Photos by Rick Daugherty
The Pizza Today staff has seen our fair share of pizzerias in good locations. From midtown Manhattan to just steps off of the beach in Ft. Lauderdale, there are dozens of places that prove it’s all about location.
Meet Zacky’s Pizzeria. When Pizza Today visited last spring, it was to Meredith, New Hampshire, we headed, a drive about an hour-and-a-half north of Manchester. Set on the shore of scenic Lake Winnipesaukee at a busy four-way intersection, it’s hard to miss the steady stream of cars –– often backing up for miles –– that pass this 2,700-square-foot pizzeria.
“The traffic goes up past (the high school) for two miles,” Elliot says. “This is a really tough intersection to get into or out of.” Wife Rachel says the intersection has even been named one of the five worst in the country.
Still, you can’t fault the Elliots for their tough location –– the traffic gives them plenty of daily exposure to the 6,600 year-round residents. During the summer months, the town population swells to 44,000. Aside from the annual tourist traffi c, Meredith also hosts a yearly motorcycle rally that brings new business to the area –– customers for whom Zacky’s, like other restaurants, must compete. Memorial Day, Bike Weekend, the July 4th weekend and autumn “leaf peepers” keep Zacky’s busy until around the end of October, when business wanes.
The theme here is sports memorabilia (the restaurant is named for the Elliot’s son, who plays three sports himself), but not just your average prints and mass-manufactured jerseys. “When people come in, we wanted them to feel that they could look up and see one thing that they related to,” says Elliot, “so that while they’re sitting down in here enjoying lunch or dinner, they could relate to it and have a conversation and relive the past.”
Part of these sports antiques comes from Elliot’s father and date back to the 1940s. There’s also a collection of original Annalee dolls –– Meredith is home to the parent company.
The shop itself has had two previous owners before Elliot took over in 2008. Elliot has a storied background that includes private investigations, sports management and –– as a kid –– even candymaking. He says Zacky’s was a “disaster” when they first bought the place, but they saw potential and turned it around quickly. Today, Zacky’s has a second 24-hour operation at a travel plaza in Auburn, New Hampshire. The original location closes in mid October or November, depending on the weather, and reopens in the late spring.
At the Meredith location, “what we try to do in here is to stay as simple as we possibly can, but yet we try to have as much homemade food on our menu as possible,” Elliot says. Among those you’ll find the non-traditional Lumpia, six Filipino spring rolls –– a nod to his wife’s heritage. They marinate the steak tips for their hot subs and make their own meatballs, dough and sauce.
When it comes to the menu, “simplicity matters because we get so much business in here,” Elliot says. “We’ve got to multitask so often in here. For us, we don’t have the time to get into the gourmet-type foods. We just want to keep it simple.”
Despite its simplicity, Zacky’s offers a wide variety of sandwiches, appetizers, salads, pizza, calzones and plated dinners. “I go to Boston to get a lot of my foods,” Elliot says. “We make the trip down there every week to buy all of our produce.”
Zacky’s offerings have received accolades, even winning “A Slice of Heaven” award from a weekly alternative magazine in Manchester. Aside from the blueberry apple streusel and breakfast pizza Elliot made for our visit, there’s a solid menu of traditional and gourmet offerings that provides plenty of options for its customers.
“At lot of times, we get a lot of people who come in here and (ask): ‘Is your pizza thin crust or thick crust?’” Elliot says. “We say it’s somewhere in between. … For us, we’ve always looked at it as an art. What we try to teach all of our employees is that we want all of our pizzas to have a personality. And, we want the pizza to be able to talk back to the customer — so color, appearance, presentation and character are all important to us when we design a pizza.”
A specialty line of pizzas includes Zacky’s Special, with pepperoni, ham, salami, mushroom, onion, sausage, tomato, green pepper and black olives ($12.50 for a 10-inch and $16.95 for a 16- inch). The Lake Winnipesaukee Special, a meat pie that doesn’t mess around, is topped with hamburger, bacon, ham, sausage and pepperoni ($12.25 for a 10- inch and $16.50 for a 16-inch large).
They work out of two well-loved deck ovens. “In the summertime, we turn the bottom one on so we can fi t up to 12 large pizzas in here at any one time,” Elliot says.
In order to successfully pull that menu off, the 20 or so employees are cross-trained for maximum efficiency. “We want everybody in here to do everything,” Elliot says. “High schoolers obviously can’t use a lot of the equipment, but I don’t just hire somebody to come in here to do the cash register. There’s just no time for that.”
Competition is fierce in this small tourist town, and there are several other pizza restaurants within a stone’s throw of Zacky’s. How do they maintain their individuality? “All of the other places are smaller,” Elliot says. “We have the largest sit down –– we have 42 seats and 16 tables in here. A couple of the places have 12 to 16 seats.”
Another point of differentiation? Private-label sodas. “We designed the label. When we started, what we did was every two months, we’d add a new flavor,” Elliot says. “People love these. It’s a great marketing tool for us. … The bottles are collectors’ items.”
An ice cream counter was added over the summer for those days when a big meal is just too much.
As a result of their 24-hour plaza operation, the Elliots have been able to keep their finger on the pulse of their area. “It’s kind of neat because we get a lot of truckers from around the country and we’ll get a lot of varied requests, particularly the pizzas or subs,” Elliot says. “Another good thing about (the travel plaza location) is that with the economy being the way it’s been, we’ve been able to get the pulse of what’s going on in other parts of the country and, really, how bad people are hurting out there.”
As a result, they’ve ramped up their marketing, including some non-traditional methods like using a golf cart with a car topper to pass out samples during events at Heskey Park, just across the street from their pizzeria.
“We try to go door-to-door to all the businesses from here out in a five-mile radius and we hand out coupons and menus,” Elliot adds.
With two locations under their belts, what are the Elliots doing to increase business? They’ve explored catering and have added birthday parties, and plan to add costumed characters at their busy intersection. They will handout small samples to the passing traffic –– inventive ways to drive traffic into the store instead of just past it. Capture just a small percentage of the estimated 5,000 cars that pass through each day, and Zacky’s just might be able to cash in on that heavy traffic. Admits Elliot: “It gets crazy around here!” ❖
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
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