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.
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