny had a food allergy, so Mom and Dad stopped eating pizza. Now they can order a pizza for Johnny and a regular pizza for themselves, and everything that goes with it.”
They have a strict training program that educates employees on the gluten-free process. The crust comes from a vendor in a sealed box, “and we don’t want to say that we make it, because it’s a lot safer that we don’t,” Adam adds. They have a whole set-up in their walk-in cooler dedicated to making gluten-free pizza including separate products, tools and packaging. Boxes are taped shut for delivery or carryout so gluten-free customers feel secure in knowing their product hasn’t been tampered with.
Debbie adds that the addition of a non-dairy vegan cheese alongside the gluten-free menu has been “life-changing” for some customers who have not been able to enjoy pizza of any kind. “Being able to offer those has been very rewarding,” she says.
They test-marketed beer and wine at one location, but the upcoming Santa Monica store will have a full beer and wine selection, and future locations will offer it as well. Adding that component has been hindered by the size of their locations and current laws mandating bathroom sizes for restaurants with bars, but it’s not a large part of Fresh Brothers’ business. “A lot of it is just the demographics that we’re in,” Adam says. “Our model is based on a pick-up and delivery service, which is what we’re sticking to, but with our second unit, we found that when we put about 24 seats inside, all of our restaurants have communal seating outside as well, so we take advantage of that outdoor seating. In California, we have about 320 days a year that we can use that seating. We’ll always have some kind of seating in there. … A lot of it just comes down to the cost of real estate. We’d rather get more pizzas into people’s houses on the pick-up or
delivery side than have to pay for a larger space.” Delivery accounts for about 55 percent of sales across the chain. Michael spent 25 years in the trucking industry and brings that operations experience to the business. Managing the delivery side has been done through use of their POS system, and they say training helps expedite the high delivery volume. “We’ll have anywhere from four to 10 drivers, depending on location, working at one time,” Michael says.
Part of Fresh Brothers’ success lies in its infrastructure, starting with a director of operations who oversees a team of 12 managers. The company employs 255 people and like most restaurants, retention is crucial to smooth operations. “We’re honest (with employees),” Michael says. “We respect them. We’ve given a lot of people their first jobs just from walking in, right out of high school or while they’re in high school. Our management team, we train them very well and we watch what’s going on. I think it all comes down to respect, though. If you respect them, they’ll respect you back.”
Adam adds that since the company was founded as a family business, they try to extend that relationship to
employees. “We want them to feel, at the end of the night, that they had a good day at work,” he says. “They’re going back home to their families, and we want their families to feel good about where their kids are working.”
“Our retention is very good,” Michael adds. “We have original employees at our Manhattan (Beach) store who have been with us since the start. And, we have original employees who have moved up through the system. We have always put that goal out there for people if they are interested. Our management team probably consists of 50-50 coming from within or coming from the outside.”
The Goldbergs remain visible in their stores as much for the employees’ sake as for their customers. “The one thing you can’t put on paper is the attitude that you give to your customers and your employees,” Adam says. “They’re able to pick that up from Michael and I and Debbie, (and) when our brother, Scott, comes out or when our father, Gary, comes out. They see how we work and how we deal with people and how important it is to kind of duplicate that.”
Back-of-the-house functions such as payroll are kept out of the stores so managers can focus on day-to-day operations. They rely heavily on their POS system for daily ordering reports, which helps them stay on top of their food and labor costs. “That is a big part of our success,” Adam says, “to make sure that we’re on top of those numbers, even down to making sure our credit cards batch each night and the banks have receipts.”
“There’s no way we could be at six stores if we were sitting up at night cutting paychecks or trying to reconcile our bank accounts,” Michael adds.
Despite six stores and their planned future growth, Fresh Brothers’ owners remain active on a daily basis. Jumping from two stores to three was the most challenging –– Adam and Michael joked that since there were no brothers left to take the next store, they’d have to rely on outside help for management, and giving up that control –– even with 15- to 16-hour days –– was difficult at first. After six stores, though, “it surprises me every time I’m sitting in a store and I see someone park their car, come in and get a pizza and walk out to go home,” Adam says. “It’s the greatest feeling I have, and not that I should be surprised –– because that’s exactly the idea of owning a restaurant –– but four years later, I get such a kick out of knowing that that dad just came over to pick up a pizza to go home and feed his kids.”
With units now covering more territory in the L.A. market, Fresh Brothers has turned its attention to extensive marketing. Even with its first store, emphasis was placed on direct mail and print, and “a very big part of our marketing is through social media, as well as Internet sites,” Adam says.
More stores covering a larger area requires more advertising, and “we’ve sprung into radio in the No. 2 market in the country (and) we have three billboards throughout Los Angeles,” Adam says. “It all ties in. We have people who live in Calabasas and (work) in Beverly Hills. They order for their office at one location, and on Friday night, they can order food for their family at another. That’s the real key to our growth and building the brand, and that’s why consistency is so important, because many of our customers eat at more than one Fresh Brothers.”
Aside from in-store branding –– everything, right down to the napkin holders carries the Fresh Brothers logo –– they also have a “Fresh Fan Club” and “we’ve absolutely taken the
approach that it costs us less to bring in our current customers than to bring in new customers,” Adam says, but “we do both. We have marketing geared toward our loyal members who like to eat our food on a regular basis (and) to those who have never tried our food. And how do we get them?
“Our No. 1 secret is sampling our food. It’s where most of our marketing budget goes to on a monthly basis. We will spend upwards of $10- to $15,000 a month in giving away free food.”
All the stores with the exception of the Manhattan Beach location, which doesn’t have the walk-in traffic of the others, samples anywhere from 5 to 15 pizzas a day. An employee hands out one-by-two inch slices one customer at a time. It encourages people who might have seen the company’s billboard or heard their advertisement to put a taste to the name, and it also reinforces the brand for current customers and
encourages them to try something other than their usual cheese or pepperoni pizza.
Debbie coordinates the company’s social media and “in keeping with the idea that Michael and Adam are in-store every day –– at least one of them is walking around –– it is me talking to our customers,” she says. “We don’t farm it out. I know our customers through our Facebook page. I know who I’m tweeting with. I think that’s amazing, and that’s really unique. I think that’s where a lot of people go wrong.”
The team personally handles complaints through their Web site and social media, and five customers are called each day to get feedback and offer a discount for their next order. If the customer had a bad experience, that is expedited to an owner for follow-up and a promise to make the order right. Catering orders are also followed-up on in the afternoons after delivery.
“We encourage our management team to write up a gift certificate request for even the smallest mistake or issue that happens,” Adam says. “For instance, somebody orders an additional ranch dressing with their order of chicken wings, but they only got one and they call and we learn about it. We want to know about that, and we’re going to acknowledge that with a letter to them and give them a little something to get them to come back in next time. It’s all about that customer retention.”
They launched apps for iPhone and Android smartphones this year and offer a 10-percent discount just for using those. “We’re trying to draw them to that web ordering or app ordering because somewhere down the line, we’re going to start seeing the percentages change, and we can start reducing our labor,” Michael says.
An additional benefit to smartphone and Internet orders? “We see about a 10- to 15-percent increase per ticket,” Adam adds. Folks who might just order a pizza on the telephone see enticing offers for additions like salads and wings. The more menu items customers try, the more apt they are to reorder those items.
With its operations firmly under control, Fresh Brothers, it seems, is on the precipice of a very real and envious expansion, but this isn’t a spark-and-fizzle plan. In June, the company announced that it had received an equity investment from Michael Greenberg, co-founder and president of international shoe company Skechers USA, Inc. The partnership will add fuel to Fresh Brothers’ fire, and two new stores are planned this year in Santa Monica and Brentwood, California.
“I acquired a meaningful position in Fresh Brothers and expect to be an active partner in helping Fresh Brothers build upon the solid foundation that has been established since the company was founded in 2008,” Greenberg says. “I was attracted to Fresh Brothers because of the company’s family friendly menu and its compelling store level economics.
“My investment will be used to repay Fresh Brothers debt and to fund new store growth, with Fresh Brothers planning to double its store base over the next 12 to 18 months.”
With the new partnership, they don’t worry about growing too fast too soon, especially in the Los Angeles market, which has plenty of room without the potential to cannibalize themselves. When the company expanded from one store to two, “we were looking to tag the market,” Adam says. “Where we are, we’re looking at about a three-mile radius around each store to add the next store.
“As we got to our sixth store, we knew we needed to bring in not only somebody with some capital with the potential to recapitalize the company but (also) someone with the knowledge of how to continue to grow and what it takes to move forward in opening stores and other potential investment opportunities.”
Greenberg’s investment is not only financial. He also brings a wealth of business experience –– including international operations and expansion –– to the partnership, which is critical for the level of growth the company hopes to see in the next few years. “Michael’s vast knowledge of real estate development and business experience makes him the perfect strategic partner for Fresh Brothers,” Adam says.
Along with expansion comes the need to standardize their operations to ensure consistency from one location to another. They’ve created a master plan and future units will use the same design, which includes warm, muted colors, televisions and an open floor plan. They also use scales to measure and the exact same product from store to store. That uniformity strengthens the brand for growth outside their own system, but the intent is to remain private for now with a focus on Southern California first. “We’re not looking to sell franchises,” Adam says. “Every time we open a store, we get that much better. We’re constantly learning.”
FRESH BROTHERS BY THE NUMBERS
- Fresh Brothers served over a half million orders in 2011.
- Fresh Brothers mixed up more than 5,000 gallons of Fresh Kids’ Special sauce in 2011.
- 15 percent of Fresh Brothers’ customers order online or use their iPhone or Droid App.
- The Manhattan Beach and Las Virgenes school districts served more than 85,000 Fresh Brothers pizzas to their students during their 2011-2012 school year.
- 400,000 pounds of dough were made fresh at the Manhattan Beach Fresh Brothers commissary in 2011.
- The six Fresh Brothers units went through 375,000 pounds of part skim, lower fat mozzarella cheese in 2011.
- Fresh Brothers sold 225,000 pounds of baked Buffalo wings in 2011.
- Fresh Brothers is looking at 39 potential cities from Santa Barbara to San Diego to open locations in the next several years.
- Fresh Brothers locations are earning an average of about $1,250 in sales per square foot. A typical location is about 1,200 square feet.
It's the independent's dream: $1 million-plus in sales out of one high-performing unit.
What does it take to get to this lofty status?
Attendees at the pre-show Monday programming during International Pizza Expo 2013 will get their answers straight from the source—or sources, in this case—when our million-dollar men sit down for a panel discussion. They'll compare notes, reveal profit-making strategies and offer suggestions for new operators and first-time attendees seeking to follow in their footsteps. All four operate one unit and surpass $1 million annually in sales.
The Fab Four are Tony Caputo of Red Rose Pizzeria in Springfield, Mass.; Tony Gemignani of Tony's Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco; Mark Gold of Pizza Shuttle in Milwaukee; and Ray McConn of Mother Bear's Pizza in Bloomington, Ind.
See them Monday, March 18, from 11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m. at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Pizza Today president and publisher Pete Lachapelle will moderate the panel discussion.
Visit PizzaExpo.com to learn more about next year's show.
Little did I know how much easier it was to dream the American dream than to actually live it. I have heard my entire life: “do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.” Well I love pizza, so it made sense to me to make a living making pizza.
I have an old high school buddy who has done well for himself as an entrepreneur. So I sought his advice on becoming a business owner myself. I began the conversation thinking I knew as much as I needed to know to start my place. After all I have run big box stores with teams as large as 500 and sales volumes as high as $75 million annually. I figured after all that being my own boss would be pretty simple.
One hour into the conversation I had created the biggest work list ever:
- Create a business plan.
- Get a real idea of food costs. (The first time I went to the local store to buy ingredients I spent $75 and made two pies. My wife nearly kyboshed the whole plan that day).
- Do some real market research. (This requires a whole lot more than ordering from every pizza place in a five-mile radius of my home.)
- LLC or corporation?
- Equipment costs (buy or lease? New or used?).
- Leasing a space (location, location, location…).
- Construction costs.
- Payroll planning and budgeting.
The list literally went on and on and on.
The sad fact was and is that becoming a pizza entrepreneur is very much like having your first child. No matter how many classes you take or how many books you read, you will never be as prepared as you had hoped and nothing is as effective as a little experience. As the father of five, I am hoping the same rules also apply to the business: work real hard, love ’em a lot and in the end it’s going to be okay.
After I completed the list and did my research, I really felt like I was ready to begin. Perhaps a better way of stating that is that I couldn’t wait to begin and so I jumped in and began making mistakes right away.
- I prematurely signed a lease.
- I set unreasonable timelines.
- I made ridiculous errors in the permit process.
I began the work of making the dream a reality in October of 2011. As I write this, it is June 2012 and I am praying and hoping we will finally be able to proudly serve the community of Wheaton, Illinois, a deliciously affordable pizza in the summer of this year. But I have learned from my experiences. I believe I am a better man and businessperson for the past year.
Today my list is growing bigger and bigger every day.
I need to:
- Develop a smart phone app.
- Finalize recipes and my menu.
- Select vendors.
- Complete construction.
- Hire and train the team.
- Focus on food safety.
In the end, I have learned a new level of respect for the men and women who came before me, paving the way in NY style and Chicago style, breadsticks and garlic knots, Caesar salad and antipasto salad.
I have found that the pizza community is a great big loving family, one that I am hungry to be a part of. I am getting generous amounts of advice from everyone I meet.
In the end, I can’t wait to meet and serve my customers. My appetite for pizza is bigger today than ever — and I can’t wait to see the look on their face when they taste my pies.
Watch this video of Paulie Gee’s in Brooklyn, New York and feel that fire for the pizzeria industry stir inside:
This is an example of how video can tell a pizzeria’s story. Take time to tell your story. Show your unique personality. Reveal the person behind the craft.
The Paulie Gee video was produced professionally. If you are looking to DIY a video, consider the following:
• Video equipment is attainable (local camera shops rent out cameras and lighting, or depending on your audience an iPhone or FlipCam could even be used)
• Enlist a tech-savvy young employee to help (These days, your average high school and college students know how cut video)
• Always provide adequate lighting (Never shoot video at night)
• Never use windows as a background
• If you are not in a quiet spot, use a microphone
Show us your videos. Embed or link a video in the comments section below.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
Drive up the Virginia beach coast, and just about every block is peppered with at least one pizzeria, full-service restaurant, bar and shake shack. That’s a lot of white noise to wade through, but Pi-zzeria, with sales at $1.2 million annually, seems to have found its voice. The full-service pizzeria launched in 2003 is part of the gold Key/ Phr hotels & resorts development group, which houses eight different restaurants under its umbrella.
“We didn’t want to do your ordinary pizza,” says Chuck sass, vice president of food and beverage. ”We wanted to do something different … That would be suitable for the visitor market being that we are a resort visitor town, but that would also differentiate ourselves to attract the locals. A lot of the pizza restaurants close at the end of the season.
We wanted to (operate) year-round. “For our portfolio, we found that (pizza) was one of the things that was missing, and at the end of the day, one of the big drivers was the profitability in terms of food costs. Being able to support oceanfront rent requires a year-long business. You have to be profitable to be down in this area.”
Standing out is key for any restaurant’s success, but for Pi-zzeria, it is crucial. “On the oceanfront, there are 15 different pizzerias, and that’s just from 1st street all the way down to 35th,” says Scott Farrar, director of seasonal outlets for parent company Phr. “Most of them are your walk-in, fast-casual (to-go) places. One of the things about us is that we are truly a sit-down, dine-in restaurant. We’re very kid friendly but we’re adult friendly as well –– everything from the design and layout to the way we handle our guests when they come in the door.
“We give all of the kids who come in dough balls to play with, we have Pi-zzeria tattoos –– we’re just a little bit different from your standard restaurant. They don’t just walk in and we give them a piece of paper and some crayons.”
The restaurant employs about 50 people, “and all cooks have been cross-trained and can cook all stations,” Farrar says. while they have dedicated pizzaiolos, most employees can work the pizza station if needed.
Although the restaurant is backed by the buying power of its corporate brand, it still operates on an independent basis. Dough and sauces are made in-house, and the company puts its chefs center stage. “We have an exhibition kitchen right here facing Atlantic Avenue so that the people who walk by can see it,” says Farrar. “We have the only rotating brick stone oven at the beach, which gives us another (point) of differentiation between (us) and our competitors.” Nearly 80 percent of sales are pizza based, but “we have a good variety of pasta dishes, different sandwiches, multiple salad offerings –– we have pretty extensive menu offerings for a pizzeria.”
To help keep food costs down, the company installed an automated inventory and cost control system that helped shave 4½ percent off their food costs. “we know, for example, if we buy 100 pounds of pepperoni during a given week and we sell a certain amount of the pizzas that we’re supposed to, we can nail it down to the specific cook who might be putting on too many,” Sass says.
Farrar estimates that nearly half of pizzas sold are traditional one-toppings — but Pi-zzeria have more than 22 specialty pizzerias on their menu. “The selection that you’ll find as far as specialty pizzas is far greater than anything you’ll find down here on the oceanfront,” Farrar says.
The top-selling specialty pizza is the Chicken bacon ranch (pepper fried chicken, bacon, ranch dressing and mozzarella) and the gorgonzola (artichokes, spinach, roma tomatoes, pine nuts, red onions, chicken and gorgonzola cheese). The latter “is something that we’re known for,” Farrar adds. “it’s something that you won’t find anywhere else around here.”The East Coast Hawaiian style (slow-roasted barbeque pork, grilled pineapple, mozzarella and apple-smoked bacon) has also been a longtime menu staple.
Adding a small 6-inch pizza has helped increase specialty pizza sales because “where typically you and i might split one type of pizza, now we can have our own individual pizzas,” Sass says. The restaurant does not deliver aside from two hotel properties, but sass says local delivery is in Pi-zzeria’s business plan for 2013. “The reason that we don’t do delivery now is that at 7:30 at night, there’s a line out the door,” he says. “we’re at capacity in terms of our oven space.”
Aside from the food, alcohol makes up nearly 25 percent of sales. “In terms of alcohol-to-food ratios out of all of our restaurants, it is the lowest, which you would expect in a family friendly atmosphere,” Sass says. Sangria is the restaurant’s signature drink and is made in-house, with three varieties (white, red and a blush) offered by the glass and carafe daily. It’s so popular that it can comprise nearly 50 percent of alcohol sales. “You see a tray coming out with four glasses and a carafe, and the next thing you know the whole restaurant wants to order it,” Farrar says.
Still, beer and traditional wines are more popular than hard liquor. “We have a decent selection of bottled beers as well as three different beers on tap,” Farrar adds. “We sell frozen drinks as well being that we’re on the beach. Single liquor drinks is probably the least in terms of sales that we do.”
Pi-zzeria handles marketing strategetically — it accounts for nearly three percent of the restaurant’s budget — and its primary target are the nearly 500 hotel rooms under the parent company’s hospitality wing. “We own the rooms, and it’s really the lowest hanging fruit that we have,” Sass says. “we also have five other resorts in which we market in the rooms.”
They also advertise in the abundance of visitors’ guides that line the hotel lobbies and local sidewalks, which is their most effective marketing tool. “You almost have to be in the guidebooks,” Sass says. “with the economy, the visitors are looking for a bargain.” (Pizzeria’s buy one, get one half-off a large pizza is the most effective campaign.)
While the majority of advertising is geared toward visitors in the summer, the focus in the off-season is on attracting locals. That includes utilizing social media and building sponsorships with local sports teams. “We measure the effectiveness of our marketing programs by each specific campaign, and we review and critique that for the following years,” Sass adds.
The company is looking at expansion for the Pi-zzeria brand, and “if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it all out,” Sass says. They are actively looking at growth on the oceanfront but also via catering, which will require more labor and oven-capacity.
They would like to open a store at the south end of the beach and another in the central part, which will give them full coverage for delivery.
The key, says Farrar, will be consistency. “This restaurant, you can come in and i don’t care if it’s December or July, if there (are) two people in here or 200, you’re going to order something and it’s going to come out the same way every time. We have people who come down here every year besides our local clientele that have been coming here since 2003 specifically because of our consistency.”
That relentless quality control is what helps Pi-zzeria succeed on a daily basis. says Sass: “With the increasing quality of the chain brands –– and they’re getting better and better, and cheaper and cheaper –– you’ve got to deliver an overall experience versus just good pizza … it’s delivering the whole package.”
Mandy Detwiler is managing editor of Pizza Today.
Like all parents, my wife and I have always looked for ways in which we can get more nutritious foods for our children. Like most parents, we struggle with it daily. However, it is amazing that my 5 and 3 year olds love junk food, and never get tired of it. So one day, I simply put two and two together and said to my wife: “Hey, why don’t we make the junk food better?”That was the inspiration for Truly Organic Pizza — our response to the over-processed food dominating the market today. Truly Organic Pizza proudly returns to the basics of pizza making ... really good tasting pizza that everyone would love to eat, but made with the best ingredients possible.
The commitment to all organic was easy. Once we decided on an all-organic menu the decision to have our whole pizzeria certified by the USDA Organic board was a natural progression. We did not want to have any doubt of our commitment; the certificate is proof of our process and our passion.
However, this labor of love definitely adds to our food cost as we source only certified organic ingredients, which costs much more than conventional foods. In addition, there are also associated fees in maintaining the organic seal. No chemical pest control, biodegradable cleaning agents, and the management process for organic integrity all adds up in the cost. So far, the market response has been good. This proves that our trail blazing paid off and the consumer responses on our Facebook page and tweets validate our founding principle. People do not want junk food; they will take a healthier version of food even if it costs a bit more as long as they do not have to feel like they are eating their neighbor’s lawn!
The organic way of living requires more education. We continue to explain our process, commitment and the whole organic way of producing food to our customers to show them why we do what we do and how it can benefit your body. We are confident and excited about our process, ingredients, and our pizza — and we are eager to share it with the world!
DANTE PIZZERIA NAPOLETANA-OMAHA, NEBRASKA
BY JEREMY WHITE PHOTOS BY RICK DAUGHERTY
Nick Strawhecker made plenty of stops on his way back home to Omaha, where he opened the city’s first certified Neapolitan pizzera in 2008. Born in Nebraska, Strawhecker moved around a lot beginning in his teens, when his family relocated to England for three years. During that time, and since, Strawhecker traveled extenisvely throughout Europe. This not only shaped his worldview, it also exposed him to a variety of foods that people simply do not encounter in the American Midwest. Strawhecker said these foreign excusrions tempted his palate and planted in his mind the desire to one day run his own restaurant.
A graduate of Johnson & Wales culinary school in Providence, Rhode Island, Strawhecker has also studied at The Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners. He lived briefly in the Piedmont region as well as Tuscany.
“In particular, Tuscany really shaped me,” he says. Strawhecker says he found Tuscany to be an enchanting place, as much for its natural beauty as for its food and culture.
After leaving Italy, the enterprising chef worked at restaurants in Chicago and Philadelphia before finally circling back to Omaha. And, despite the various cooking techniques and styles of cuisine he’d worked with during his career, the authentic, time-honored and simple creation known as Neapolitan pizza wouldn’t release its grip on Strawhecker’s mind.
“Pizza’s our main event,” he says. “That’s what we feature — our pizza and our wood oven.”
Still, the menu, which changes daily, extends well beyond pizza. As a result, the menu mix is evenly split.
“Right now we’re running about 50/50,” says Strawhecker. “When we first opened we were doing about 80-percent pizza. But people have discovered that we’re not just pizza. The original plan from the very beginning was to offer much more. People have begun to try our pastas and other items. We’ve been doing this for two years now, so people are starting to understand that we have a menu that offers more.”
That balance, along with the daily menu change, fuels Strawhecker’s creativity and challenges his staff.
“Even though we print our menu daily and change it, there are core items, of course, that always stay on,” Strawhecker says when asked about the difficulty of changing the menu each day. “Really, though, we love it. We’re always adjusting things to keep it fresh and interesting. We’re constantly adding more stuff based on what’s in season and fresh.”
To accommoate Strawhecker’s desire to experiment, the 3,900-square-foot restaurant, which seats 85, has a large kitchen broken down into separate stations. While it all revolves around the wood-burning oven, the kitchen is complete with grills, fryers and everything else an ambitious chef would need.
“It’s a really big kitchen,” Strawhecker concedes. “What makes it difficult is that it is broken into two levels. To deal with that, we’ve divided it into three main stations.”
While most foodservice workers have to deal with cramped quarters, we had to ask if there is such a thing as ‘too big’ for a commercial kitchen.
“Well, before we opened my biggest concern was the timing between the various stations,” Strawhecker says. “But it has been working out well without any major issues.”
At Dante, everything but the bread is made in-house based on what’s available. That can be challenging in the winter, but, again, Strawhecker likes to test himself.
“Right now, with the cold weather (Pizza Today visited Dante at the onset of winter), I have carrots, beets and squash to work with,” says Strawhecker. “It can get difficult.”
Strawhecker calls himself a proponent of the slow food movement, which he says originated in Italy. Putting his money where his mouth is, he works with local suppliers for poultry, milk to make fresh mozzarella, pork, eggs, basil, greens and seasonal vegetables. He takes it a step further by making his own fresh mozz, ricotta and pasta.
A typical lunch menu will take advantage of these ingredients for salads, sandwiches, soup and pizza. At dinner, items like oven-roasted pork belly; pan-fried chicken livers; orecchiette with potato, taleggio and sage; and mushroom risotto star alongside the pizza.
Dante Pizzeria Napoletana also features a full bar and a lineup of espresso drinks.
“I couldn’t even imagine working in a restaurant with espresso,” Strawhecker quips, “particularly when it’s a Neapolitan theme.”
As one might imagine, Strawhecker took his restaurant’s name from the Divine Comedy, an epic poem by 14th-century Italian writer Dante Alighieri. One of the world’s most influential works of literature, the Divine Comedy is best known for its interpretation of an afterlife that includes hell, purgatory and heaven. Strawhecker even named his mobile wood-burning oven, which he takes to events throughout the year, The Inferno.
It’s a fun play on something distinctly Italian, and it provides Strawhecker with many branding advantages.
“We have a great agency, and they’ve been able to have a lot of fun with the theme,” Strawhecker says. “I like what they’ve helped us do with it.”
Jeremy White is editor-in-chief at Pizza Today.
Omaha couple finding success after starting small
BY JEREMY WHITE
PHOTOS BY RICK DAUGHERTY
When Tony and Dana Constantino were looking to increase family cash flow so their kids could attend top-flight schools in Omaha in 2003, they did what any reasonable person would do in that situation: they started a food truck business. All joking aside, the Constantinos either didn’t know or didn’t care that food truck operations typically don’t lead to riches. And it’s a good thing, too, because their ignorance (or was it courage?) has turned to something bordering on bliss at their pizza restaurant, Mangia Italiana, in Nebraska.
“We started by catering events,” Dana says. “In the beginning, we just wanted to be able to send our kids to private schools. If the business could pay for that, that’s all we expected out of it.”
Mangia Italiana’s recipes resonated with customers, however, and it wasn’t long before people were looking to get more of a good thing.
“People would ask us if we had a restaurant, where they could find us,” Tony says. “That was definitely a dream, but we didn’t really know where the catering would take us, like Dana said.”
Eventually, it took them into an Omaha neighborhood that could use a facelift — and a good restaurant. The Constantinos moved into an old home that had been converted to serve commercial purposes and began serving Old World recipes that had been in Tony’s family for decades.
“We don’t take short cuts,” he explains of his foodservice methods and philosophies. “If we can make it ourselves, we do. We prepare our foods from scratch every day. People notice that. It makes a huge difference.”
Tony spent several years in the pizza business before opening Mangia Italiana, and that time certainly would have influenced the way he does things with regards to working with pizza. However, as he points out, he falls back on heritage more than experience when it comes right down to it.
“Just about all of the recipes we use have come from my grandparents and their parents,” he says. “We do it the way they did it over in Italy.”
Tony admits he has made slight modifications and has even developed some of his own recipes, but that any changes to family recipes have been modest and have been done out of necessity to accommodate large batches.
While the economy has been brutal for the past six years, Omaha hasn’t felt the effects of it as harshly as other cities, says Tony. As a result, Mangia has managed to enjoy steady year-over-year sales growth. In fact, says Tony, “we’ve grown every single year since we’ve opened, sometimes in the double digits.” 2011, in fact, was Mangia’s best year to date, and the Constantinos expect 2012 to be even stronger thanks to some new growth plans.Still, there are always challenges.
“Sometimes it seems hard to keep up,” admits Dana. “The list of things you have to do each day grows and grows. There’s just so much to it. People don’t always think about the finanacial side, about the amount of time and work it takes just doing paperwork, or inventory.”
Then there’s the issue of managing human resources and deterring customer or employee theft. Dana recounts the time that Tony found lipstick on a bottle of liquor and later found out that one of the female employees was helping herself to swigs of alcohol during downtime. Lesson learned? “We lock it up in the basement now,” Dana says.
The aformentioned basement may soon be one of Omaha’s hotspots. The Constantinos are in the process of finishing it out to accommodate a bar and a private banquet room. It’s the next step in the growth process.
“We’ll be able to do a lot out of here,” Tony says. “It’ll make a great room for parties. And the bar might become a place to watch a Nebraska football or basketball game. People are getting pretty pumped up about Nebraska joining the Big Ten, and it’s already a big deal to watch their football games anyway.”
As Mangia Italiana moves from a small pizza joint to a $1 million operation, the Constantinos realize their original plan to cater their kids through school has turned into a rewarding long-term career. And it’s a great way to keep the family centered on a common purpose. Whether calling their older children in for help or turning to Tony’s father for house-made biscotti and guidance, Mangia, true to Italian form, has always been about family.
Jeremy White is editor-in-chief at Pizza Today.
CANE ROSSO - DALLAS, TEXAS
Primed And Ready
Dallas-based Cane Rosso on track for serious success
BY MANDY WOLF DETWILER PHOTOS BY RICK DAUGHERTY
Cane Rosso –– Italian for “red dog” and named after a beloved pet who passed away –– has made headlines on its own since it opened last Valentine’s Day. Jerrier, who had served as a minority investor at Campania, says he wanted his own smaller concept (Campania weighed in at 6,000 square feet over three floors) in which he could create authentic Neapolitan pizza.
“In 2008, I bought my own mobile pizza oven,” he says. “It was a wood-burning oven on a trailer and we started a catering company.” That got off the ground in 2009, and he started doing private events that resulted in “a cult following” in the Dallas area. By the end of that year, Jerrier began actively looking for a space. “That’s when the economy was really tanking and landlords were asking too much. We were confident that we’d eventually find something.”
By the middle of 2010, his current landlord had tracked him down with the first location Jerrier had seen that had character with room to grow –– just what he wanted in a fledgling restaurant location. Deep Ellum had become a hip spot for restaurants and boutiques, and he was able to build the restaurant for a fraction of what it would have cost anywhere else. His tables were created from reclaimed shipping palates, he bought chairs at auction and he found his barstools in storage in the building next door. Pillows flank the booths, many of which were brought by friends and family during the restaurant’s soft opening.
Jerrier expects Cane Rosso to bring in between $1.5 and 1.8 million in sales in 2012. The restaurant was named one of D Magazine’s 10 Best New Restaurants and has already garnered attention in Dallas’ competitive dining scene.
Taking center stage is the wood-burning Stefano Ferrara oven –– burning at 900 degrees –– and mixer, both of which he sourced from Naples. “I had this oven designed probably a year before I actually ordered it,” Jerrier says, adding that it was brought into the restaurant via forklift through the patio doors and he built a bar around those –– essentially creating a stage for his pizzaioli. The restaurant can seat 100 with an additional 40 on the patio, and guests can wait up to two hours during peak times –– an indication of the restaurant’s popularity and reputation. Crucial to maintaining that reputation is the pizzeria’s AVPN certification –– one of a growing number of American pizzerias who have met the rigid standards of the Italian-based Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. “It’s the kind of pizza that I like,” says Jerrier, who honeymooned in Italy with his wife in l995 and later built a pizza oven in his own backyard. “I was frustrated with how I couldn’t get it to work right, and then I went and trained with Vera Pizza Napoletana. ... I like other styles of pizza, but this is the style that I prefer to eat all the time.”
Last fall, Cane Rosso brought celebrated master Italian pizzaiolo Dino Santonicola on board to help tweak the authenticity of the pizza (he’s currently looking for other master pizza makers). At Cane Rosso, the pizzaioli are “really passionate about this product,” Jerrier says. “They’re not just clocking in and clocking out –– they’re on the Web, reading the journals. They know who all the big U.S. pizza makers are. We’ve surrounded ourselves with like-minded people. They’re more than just line cooks. They know when the dough’s not right, when the dough needs more water (or) more salt. They know when the
oven’s not right. And they’re all faster and better at making pizza than I am. When we work, I usually man the oven to stay out of their way.”
The oven can fit five to six pizzas at a time, but “if you cook six in an oven, you’re going to burn two or three,” Jerrier says. With just four in at a time, he can keep a better eye on the oven’s temperament and adjust accordingly. Cane Russo puts out 400 to 500 14-inch pizzas a day, which are slightly larger than the typical 11-inch Neopolitan offerings. Pizzas are made with high-end ingredients that the customers appreciate as well, including San Marzano tomatoes, house-made mozzarella (600 to 700 pounds a week) and fresh-grown basil as mandated by the AVPN. “Really, the food cost isn’t that expensive,” he says. Cane Rosso does use a high quality Italian flour, but Jerrier says it is comparable to any high-gluten offering and he keeps his doughballs at about 23 cents each.
“The most expensive thing that we have from a food-cost standpoint are our cured meats,” Jerrier says, “because we don’t do any pepperoni here. We use a hot soppressata ... In terms of keeping food costs down, we don’t have any single-stock items in the restaurant. Everything is reused. If it’s on a pizza, it’s on a sandwich.” They also added a Saturday brunch and spread their ingredients across that offering as well. “Dallas is a very brunch-y town,” Jerrier says. “Part of it, too, is that we’ve been making brunch here for ourselves for a long time.”
Beer and wine are available, but the wine menu “is not very complicated,” Jerrier says. They even offer wine on tap with a portable wine cart, just one more point of differentiation.
Despite opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant, Jerrier has kept his catering oven and added a second to run out of the Forth Worth area last fall. “We bill $20,000 to $25,000 a month in just catering with one mobile oven,” Jerrier says.
The restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays and is only open on Tuesdays for lunch. “Really, I wouldn’t even be open (on Tuesdays), but it’s a prep day,” Jerrier says. “We need to make cheese, we make dough. We figure we might as well open for lunch.”
By Wednesday, however, they can have as many as 60 reservations on the books. There’s one table in the front window that is referred to as “Table 20” that is highly reserved and regarded amongst Dallas’ dining scene.
Jerrier handles his advertising himself, and “we don’t pay for any
advertising ourselves,” Jerrier says. “It’s all Facebook and Twitter and me 100 percent reaching out to local media. I think it helps when it’s an owner-
operator reaching out versus a PR person. We don’t do press releases.” He’s also active on local dining message boards and sites like Yelp.
Next up, Jerrier plans to build out a casual sports bar restaurant in the space next to Cane Rosso. Aside from the second mobile oven in Fort Worth, Jerrier is already looking for a new space in that area, but “we’ve got a good brand. I don’t want to over-expand too quickly, but we want to keep the momentum up where I can use that leverage with landlords,” he says. He’s been approached by outside investors but is keeping his cards close at the time. “I’d like to have one, maybe two more in the Dallas area, but I don’t want to over-saturate. ... I’d like to be open more than a year before we get too crazy.”
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
Feel free to tinker with the design of the QR codes you use in your marketing — only 30 percent of the code is used to make it work.
Delivery accounts for approximately 35 percent of U.S. pizza sales.
Slice of Hope 2012 takes place
Friday, October 12.
Last year the initiative raised over $100,000 for the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation.
/// Places That Rock // Wolfman Pizza / Verde Coal Oven / Harry’s Pizzeria
106-B S. Sharon Amity
Charlotte, North Carolina 28211
Aaahoo, werewolves of Charlotte — this monster-themed restaurant has three locations in North Carolina’s principal city, with one of its stores currently undergoing renovations. Wolfman’s has a black 1950s Ford Fairlane station wagon decked out with red flames prowling the streets with deliveries. The pizzeria serves up California style pizza. Any pizza can also be made into a take-and-bake pie. Specialty pies include the White Wolf with garlic butter, mozzarella, swiss and Parmesan cheeses, Roma tomatoes and basil ($16.59 for a 16-inch) and the Chickenstein with diced chicken breast, sun-dried tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, goat cheese and sun-dried tomato pesto ($17 for a 16-inch). A different take on an appetizer, Wolfbites are bite-sized rolls stuffed with gruyere cheese and Buffalo sauce, served with a bleu cheese dipping sauce ($6.49)
254 Irving Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11237
Talk about a pizzeria with a great story. Contractor Charlie Verde was in the midst of restoring a Bushwick Brooklyn, New York, building when he discovered a 1907 coal-fired oven in its basement. An artisan pizzeria was born and became a reality in 2011. Its list of pizza offerings is small but packed with Italian flavors like the Margherita or Cariofilla with artichokes, ricotta and mozzarella ($12). The menu also features the Brocoletta Salsiccia with sweet Italian sausage, broccoli rabe, mozzarella, tomato and garlic ($15) and the Diavolo with hot sopressata, hot peppers, mushrooms, mozzarella, tomato and basil ($12). Baking bread in-house fresh each day, the sandwiches like the Mortadella with Italian bologna, mozzarella, mixed greens, lemon juice and black pepper ($10) or Veggie with roasted seasonal vegetables and basil pesto ($10) are inviting. And the coal-fired biscotti? It’s become a house favorite.
3918 North Miami Avenue
Miami, Florida 33127
Harry’s has earned hip points for hosting national- and world-renowned chefs once a month for culinary events. Tickets to these “chef pop-up guest” dinners like May’s event with Kevin Sbraga, winner of Bravo’s Top Chef in 2010, go for $129 and include a family-style meal and autographed goodies. The pizzeria also partners with its cinema neighbors to do a dinner and a movie series. Its menu boasts locally sourced ingredients for pizzas like the MGFD Bacon with fingerling, caramelized onions, cave aged gruyere and arugula ($15); the Rock Shrimp with grilled lemon, manchego, scallion and cilantro ($15); and the Slow Roasted Pork with fig, grilled onion, fontina and arugula ($14). Salads are also a hot item. The Peach & Frisee is topped with hazelnuts, blue cheese and honey vinaigrette (9) and the Orange and Radish is dressed with green olives, shaved fennel, arugula and piave ($9).
Sitting down with the senior management team at Colorado-based Borriello Brothers is like sitting down with family. Several pizzas flank the table, everybody’s got a plate and no one’s shy about digging in. And that’s precisely how they run their nine-store operation: it’s all-hands on deck.
Borriello Brothers was founded in 1999 in downtown Colorado Springs. In 2001, current owner Mike Clemente joined the founding brothers, who were looking to exit the business to head back to the Big Apple. He bought the original location with Rob Raia, who had been a food supplier and in 2006, customer demand prompted the opening of their second location. Raia says he had been “collecting equipment for a few years” in anticipation of potential growth, and soon after, partner Bill Stein joined the company as it added its third store. By that time, “people were almost lining up outside before we were even open,” Stein says. “People would stop in as we were building. It was funny –– we never even did a grand opening. It was all word-of-mouth.”
Today, Borriello Brothers operates nine stores with $10 million in sales. Clemente says the key to growth has been control. “The economy hasn’t been as cooperative as it (once had) been, but we’re running lean,” he says. The company brought on Bill’s son, Chris Stein, as its business manager just before the sixth and seventh stores opened to “solidify the back end and to standardize operations and build the corporation across all of these locations,” Chris says.
Borriello Brothers is built on a fast-casual concept using counter service, and it caters to the many transplants brought to the area by the nearby Army and Air Force bases. Its traditional New York pizza is familiar for many East Coast military families. “We get them as close to home as we possibly can,” Clemente says.
“The original location downtown was just kind of a traditional New York-style pizzeria, so that’s what we’ve always done, and it just seems to have worked,” Raia adds.
Chris says Borriello Brothers’ key philosophy is to offer quality food at a price that’s comparative to national chains. “I think that’s what makes us popular,” he says. Eighty percent of the company’s sales is comprised of pizza, and the stores do nearly equal shares delivery, carryout and dine-in. It divides carryout and pick-up into separate divisions –– those who call ahead and place an order and those who spontaneously stop in.
Cheese and pepperoni slices, the company’s top sellers, are sold all day with a specialty pizza slice sold through the lunch day part. Its Five Boroughs (pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers and black olives) is Borriello Brothers’ best-selling specialty offering. Customers like the ease of ordering from a list of specialty pizzas. “If you make their decisions for them, it works better,” Raia says.
“It’s suggestive selling,” Clemente adds.
They also offer gluten-free pizza, catering to a population that wouldn’t otherwise be able to enjoy pizza. Careful consideration went into the addition, and Raia says they keep gluten-free dough separate, even going so far as to bake it separately. To date, they’ve had no issues with cross contamination. “There’s a following,” Bill says, and Mike agrees. “If you offer it, they’ll find you,” he adds.
Aside from pizza, Borriello Brothers menus appetizers, wings, salads, calzones, hero sandwiches, a handful of plated dinners and desserts. It’s an ambitious menu, but one that is manageable by using the same ingredients across a number of items. They’re not immune to industry trends and have added artisan ingredients, such as feta cheese, and convenience items like boneless wings and take-and-bake pizzas, to compete on a national level with other chains –– a move that will help it grow in emerging markets.
Beer and wine are available, but comprise only two percent of sales. “We are not an alcohol factory,” Stein says. “If you read the sign, it says the beer is there to complement the food.”
For years, Borriello Brothers made its own dough at the individual stores, but as the company grew, it moved to a commissary concept before outsourcing it completely. “We have a refrigerated truck, and we used to deliver dough to every store every day,” Stein says. “We’d make it in one of the stores every day, and it got to be overwhelming.” The distance to deliver dough on a daily basis became challenging as the company grew, and “consistency, of course, was the main goal,” Clemente says.
They also worked with a major sauce vendor to create a private label for their signature marinara-style sauce to sell to consumers, a move that helps brand recognition beyond the local stores.
The company’s management team has begun to streamline its operations, including utilizing portion control, building a recipe book for standardization (a critical tool for growth), developing an organizational chart and creating training videos. Technology continues to play a key role in its success, and they credit Colorado Springs’ tech-savvy consumers for the push toward emerging technological trends, such as online ordering.
A call center –– staffed by 15 and open during dinner hours –– was added earlier this year, and the owners cite rising costs of outsourcing as a factor. They had originally looked at an in-house call system in 2007, but technology available at the time wouldn’t maintain the volume produced by the stores, and they didn’t have the space to hold the equipment, so they outsourced it. “When you have a restaurant that’s a little busy, and you’ve got the phones ringing and a line in front of you with people trying to order, it’s not fair to the customer,” says Stein. During the busy summer season, they can receive up to 900 calls on a weekend night, but they now have the space and capability to handle that high volume on their own.
While grassroots marketing utilizing social media works well for Borriello Brothers, they also use available technological efforts like text couponing and e-mail marketing. They’ve even created their own iPhone app, a move that puts them ahead of their competitors. Traditional radio and print advertising work well, but advertising in the annual Entertainment Book, a book of local, regional and national coupons sold online and through community organizations, is especially successful. So are fund-raising cards sold through schools and churches. “People seem to love these,” Chris says. “They see a great value because they’re supporting the schools, which is also important to us.”
That community involvement builds goodwill and expands the company’s name beyond traditional advertising outlets. They have used their mobile pizza kitchen –– which is cleverly built into a fire truck –– to feed nearby military families and the homeless, but they also use it to give them a presence at local festival and fairs, continuously building brand awareness as they consider franchising.
As the company has grown to nine stores, operations has become challenging for its senior management team. The benefit of having hands-on owners is that they are able to be in more than one place at a time, says Raia, and that allows them to stretch out management duties. They are currently working to better define their individual roles to avoid overlapping responsibilities.
Future expansion will be done through franchising, and they have started that lengthy process by drawing up a master agreement and federally registering their trademark. Traveling to and from regional locations –– like their store in Denver –– is becoming time-consuming, so they’ll look for potential franchisees who prefer to be as hands-on as they are. “On a Friday night, it’s nothing for me to go into a store and hop on the oven,” Stein says. “Mike can run over to the prep table, and Rob does everything … I go in sometimes (and) if there’s a pile of dishes, I’m in the dish pit for an hour and washing dishes because that’s what needs to be done. That’s the type of business we’re in.”
They’ve created a prototype for their restaurant design, and their master recipe book and training program will help with consistency. Still, they don’t worry about taking the uniqueness out of their product, which they say stands on its own.
“A cardinal sin, for us, it to use the word ‘style,’ ” Chris says. “Everybody says that they’re ‘New York-style pizza’, but we’re not New York-style pizza. This is New York pizza. This is what you get when you go to a pizzeria in New York.”
Says Stein: “We want you to get the same product –– the same exact product –– from store to store. I don’t want someone coming to me and saying, ‘Hey, you know, it was different over at this store, or ‘It was better over here.’ That’s the worst thing that I could hear.” u
Mandy Detwiler is managing editor of Pizza Today.
Some people were born into pizza making; others hone the craft through blood, sweat and tears. For retired Air Force Colonel Dave Brackett, opening a pizzeria offered a creative outlet for the lifelong amateur chef and a source of income after his 31-year military career ended. He modeled Pizzeria Rustica after the Old World trattorias he visited on tours of Europe, and today, the Colorado Springs-based restaurant is a study in successful independent operations. Brackett has infused two modern ideologies into Pizzeria Rustica, however: the restaurant is certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN) as well as the Green Restaurant Association. As a result, it is garnering attention on a national level for both its Neapolitan pizza and its environmental initiatives.
After Brackett retired from the Air Force in 2006, he made his way back to Colorado Springs, where he had completed two assignments and still owned real estate. Noting a lack of quality pizza in the area, he took matters into his own hands and opened Pizzeria Rustica in 2008.
“We decided after finding no good wood-fired pizza in a town of half a million people that we needed to create it,” Brackett says, so he studied Neapolitan pizza at a school in California and perfected the art of making mozzarella cheese and Neapolitan dough. He then had to adapt that to Colorado’s high altitude. “The (classic) dough recipe for Neapolitan pizza for California is sea level, Naples is sea level, New York is sea level –– it’s a totally different thing when you go up to 6,000-plus feet.”
Instrumental to Pizzeria Rustica’s brand is a proprietary flour blend that allows its pizza to be baked at high altitudes in a wood-fired oven. The custom-built oven is fueled by pecan wood and burns at 875 degrees. “Everybody says that it’s the closest to Italian pizza that they’ve had in the US,” Brackett says. As a result, Pizzeria Rustica has become so popular that the restaurant nearly seats by reservation only. There is no delivery, and only five percent of sales stems from carryout. After all, this type of pizza is best right out of the oven. “We explain to people that our pizza doesn’t travel well,” Brackett says.
They make 200 to 220 dough balls daily, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. “We’ve got a really small kitchen –– it’s 12 by 12 (and) smaller than most home kitchens –– but we do 350 covers a day out of there in the summertime,” Brackett says. He intentionally sought out a small space for the restaurant because Colorado Springs is a seasonal town and in the colder months, the restaurant is usually only full on the weekends. They have a patio that more than doubles their seating during warmer months.
When it comes to the menu, less is more. They have no fossil-fuel appliances, so that means no fryers or gas ovens –– just the wood oven, an induction burner to heat water, cooling equipment and a slicer. That streamlines their menu to antipasti and salads, pizza and desserts, but much is made by hand and Pizzeria
Rustica sources many of its seasonal ingredients from local farms and food organizations.
The signature pizza is the Rustica, topped with crushed San Marzano tomatoes, handmade mozzarella, Grana Padano, Parmesan, prosciutto di parma and fresh arugula. “We also stuff one corner of the pizza with garlic-spiked ricotta cheese so you get the saltiness of the prosciutto, the bitterness of the arugula and you get the sweetness of the ricotta,” Brackett says.
Other ingredients include soppressata and fennel salami, wood-roasted garlic and zucchini, house-made basil pesto and white Italian anchovies. Brackett says food costs sit at 27 to 28 percent. “We obviously have higher food costs than a lot of other people in this industry because we’re using ingredients like high-quality imported San Marzano tomatoes and Caputo flour. We use the highest- quality imported salamis, 20-month aged prosciutto di parma … plus the farmers’ ingredients are more costly,” he says.
While Brackett admits fresh and handcrafted ingredients increase labor costs as well, he reduces operating hours during the off months and closes completely on Mondays and Tuesdays in the winter. “You kind of habituate your customers to those hours and what happens is you get a nice big pop (in sales) on Wednesdays after being closed for two days,” Brackett says. The restaurant employs about 20 in the off-season and up to 35 during the summer, many of them local culinary arts and college students. He says employee turnover surprised him during his fledgling years, but Pizzeria Rustica now utilizes a three-tier interview process to find the best employees. A manager initially meets the applicant, and then he or she undergoes a peer-to- peer interview with a current employee. “That’s as much about having the candidate find out what the job’s really like from someone who’s doing it and learn what they like and what they don’t like as it is to see if they’re going to be able to hack it,” Brackett says. Finally, he or a second manager interviews the potential employee. “We don’t hire off of Craigslist. We don’t hire off the street. We work almost 100 percent on referrals,” he says.
Brackett also owns and operates a tapas restaurant that is just a few blocks away. Having two restaurants in close proximity allows them to share products and labor if needed. “We have a couple of people who work at both restaurants, so they’re cross-trained,” Brackett says.
Aside from the emphasis on handcrafted, organic and locally sourced foods, Pizzeria Rustica has also been praised for its green initiatives. But the restaurant doesn’t just pay lip service to environmental sustainability by simply recycling or avoiding Styrofoam –– it has earned a three-star Green Restaurant Association certification for its efforts, which include sourcing 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy (like wind, solar and geothermal), composting 90 percent of the restaurant’s waste and biodegradables and reducing water consumption. They even use tablecloths from a sustainable linen company and green-certified cleaning products. A bonus? Reduced energy costs.
“We use about the same amount of energy per month as a three-bedroom, two-bath house,” Brackett says. “Right now, our full energy bill for gas, electric and everything runs about $300 a month.”
During certification, Brackett says documentation was the most difficult part –– and it’s all done electronically to reduce paper waste. Certification from the Green Restaurant Association requires a minimum of 100 points but Pizzeria Rustica earned 224 points. “Once you’re certified, you just keep doing what you’re doing,” Brackett adds. They can also use the certification logo in their advertising and on their menu.
Although they have a limited output at the pizzeria, they have a mobile pizza trailer that can travel to off- site events like wedding rehearsals, festivals and office parties. That is an added component to the business, but Brackett isn’t interested in growing to a multi-unit franchise. “We’re not going to franchise for sure,” he says, “We may add another unit under a licensing agreement, but not anytime soon.”
After all, Pizzeria Rustica is a study in doing things right –– not simply. u
Mandy Detwiler is managing editor of Pizza Today.
Save the date: Slice of Hope 2012 takes place Friday, October 12.
Vermont has 204 pizzerias
iPad and Android tablet apps
are being downloaded at a rate of 100 per day.
Places That Rock // Black Sheep Coal Fired Pizza / Roots Homemade Pizza / Milo & Olive
600 Washington Ave. N.
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55401
Sitting in the middle of the Warehouse District in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, Black Sheep has its sights on the business market, even prominently displaying an “Office Delivery” tab on its homepage. A second location has opened in St. Paul. The coal-fired pizzeria made the Food Network’s “50 States, 50 Pizzas” list. Black Sheep sources local produce and makes its own fennel sausage and meatballs. The No. 5 features fennel sausage, hot salami, onions and cracked green olives for $20.50 (16-inch). A few enticing ingredients to build a pizza include goat cheese, oyster mushrooms, roasted red peppers and salt-packed anchovies. Olives roasted with rosemary and garlic ($7) makes a great appetizer option. Black Sheep tweets a daily market salad like the roasted beets with mache, feta and romesco.
1924 W. Chicago Ave.
Chicago, Illinois 60622
Roots pays homage to its home region with a Midwest-only beer list (70 beers) that features the likes of Goose Island, Bell’s and Metropolitan. Its appreciation for brew can be found in its dough, as well: Dark-roasted malt, the pizzeria’s website declares, gives the crust a richer, more complex flavor and extra tender/ chewy texture. Dubbed “Quad Cities” style — referring to communities west of Chicago on the Illinois/Iowa border, the pies are scissor-cut into strips. Highlighting Roots’ menu, the Taco pizza features taco-seasoned house made sausage, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes and taco-seasoned chips ($27 for a 16-inch). The house-made sausage can also be ordered as a corndog or wrapped in a blanket. Roots has created a root beer and serves it bottled for $3 or as a float for $6.
2723 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, California 90403
Milo & Olive is part pizzeria, part bakery. It blends a perfect combination: rustic pastries and fresh made breads — classic baguettes, three-cheese cheesebread and whole wheat potato bread — and wood fired artisan pizza featuring local farmers market produce and sustainable meats. The Spring Asparagus pizza features green garlic, Calabrian chilis, spring onion, farm egg and pecorino ($17). The House-Made Pork Belly Sausage is topped with braised greens, tomato and mozzarella ($17). For $2 to $4 more, add arugula, a farm egg, anchovies or prosciutto. The neighborhood shop has an intimate, cozy feel with two communal tables, open kitchen and bar seating in front of the make line. Pizza and pastries –– what more could anyone ask for?
PHOTO BY RICK DAUGHERTY
JOEY'S ON THE BEACH
In March, thousands of college students and families alike flee colder climes to enjoy Spring Break on the Florida panhandle. We decided to do the same and check out the pizza scene in Panama City Beach and nearby Destin. This is what we found...
We started our quest at Joey’s on the Beach. This is your typical, unassuming pizzeria that fills the need of hungry locals with pale-crusted, foldable slices and pastas. With a New York ambiance inside and a large-yet-simple menu, Joey’s 14- and 18-inch pizzas are characteristic of what you’d find in owner Joey Di Meglio’s
native borough — Bronx, New York.
Sweet Basil’s has been an area staple for more than two decades. It has maintained its status amongst locals since opening in 1988 by offering Italian comfort foods in a value-conscious family setting.
The menu here covers both northern and southern Italian favorites, ranging from seafood dishes (Shrimp and Scallop Alfredo, Blackened Talapia) to baked ziti and lasagna. The pizza is no-frills and traditional, a common theme that we quickly discovered runs throughout the entire panhandle. It’s offered in 10- and 14-inch sizes, which encourages add-on sales in the form of salads and appetizers.
One Yelp! reviewer summarized his thoughts on Sweet Basil’s like this:
“Excellent choice for fast, tasty Italian fare at the beach at a price all can afford.” The reviewer went on to describe the restaurant as “kid friendly” and claimed the pizza to be “first rate.”
Another said his “kids will always remember it as one of their favorite Italian restaurants.”
Reviews like that are what help keep a business open for 24 years!
SALVATORE'S PIZZA & WINGS
A native of Buffalo, New York, Ken Siters knows a thing or two about pizza and wings. That’s why he doesn’t take shortcuts at his eatery, Salvatore’s, which is quietly tucked away in a strip center just off of Panama City Beach’s main oceanfront drag. From house-made sauces and dressings to wings that are never frozen, Siters takes his fare seriously. And
“A huge chunk of our business comes over Spring Break. Those few weeks in March are just crazy,” Siters says. “We’re grateful for the business, but glad by the end of March when things slow down. All the drunk customers start to wear you down a little bit!”
All joking aside, Salvatore’s gets its fair share of tourists due to the beach proximity. But when we where there half the dining room was stocked with lunching locals — and that was a sign to us that this place does pizza the right way.
We soon discovered that the owners and managers at Fat Clemenza’s were avid Pizza Today fans. It didn’t take long for us to love them right back!
Co-owner Dom Damiano says one of the things he most enjoys about running his parlor is the fact “that everyone thinks this is just a pizza place until they get here.”
Far more than pizza, Fat Clemenza’s is an artisan spot that showcases influences from the cuisines of Naples, Chicago and New Orleans. The wood-burning oven takes center stage and produces the ethereal, crunchy-yet-pillowy crust that made Neapolitan pizza legendary the world over. While the olive oils, tomatoes, sheet pasta and flour are imported from Italy, Fat Clemenza’s gets its sausage delivered from Chicago twice a week. The nod to New Orleans, explains Damiano, is less about ingredients and more about cooking technique.
The menu at Fat Clemenza’s features a mixture of antipasti, salads, sandwiches, pasta, calzones and dessert. But the pizza steals the show, and it’s nicely complemented with an array of Italian wines in various price ranges.
Then there’s “The Blackboard.” A salute to many great Chicago restaurants, the blackboard essentially features daily chef’s picks and specials — an ever-evolving extension of the core menu that keeps regulars (not to mention the kitchen crew!) from getting bored.
Island Pizza takes what we call the “Subway Approach.” A bevy of ingredients await customers who want to build their own pizza. Simply walk down the line and take your pick. Or there’s a deep selection of pre-arranged pizza recipes from which to choose, each one artfully blending non-traditional and more pedestrian ingredients. A focus on freshness, invidual pizza sizes and attractive prices make this an ideal spot for nearby office professionals and Spring Breakers alike. The concept is designed to move customers in and out quickly without making them feel like they’re in a fast food restaurant — and it works. “Awesome stuff,” says Jeff Snelling, a University of Arkansas student we ran into while visiting Island Pizza. It was Snelling’s first Spring Break trip to Panama City Beach, but his second visit to the pizzeria in as many days. “I had the Fowl Play (a chicken pizza) yesterday and it was great, so I wanted to come back and try something different today. They’re 2-for-2 in my book. I might come back again tomorrow!”
///Places That Rock // McKinners Pizza Bar / Mustang Pizza & Subs / The Village Pizzeria
McKinners Pizza Bar
2389 W. Main Street
Littleton, Colorado 80120
This eatery has a vibe all its own thanks to weekend evenings, when Main Street passersby can catch a pizzaiolo throwing dough and a band jamming through its large front windows. Additionally, local artists exhibit on its long walls. McKinners’ pizza menu is just as eclectic, from the Oystermiller with smoked oysters, sausage and mozzarella (13-inch at $13.75) to the Prosciutto & Pear with fontina and mozzarella (13-inch at $15.50).
There is also the Mandarin with a house vinaigrette, fresh spinach, mandarin oranges and mozzarella topped with a balsamic vinegar reduction and honey glazed pecans (13-inch at $15.50).
Mustang Pizza & Subs
45 Pennsylvania Avenue
Westminster, Maryland 21157
Mustang’s deals are front and center at its five Maryland locations. Complete meal packages are highlighted at each store and prominent on the company’s Web site. Take the Family Special, for example, which comes with an extra large one-topping pizza, two 12-inch super subs and two two-liters for $20.99. The Wings Picnic includes 50 wings and a two-liter for $27.99 (or make it 100 wings plus two two-liters for $49.99). Mustang has even put together a meal for two that offers a pair of eight-inch subs, two large fries and a two-liter or two 20-once bottles for $16.99.
The Village Pizzeria & Ristorante
2727 Route 29
Middle Grove, New York 12850
This pizzeria sits in a small town that is flooded with tourists in the summer. Other seasons, The Village is a relaxing spot for locals, with a covered patio that has a charming country feel overlooking a lawn with a bocce court for patrons to enjoy. Its pizza menu offers plenty of seafood toppings, including shrimp, lobster tail meat and clams. Most medium pies range from $14 to $19. Plus, an assortment of wines complement the wood-fired pizzas. In fact, the wine cellar boasts more than 4,000 bottles. Having a temperature-controlled cellar allows The Village to offer more than 120 wines by the glass. No wonder this shop makes a name for itself with wine pairings, flights and tastings!
EDDIE'S PIZZERIA CERINO - CLEVELAND, OH
On the Edge
Cleveland Pizzeria Breaks Traditional Restaurant Mold
BY MANDY WOLF DETWILER, MANAGING EDITOR
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
Not according to Eddie Cerino, who owns and operates an upscale pizzeria in Seven Hills, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb. Cerino, whose name is a familiar one in the area thanks to his family’s restaurants and bakeries, cut his teeth in the family businesses before setting out on a course of his own with Eddie’s Pizzeria Cerino, a dine-in concept that partners quality food made by hand in an upscale setting.
Cerino has certainly had a plethora of learning curves. Aside from his youthful adventures in the family businesses, he is a Culinary Institute of America graduate, opened his first restaurant at age 25 and helped charter the San Francisco Oven, a fast-casual concept that he started with a partner in 2000. After opening 27 stores in seven states, Cerino calls it an educational experience but ultimately realized he didn’t want to be a franchisor –– he missed the hands-on intimacy of running an independent restaurant and returned to his roots with Eddie’s Pizzeria Cerino, which opened in January 2009.
“We knew we wanted something that had quality food, was simple and had authentic Italian food using authentic Italian ingredients,” he says. “We wanted it (to be) affordable and we wanted it to be creative (and) inspired. We wanted an atmosphere.”
That meant going beyond the traditional red-checkered tablecloths commonly found in the industry. He designed the restaurant to be open, modern and inviting, and says it exceeds customers’ expectations. Initially, the 3,100 square feet of space didn’t include a bar, and the restaurant served beer and wine only. Starting small allowed them to hone their menu and fit the economy, and “we were very busy right from the get-go,” Cerino says. “But then I’m wondering, the honeymoon period –– when’s that going to end? For the first eight months, we just stayed busy. I then committed to add another 1,100 square feet … the landlord was very generous helping us out, and we added the bar on. That’s what really put us over the top with our sales.”
The bar increased sales by nearly $300,000 (not only in liquor sales but also with the addition of 40 new seats), and the restaurant recorded $1.6 million in sales last year.
The average guest check sits at $15 to $16. Cerino initially thought pizza would comprise the majority of food sales, but that hasn’t proven true. “There aren’t many places in Cleveland where you can get a pizza, a glass of wine and a really good salad in a dining-room experience,” he says. “We initially thought pizza would be the mainstay of our menu, but it’s actually reverse. We do about 30 percent (in) pizza sales and about 70 percent (in) pastas and plated dinners.”
He attributes that to the restaurant’s high-quality preparation and ingredients. “I think the thing that makes us special is that we still cook,” Cerino says.
They make their meatballs fresh everyday, sauce is made with San Marzano tomatoes, and soups and bread (a foccacia that takes two days to rise) are made in-house –– even the lettuce is cut by hand. Pizza dough is crafted with a poolish, a wet sourdough starter that gives it a unique finish that sets it apart from other pizzerias. What they don’t make in-house –– the pasta, for instance –– they source as high in quality and as locally as possible.
“That really gives us the creative license to really make us a step apart from the competition,” he says. The Lemon Parmesan Chicken ($11.95) is a big seller, as is the traditional Bolognese ($7.95 for a half-portion and $10.95 for a full). “It’s straight out of Verona and is definitely one of the highlights of our menu,” Cerino says.
He also credits his hearth-bake oven for his great-tasting pizza, and “one thing I’ve learned with hearth-baked pizza is that it doesn’t lend itself to carryout. It just doesn’t. Hearth-baked pizza, to me, is still the No. 1 delicious (pizza), but you’ve got to eat it right out of the oven. It doesn’t sit well if it’s going to sit for a 10- or 15-minute car ride,” Cerino says. They don’t offer delivery, and carryout makes up 20- to 25-percent of sales.
As for competition, Cerino says there isn’t much locally in the full-service dine-in category. “And, we really have beaten them because of the value perception. We just don’t charge as much as we could, I think. We keep our prices economical, we try to give (customers) value, and it’s worked well for us.
“We’re very competitive in our wine sales and our wine marketing. You can get a great bottle of wine for $18. … The whole idea is that we’re not going to gouge you on anything. We’re going to make a fair profit, we’re going to run the most efficient operation we can and we’re going to keep the savings and the value perception as high as possible.”
Cerino’s wife, Elisha, is a local designer and photographer, so they have the built-in capability to produce excellent flyers and advertisements beyond the black-and-white Xeroxed menu. They utilize local newspapers as well as social media outlets like Facebook, “so we get a big bang for our buck,” Cerino says. “We put new pictures up (on Facebook) constantly, change our seasonal specials with pictures –– it works very well for us.”
Cerino says the restaurant does not discount, and they had a poor experience with a Groupon promotion last year. After the local sales rep encouraged them not to cap the promotion (a $30 coupon for $15), 2,600 coupons had been sold resulting in $75,000 in discounts. “It was not a good experience,” Cerino says. “It did bring some new customers in, (but) you still get those customers who come in and spend the minimum and don’t tip on that. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t do the $15 for $30. I’d do $7.50 for $15 and cap it at 1,000.” Last November, he still had 1,000 vouchers yet to be redeemed and feared a rush at the end of the promotion. Legally, he is obligated to accept them.
Still, marketing is crucial, and he says he spends about one-and-a-half percent of his budget on it. Advertising gets customers in the door, but it is then up to the employees to get them to return. “You’ll never see a single ad of ours that talks price,” Cerino adds. Instead, he focuses on the food and quality, which makes their marketing timeless.
He also expects his staff to serve as marketing agents for the restaurant by being knowledgeable in wines and up on the daily specials. “If somebody asks you what a poolish is or ‘What’s a San Marzano tomato? Why is that better?’ I expect them to know. … If the answer is ‘I don’t know,’ it should be followed up by ‘but I’ll find out.’ ”
Cerino has been approached to open a second store but instead plans to open an upscale concept in nearby Lakewood that will feature bourbon and desserts –– an idea spearheaded by son Ed Jr. (Ed Jr. maintains the spirits side of the business and daughter Elise has a fashion design background and has helped with interior design and uniforms. Both are hands-on in day-to-day operations.) He’d like to open more pizzerias, perhaps with the help of his family, but he’s content as an independent and isn’t in a hurry to franchise again. After all, he’s navigated those waters before. “I didn’t care for the franchise business at all,” he says. “I hate to say it, but you almost have to dummy down your concept (and) dummy down your recipes.” For independents, it’s all about the creative edge.
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
PI PIZZERIA - ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
SEAL OF APPROVAL
Pi Pizzeria gets boost with presidential review
BY DENISE GREER
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
Pi Pizzeria in St. Louis, Missouri, has a story of grand proportions, yet it’s an indelible fixture in the restaurant’s history. The young, hip shop in the eclectic Delmar Loop neighborhood had only been open six months when co-owner and founder Chris Sommers delivered Pi’s signature deep dish to presidential hopeful Barack Obama during a campaign stop in October 2008.
Business partner Frank Uible shares the account during a Pizza Today visit last October. He says that Sommers arranged with one of Obama’s assistants, Reggie Love, to have pizzas delivered to the candidate after the St. Louis rally.
Uible says that, walking home from the crowded downtown area, Sommers received a phone call from Love, who put Obama on the line. Obama thanked him for the pizza and told him something to the effect that it was the best pizza he had ever tasted.
Now, it is very easy to make a claim of such a praising phone call. But after Obama was elected, he followed up with that memorable pizzeria in spring 2009. The Commander in Chief invited Pi to make pizza for a lunch in the White House for the President, his family and staff. Sommers and the executive chef gladly accepted and baked deep dish and thin crust pies in the White House kitchen.
The President’s love for pizza and his affinity for Pi in particular set a media wildfire across the country and even internationally. The pizzeria gained instant fame.
“It just blew the doors off here from the phone to people walking in,” Uible says. Pi sales jumped 150 to 200 percent after the White House visit. “People had to have the pizza that President Obama was eating,” he adds.
With the increased traffic, panic began to set in, according to Uible. “We didn’t have enough people hired and on the schedule that could accommodate the volume that we saw,” he says, adding that they were pulling in friends and family with the only prerequisite being that new hires liked pizza.
But did the quality of the pizza suffer? Uible says no. To maintain quality, one of the first things Pi owners did was hire a chief operating officer, Jeff Constance. Daily operations changed, as well. Pi closed between lunch and dinner services to keep up with dough production.
At times, Pi even completely sold out of pizza in the evening. Pi’s quality philosophy of “no compromises” meant just that. “We are just not going to serve a product that is not who we are,” Constance says. “If that means we can’t serve it, we would rather do that than serve something that is not to our standard.”
Getting the endorsement of the President of the United States has taken Pi to a whole new level, Constance says.
But, you won’t see a banner, saying “Home of President Barack Obama’s favorite deep-dish” or a story on the back of its menu. “It’s part of our mystique,” Uible says. In fact, you won’t find Pi doing any traditional marketing, instead concentrating its efforts on social media, community involvement and its food truck. Word of mouth and customer buzz has been a driving force for its volume. Constance says there is no doubt that future marketing efforts will change, but, for now, Pi is riding the buzz.
Pi’s popularity has continued to surge after the rush of its presidential endorsement subsided. The company added a Kirkwood neighborhood location in October 2009 and one month later a Central West End unit. With consistent hour to hour-and-a-half waits, “we owed it to our customers to spread business out a little bit,” Uible says.
The locations of the new stores drove even more success for Pi. “We like the hippest streets in town,” Constance says. Pi is attracted to neighborhoods that provide a variety of shopping, dining and entertainment venues.
Expanding Pi has allowed the pizzeria to test out new markets, as well. In the summer of 2010, Pi added a new concept to its widely popular urban-focused strategy, a carryout-only location, Pi 2 Go, in the western St. Louis suburb of Chesterfield.
While Pi 2 Go is a profitable operation, Uible and Constance agree that the concept is not a growth vehicle for Pi. “It was a good learning experience because we’ve come to realize and fully know that the experience is part of what we are all about,” Uible says.
Being in hip neighborhoods is part of the vibe at Pi. Both the Kirkwood and Central West End locations are in uniquely different areas. Kirkwood is more of a family destination, while Central West End is a chic, modern, cosmopolitan district. Each restaurant’s décor reflects their district’s individual flair.
The same can be said about Pi’s menu, which provides 10 to 15 percent unique items on each location’s offerings. The Central West End has a thin crust pie named after the district that features mozzarella, volpi prosciutto, goat cheese, cherry tomatoes, red onions and arugula (12-inch for $21). Kirkwood also has a namesake deep dish with mozzarella, Italian meatballs, red peppers and basil (12-inch for $22).
By far, Uible and Constance say the most popular pizza is the South Side Classico deep dish with mozzarella, Berkshire pork sausage, mushrooms, green bell peppers and onions (12-inch for $22).
Pi’s house salad is more of a specialty salad with field greens, cherry tomatoes, red bell peppers, red onions, gorgonzola cheese, walnuts and a house-made vinaigrette ($6 for a small). An interesting appetizer (or pre-pi, as the pizzeria calls it) is the pi bites, a small plate that consists of fontina blended with prosciutto, rolled in house-made breadcrumbs then oven blazed and served with red sauce ($8).
With annual sales of more than $10 million, Pi is set to open its fifth St. Louis area location this spring in the downtown district, not far from where the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals play. “That is part of our business strategy to build the brand downtown with out-of-town people,” Constance says. “That will give us a lot of opportunity to expand in the region.”
It’s not just St. Louis Pi that executives have their eyes on. Perhaps prompted by President Obama’s affinity for its deep dish, Pi opened a Washington, D.C. location, District of Pi, in spring 2011, just blocks from the White House. The new location also sits in the trendy district of Penn Quarter.
Pi first rolled out its brand to the Washington, D.C. market with its food truck. “The food truck was running for almost six months before we opened, and that really laid the ground work,” Constance says, adding that they paired the truck with a social media campaign. “We didn’t do any fanfare of the President,” he adds.
To ensure product consistency, a team of Pi employees was sent to D.C., including its executive chef. “They are the people who are directly responsible for the success of Washington D.C.,” Uible says.
With Washington, D.C. and downtown St. Louis locations, Pi is charting new sales projections to exceed $15 million in 2012. Pi has proven that it doesn’t need to use a bullhorn to tell everyone that it has the pie that the President of United States loves. Instead, this shop lets its pizza do the talking.
Denise Greer is associate editor of Pizza Today.
We feel that it is invaluable for both of us to be chefs first and owners second. We feed off of each other’s ideas. And with us working side by side with our staff, it ensures quality and instills a very strong work ethic. We only expect our staff to work as hard as we do.
Presenting our customers with a seasonal menu allows us to bring new ingredients to the menu and take advantage of the local ingredients that are available certain times of the year. It also gives our customers new items to try and feeds our creativity.
Anytime new items are brought to a menu for a short period of time it certainly can affect food cost, but we never want to stop creating and we want to continue offering our customers something new. We both have extensive pastry backgrounds, so offering special desserts to our customers gives us a great opportunity to display the talents we have acquired over the years.
Every month we have a Facebook contest set up where our customers can send their pizza suggestions using six or less ingredients. We then pick the most interesting pizza, and that customer has their pizza run the last week of that month. We have had great response and it really gets our customers involved. They get to feel more of a part of our restaurant.
We developed our menu to work with a wood-fired oven. We wanted to offer a wide variety of items besides pizza, so we had to use our experience and alter our techniques to achieve an exceptional menu. We have not found many limitations with our oven. We quickly figured out where each item that went into the oven cooked the best whether it be pizzas, wings, sandwiches, pastas or shared plate items.
Our oven is self-contained with over three feet of fire brick and multiple slayers of insulation. Our oven is built to run 24 hours a day for thirty years without any fatigue or weakness in the materials. We regularly clean our venting system by a trained professional to ensure proper working order.
41 percent of consumers report eating pizza at least once a week, according to Technomic, Inc.
That’s right, our app costs $0.00!
America’s 50 largest pizza companies control approximately 28,800 stores.
48 percent of U.S. pizzerias serve beer
/// Places That Rock // Vero Amore / Supino Pizzeria / Yia Yia’s
3306 N. Swan Road #105
Tucson, Arizona 85712
Vero Amore takes the art of pizza making so seriously that the pizzeria received VPN certification. It’s the only VPN-certified Neapolitan pizza in Tucson, Arizona. In fact, its two locations have become neighborhood spots, as well as great date night options. The Neapolitan staples are prominent on its menu like the Marinara ($9.50) and the Margherita ($10.50). Vero Amore also features the Quattro Formaggi with gorgonzola, Parmesan, regular and smoked mozzarella, olive oil and garlic ($11.50) and the Pizza Ruspante with tomato sauce, chicken sausage, mixed bell peppers and mozzarella ($12). During its lunch service the pizzeria expands its offerings to include paninis. Our favorite is the Salami with spring mix tomato, onion, smoked mozzarella and basil pesto ($8.50).
2457 Russell Street
Detroit, Michigan 48207
Supino gets high marks for packing so much into a tiny Eastern Market neighborhood spot in Detroit, Michigan. The pizzeria attracts crowds at times that line the sidewalk for it thin-crust New York style variations. It’s cozy and inviting with dark wood paneling that meets deep red walls, high bar seating and metal fixtures. The pizza menu is split between red and white. Red standouts include the Mismark (aka “one egg”) with fresh mozzarella, prosciutto and egg and the City Wing Thing with City Wing’s smoked turkey, smoked Gouda, cherry peppers, mozzarella and roasted garlic. The white spotlights El Greco with spinach, feta, onions, mozzarella and kalamata olives and The Affumicata (aka “Smoky”) with speck, roasted garlic, chopped parsley, mozzarella, smoked Gouda and ricotta. A 12-inch runs $10-$11 and an 18-inch runs $16-$17.
1423 O Street
Lincoln, Nebraska 68506
Yia Yia’s gives its customers international flavors with its “Around the World” pizzas — 16 different pizzas representing the culinary appeal spanning the globe. The pizzeria has some interesting pizza topping combinations. The Francais features olive oil with walnuts, blue chees and mozzarella ($18.99 for a 16inch). The Polynesian brings together marinara and BBQ sauce with cranberries, jalapenos, black olives, pineapple, bacon, pepperoni, cream cheese and provolone ($19.99 for a 16-inch). There is also The Plains with red pesto, broccoli, almonds, corn, tomatoes, red onions, turkey and cheddar ($19.99 for a 16-inch). Yia Yia’s also highlights its baked potatoes like The German with white sauce, sauerkraut, hamburger, black pepper, garlic, onion, and Parmesan with a side of honey Dijon mustard ($5.49).
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.
The key to Rocco’s Pizza longevity? Hard work, sacrifice and family unity. We celebrated our 50th anniversary by offering two types of 12inch pizzas: cheese ($1.95) and pepperoni at ($2.25) at their original 1962 prices. We redesigned our pizza boxes, we gave out magnet and key chains and distributed a press release to make the local media aware of our milestone anniversary and our promotion. The food editor of our local newspaper, the Akron Beacon Journal, and a photographer came to the shop and interviewed me and the entire family. They then came back to cover the celebration. They were impressed by the turnout — 1,000 people passed through our doors and we sold 900 pizzas in six hours. The wait was about 90 minutes at its peak. The line was orderly and nobody complained about the wait. It was a big party. All our workers did their tasks well. My wife, Gina, my mom, Luisa, my sister in-law, Julie, and a cousin, Kim, took care of making the dough and prepping the pizzas. Then we had the baking crew. One fed the oven, one took the pizzas out, one cut them and gave the pizzas to our cashier, my sister Rita. My father, Mario, my brother, Mario, Jr. and I greeted all our loyal customers. My father reminisced with some of our longtime customers. One even showed up with an original menu from 1962! The plan that I set up worked well and was orderly. It was a huge success. Customers and workers alike had a great time.
My dad remains a confidant, giving advice when needed and consulted when necessary. He did not meddle, giving my brother and I free rein to run the business. My mother comes to work every day to help me with prep work in the morning for a couple of hours. She loves it.
Making meats in house: The advantage is that we know exactly what we are getting when we order fresh ground pork and ground beef. We use our own seasoning recipe and no fillers to stretch the product. There is no substitute for freshness.
Sheet pizzas are baked in 18-inch by 24-inch pans and are one of our best sellers. We cater them to schools, office and factories for pizza parties or fundraisers. One school orders a quantity each week and sells them during lunch with the proceeds used to subsidize prom at the end of the year. We average about 100 a week. We were the first to introduce sheet pizza in this area around 1975. They are the best value, as one sheet equals four 12-inch pizzas.
Our Portage Trail (Cuyahoga Falls) location has a party room that can accommodate groups up to 40 people. The room is lined with classic arcade video games for the groups’ enjoyment at no extra charge.
For larger occasions we offer a special catering menu with items not on the regular store or carry out menu. We are licensed by the state of Ohio to cater school lunches. We do not limit this to pizza but we offer whatever menu the school requests including chicken, fried potato wedges, salads, subs, pasta or mac and cheese. We do not offer home delivery. We deliver any order to offices, schools and factories with a minimum of $50. We specialize in pharmaceutical representative orders.
Angelina’s Pizzeria and Café
300 S. Roosevelt #8
Seaside, Oregon 97138
This is a neighborhood spot that caters to its local fans. With so many rewards program cards offered today, Angelina’s holds onto its customers’ Frequent Diner Program cards for them. There is nothing else to add to a wallet or remember. The program offers a buy any five menu items and get one free. Angelina’s has a variety of combo and “Off the Hook” specialty pizzas like The Soprano with grilled chicken, pepperoni, roasted red peppers and fresh basil ($19 for a 12-inch) and The Lombardia with prosciutto, onion, gorgonzola and olive oil ($18 for a 12-inch). The pizzeria also offers vegetarian pies like the Caprino with mushrooms, Roma tomato, green pepper, black olives and red onion ($20 for a 12-inch) and the Spicy Veggie with mushrooms, red onion, roasted red peppers, pepperoncini peppers, fresh spinach, Roma tomato and Cajun spices ($20 for a 12-inch).
24 S. Township Rd.
Pataskala, Ohio 43062
This is one of those small town pizzerias that the community can’t get enough of. After 30 years, many of its patrons have been raised on its offerings. It’s a small red building with a dozen picnic tables in its dining room. Popular specialty pizzas include the Mexican with seasoned meat, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses and topped with shredded lettuce, cheese, tomato, salsa and sour cream ($16.75 for a 13-inch) and the Joe’s BBQ Chicken with BBQ sauce, seasoned BBQ chicken, blend of mozzarella and cheddar cheeses and red onion ($14.65 for a 13-inch). Capuano also uses its homemade pizza crust for the Lana’s Cinnamon Dessert with butter and cinnamon streusel and served with icing ($6.15 for a 13-inch).
Crostatas Rustic Pizza
558 Bishop Rd.
Highland Heights, OH 44143
You won’t find slices of pepperoni at this Neapolitan-style pizzeria in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. Crostatas serves up authentic pizza found in Naples, Italy with classics like the Margherita ($11.50), Quattro Formaggio ($14.75) and Bianca ($14.75). Other featured pizzas include the Caprese with Mozzarella di bufala, roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms and EVOO ($14.75) and the Alba with San Marzano tomatoes, capicola, arugula, fresh egg, Grana Padana and EVOO ($14). The dessert menu features a namesake pastry tart baked with fresh fruit ($6) and the Nutella Pizza, a hot calzone filled with the signature hazelnut spread ($9).
Photos By Rick Daugherty
Tony and Harry Disilvestro aren’t your typical beach town residents. their company, ynot Pizza & italian Cuisine, doesn’t cater to the hoards of tourists who fill Virginia beach during the warm months. they don’t cater to spring breakers, and they don’t feature portraits of sandy scenery on their walls. what they do bring to the proverbial table is a taste of home –– the Jersey shore, about a 20-minute drive outside of New York, where they spent their formative years spinning pies before transplanting to Virginia beach in the early 1990s.
“We started as kids, you know, 15 years old (and) making pizza,” tony says. “A friend of the family just kind of roped us in at a young age, and we’ve been doing it ever since. We’ve just run the gamut from there –– fine dining, italian restaurants, pizzerias …we’ve probably (worked in) 20 different pizzerias.”
When the time came to open their own, “at first, we thought we were going to open up and people were going to come to the counter and order,” Tony adds. “The first customer came in and sat down at the table, and all of a sudden we have waitress service.”
The company was founded by tony and his wife, Cindy. Harry Disilvestro later joined the couple in the venture, which has since evolved to five pizzerias in the region with sales expected at more than $9.5 million by the end of 2012. “Our demographic is families, obviously,” says Tony.
“That’s where we like to be.” still the most recent location opened on the campus of old Dominion University, so they’re able to target both students and neighborhoods. Dine-in accounts for 50 percent of sales, with delivery at 30 percent and carryout at about 20 percent.
YNOT’s menu started with pizza and pasta but has evolved to include appetizers, chopped salads, pasta creations, plated entrées like veal Parmigiana and mussels marinara, cold and hot subs, gluten-free pizzas (up
to 70 a week) wraps and desserts ––including house-made gelato.
“We’re just constantly making sure that the brand is fresh and new,” says tony. “That’s very important to us. we don’t sit still well.”
Harry is quick to add that “we never jeopardize quality. it’s always been to improve quality and service.” “I think the second you start sitting idle, you’re in trouble,” Tony adds, “especially in this changing industry that we’re in today.”
Pizza accounts for 40- to 50-percent of sales, and they make as much in- house as possible, including dough, sauces, lasagna and soups. “obviously, pizza is our no. 1 item,” Tony says, and while pepperoni is an obvious choice, the white pizza with spinach and tomato ($15.50 for a 14-inch and $18.50 for an 18-inch) is popular.
They added chopped salads, which lend a healthier option to their menu to keep up with customer demand. (the Cindy salad, a greek salad named after Tony’s wife, is a favorite.) the chopped salad menu offers 36 different options from which to choose, “and it’s just opened us up to a whole different market,” Tony says.
“We started looking at other chains and seeing what they were doing and their positioning towards, say, women and athletes and helping people try to be healthy. it was pretty obvious that being in the pizza industry, we didn’t have that appeal.”
Since pizza already encourages customization, adding that create-your-own element to both their salads and pastas has allowed them a greater market share. “It really comes down to (the fact that) the customer has many choices and they’re not just stuck to a menu,” harry says. “you can truly create your own meal.”
Ynot has impressive display cases in its stores that show off their desserts, which includes cakes, cookies and pastries sourced from New Jersey, New york and local bakeries. They used to make their own because “when we first opened down here, we didn’t have the availability,”Tony says. “So now, with distributors consolidating as much as they are, it’s much easier to bring in product from New York and New Jersey.”
Beer, wine and a full bar are available but make up only about 10 percent of sales. Much of that is craft beer. with 40 different offerings from which to choose, “it’s just a huge niche market for us,” Tony says.
“For years, you paired wine with food,” harry says. “now it’s getting to the point where our servers are actually savvy enough to start pairing beer with certain dishes.”
While making so much in-house is labor intensive, “Tony and I are out there every day trying to find the best prices that we can get for the best product out there that we can get,” Harry says. “and that’s a big part of our job every week.”
they use their POS system to keep track of labor and food costs “and we apply that to our everyday business not only with us but with our managers at weekly meetings –– knowing where their food cost is and where the labor cost is,” Harry says. “It’s a daily conversation at our restaurants.”
Harry says utilizing their Pos system is key to keeping track of rising costs and encourages other operators to learn how to best utilize their own equipment. “I do think there are a lot of people out there who do spend a lot of money (on POS systems) and don’t get a lot of bang for their buck.”
Ynot also has one manager for every 10 staff members, “and they really keep a close eye on their scheduling and overtime predictors,” Tony says.
Management is open with the company’s 260 employees, and shares those critical food and labor numbers with them to foster a sense of awareness and responsibility. “in the restaurant business, that day-to- day operation can be overwhelming to the point where you’re not taking the time to look at those numbers,” Harry says.
Cross-utilizing products, such as using some salad ingredients on pizzas and receiving deliveries twice a week, ensures freshness. “We try not to keep (product) more than three days on our shelves,” Tony says.
And when it comes to getting the word out about YNot, they don’t shy away from marketing, “which is huge for us,” Tony says. “We do a ton of social media, e-mail blasts, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest … If there’s something new out there, we’re trying it.”
“Probably about four years ago we realized we were doing the same thing year after year and how quick everything was changing,” adds harry. they dropped more traditional marketing avenues, such as the local telephone book, in favor of more dynamic opportunities and they hired an outside company to manage most of their media. still, word of mouth remains their best marketing outlet. as part of their brand awareness, they hold events with local college and sports teams, participate in the special olympics and charity walks and even host their own event, known as the Ynot Pizza olympics (contestants attend qualifying events similar to those at the world Pizza games at international Pizza expo at each store before competing at a local italian festival.) “that’s the kind of branding that we do,” Tony says. “we’re all about the community.”
E-mail blasts have been successful –– packed with videos from their events –– and online ordering adds $2 to $3 to each guest check. “retaining e-mail addresses is a huge part of our business,” Tony says.
The DiSilvestros own the majority of the stock in their restaurants, with three franchised by long-term employees. “expansion is coming from our employees. it’s coming from within,”tony says. “these people have been standing beside us for 60 hours a week for 19 years and when you put them in their own store, they know the business, and they know it well.”
Says Harry: “I think you always hear about owners who start multiple locations and spread themselves out too thin. with all of our other locations, there’s peace of mind knowing somebody’s doing the right job on the other side of town.” they’ve had locations with partners in the past but found it difficult to control brand consistency. Franchising with their own employees seems to work and a sixth location is under negotiation, but “we’ll never expand faster than our crew,” tony says. “Our expansion plans are just to continue growth and to control growth.”
The focus, say the Disilvestros, is quality over quantity, and they’re not out actively selling franchises just for the sake of expansion. “we could stop now if we wanted,” harry says, “but as long as these employees are coming up and they’re willing to march on with us, let’s do it.”
Mandy Detwiler is managing editor of Pizza Today.
What’s happening with America’s largest pizza companies? Who added stores in 2012? Who pushed their sales to record highs? Who dropped off a bit?
Last month, we published our list of the nation’s 100 most successful independent operations. Now, we present to you our yearly listing of America’s 100 largest pizza chains. Check out who’s winning big on pages 56 and 57.
1. Pizza Hut
The original Pizza Hut store opened in a small building in Wichita, Kansas in 1958. More than 50 years later, Pizza Hut is the largest pizza company with $11.2 billion in annual sales. The company operates more than 13,700 stores in more than 90 countries.
2. Domino’s Pizza
Ann Arbor, MI
Domino’s story began with the opening of its first store in 1960 called “DomiNick’s.” Five years later, the company was renamed Domino’s Pizza, Inc., opening its first franchise location in 1967. Today, Domino’s has nearly 10,000 locations worldwide and $6.9 billion in annual sales.
3. Papa John’s
After college, John Schnatter began delivering pizzas out of the back of his father’s tavern, opening his first Papa John’s in 1984. With more than 3,800 locations and nearly $2.6 billion in annual sales, Papa John’s has locations in all 50 states and 29 countries.
4. Little Caesars
The first Little Caesars opened its doors in 1959. By 1987, Little Caesars had become a national chain with stores in all 50 states. Today, the carry-out pizza chain who coined the phrase “Pizza, Pizza” for its two-for- one pizza deal, operates 3,500 locations with $1.45 billion.
5. California Pizza Kitchen
Los Angeles, CA
California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) originated in Beverly Hills in 1985, quickly expanding to 30 states and 11 countries. From 2000 to 2011, CPK was a publicly traded company, before being acquired by privately held Golden Gate Capital in 2011. CPK operates 270 locations with annual sales of $715 million.
6. Papa Murphy’s
The take ‘n’ bake concept began in Northern California in the early 1980s and has steadily moved east. Papa Murphy’s is the largest take ‘n’ bake chain with more than 1,300 locations in 40 states. The quick-serve restaurant generates $702 million in annual sales.
To View Top 100 Pizza Companies Click Link Below
Online View Click Here.
Happily, given its history, the Red Onion sells itself. The Red Onion Saloon originally opened for business in 1898 at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush, and was considered Skagway’s most exclusive bordello at the time. It was built by planks cut by Captain William Moore, the founder of Skagway, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks. The town of Skagway served as the “Gateway to the Klondike” and plenty of randy miners passed through Skagway on their way North. The Red Onion served alcohol on the first floor, while the upper floor satisfied more than a prospector’s thirst. It was only a functioning brothel for two years before the Klondike gold rush waned and a new gold rush in Nome, Alaska, caused miners to seek their prospects elsewhere.
During World War II the building was used as barracks to board soldiers and in subsequent years housed a laundry, bakery, union hall, television station and gift shop. In 1980, the owner Jan Wrentmore purchased a liquor license and the building opened once more as a saloon and historic brothel museum, and it’s been rocking ever since!
We’ve named our pizzas after the well-known prostitutes of the Gold Rush, references of the trade, or women who have worked here... For example, I have a pizza named after me, ‘the Lady LaVoie’ it’s vegetarian with goat cheese, mushrooms and artichoke hearts, but you can make it a ‘Dirty LaVoie’ by adding sausage. Some others are the Plain Jane (cheese pizza), Shady Lady (BBQ chicken), the Chicken Ranch (ranch, bacon, red onion)…etc.
The Big Dessie and the The Classic are our best sellers. The Big Dessie (sausage, Canadian bacon and pepperoni) is all meat and The Classic (pepperoni). Meat serves us well here; we believe in meat.
The Red Onion Saloon has such a unique history and it’s hard not to feel it when you’re here. We have madams who give tours of the museum, sing and take photos with the guests. Our servers wear corsets so there is some bosom involved…We have musicians who come in and play –– the atmosphere is lively, sexy and teasing and there’s always someone up to something. We’re also very lucky to have a loyal and fun-loving crew. We have fun, we laugh, work hard and engage our customers in the process. We’re also a bit saucy.
(We operate from) April to October. The cruise ship season runs from May to September and it gets very very quiet on Skagway’s streets the other half of the year. The winter population shrinks dramatically and there is simply not enough business to sustain having more than one restaurant open in winter. Another issue we have, being a historic building, is a dramatic lack of insulation. We winterize the building in the offseason to protect pipes and such. There are parts of the walls you can see through, so add a 45 mph north wind and you really don’t want to be sipping your cocktail here mid-January.
Photos by Rick Daugherty, Denise Greer & Josh Keown
As you might imagine, we interact with a variety of pizza operations on a daily basis. We deal with large chains and small independents alike, and their individual stories never cease to fascinate us. Each pizzeria is unique in its own right. To that end, we set out to find some of America’s most unique pizzeria locations. We weren’t necessarily looking for a unique theme as much as we sought out a truly unique location or building. What we found was fascinating, and ranges from pizzerias inside old covered bridges to junkyards turned pizzeria –– and we visited each one.
Take a look for yourself.
Jail House Pizza
Built in 1906, the old Meade County, Kentucky, jail is the site of this original –– and reportedly haunted ––pizzeria. Guests can dine in padlocked cells (womens’ downstairs and men upstairs) or in the adjacent dining room, which overlooks the Ohio River. Not to be missed? The trapdoor used for hangings.
Organ Stop Pizza
Nothing goes with pizza like “The Phantom of the Opera” or the Star Wars theme song. At Organ Stop Pizza, the organist makes a grand entrance every evening — he suddenly appears from below the stage and fills the restaurant with sound as diners enjoy the fare. Talk about unique!
This is not your average burgers and fries drive-in. When Al, Gus and Arthur Peroulas opened Pizza Palace in 1961, they came up with the idea of serving pizza and Italian fare to customers in the comfort of their cars. It worked. The drive-in has become a Knoxville landmark. It’s also been featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives.
Some people love race cars, others love quilts and some just love plain old “junk.” The coolest junkyard in America — and one of the coolest pizzerias — is a favorite Gainesville hotspot.
Signal Station Pizza
Located in a historic gas station, this pizzeria is truly a local spot. The garage doors open up for al fresco dining, and the small interior leaves just enough room for a conveyor oven, a few taps of local beer, a counter for ice cream and a makeline. It’s at night — with its retro neon — when this pizzeria really shines!
Puccini’s Hometown Grille
Cumberland Gap, MD
This wood-fired pizzeria is situated in the historic 1818 Hinkle House. The residence served as a Civil War Hospital during the Battle at Folck’s Mill. Venturing up to the restaurant’s third floor attic, visitors can see etchings in the plaster on the walls from wounded Union and Confederate soldiers.
Sheboygan Falls, WI
Like many old buildings in small towns, Firehouse Pizza has been a number of things, including an elementary school, factories for carriages and cheese equipment and an auto supply store. It was also once the town’s city hall, police department and fire station, for which it takes its current appearance. It kept the theme of a bicycle shop when it expanded into the business next door.
Pizza might just be a spiritual experience at this pizzeria in a remodeled Jewish temple. The original stained glass windows and loft chandeliers illuminate its interior. The bar sits in the former Pulpit area. The Gothic brick structure was built in 1891 and served as a Presbyterian church, synagogue, social hall and school before Joe Bologne’s opened in 1989.
Covered Bridge Pizza
Patrons eat inside an authentic 1862 covered bridge at this pizzeria in Andover, Ohio — one of two bridge parlors the pizza company owns. The 126-foot, 55-ton Forman Road Covered Bridge was cut in half and reassembled into the two pizza parlor locations — North Kingsville in 1975 and Andover in 1977. Only the original wood was used in the creation of the dining rooms, giving customers an old-fashioned dining experience.
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.
VILLA REALE PIZZERIA PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA
The Reale family opened Villa Reale Pizzeria in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylva- nia, in 1976. Born in Italy, Salvatore is known in the Pittsburgh community as a “Godfather of Pizza.”
(To reach our success) — It has taken hard work, great customer service, and great pizza that our customers have come back time and time again for 35 years. Customers stop in before Pittsburgh Penguins games to enjoy good Italian food and a pizza that has been a part of downtown for 35 years. Our pizza is made with 100 percent Italian love. We make our pizza dough fresh every- day and the pizza sauce has been a secret sauce from day one. We never changed the way we make or served our pizza and customers love the way it tastes.
We use a lunch strategy to have your pizza ready to serve as soon as you order it. The order comes through our POS system and orders are placed in different sections so that your order goes right to the place where it needs to be made fast and fresh. We have an experienced staff that has been making pizza for over 35 years. With the help of our POS system, we process our orders super fast and get that food to our customers
as soon as possible so that they may enjoy their lunch break.
My management secret is that if you’re honest and loyal, hard work and determination will pay off in the end. Paying bills on time and running a shop the right way will lead you into a profitable pizza shop — not taking short cuts. Working hard and doing the right thing will lead to good things. Keep your customers happy and give them what they want — good Italian pizza. Hard work pays off in the end!
With the help of my mother and father who passed away, and my wife and two kids, Domi- nic and Frances, along with countless others — my sister, my brother, a lot of my cousins –– we manage to run the operation since 1976. We all felt that hard work and striving to make the best home cooked Italian meals that we all ate — we shared these with all of our customers, who enjoyed these great meals. We are all committed to serving downtown Pittsburgh for years and years to come. We have a belief of giving our customers what they want and showing them how the Italian people thrive on making great food. We all have worked so hard these last 35 years, and I have to commend my family for following in my dream to have a pizza shop in downtown Pittsburgh. We were the first and we will continue to show how hard we work and we are committed to prove we do have great food and we do love our customers.
We show a family atmosphere as a customer that you are at our home with us. My father and I would go to work early every morning to prepare everything and my mother would make everything homemade. My wife works so hard for so many years, beeing there so early to make sure every- thing is running so smooth. My kids have adapted to the new ways of improving through technology with Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and also using the Internet to start running in-house ads for specials. So we have come a long way from right food or- ders to moving into the future with new technol- ogy to keep up with the times. My kids show me that it is time to leave behind the ’70s and move into the new age of selling pizza. My kids are so wonderful, wanting to be part of our history, and I love that from them.
No doubt you’ve seen the pink splashed across these pages as you’ve flipped through Pizza Today over past couple years. So, why the pink? What is Slice of Hope? Slice of Hope is the answer to the question that had been nagging at this magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Jeremy White. What could be done about a disease that is so all encompassing that one in eight women will be hit with it in their lifetime? And furthermore, what could his involvement in the pizza industry do to help these women? What Jeremy resolved to do was to make a call to action to all 70,000 pizzerias in this country to come together for one day and fight breast cancer in a meaningful way. What was born from this was Slice of Hope and the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation.
I recently became the Development Director (and first employee ever!) of the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation and committed myself to this cause after also being personally touched by the disease. That’s all it really takes –– for one person you know and love to be affected by it. It’s just like you are instantly part of this ‘club’ that you never knew existed or could possibly hold so many of us in its web. You can be left at an absolute loss for what to do in the face of something so daunting. But the answer can be simple; the answer is simply to act. Some people race, some people host gala dinners –– what we’re asking you to do is come together as a community of restaurant owners for one night and give so that we can fund the breast cancer research studies that will one day find a cure for this disease.
You’ve read pieces like this before, so what sets us apart? Why should you choose to join us and give a piece of your hard-earned profits to our foundation? You should choose to give because chances are you are reading this and thinking of an aunt, a customer, a wife or a daughter who has had this disease. You should choose to give because your contribution will help them find hope or even save their life. And finally, why Slice of Hope? Because 100 percent of our proceeds go directly to the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation. No overhead costs, no wondering where your dollars went –– every dollar raised goes directly to the leading breast cancer research studies around the country.
As you read this and think about participating in this year’s Slice of Hope, understand that we are united by the commonality of this disease. Understand that as one of the largest industries in the nation, we have the opportunity (and possibly the obligation) to come together and truly affect enormous positive change in our communities. We hope that you choose to join us in our efforts to end this disease and become part of our growing community this year, and in the years to come.
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.
The union of small batch beer and wood-fired pizza just seemed to be a natural fit. Think about it, the artisanal components of each craft go hand-in-hand, pizza — flour, water, salt and yeast; beer — malted barley, water, hops and yeast. Both crafts take a great deal of patience and integrity. Ultimately, it’s about our guests enjoying time honored and very locally produced food and drink… a brewery and pizzeria fit the cause.
I left my day job in finance just over three years ago to pursue this project. It took a great deal of time to get confident enough to pull the trigger. I’ve had two wonderful mentors, Tom and Sandy Hennessey from Colorado Boy Pub and Brewery, in Ridgway, Colorado. They were the push to get this place up and running.
Although our brewery is small (7 Barrel System), it was a significant investment –– well over the cost of the restaurant side of the business. The ability to brew small batches keeps our menu fresh and rotational. We get direct feedback from our customers, letting us know what beers they enjoy. In turn, we can brew crowd favorites in a matter of a few weeks. Our customers definitely play a big role in the direction our beer takes.
I think food pairings are very specific to one’s palate. In general terms, India Pale Ales are well received with spicy foods like our spicy fennel sausage, whereas our more delicate American-style Kolsch beer is delicious with our pesto pizza.
Beer-to-go in growlers is a big thing for us… you can’t get much fresher beer than a fresh-from the- tap poured growler. Most of our customers either grab a pizza with the beer to go, or enjoy a pint at the bar while their growler is being poured.
So far, (marketing efforts have) been mainly social media. It’s amazing the power social media posts can have if (they are) meaningful and relevant…. especially, word-of-mouth from our happy and excited customers. Also, craft beer lovers will take extraordinary steps to track down a local brewery, which in turn is fantastic for our pizza oven!
Short-term plans revolve around brewing many different beers and keeping up with our patrons’ demand at the pub level. Once we have our brewing production schedule dialed in, we’d love to see our beer on tap at specialty beer bars and other local venues focusing on craft beer.
According to a 2012 Technomic report, nearly 40 percent of adults living with children said the kids influence where they decide to purchase pizza.
Next month’s International Pizza Expo show floor will be larger than 5 ½ football fields and will feature approximately 1,000 exhibitor booths.
Indiana has 2,019 pizzerias
Big Mama’s & Papa’s Pizzeria in California recently delivered a 196-slice pizza to a birth- day party in Disneyland. The restaurant calls it “The Largest Deliverable Pizza in the World,” though others lay claim to that distinction as well.
Places That Rock // Krescendo Brooklyn / RiZe / Lucky Pie
364 Atlantic Avenue
New York City, New York 11217
Brooklyn pizza scene new kid on the block Krescendo is backed by Elizabeth Falkner of “The Next Iron Chef: Redemption” and Nancy Puglisi, co-owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco. In addition to its Neapolitan pizza offerings, Krescendo has brought creative and artistic pizzas to its menu. The Finocchio Flower Power features panna, braised fennel, fennel sausage, fennel fronds, shaved provolone, calabrese chili powder, fiori di finocchio and olive oil; while the Californication features mozzarella, goat cheese, walnut arugula pesto, pardon peppers, prosciutto, arugula and a hint of honey. The restaurant also specializes in sweets –– one of Faulkner’s culinary specialties. The dessert menu highlights dishes like the Cassata with ricotta crema, pistachio sponge, tangerine sorbetto, candied citrus, Campari cherries, chocolate and marzipan and the Tartufo with gianduja semifreddo, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, cocoa nib, sbrosolona, and candied hazelnuts.
19900 Detroit Road
Rocky River, Ohio 44116
This new pizzeria in northwest Ohio knows how to draw lunch business with its small one-topping pizza and a can of soda special for $5. RiZe features nearly a dozen specialty pizzas like the Asiago Eggplant with red sauce, breaded eggplant, mozzarella and Asiago and the Mexican with salsa verde, chipotle chicken, black beans, tomato, mozzarella, cilantro and chipotle ranch drizzle, as well as a rotating monthly special pizza. A recent Pizza of the Month was the Steakhouse with A1 Steak Sauce, mozzarella, ribeye steak, portabella mushrooms, caramelized onions and bleu cheese crumbles. A 12-inch pie runs $13.99. RiZe has also established itself as the “go to” spot for wings with 14 sauces categorized as sweets, milds and hots (18 wings cost $12.99).
637 Front Street
Louisville, Colorado 80027
Lucky Pie is using its house-made mozzarella to its fullest potential by offering a mozzarella and meats bar with four cheeses and four meats to choice from, with the addition of toppings, like the peperonata tapenade, fig gastrique or currant relish. The pizzeria offers an eclectic mix of pizzas from its Roasted Red Pepper with mozzarella, feta, olives, oregano, olive oil and chili flakes ($12) to the Bruges with shaved brussels sprouts, apples, fontina, mozzarella, and toasted pistachios ($13). It has also changed up the traditional breadsticks with black pepper grissini wrapped with prosciutto and fig gastrique ($8).
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 Rick Daugherty
In a competitive market, standing out is imperative to success. For Orlando, Florida-based Flippers Pizzeria, differentiation has been key to its execution –– but so, too, has putting into place the right management team to take the company to the next level. As a result, Flippers has flourished to 14 stores with sales of more than $15 million, and the company is on the precipice of an enviable wave of growth.
Flippers Pizzeria started 25 years ago by Scott Kousaie and partner Todd Dennis, but “where we started and what Flippers was originally is nothing close to what you see today,” Kousaie says. “We had the basic philosophy of wanting a higher quality and we had some ability but not the knowledge or the know-how … and the (right) people around us to make it all happen. In the beginning, you’re struggling financially with investment and what your dream is and what your reality is usually doesn’t marry up in the beginning.”
By the mid 1990s, Flippers had grown to five stores and a commissary, “but we really hadn’t found a way to put it all together,” Kousaie says. They focused less on physical growth and more on building store sales and by 2004 in-store sales had doubled. They implemented profit sharing with their managers and put into place an upper management team that “took the concept to another level,” he says. The year 2008 proved to be pivotal when new partner Don Howard helped the company smarten its brand, modernize their fast-casual look and place a greater emphasis on franchising. “We took the food and our culture and wrapped it into an attractive package that had the look and the feel of a national brand,” Kousaie says.
From left, Director of Purchasing & Distribution Jessie Malek; Regional Director Gwen Kousaie; VP of Operations Ben Richardson; CEO and Founding Partner Scott Kousaie and Director of Training & Development Josh Hogan
Today, Flippers Pizzeria encompasses nine corporate and five franchise stores, and a 16-unit franchising agreement has been signed for the Tampa area. They also operate a commissary, which “gives us the ability to actively select the ingredients and products that we want,” says Jessie Malek, Flippers’ director of purchasing and distribution. “If we don’t have it, then we have the ability to produce it. The fresh chicken, as an example, is an all-natural chicken and we manufacture that at the commissary. We went from a pumped up chicken breast to an all-natural product, and that has done wonders for us. We package it ourselves and we private label it.
“Another ingredient (processed at the commissary) is the prosciutto, which is a little bit more on the high-end side and that’s definitely what we’re more about.”
Ben Richardson, vice president of operations, says that dealing with distributors at the corporate level allows franchisees to focus on their product in the stores. “To be able to send an order off for 250 items is huge,” he says.
Still, Kousaie is quick to point out that much is made in-house. “We make our dough fresh, on-premises,” he says, and sauce is made and vegetables chopped on-site. “Our concept is premium. We go for the best.”
They prefer to let the stores handle as much as possible to build what they call “Passion for Product’ because “when the team members see what goes into making our pizza sauce, that’s one of those intangible things that really builds pride and passion,” Richardson says. “Making dough on premises is another good example. We use extravirgin olive oil and All-Trumps flour –– the best stuff that you can get.
You would think that team members would be reluctant to make dough, but knowing they put their hands on it –– from the ingredients to the finished product –– is a really great discovery that we’ve had with our team. It really builds pride for the product.”
As a result, pizza accounts for 70 to 75 percent of sales. (Alcohol accounts for two to 10 percent depending on location). “Without a doubt, pizza is our driver,” Kousaie says. “Pizza is our passion.”
Aside from traditional cheese and pepperoni, Flippers has 23 specialty pizzas and more than 40 toppings on its menu. One of the biggest sellers is the Mediterranean Chicken (basil, pesto sauce, chicken, spinach, roasted peppers, Roma tomatoes, black olives and feta cheese). They added a smaller personal-sized pizza known as the “My Pie,” and “the driving force behind that is when you typically have pizza with a group of people, you end up with something like cheese or pepperoni,” Richardson says. “One of the things that makes us different is that you can get one of these and get what you want and don’t have to worry about sharing. You can get something that you crave. That’s what we do here –– create that perfect pizza experience.”
And Flippers elevates its flavor profiles with fresh ingredients like basil, garlic, sea salt and a propriertary spice blend that lends uniqueness to their dishes. Deliveries two to three times per week keep ingredients at their peak and lower the need for walk-in cooler space.
Recently, they added a Margherita pizza to their menu, but didn’t just use the toppings already found in their kitchens. They use D.O.P.-certified San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil and EVOO. “We knew we could sell it, but the goal for us was to do it right, and we could bake it in our brick ovens,” Kousaie says. “I’d stand our Margherita up against anybody’s out there in terms of taste and quality.”
While Flippers’ focus on food and quality has helped establish it in the Orlando market, the company also realizes that marketing and community service are vital. School sponsorships and donations such as student achievement cards have been successful tools for the company, says Kelly Pfister, director of sales and marketing. “Whatever the schools need we’ll do –– taking our sponsorship ads on the football fields and scoreboards, encouraging them to come in for spirit night as well as sponsoring Little League and men’s softball teams.”
Donating slices during events gets Flippers’ name into the community and generates positive word of mouth, which increases catering business and promotes lunch specials.
Social media is used to drive guests to the Web site and their mobile app, and they do some couponing to increase traffic in some of their tourist locations. “Direct mail goes out every week at all of our stores, so we’re consistent with that,” Pfister says.
Joshua Hogan, director of training and development, says their customer appreciation card (which gives customers a free two-topping My Pie) is another tool that is especially successful in new markets. “We stand behind our product so well that we give out hundreds a day leading up to that opening,” Hogan says. “Sometimes, we’ve reached into the thousands just so that people can get a free sample of our product. We stand behind it, and we know once they taste it, they’ll be back. I think that is the biggest tool that we have.”
Adds Richardson: “We put a lot into our product, and we don’t want to devalue it. Even though we do feel that we compete with the big three for our customers, we don’t consider them competition. We don’t want the discount pizza competition.”
With operations and marketing down, the company is poised for expansion. They have plans for growth at the corporate level and have a 16-store franchise deal in place for expansion in the Tampa market over the next eight years.
“We want to make sure that we grow smartly, so that the brand is protected,” he adds. “We’re not going to grow beyond our ability to handle it.”
Franchise openings are handled the same as corporate stores, with Hogan and his team on-site for training and continuous evaluations to ensure consistency. “We’re not branching out too quickly or too far to where we can’t handle it or build the infrastructure to handle it,” Kousaie says. Adds Richardson: “Building a strong culture at each store that we open is what will be the continued success of the company.”
Mandy Detwiler is managing editor of Pizza Today.
We embody the ‘family’ atmosphere of our business by ensuring that our business philosophy is what truly motivates us to be in business. Our primary purpose is to be a
blessing to all that come in contact with Christianos Pizza. If we all have that goal in mind, we will serve our customers at a very high level, treat our employees with great respect, and have meaningful relationships with the many who in some way interact with our business.
We manage the three restaurants together. We work very hard to withhold a high standard of service, quality of food and cleanliness at all three of our locations. Daily conversations between restaurants help us to work together, keeping our goals and standards at the top of the priority list. We have a great team of leadership that really sees the importance of our business philosophy and uses that as our motivation everyday. We greatly understand the importance of all three of our locations having a high level of consistency.
Our birthday club allows our customers to sign up through our Web site to receive a free personal pizza on their birthday. It’s a great opportunity for individuals that have never had our pizza to try it or just another reason to come celebrate with friends and family on their birthday. Not only is there an opportunity for a birthday individual to bring in other paying patrons, but we also understand the great emotional value for our customers of celebrating important moments in their lives at our establishments. We want them to create memories with Christianos Pizza.
Our double crust pizza is simply two dough balls together to create more of a hand tossed crust rather than our traditional thin crust. Our double crust is mostly popular with the younger generations or those who enjoy a couple of specific specialty pizzas that we have. Our Mediterranean and BBQ pizzas are both made on the double crust and are very popular. Our Mediterranean is made with a creamy red pepper sauce, spinach, shrimp, and mozzarella.
Our partially baked pizza is our pizza just partially baked in our brick ovens. We cook the pizza about half way. This allows our customers to finish baking their pie at their convenience. Many will pick up a “par” bake while they are out and cook it later that evening. Cooking instructions are simple. Preheat oven to 425 F, bake for 5 to 10 minutes or until crust is golden brown.
We can honestly say we have some of the best gelato in the country. Our gelato is real artisan gelato made by an artisan gelato maker who studied in Italy. There are no mixes, powders or flavor bases. Our gelato is created using nothing artificial. Every flavor you taste is the real deal. We have our gelato displayed in nice glass cases when you walk into our restaurant. For us, it is our lobster tank. Once it catches your eye its hard to resist.
According to a 2012 Global Security Report by Trustwave, the food and beverage industry accounted for 44 percent of data breach investigations in 2011. It was the highest percentage of all industries.
International Pizza Expo is just two months away, March 19-21
has 412 pizzerias
The Big Four
America’s four largest pizza companies combine for $22.1 billion in worldwide sales
2035 Metairie Rd.
Metairie, Louisiana 70005
Mark Twain’s not only offers a gluten-free pizza, but customers also build it themselves at the table — a big hit for cautious diners to see the pizza made right in front of them. Any pie on the menu can be made with the gluten-free crust. Additionally, Mark Twain’s offers a handful of specialty pizzas, including The Mysterious Stranger with spinach, feta, Canadian bacon or charisee sausage and choice of vegetable
(12-inch for $15.99). The Innocents Abroad features genoa salami, Italian sausage, tomatoes, artichokes and fresh basil (12-inch for $15.99). True to its Cajun roots,
the pizzeria also offers a Creole Pizza with shrimp, Andouille sausage, crab meat and zucchini (12-inch for $16.99), as well as a variety of Po’ Boys and it’s New Orleans’ Muffaletta.
1625 Mesquite Ave.
Lake Havasu City, Arizona 86403
Mudshark is comprised of a pizzeria, brew pub restaurant and an off-site brewery. While the brew pub restaurant is a big draw in this small, tourism-strong, desert city, the pizzeria is known as the place the locals go. From food bank donations to raising money for area scholarships, Mudshark backs its community. The pizzeria features more than a dozen specialty pizzas (14-inch for $15.99) like the Polynesian Style with sweet ’n sour sauce, three cheese blend, ham, bell peppers, red onion, pineapple and cashews and the Mediterranean with pesto cream sauce, three cheese blend, artichoke hearts, green olives, spinach and feta. Mudshark also highlights its craft beer, offering UpRiver Lager, Dry Heat Hefeweizen, Scorpion Amber Ale, and 2012 Scotch Ale for
$3.25 for a 16-ounce draft.
312 Kittson Ave.
Grand Forks, North Dakota 58201
What began as a summer smoothie stand has grown to a three-unit pizza company. Rhombus Guys drives mid-day sales with its Happy Hour specials — half-priced Cheesy Bread, Quesadillas and Rhombus Sticks and drink specials from 3-6 p.m. There are dozens of Rhombus original thin-crust pies, including the Pulled Pork with Jerk sauce, red peppers, tomato, onion, pepperoncinis and cheddar (medium at
$21.99); the Tuscany with mustard Tuscan sauce, garlic, chicken, onion, red pepper, tomato, mozzarella, ricotta and oregano (medium at $19.99); and the Amalfi Coast with olive oil, arugula, tomato, goat cheese, basil, prosciutto, Kalamata olives and mozzarella (medium at $21.99).
Photos by Rick Daugherty
When most folks think about Orlando, it’s traditional New York pizzeria before relocating to Orlando Markaj moved down the theme parks, conventions and tourism that readily come to mind. but for Bronx-native Johnny Markaj, the bustling downtown district is where he has carved a niche for his pizzeria, Anthony’s Pizzeria & Italian restaurant.
Nestled downtown on a street lined with trees, small businesses and homes, it’s a far cry from the chains and hotels his city is known for. and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Markaj spent his formative years working for his uncle, Anthony Marku, who owned a traditional New York pizzeria before relocating in 1986. Markaj moved down in 1997 and began working in his uncle’s new pizzeria and in 2001, he bought in as 50-percent owner before taking it over completely a few years ago.
Today, there are several other Anthony’s in the area, and all are independently owned and operated by Marku, other family members and friends. each has its own recipes. Markaj’s store on Summerlin avenue (check) is located in historic Thornton Park, and “it’s a great little neighborhood.
it wasn’t that great years ago,” Markaj says. “when we opened up, (it) was right when it started to turn a little bit. People thought we were nuts for opening up here (but) it worked out well for us. We’ve made ourselves part of the community. Ninety percent of my customers are all repeat customers.”
Annually, the restaurant brings in $1.2 million and employs 16 to 22 people. The majority of its business –– 65 percent –– is dine-in. Delivery makes up about 10 percent, with carry- out about 25 percent.
Orlando is home to hundreds of restaurants both chain and independent, and “competition is healthy,” Markaj says. “I love competition. You never heard Michael Jordan say ‘oh, sh--! Here comes the nix. Competition keeps everybody on their toes … Especially in the past four or five years.”
To increase business amidst Orlando’s changing restaurant landscape, “two years ago, when the economy took a dive, I started to deliver. I’d never delivered before,” Markaj says. “I do a lot of marketing in that aspect –– a lot of guerilla marketing (like) coupons for delivery. There are no dine-in coupons for that. It’s all for delivery to boost sales when we slow down a little bit.”
Although delivery is a challenge, he says adding it was necessary to increase business. “I don’t enjoy delivery,” he admits. “It raises all my costs across the board, but you make more money.”
Pizza accounts for 65 percent of sales, which is a big amount to push out in Anthony’s limited space. “I have an extremely small kitchen,” Markaj says. He places distribution orders three to four times a week to ensure freshness and maximize space, but the traditional new york-style pizzeria doesn’t require an extensive menu. “We run a lot of specials depending on what day of the week it is,” Markaj says, “but I don’t generally run them on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday when we’re really busy. We just don’t have the room.”
Aside from daily specials, Markaj says he hasn’t changed the menu in seven or eight years –– he hasn’t needed to –– but the menu will soon receive an overhaul to accommodate some physical changes he plans to make to the restaurant.
“I keep my menu short, simple and the best that we can make it,” he says. “But everything’s made fresh daily.”
Much is made by hand, including dough, sauces, cutting and breading chicken and slicing vegetables for pizzas and salads. “My labor costs are high,” he says. “Kitchen and labor run the highest (up to 30 percent) but it’s necessary unless I want to get back there myself seven days a week, which I don’t. I don’t have the time.” (he also runs a Mexican restaurant nearby and took on a partner, Eri Lulo, with plans to expand both concepts in the future. although they maintain separate menus,operating two restaurants in close proximity gives him more buying power.)
Pepperoni and classic cheese are, of course, the company’s top sellers, but he plans to experiment with gourmet pizzas with his new menu. “I think i’m going to do them in one size. Keep them smaller,” he says. Although there hasn’t been a customer demand for it, “I’m going to teach them about it.”
Although Anthony’s has made a name for itself in the community, Markaj favors guerilla marketing tactics over more traditional advertising outlets.
“I’ve tried everything (from) newspapers to magazines, but I don’t really think that works that well,” he says. “It’s mostly guerilla marketing and social media. it’s a lot of door-to-door, hanging flyers and coupons as far as delivery goes (and) social media and word-of-mouth for the dine-in side. I really push my staff on getting their friends in there … To come in and hang out. We’ll give them a small discount to entice them to come in instead of running coupons.
“We also have a lot of beer specials for the games –– bucket specials and happy hour. That’s mostly word of mouth.”
The restaurant initially sold beer and wine before obtaining a liquor license in 2007. That proved challenging because Anthony’s is in close proximity to a school, but today alcohol accounts for a whopping 18 percent of sales.
Although Markaj and his partner do plan concept growth in the future, immediate focus will be on renovating the current Anthony’s location first and finding the right people to grow his concept. At one time, he had multiple units but found it difficult to manage them single-handedly and his staff was spread too thin. “A big thing for me is maintaining quality,” he says. “Do I want to sell out and become a Papa John’s or a Domino’s, or do I want to stay an independent and make it the best that I can? I’m all about quality and service and I like being a part of my community.
“If I get any bigger on the pizza aspect –– a hand-tossed, new york-style pizza –– to keep it real and original, you have to have the right staff,” he says. “I can’t just put a machine back there to make the pizzas, you know? If your staff is not trained properly, then don’t even start a pizza shop.”
He does daily one-on-one meetings with staff, and “most of my guys have been here forever and the ones that have left have left to open up their own
places in town. … They’re successful on their own, and they learned that from me,” Markaj says. “I taught them how to make a pie. Staff training is no. 1. I can only do so much. … All that other stuff –– marketing, etc. –– none of it matters if your staff is not trained properly.”
When it comes to expansion, Markaj doesn’t expect an overnight explosion of units and has no pressing plans for franchising the Anthony’s concept.
Orlando was hit hard by the economic downturn (once surrounded by mortgage brokers and realty companies, Anthony’s lunch sales was especially hit hard by Orlando’s real estate fall) but Markaj wants to grow smart rather than fast. “Like everything else in life, you’ve got to be committed,” he says. “This is a business that you have to be committed to.”
Mandy Detwiler is managing editor of Pizza Today.
‘Business as usual...’ is what I used to say when people would ask how things were going. It simply meant that I was making a living. It meant that, on any given day, I could tell you within a 10-percent margin of error what my days sales were going to be, which employee I could count on to be on time, and which customer would be in to get his weekly usual. Sometimes, it also meant that I could send out a mailer or insert and be guaranteed an increase in sales. Usually it meant that most of my awesome staff were grateful they had a job and wanted to keep it. Customers were excited to see what we were up to and they loved to hear about our pizza travels or watch us on television. My patrons bought my pizza because they loved it — price was always secondary.
But that was before the recession. Now I see huge daily sales swings. This week a Tuesday may be $4,000 and next week it might be $1,700. Traditional marketing is dead. Customers are short on money and will not tolerate any price increases. At one point, a customer broke down in tears upon realizing that our pizza prices had gone up.
My annual turnover has gone from a handful to dozens and I can’t get a decent application to save my life. Money means little to today’s worker. My pizza makers make nearly $12 per hour if they complete their training, but most won’t because as they have told me in the past: “I don’t want to work that hard because you will expect it from me all the time.” Wow. Even a single word of correction or discipline and the employee walks.
Much of my marketing has revolved around the accomplishments of my pizzerias and myself. I have been fortunate enough to be able to travel the world competing and have been on numerous television shows. One online review of my pizzeria said that we were our town’s “Claim to Fame.” Many patrons now take their business elsewhere, because they think I am out of touch with them.
So, after nearly 20 years in the pizza business, I think I can safely say that things are now upside down. We must start adapting and start thinking way, way outside the box in order to survive. Alternative marketing methods like social media, networking and cross promotions are now the cornerstone of my marketing.
My trainee hats are printed with “Newbie” in big bold letters. They can move up only by completing training. Pay raises won’t motivate them, but trading that Newbie hat in for what ends up ultimately being a“Master”hat sure does. Sadly, I am also finding ways to operate with less employees. I am building a smarter menu with higher value perception to help keep my prices down. I am finding cheaper packaging and buying more in bulk. I still refuse to reduce portions or quality.
My communities have been hit hard by the bad economy. Capitalizing on my newsworthiness was a great marketing practice in the past, but not today. Anti-capitalist and anti- establishment sentiment are growing and customers are paying close attention to how my pizzeria spends its money. We have to be aware of the social and political atmosphere of our communities. Say or do the wrong thing today and people will take their hard earned pizza dollars elsewhere. It almost seems like I am learning how to be in business all over again. Welcome to the “new” business as usual!