Photos by Josh Keown
I have a restaurant in Wilmington, NC, and want to add pizza to the menu. I am clueless to the pizza industry other than I love good NY pizza! Can you give me a list of equipment I need with brand names included? And should I buy pre- made dough or have the pizza chef make it him- self? The seating capacity is 295.
P.S. My kitchen has plenty of room for equip- ment and I have natural gas — and the water here is horrible!
Your question is close to my heart. I’ve opened seven Big Dave’s Pizzas and dozens for clients. You are on the right track. You’ll be facing a bunch of big de- cisions and lots of small business decisions regarding opening a new place. Over the years, I have written about the subject extensively as well as presented seminars at International Pizza Expo in Vegas. First things first:
1. Determine the type and style of pizza you want to offer. What style of pizza will you be competing against?
2. Each style and type of pizza will determine the oven type. NY-style pizzas are typically baked in a deck rather than a conveyor oven. Deck ovens are fueled mostly with gas burners. Wood, coal and hybrid ovens are getting to be the rage lately. If you decide to bake using wood or coal you will have some staffing considerations. The extra effort is worth it. Your pie will be unique to all others and will create a buzz in your town.
3. I’m a huge proponent of making your own pizza dough. Once you get some hands-on training you’ll lose the fear of the unknown and gain confidence in hand making truly superior dough. I’d recommend either purchasing purified spring water for your dough or budgeting in a high-tech reverse osmosis water filtration system for your entire place. Most of the industry’s masters have gone this route. A few years ago I was engaged to open a chain of pizzerias in Dubai. I had never experienced water so hard and salty. I decided that purchasing imported drinking water would be cost and system effective for consistent dough.
Your curiosity is very wide spread. Next March I will be presented a very popular seminar at Inter- national Pizza Expo titled, “So You Want to Open a Pizzeria?” It’s a three- to four-hour workshop held the day before Expo officially opens. If you can wait that long, it will be worth your while. No question will go unanswered. And for the next few days you can kick equipment tires and sample ingredients like no place on earth. The seminars are very informative. I would love to meet you and introduce you to my industry.
Big Dave Ostrander owned a highly successful independent pizzeria before becoming a consultant, speaker and internationally sought-aftertrainer. Heisa monthly contributor to Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
Solar powered and community minded—Brooklyn Pizza Company brings New York-style pizza to Tucson, Arizona. Opened in 1996, the pizzeria is centered in the hip, eclectic business corridor of Fourth Avenue, nestled next to the University of Arizona (UofA). It’s usually a busy district of foot and street traffic, taking in the mix of restaurants, bars and shops.
Owner, Tony Vaccaro
But, the block was a buzz of construction during a Pizza Today visit this summer. Fourth Avenue was closed and the sidewalk in front of the pizzeria was a maze of fencing, weaving around the crossing street intersections. The beeping of steamrollers, bull dozens and dump trucks, the blowing dust and flurry of construction crews about, and Brooklyn Pizza Company remained open, even while some neighboring businesses closed.
The construction—continued through July— is part of a $196.8-million modern streetcar line transit system, that will link Fourth Avenue with UofA, downtown Tucson and the historic Westside. “The construction has hurt business obviously,” Vaccaro says. “It’s hard to get here.”
To accommodate Brooklyn’s customers, Vaccaro’s team put up signs to direct traffic to the building. He also sent out mailers with maps. Brooklyn ran a “Construction Special,” giving a free pint of its house-made Italian ice with any purchase over $15.
Even with Vaccaro’s efforts, Brooklyn’s sales were down 20 percent from its previous year during the street project. He says he was kept abreast of the streetcar updates and he sent a staff member to community meetings.
The inconveniences and loss in sales, Vaccaro says, will all be worth it. “Afterwards, business will be up 20 percent and that will last for many years to come,” he says, adding that a new residence hall being constructed a block away will also increase sales for the long run.
A sustainable transit system that improves the environment and reduces congestion is quite fitting for a pizzeria that was the first in southern Arizona to become 100-percent solar powered. When Vaccaro bought the building that housed his pizzeria and a neighboring nightclub SkyBar nearly six years ago, he immediately began to retrofit the facility with solar panels. Adding the units in three installations, the final stage was completed in 2010. The rooftops of Brooklyn and SkyBar are filled with solar panels. The last
stage was its most creative. Vaccaro turned his parking lot into covered parking with panels lining the tops of custom parking structures. It’s become an added relief for customers in the sun-soaked desert.
Vaccaro was able to install the entire $600,000-solar system for $150,000, thanks to federal grants, state rebates and local power company rebates. He says the solar will be paid off within five to seven years, adding that the panels last more than 30 years. “It’s great on so many levels and the customers love it,” he says.
When patrons enter the 50-seat pizzeria, they can view Brooklyn’s live energy production on a wall-mounted monitor, along with rotating renewable energy facts. Having the monitor, Vaccaro says, gets a lot of attention. Customers are able to witness firsthand
the impact of the system that * generates over 160,000 kilowatts of electricity per year, resulting in more than $488,000 in utility cost savings over the next 25 years. Going beyond solar, Brooklyn participates in other green programs including recycling, delivery service using a Smartcar and an electric Zap Car and water collection to run the water-cooling system for the Italian ice machine.
Vaccaro says, Brooklyn’s commitment to the environment is part the pizzeria’s unique selling proposition and separates it from competitors.
Brooklyn is also one of the few pizzerias in southern Arizona to have an open kitchen to the dining area where guests can watch the pizzaiolo hand-toss dough and make its New York-style pizza. A hard-working deck oven bakes a lot of pizza. Vaccaro says Brooklyn’s $2-million annual sales comes almost exclusively from pizza. “We keep it simple,” he says. “A lot of other places get convoluted with too many different things.”
Brooklyn doesn’t offer a long list of specialty pies, instead presents a list of toppings and lets customers pick their favorites on a slice or a whole pie (16 inches). A cheese pie costs $14.21, with an upcharge for additional toppings.
Recently, Brooklyn changed the way toppings are priced. Vegetable toppings are now priced several cents lower than meat toppings. “We know veggies are better for us than meat so I encourage people to eat the veggies,” he says. “Our costs are lower on veggies so why not pass that along to the customer.” In addition to meatless toppings like onions, peppers and mushrooms, Brooklyn also offers artichoke hearts, broccoli, potato and eggplant.
The pizzeria menus sandwiches, pastas, salads and house-made gelato and Italian ice for customers who want variety, but Brooklyn’s bread and butter is its pizza. For Vaccaro, “The cheese pizza is the tell-tell pizza because you can’t mask it with other toppings,” he says. “You can really taste the cheese, the sauce and the crust.”Cheese and pepperoni are the most popular toppings.
Though beer only comprises about seven percent of Brooklyn’s sales, Vaccaro says beer and wine make great upsell items. The pizzeria carries a special permit to deliver wine and beer. Deliveries account for one-third of Brooklyn’s sales.
It wasn’t a coincidence that Vaccaro, a native New Yorker, got into the pizza business. While attending a UofA graduate program, he decided that grad school wasn’t for him, but pizza may have been in his blood. His pizza recipe came from an old recipe his grandfather created for his own pizzeria in Brooklyn, New York in the 1970s.
Before opening Brooklyn, Vaccaro brought water from Tucson to New York to test his grandfather’s recipe. Within a few weeks, he comprised the recipe that
would become a contender for “Best Of”Tucson in local media polls.
Word of mouth and advertising have been effective marketing strategies for Vaccaro. He concentrates marketing dollars towards monthly mailers sent out to 20,000-30,000 area residents, as well as bus bench, radio, television, online and alternative and collegiate newspaper advertising. Philanthropy is an area, while
difficult to measure, Vaccaro says, ives people the opportunity to try ooklyn’s pizza. “We give away a lot of pizza every week,” he says. One of his favorite programs is the summer reading initiative at countywide libraries, where kids receive gift cards when they read a certain amount of books. “That amounts to almost $10,000 (retail value) worth of food for a summer that we gave away the last few years,” he says.
Brooklyn has donated pizza to a wide variety of events and organizations in Tucson from local government and non-profit organizations to schools kindergarten through graduate school. The Tucson community has taken notice of Brooklyn’s environmental and philanthropic efforts. In April, the shop received the Paw of Approval Award from Tucson’s Reid Park Zoo.
Brooklyn’s philosophy is not only good for business, but it’s good for the Tucson community and the environment.
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
It was my first restaurant job, and it hit me hard. Literally.
I was scraping together money before heading off to college, and I wanted to do something different than my high school job, which entailed pumping gas and washing windows at my father’s full-service automotive station. I ended up busing and serving tables in an upscale resort restaurant. It was frantic and demanding and enjoyable.
For the most part, I dared not enter the kitchen. But on rare occasions I had to. One such moment was particularly memorable, and not in a good way. As I raced in to pick up an order, my feet went out from under me and suddenly I was airborne. I hit the floor hard. Real hard. An olive oil spill was the culprit. While kitchen staffers had been carefully avoiding it (why hadn’t anyone cleaned it yet?), I was ignorant of its existence until I was laying in it with a throbbing back, bruised elbow and pulled hamstring.
Restaurant kitchens are dangerous, and every Pizza Today reader already knows that. With that in mind, flip on over to page 38 and take a look at our piece on kitchen safety measures that every pizzeria should implement right now.
Slice of Hope 2012: The moment of truth is nearly upon us yet again. Last year, Pizza Today staff members cycled from Portland to Seattle to raise money for the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation through Slice of Hope. It was fun, challenging and, above all, rewarding.
Which is why we’re doing it again in a few short weeks. This year we’re riding from Lakeland to Naples, Florida.
Friday, Oct. 12 has been designated as National Pizza Party day by Slice of Hope. Hundreds of pizzerias from across the nation will take part by donating 15, 20 or 30 percent (one pizzeria has pledged 100 percent, even!) of their sales from that day to the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation. Please join the cause. Every dollar we raise goes directly to the most promising research of the day. Every dollar matters. Together, let’s work to end this terrible disease!
Jeremy White, editor-in-chief
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.
of sales in America’s full-service restaurants.
3477 N. Broadway
Chicago, Illinois 60657
Pie Hole is a hopping late-night spot in Chicago’s Lakeview district. In addition to whole pizzas ($16.99-$18.99 for a14-inch), the pizzeria features custom, made-to-order slices ($2.99 plus toppings), where a whole pizza is par-baked and sliced and await toppings of patrons’ choosing.Interesting combinations include the After-school Special with sausage and marshmallows; the Spicy Salty Sweet with jalapeño peppers, pineapples and feta; and the Lasagnizza with an “al dente” pasta sauce, mozzarella, provolone, ricotta, ground beef or spinach and topped with lasagna noodles and more sauce and cheese. Wednesdays are popular for its “All You Can Shove” deal — unlimited slices and fountain drinks for $8.99 from 5 p.m. until midnight. The restaurant also features a namesake appetizer of poppable balls of pizza dough coated with basil pesto sauce or olive oil and Parmesan, baked, and served with red sauce olive oil or ranch ($6.99).
3085 University Avenue
San Diego, California 92104
Urbn brings New Haven-style pizza to Southern California with its location in San Diego’s North Park. The 5,000-square foot pizzeria has a trendy, industrial warehouse ambiance. It offers a dozen specialty craft pizzas like the Fresh Clam white pie with Parmesan, garlic and EVOO ($18) and the Mashed Potato white pie with mozzarella, bacon and Parmesan ($15). Though Urbn doesn’t open until 12 noon, it features a popular individually-sized breakfast pizza served all day — the Pig + Egg, a white pie with mozzarella, mashed potatoes and option of bacon or sausage ($10). Urbn puts a unique spin on traditional chicken wings. Its Coal Fired Wings are bathed with rosemary, garlic, Thai chili, lemon, Parmesan and EVOO ($9). House-made chocolate cookies are coal fired as well and served as sandwiches with a vanilla ice cream filling ($7.50). The pizzeria also serves up 50 beers and a large selection of tequila, bourbon, scotch, gin, vodka and cognac.
28-17 Astoria Blvd.
Astoria, NY 11102
The small, artisan pizzeria in Queens, New York, is gaining the attention of the NYC pizza scene, nominated for “Best New Pizza 2012” by TimeOut New York magazine and buzz in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. This summer, the 20-seat pizzeria expanded to add 50 more seats, as well as a Gelato station. A 50-seat two- level patio is still in the works. Basil boasts fresh ingredients, including mozzarella made daily. Nearly 40 artisan pizzas are featured, including the Speck & Brie with Parmigiano-Reggiano, extra virgin olive oil and basil ($13.75) and the Boscaiolo with tomato sauce, mozzarella, heavy cream, sausage, asparagus, mushrooms, Parmigiano-Reggiano, truffle oil and basil ($13). It’s also famous for a chocolate dessert pizza, the Pizza al Cioccolato ($10). Basil menus an assortment of Panini, ($9.25) from the Salsiccia with Italian sweet sausage, mozzarella, roasted red peppers and caramelized onions to the L’Americano with scrambled eggs, bacon, mozzarella, black pepper, Parmigiano- Reggiano and extra virgin olive oil.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
For many operators, dough is the major challenge to making great pizza. This month we will address some of the things that operators can do to produce consistent quality dough. Like so many other things in life, pizza dough performance can be typified by the old motto of “GI-GO” or “garbage in, garbage out.” Your dough will only be as good as the consistency that went into making and managing it.
Let’s start with the way the ingredients are prepared for use in making the dough. If they are volumetrically portioned, there is an inher-ent level of inaccuracy from dough to dough, but if the ingredients are weighted, the amount used from dough to dough will always be the same, hence we will have a more consistent dough providing a higher level of performance from dough to dough and from day to day.
Now that we have our dough ingredients scaled accurately, we can focus our attention on the finished dough temperature. I have said repeatedly that control of the finished dough temperature is the key to successful dough management. While there is no one specific temperature that is right for every operation, we have found that a good dough temperature to target is 70 to 75 F when the dough is to be stored in a reach-in cooler, and 80 to 85 F when a walk-in cooler is used. The finished dough temperature is controlled by the temperature of the water that is added to the dough. To find the correct water temperature for your dough, here is a simple formula:
3 times the desired dough temperature minus the sum of the room temperature, flour temperature and the friction factor of the mixer.
The friction factor can be calculated, for the friction factor value. If you are using a VCM (vertical cutter mixer) type of mixer, you won’t be too far off by using 60 for your friction factor value. Once we have our water temperature to give us our desired finished dough temperature, we can now work temperature of the water that is added but that’s another article, so for now, let’s on assembling the dough to the dough. To find the correct water temperature for your dough, here is a assume you’re using a planetary type mixer with a bowl and hook.
With this ingredients in the mixing bowl. The first ingredient to go in should be the simple formula: mixing arrangement, you can plug in 45 water, followed by the salt and sugar (if used). Next, add the flour and the yeast. If you are using IDY (instant dry yeast) it can be added dry directly to the flour, if you’re using ADY (active dry yeast) be sure to pre-hydrate/acti-vate it in 100 F water for 10 minutes before adding it to the flour. If you use compressed yeast, just crumble it right on top of the flour (contrary to popular belief, there is no reason to put it into the water and suspend it). The dough is now ready to be mixed. Begin mixing at a low speed just until all of the flour has been hydrated. This will take about two minutes or a little less. Next, add the oil or shortening and mix at low speed for another minute and then continue mixing in your normal manner. At the conclusion of mixing, measure the finished dough temperature and record it in a mixer’s logbook.
When the dough is properly mixed, and at the correct temperature, it should be taken directly to the bench for scaling and balling. Immediately place the dough balls into plastic dough boxes, or other dough storage containers. Wipe the dough balls lightly with oil and take directly to the cooler. Cross stack the dough boxes (if used) to facilitate cooling. The cross stack time will depend upon the weight of the dough balls, but in general the following can be applied:
8 to 12 ounces = 90 minutes
13 to 18 ounces = 150 minutes
19 to 24 ounces = 180 minutes
After cross stacking, the dough boxes are down stacked and nested to prevent drying. If you use plastic bags or place the dough balls on a sheet pan for storage, you should lightly oil the dough balls as you place them into the bags. Or if using sheet pans, oil the top of the dough balls after placement on the sheet pan, and cover with stretch wrap of a plastic bag. There is no need to cross stack or down stack. You can now kiss the dough good night.
The dough can be stored in the cooler for up to three days. To use the dough, remove about a three-hour supply of dough from the cooler, but do not uncover it. Allow the dough to temper at room temperature for about two-and-a-half hours and begin opening the dough balls into pizza skins as needed. The dough balls will be good to use for about three more hours after you begin opening them into skins. You may dock the dough skins with a dough docker if you wish, but it generally isn’t necessary as bubbling should be minimal. Any dough balls not needed within the three-hour window can be pre-opened and placed on a pizza screen and stored on a wire tree rack in the cooler (be sure to cover after 30 minutes in the cooler) for use later in the day. To use these pre-opened skins, just remove them from the cooler, leaving them covered, and allow then to temper at room temperature for about 30-minutes, and then use as you would any other pizza skin.
The procedure above does not allow for the dough to set out at room temperature between mixing and going into the cooler for any more time than what is necessary to cut/scale and ball it. This provides for a denser dough going into the cooler which is actually easier to efficiently cool than dough that is beginning to ferment because it was allowed to sit out at room temperature at some point prior to going into the cooler. This is an important aspect to this dough management procedure as it provides for uniform and consistent cooling of the dough — which allows it to be held for up to several days in the cooler and still provide good dough performance and finished crust quality characteristic.
You may have also noted that at the dough mixer, the oil was not added along with the water. When this hap- pens, the oil will float to the top and come into direct contact with the flour, thus allowing for some of the flour to become oil soaked. Since oil soaked flour does not allow for the development of gluten (the stuff that holds the dough together and provides for the stretch), we tend to get differences in the dough that can be seen in the mixing bowl. This has lead to the conclusion that the weather has an influence on the amount of water the dough needs. This could not be any further from the truth. In- stead, what is being seen is just a lack of dough strength due to less gluten being developed, so more flour is added to the dough, thus upsetting the balance of the dough formula. By adding the oil later as described, the flour is allowed to fully hydrate with the water so the full gluten potential is developed from the flour.
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
We’ve got some exciting news to share with you regarding next year’s International Pizza Expo®, which is slated for March 19 – 21 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. We’ve lined up two fantastic restaurant personalities to jump-start your days and provide you with motivation and insight. This year, our featured keynote speakers will be Bill Jacobs, owner of Piece Brewery & Pizzeria, Pizza Today’s 2011 Independent Pizzeria of the Year, and celebrity chef Robert Irvine, star of the hit TV show “Restaurant: Impossible.”
Jacobs’ is convinced the pizzeria’s success and increased sales are due to the fact that they’ve stayed focused. It’s not how much money you make — it’s about doing something that is satisfying. Piece continues to focus its efforts on quality and community.
Piece is a company based on operational vigilance and a focus on quality. Jacobs’ business plan, forged as he was winding down a very profitable bagel company, included a brewery concept from the start.
The company employs about 125 people and boosts a very low turnover rate. Jacobs credits that to a great working environment, one in which employees make money and are promoted from within.
It’s all pizza and it’s all for YOU!
For more information on Pizza Expo or to register, please call (800) 489-8324, or visit our website at www.PizzaExpo.com.
Photos by Josh Keown
the montanara, an import from Naples that sees a round of dough flash-fried then topped with ragu (cooked tomato sauce) and cheese. But the American translation — the montanara that’s making its mark on menus here — sees the fried dough and its toppings fin- ished in the oven. That simple tweak, which lends the pizza a lighter, airier crust, has transformed the montanara from a quaint Old World recipe into a bestselling pizza.
First, a little history: In Naples, wives of pizza makers would take leftover dough from their husbands, fry it and top it with a bit of leftover ragu and Parmesan or Romano cheese. Known as montanara, they’d serve it to their families, but some of them would also sell it as street food in Naples to bring in much needed extra cash. Today, montanara is a tradition in Naples –– sold in the streets and menued in restaurants. And it’s now making quite an impression on this side of the pond.
The montanara made its first small splash in its original incarnation at A Mano in Ridgewood, New Jersey, in 2007. This Neopolitan restaurant still features it as an antipasti and keeps it traditional with just a touch of tomato sauce and pecorino Romano. It sells for $8.99. A handful of restaurants in New York, as well as a few further afield now feature the montanara on their pizza menus, innovating with both the toppings and the finishing technique. At Don Antonio by Starita in New York, the Montanara Starita is the menu’s bestseller, outselling even the über popular Margherita. “If we sell 25 Margheritas in a night, we’ll sell 60 montanara pizzas that same night,” says Roberto Caporuscio, co-chef/ owner. The other co-chef/owner is Antonio
The Montanara Starita features flash-fried pizza dough topped with a signature tomato sauce and imported smoked buffalo mozzarella. It’s then finished in the wood-burning oven and dressed with fresh basil. “Antonio Starita came up with this technique to make the pizza lighter,” says Caporus- cio. “The oil evaporates in the oven, making a light, airy crust.” He uses a 12-inch dough ball, which after frying for about 30 seconds yields a 10-inch crust. He charges $12 for the pizza and runs a 50-percent food cost. “The cheese we’re using is very expensive, but it’s worth it,” he says. “The smoky flavor of the cheese works beautifully with the crisp texture of the wood- fired crust and the smoky flavor of the tomato sauce.”
He recommends a dedicated fryer, using it only for deep-frying the dough. “It keeps the flavors clean on the deli- cate dough,” says Caporuscio. He uses that fryer for other menu favorites star- ring fried dough, including an antipasti called angioletti, fried dough strips topped with marinated tomatoes and fresh arugula, as well as montanarine, a mini version of the traditional mon- tanara from Naples. Or diners can try the montanarine Genovese, a fried dough puff topped with onion, panc- etta and pecorino Romano.
Other New York restaurants feature the montanara, including two-unit For- cella. In fact, Forcella recently opened a casual eatery called La Montanara, an all-fried pizzeria expanding the reper- toire of toppings, but still following the fried-then-baked formula. Offerings range from Salame Piccante (tomato sauce, mozzarella and Italian salami) to Funghi (tomato sauce, mozzarella and mushrooms).
But what about outside of New York? The montanara might be slower to catch on in the rest of the country, but with authentic Napoletana pizze- rias popping up nationwide, perhaps montanara might just be the next darling of pizza lovers.
At Marco’s Coal-Fired Pizzeria, which serves authentic Neopolitan pizza with two locations in Colorado, the mon- tanara has recently been moved from an occasional special to a regular. Although not a huge seller, owner Mark Dym thinks that it deserves a place on his menu. “I had this pizza in Naples and fell in love with the combination of cheese and sauce and dough. I love it,” he says. “Also, having the montanara on our menu certainly separates us from the rest of the pack. It adds to the authenticity of what we’re trying to do.”
Marco’s montanara features fried dough, wood-smoked tomato sauce, smoked buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil. A 10-inch pizza sells for $16 and runs a food cost of $1.80. “People who try it really love it, but sometimes it’s hard to get them to try,” says Dym. “You have to explain that it’s not deep- fried pizza. It’s so much better than that.”
He also recommends dedicating a fryer for dough-only frying. “Keep the oil clean and fry it on high,” says Dym. “The pizza crust should have the texture of a fresh doughnut.” The traditional angioletti antipasti makes an appearance on the menu at Marco’s Coal-Fired Pizzeria, too. And for des- sert? Diners can order Nutella Nug- gets, fried dough strips topped with softened Nutella and powdered sugar, or perhaps a Dolce Fritta, which sees fried dough topped with sweet ricotta, almonds, honey and powdered sugar.
Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She’s based in Naperville, Illinois.
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THE REAL THING
I may be a little late to the party — I just read your commentary in the June issue of Pizza Today.
I completely agree that a sit down/full service type pizza place needs actual, real plates. And silverware. We can seat 84 guests in our pizza restaurant. We have servers. And we have a lot of dishes to do.
However, I feel that the experience is really what we sell (great pizza and great service are almost a given). And we put up with the mess from the dining room in order to give our guests a great experience!
Thanks for the opportunity to share our experience!
The Pizza Peel
Travis, you completely echo our sentiments here at Pizza Today!
We at Rosa Pizza in the Uniontown Mall in Uniontown, PA. use plastic forks and paper plates. We use a heavy-duty plastic fork which I’ve never seen a customer break when trying to eat a calzone.
David, thank you for weighing in. We are already on record with our thoughts on this matter, but if your customers aren’t complaining … keep doing what works for you.
OH, WHAT A NIGHT
I had to share my opening day story. I just purchased Nates New York Pizza in Post Falls, ID, on May 25th. This was my first day of ownership: at 2:42 in the afternoon we lost power. Panic sets in, how long is it going to be out? So I call the power company and they said it should be back on around 6:45 p.m. What am
I going to do? I have dough in the cooler and product that will spoil. So I call up a friend who has a generator and we hooked up the refrigerators. Our ovens are gas, so we were back in business. We got swamped since we were the only restaurant in the area that was open. We were using flashlights to see in the oven and the prep table. Then at 6:50 the power was still not on, so I call the power company and they stated it would not
be on till 1 a.m.. We decided to close the doors at 8 p.m. since it was getting hard to see even with the flashlights. Then at 7:30 the power came back on, and we finished out the night open till 10 p.m. Even though we had a major windstorm that blew down a big tree and took down power lines, we had a fun night. All the employees did a great job. What a way to start my first day off.
Nate’s New York Pizza
Post Falls, ID
Glenn, congrats on taking the dive into pizzeria ownership. As your first day indicated, you’re in for a wild ride! But you obviously handled the curve ball with enthusiasm and a winning attitude.And it’s great to hear you compliment your staff for a job well done despite the power outage.You’re off to not only an interesting start,but a good one.Here’s to hoping the road gets smoother now. Good luck!
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
For Mia’s Pizza and Eats, a small mom-and-pop shop in Georgia, cross-training is a cost-cutting necessity. “There really isn’t a time at Mia’s when an employee can claim ‘That’s not my job,’ ” says owner Clori Rose-Geiger. “We try to instill in them the idea that everything that needs to be done should be done, regardless of who you are or what you’re doing on any given day.”
A versatile team is just as helpful for larger stores and chains. “In a business with take-out, delivery, and dine-in, it’s all-important,” says Scott Anthony, a franchisee for Fox’s Pizza Den and a marketing consultant. To ramp up efficiency, he ensures that his waiters and cooks are constantly occupied, and that his drivers are uniformed and ready to lend a hand during lulls.
Low turnover and reduced labor costs are the greatest advantages of a cross-trained crew. Lori Karpman, former master franchisee for Pizza Hut in Quebec, says larger skill-sets allow employees to work longer, more lucrative shifts. Cooks can stay busy throughout the day, and waiters can bus, clean, and even prep food between ser- vices. In the long run, everyone wins: employees get the hours they need, and proprietors don’t have to waste time and money to constantly train new people.
Karpman notes that a wide variety of tasks also reduces boredom and makes workers feel more invested in the success of their shops. Though their short- term training costs may be higher, a few multitalented employees can be even more helpful than a much larger but less-experienced group. Rose-Geiger keeps her payroll down with a skeleton crew of just nine people, four of whom have been with her for several years.
Not every worker is suited for every job, however. “When I hire employees for the front of the house, I’m hiring for personality, people that automatically smile,” says Jon Jameson, a founding partner of the Bellwether Food Group. On the other hand, the people he picks for the back of the house “need to understand process and have stamina.” He doesn’t care whether they’re introverted or extroverted –– they simply need to prep food quickly and correctly.
Karpman also strictly separates cook- ing and serving responsibilities. “I don’t believe in training the back-of-the-house staff to be waiters or barmen,” she says. She trains her cooks to prepare every- thing on the menu and her servers to handle every task up front. Overall, each worker “needs to be skilled in their job and what’s ancillary to it.”
“The best managers are people who work their way up through the system, people who know all the operations of the store,” says Anthony. They have to be the “go-to” workers who can jump in on any station, front or back, in case of call-offs or unexpected rushes.
That kind of adaptability doesn’t come without a price. To encourage it, Jameson offers wage increases based on the number of stations an employee can work. Regardless of tenure, people who can host, serve and supervise earn more than those confined to singular roles. The same is true for head cooks who take on managerial tasks.
In fact, some owners coordinate multiple rates for each cross-trained employee. Karpman has workers who may serve, host, and supervise in the same shift, and they’ll record separate hours for each task. This is especially important in shops where tips comprise large portions of employees’ incomes and where some positions are eligible for lower than minimum wage-rates.
Still, smaller operations often require greater versatility. At Nikoli’s Pizza in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, owner Jeannette Magaro has employees who can handle the oven, serve customers and work the register during the dinner rush. Deliveries account for nearly three quarters of her business, and she needs people who can take on every in-store responsibility while her drivers are out.
Though Rose-Geiger usually separates her cooks and waitstaff, she also says her servers “can do a lot when push comes to shove.” They’re all trained to make salads, sandwiches, and other simple fare, and some will even help out with desserts when the cooks are swamped.
It’s especially important for higher- ups to prepare for every situation.
As with any strategy, great customer service should be the impetus for cross- training. Anthony notes that servers trained to cook “can better sell a dish and share the cooking process with a guest.” Even Karpman, who rarely mixes the front and back of house, says: “customer service is my No. 1 priority.”
When a problem arises, “I don’t want the floor to tell me it was the kitchen, or for the kitchen to tell me it was the floor,” she adds. Whether or not they normally share responsibilities, her cooks and servers are all focused on delivering consistent, quality products to customers. Cross-training doesn’t just save money –– it fosters an involved, dedicated and customer-friendly staff.
UP TO SPEED
Cross-training current employees can be tricky, especially when you’re already short-staffed. You need to be as time-efficient as possible and focus on the most critical tasks. A few tips for smooth implementation:
Start from the bottom. Dish- washers and bussers have the most to learn — and the highest turnover rates. Pave the way for promotions by involving them in simple prep work, stocking and other quick-to-learn tasks.
Focus on cash-up. Customers hate waiting at dirty tables when their meals are finished. To reduce turnaround time, train as many people as possible to deliver checks and use the registers.
Talk to your staff. You’ll invariably have employees who excel on certain stations and perform poorly on others. When you’re working with little time and a low budget, cross-train people for the tasks they’ll enjoy.
Offer incentives. The most versatile employees are usually the busiest. Reward their hard work — and encourage extra effort from others — with raises and bonuses. The efficiency of a cost-trained crew should offset the cost.
Maximize time. Slow days and mid-afternoon lulls are perfect opportunities for newbies to learn new jobs. Impromptu training sessions are also cheaper than formal, day-long affairs.
David La Martina is a Kansas City-based freelance writer specializing in food,health, and fitness.
Photos By Josh Keown
Lasagna is a staple in many pizzerias and restaurants across the nation. It rounds out your menu and accompanies your pizza, pasta and salads perfectly. Great lasagna can be a feature on your menu that can truly set you apart from your competitors.It really surprises me how many restaurants serve less than mediocre lasagna with watery or grainy textures, leaving customers highly disappointed, let alone wondering if they even want to come back at all. Get creative with some tantalizing ingredients and let your culinary chops take your restaurant to the next level.
The good news is that it’s actually easier, in my opinion, to assemble great lasagna than it is to put together a bad one. It all starts with quality ingredients. You’ve got to have a great ricotta. Find a firm and smooth ricotta that is not too watery with a grainy texture.
Your lasagna noodles may seem to be less expensive if you’re buying dry lasagna that you’ll need to boil, but I prefer using fresh/frozen pasta sheets. It makes the preparation time and assembling super fast.Remember when you have to take the time to boil lasagna noodles, it costs money and takes longer to assemble, so consider full pasta sheets. The lasagna sheets fit into a two-inch half pan perfectly. You just layer them with your lasagna cheese mixture and marinara. When I make a larger lasagna, I use a two-inch full pan instead of a half pan and simply lay two pasta sheets side by side and assemble it in the same way. I like to use a large ice cream scoop to portion my cheese so it is always consistent.
When I make my Four-Cheese Lasagna, I simply mix my high quality ricotta, mozzarella, provolone and Parmesan, with my raw eggs, garlic, salt, pepper and Italian seasoning. Once that is complete, it’s easy to whip together a pan of lasagna. Since we sell quite a bit of lasagna, we actually make four full size pans at a time which will last three to four days under refrigeration.
Before you cover your pan of lasagna with foil to go into the oven, I put a couple of deli sheets between the sauced lasagna and the foil. This will prevent the acid from the tomato sauce from eating through the alumi- num leaving bits of it on top of your lasagna. I know a little extra iron in the diet can’t hurt, but I’ve never heard that aluminum is a healthy alternative. I bake my lasagna fairly low at 325 F for 45 minutes to an hour, or the inter- nal temperature reaches 165 F.
Another important tip: if you try to serve your lasagna right when it comes out of the oven, it will be very difficult to cut and serve without it kind of fall- ing apart.
This is why I like to let my lasagna cool and set up under refrigeration. Once it’s cool, I cut and portion it, heating four to six pieces at a time. This ensures that I don’t have lasagna sitting on the steam table too long.
If you want to serve lasagna in your restaurant and it’s a slow start, consider reheating each piece to order. If it is very thick, you may want to microwave it in an individual casserole dish for three minutes and then finish it with some marinara, mozzarella cheese and then into the oven for two minutes. As I’ve shared, I make a four-cheese lasagna and then offer meat sauce as an add-on for an extra fee. This alleviates the need to make both a cheese and a meat lasagna.
Now it is time to put on your chef hat and think outside the box. Now that you’ve mastered making great lasagna with the techniques that I’ve shared, it’s time to think about chang- ing things up a bit. Feel free to change out your sauce and even add some dif- ferent ingredients. Here are some great crowd pleasers:
Chicken & Sausage Florentine Lasagna. This is an all white lasagna, meaning it is made with the cheese blend and Alfredo sauce instead of tomato sauce. I place cooked sausage (sliced coin-shaped or crumbled) sautéed spinach and diced or shredded cooked chicken breast in between the layers of the lasagna when I assemble it. When ready to serve each piece, make sure it’s hot and then top it with a little more Alfredo and some of your mozzarella cheese and give it a two- minute bake in the oven.
Eggplant and Roasted Pepper Lasagna. You can layer either some of your breaded fried eggplant or grilled eggplant and colorful roasted peppers in with your lasagna, or you can make a lasagna layering just the eggplant, peppers, sauce and lasagna cheese and leave the pasta out altogether. This is more of a layered eggplant Parmesan but because of having the layers of the ricotta cheese blend, it can be consid- ered a pasta-free eggplant lasagna.
Here’s an outrageous appetizer that I created about 12 years ago: fried lasagna sticks. You’ve got to start with cold baked lasagna. Cut some squares carefully into planks and then the planks into sticks. Lay them out on a sheet pan with parchment paper ensuring that the sticks are close, but not touching and freeze them solid. With the standard breading proce- dure, (flour, egg wash and then bread crumbs) bread them and flash fry them for about 60 seconds. Carefully layer them in a pan with deli paper between each layer. You can keep them frozen until you fry them to order or keep them under refrigeration. They fry fairly quickly. I serve them with a side of marinara and Alfredo sauce. I showed this idea to Olive Garden in their culinary center in Orlando about 15 years ago and they implemented it a few years ago. This is one of my best selling appetizers of all time!
Jeff Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to PizzaToday and a speaker at the Pizza Expo family of trade shows.
Photos by Josh Keown
Some folks are into football. Others are into baseball. Plenty are into NASCAR.
I’m into pizza. I know the players, their statistics, what gear they use and where they worked before being “traded” to another team … errr pizzeria. It’s an obsession that quietly crept into my life and took control over the past decade. I’m not Italian and my mother never made pizza when I was growing up, so how did I fall so deep into this saucy, cheesy world? It’s a question I get every day on account of my constant swooning over slices while conducting pizza tours in New York. Beyond simply being delicious, there are several intangible elements that earned pizza an elevated spot above all other foods in my heart.
I was hooked at a young age. Pizza’s communal nature makes it the ultimate food of choice for birthday parties — and I was never one to complain. I clearly remember the time my fifth-grade class was treated to a pizza party for performing well on a big test. Then there was Pizza Hut’s “Book It” program, which rewarded students with a free pizza for reaching a monthly reading goal. Pizza was always the centerpiece of a celebration, so my Pavlovian response to it obviously became one of joy.
Pizza parties were great, but my love grew stronger when the ability to get a pie was detached from its institutionalized format. The slice became my flag of independence because it was the first food I purchased with my own money. Kids are less likely to save the funds for a lobster dinner than they are to scrape together a few bucks mowing lawns for a slice and a Coke. It was the perfect meal for those sleepy Saturday afternoons, and that feeling stays with me every time I shake pepper flakes onto a fresh slice.
Childhood memories aside, my pizza obsession has stronger roots than mere nostalgia. You have to respect a dish that has remained relevant throughout the centuries by acting as a culinary unifier of all classes from street beggars to royalty. Since pizza has always been more of a genre than a specific dish, it is capable of evolving to fit the circumstances of any time and location by way of ingredients, toppings and portability.
Even within the food industry, pizza has always paved the way for today’s trends. The original pizzerias of Naples were local and organic before other options existed. Pizza was among the first foods to be delivered to customers’ homes, which led to great leaps in mobile food packaging. Hole-in-the-wall slice shops were the original open kitchens because there wasn’t enough room for separate BoH and FoH spaces, let alone the desire to pay two sets of staff. Pizzerias let guests “have it your way” before any national burger chains had a clue.
Maybe you got into the pizza industry because it’s your family business or perhaps it seemed like a smart financial opportunity. Just remember why you fell in love with that perfect slice in the first place.
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s PizzaTours in NewYork City.
Photo by Josh Keown
My Point of Sale system is the prettiest cash register ever! But does this beauty have brains? American Scientist Donald Norman says, “Beauty and brains, pleasure and usability they should go hand in hand.” If that is the case then this POS is worth every penny I paid for it.
For example, my POS has the ability to identify new customers as they call in. This is particularly noted when I do a mailing to a target area. So if we had a terrific weekend in sales, I can do a query on my POS and search for new customers when things slow down a bit on Monday. Since the POS has already captured their information, I can now call for a little ‘new customer survey.’ Bam! They are impressed that the owner cares enough to make a personal call and see how their guest experience was. I have now secured a loyal customer.
Let’s take this a step further. One thing I like to do is mark in their customer record their anniversary date. Mind you, I’m not talking about a wedding an- niversary (50 percent of marriages end in divorce).
I like to target the date they first ordered and chose me as their pizza place. Then, I do a monthly query of special dates and send anniversary cards along with a great offer acknowledging their loyalty. Relationships flourish when special dates are remembered.
Many speak highly of implementing a lazy customer program. I like to dig even deeper and use my POS for database management. When I manage my data I learn from it and see a clearer picture of my business. I can then structure what is an active customer.
I prefer to prevent people from becoming a lazy customer in the first place. And I do not like to waste my marketing dollars sending offers to the same non-responsive persons. So here is what I pro- pose: let’s look at our database over a 90-day period and run a query on ‘decreasing business.’ Who isn’t spending money with us? What happened? Now instead of having a list of over 1,100, I have a list of only 78 people to manage. I peruse the list and eliminate duplicates so that when I send a postcard or e-mail to reactivate these customers, my ROI is as high as it can possibly be. Hence, I have prevented someone from becoming a lazy customer.
Remember the 80/20 rule? 80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your customers. Run a report with your POS to see who is in this treasured group. An ‘Increasing business’ report will tell you who is regularly spending more and you realize where your bread and butter comes from. When I ran my report I found that 5-10 percent of my sales were coming from 16 people! These are the people that need to get my VIP treatment, and I market to them as such.
Now that shiny new cash register is the whole package — beauty and brains.
Scott Anthony is a Fox’s Pizza Den franchisee in Punxsutawney,Pennsylvania.He is a monthly contributor to Pizza Today and a frequent guest speaker at Pizza Expo.
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.
Photos by Josh Keown
Think of dangerous work environments. Factories might come to mind, but a restaurant can be just as dangerous. With hot ovens, knives and slick floors, your kitchen provides ample probability for minor or even major injuries.
There are nearly 200,000 non-fatal occupational injuries in food service establishments each year, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Big Dave Ostrander has analyzed kitchen safety as an operator of a successful pizzeria and as an industry consultant and trainer. Often times, Ostrander finds that “we assume that employees are never going to slip on a slippery floor, they are never going to accidentally come in contact with a hot surface or a sharp knife. Thus, you bear your scars and I bear mine.”
Training is the most vital component of kitchen safety. When confronted with hazardous situations, Ostrander says, “If your employees don’t know what to do, shame on you.”
Ostrander elicited the help of fellow operator Michael Shepherd, who owns Michael Angelo’s Pizza with two locations in Kenton and Rushsylvania, Ohio. Each came up with his own strategies and procedures to address kitchen safety specifically.
Shepherd has created a complete training course about each dangerous piece of equipment, proper lifting, knife skills, chemicals and fire extinguishers with manuals, videos and tests. A local company helped transfer everything online a few years ago and assists with testing.
Michael Angelo’s employees spend six to eight hours in front of the computer with company policy, kitchen safety and food safety modules before they are allowed into the kitchen. They also must pass tests in each area with multiple choice, true or false and essay questions.
Ostrander also tested his staff. At Big Dave’s, new employees had 10 weeks to pass his training. He says the employee could take it as many times as it took until the 10th week and they had to score 80 percent or they were let go. By testing, Ostrander says: “They just simply can’t fake it.”
Ostrander says there are three key kitchen injuries to focus your training: cuts, falls and burns.
Let’s examine each injury. Ostrander and Shepherd provide the following preventative tips for cuts, falls and burns:
Cuts. Teach knife skills. “There is a way to rock your knife and you can get a lot of work out of a knife effortlessly and quickly,” says Ostrander, who chopped 25 gallons of onions every day during his first job in the business.
The skills go beyond just using the knife but also handing it to another person. “There is only one way to pass a knife,” Ostrander says. “That’s hand to hand and eye to eye and you have to say ‘thank you.’ It tells the passer that you got it.”
Never place sharp objects into the sink, including knifes and slicer blades. At locations that have a dishwasher, Shepherd instituted a policy that all sharp objects must be washed in the dishwasher.
Michael Shepherd, owner of Michael Angelo’s Pizza in Kenton, Ohio, offers the following approaches to kitchen safety:
You have to idiot-proof everything. Make things simplistic. You cannot underestimate how easily an employee can get hurt.
Build some kind of safety plan or safety training plan, whether it is super simple or really in-depth. It could be as simple as here is my three-page written plan on how I am going to train every employee and then I am going to document that they have been trained and they are going to sign off.
Make sure you provide the necessary tools to do the things safely. You have to provide them what they need and make sure they are using it.
Wash all cutting utensils immediately after use. Regardless of how busy Michael Angelo’s is, the policy stands. Take the tomato slicer, Shepherd says. After a few hours, juice and seeds stick to the blades, requiring someone to hand scrub blades and posing a risk of a cut.
Never compress trash with your hand. Another good tip for trash, Shepherd says, is to use a two- or four-wheel cart to transport trash to the dumpster.
Falls. Make everyone wear anti-slip shoes. “We give a spending allowance of $30 towards the shoes,” Shepherd says. “That has eliminated about 99 percent of all of the slips and falls.”
Put down anti-fatigue mats in main areas, especially splash areas like dishwashing stations and stoves.
In Addition, Ostrander says mats must always be in their designated location. “We never work without them under our feet,” he says. If they need cleaned, choose a time when the kitchen is not in use.
Clean up all spills immediately. “You can never walk around a spill,”
Burns. Supply hot pads. Having the right holders in place will help employees resist the temptation to grab a damp rag, which can seriously scold skin.
Communicate when you are passing by the oven. “If someone is passing by the ovens, they have to announce that they are coming through so they don’t get a peel in the face,” Shepherd says.
If a hot object is falling, let it go. There is a natural tendency to grab something that is falling. In the case of a hot pizza or pan, Ostrander says, let it fall. You can always remake the product.
There are other kitchen safety rules to which Ostrander and Shepherd recommend strict adherence. Follow all OSHA and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) guidelines for chemicals.
Ostrander says, when it comes to your equipment, never override safety systems put in by the manufacturer. He sees this happen with mixers. People will remove the safety cage to gain speed. Not only will your insurer not cover the equipment, but also you’ve put your employees at risk.
Many injuries result from employee conduct. Never allow horseplay. Shepherd has a zero-tolerance policy for horseplay at Michael Angelo’s. “It shows really bad judgment,” he says. “If they are willing to do that, what else are they willing to do.”
Kitchen safety boils down to training. “Going through all of the what ifs and training, you are doing your staff a major favor,” Ostrander says. “You are saving yourself a lot of stress down the line because it’s a matter of it’s going to happen sooner or later.” u
Denise Greer is the associate editor of Pizza Today.
WORD OF WISDOM
Michael Shepherd, owner of Michael Angelo’s Pizza in Kenton, Ohio, offers the following approaches to kitchen safety:
You have to idiot- proof everything. Make things sim- plistic. You cannot underestimate how easily an employee can get hurt.
Build some kind of safety plan or safety training plan, whether it is super simple or really in- depth. It could be as simple as here is my three-page written plan on how I am go- ing to train every employee and then I am going to document that they have been trained and they are going to sign off.
Make sure you provide the neces- sary tools to do the things safely. You have to provide them what they need and make sure they are using it.
Denise Greer is the associate editor of Pizza Today.
Looking to upgrade your menu? Pizza Today’s resident chef has the recipes you’re looking for at pizzatoday.com/bruno
Big Dave’s Word
From cheese prices to new year strategies, Big Dave has you covered at pizzatoday.com/big-dave-ostrander
LaRosa’s Pizzeria @
2 small 3-item pizzas + code “1227” = A GREAT MON- DAY! You can redeem this code for dine in, delivery or pick up.
Why it works: We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again –– using a code with your POS system is a great way to track the success of a promotion. The fact that this one was offered on a Mon- day –– a day when most folks are back to work and not thinking about dining out
–– offered additional bang at little cost.
Pasta is the perfect founda- tion for a healthy, delicious and satisfying meal. Get your Spaghetti Supreme fix at Greenwich!
Why it works: This tweet let Green- wich’s followers know that it offers more than just pizza. We love a diverse menu, and pasta has a low food cost. Plus, most people love it!
Looking to upgrade your menu? The PizzaToday.com Menu Development section will give you tips and tricks to make your dishes the best in town. www.pizzatoday.com/menu-development
FACEBOOK PIZZA FEEDS
New York Pizza Department (NYPD Pizza) Celebrate the ending of a great weekend with the family by taking the kids to your favorite NYPD location, where kids eat free every Sunday after 4pm.
Why it works: Sunday is generally a slow time for pizza, so bringing in families is a great idea. Since Mom and Dad need to eat too, you’re automati- cally raising the average check total for the day.
Pizza Ranch TOMORROW, July 12 - Be sure to use your Ranch Rewards card and spend at least $10 at a participating Pizza Ranch to earn a Free Cheesy Ranch Stix! You can redeem the free food on your next purchase of $10 or more in the next 30 days. Register your card on www.ranchrewards.com so you’re ready!
Why it works: We love rewards cards, which encourage repeat business without discounting your product. This summer promotion offered a free item upon return and gave a specific time frame for customers to redeem it. That generated sense of urgency is a smart way to get customers to order again.
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
What do your customers really want? It’s the single most important question a restaurant owner can ask — yet you could spend your entire career chasing the answer. Even with instant feedback on Twitter, Yelp!, Facebook and similar sites, it’s nearly impossible to sift constructive criticism from the endless pages of noise. In an effort to solve this dilemma, we went directly into the root of the matter and interviewed customers at some of New York’s most popular pizzerias. The survey consisted of one simple question: “What are the most important characteristics in a pizzeria?” We polled dozens of people from cities across the U.S., asking them to write down their top three responses. The result will give you a window into the minds of your pizzeria’s most valuable asset: your customer base.
A warm atmosphere is an absolute must. Of the 88 people we polled, 53 mentioned a restaurant’s atmosphere as one of their top concerns. That’s over 60 percent, so if you haven’t put serious thought into your physical space you might want to revise your game plan. Phrases like “homey setting,” “warmth” and “old-world ambience” were common responses, suggesting that earthy tones and dim lighting are preferable to settings that are bright and flashy. Alex Lasker from Manalapan, New Jersey, wants to see a “big oven in a dimly lit pizzeria.” This directly reflects the ever-growing Neapolitan trend, with its attractive wood-burning ovens suggesting the traditional hearth while simultaneously providing a visual focal point that creates continuity between the kitchen and dining room.
Even though hole-in-the-wall spots are intriguing to some pizza lovers, the overall cleanliness of the space is clearly of concern. Ten people responded with notes about maintenance of restrooms and dining areas. Just be careful not to confuse cleanliness with sterility, because several comments pertaining to atmosphere noted an aversion to restaurants that feel like chains.
More than 37 percent of the people we interviewed listed restaurant staff as crucial to their dining experience. Your customers’ personal interactions have just as much to do with their comfort level as does the restaurant’s ambiance. Several indicated a preference for “mom and pop” pizzerias with one participant directly suggesting a “friendly family run staff.” This isn’t to suggest you hire your third cousin, but the staff culture is clearly perceptible to customers. Kevin Lewis from Seattle wants “to feel like I’m sitting down with family,” reinforcing the notion that people want to feel like guests in your home rather than customers of your business.
There’s also a noticeably positive view of owner interaction within our survey responses. Guyer McCracken said, “It creates a warm atmosphere when I know the owner.” People love to receive attention from the person whose name is on the outside of the building. Paulie Gee’s in Brooklyn gets high ratings because of their food, but nearly every review comments on how Paulie Gee himself visits each table in the restaurant. Seeing the face behind the name induces a level of comfort that can overcome the stress of a forgotten drink or botched order.
Variety isn’t just the spice of life — it’s also an essential component of a successful restaurant. Considering the ever-growing sea of dining options, it should be no surprise that our poll indicates customer interest in variety. Issues of food and drink selection were mentioned in 36 percent of responses, with the majority of participants showing interest in alcoholic beverages. Beer was mentioned more often than wine and the availability of hard liquor seems to be of no concern to those we interviewed. Survey respondents did show a clear interest in drink pairings, particularly with regard to beer. If you don’t currently suggest beverage pairings via servers or menus, you may want to consider it as a way to boost both your customers’ experience and ticket totals. This is a particularly suitable method for introducing your customers to local and craft brews that aren’t familiar to your customers.
As far as food is concerned, several interviews revealed a desire for multiple crust options. Several families polled experienced internal disputes over the preference for thick or thin crusts, with younger respondents preferring the prior and older customers the latter. The vast majority of surveys mentioned “Neapolitan,” “thin” and “light” as desirable attributes for pizza bases. Nancy from Beulah, Colorado, wants “a chewy crust with real flavor.” Although nobody made direct requests about whole wheat, gluten free, organic or other health-oriented options, the general preference seems to be for keeping things on the lighter side.
Most wish lists considered best-case scenarios for pizza eating situations, such as family outings and date nights, but a strong contingent of 22 percent embraced the reality of busy schedules by including delivery and take-out among their top concerns. Technology is making ordering a pizza easier than ever, yet only a few survey participants mentioned online ordering or mobile apps as priorities. If you have these systems in place, be sure to let customers know about them.
Financial convenience was not a great concern for most, with words like “cheap” and “value” appearing on only 11 percent of customer surveys. The current trend of $1 slices (or even cheaper) in New York seems to cut more into the fast food segment than pizzerias, proving that sales made on price point create little interference with those made on quality-based assessments. Perhaps value campaigns like coupons and daily deals are only giving your customers a discount on food they were already planning to purchase.
However significant the previously mentioned factors may be, none came close to the widespread demand for good food. An incredible 95 percent of responses listed food quality as a top priority. Even though your service is perfect, your restaurant is spotless, the beverage list is unstoppable and deliveries reach their destinations within minutes, it’s meaningless if the food isn’t delicious. Tammy V. from St. Louis went so far as to say, “I honestly don’t care if it is a hole in the wall as long as it is good.” This short survey proves that food quality prevails even in a harsh economic climate with deals and gimmicks coming from every angle. If this is a shock, you may need to reevaluate more than just your restaurant.
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.
PHOTO BY RICK DAUGHERTY
Show of hands: who enjoys doing payroll?
Indeed, many pizzeria operators far prefer mingling with guests or making pies to the tedious back-office task. Yet, employees must be paid and payroll remains a necessary duty to please employees, the government, and the bottom line –– whether it’s tackled in house or outsourced to a payroll company.
At Yolanda’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria, a 50-year-old eatery in the Bronx, New York, owner Neil Calisi handles payroll himself. With eight employeescoveringhis80-seatpizzeria, he says payroll has never become so troubling and time consuming that he’s contemplated outsourcing the task.
“We’re an old-school business, so we’re going to keep payroll in house rather than going outside for something so small,” says Calisi, a second- generation operator prepping the family business for a third generation.
According to Calisi, keeping payroll in house demands two essential ingredients: a credible accountant and bookkeeping software. Calisi, for instance, uses Intuit QuickBooks, which allows staff to clock in and out and records their working hours.
“QuickBooks does the math for me,” Calisi says, adding that he also uses the software for billing and inventory control.
‘ From changing state unemployment rates to federal and local taxes, there’s so much that small businesses need to know and account for that it becomes difficult to keep an eye on every detail’.
– Kathey Palmer, CompuPay
But first, Calisi’s accountant came to Yolanda’s and –– in a critical opening step — set up the software to provide accurate pay and current tax information. While Calisi acknowledges an early learning curve in moving from Yolanda’s pen-and-paper ways to the computer, he says the system is now self-sufficient. “Without a big staff, it’s not cumber- some for me to do the payroll,” he says.
“With the software and accountant, there isn’t much more you need to do.”
As a restaurant’s employee pool deepens or additional locations are added, however, many operations elect to outsource payroll. After years of doing his own payroll, Alex Akhmedov grew tired of the unwieldy process, specifically as workers came and went and Akhmedov opened new units of Sal’s Pizza & Restaurant, his full-service eatery that now claims three locations in central Tennessee.
Employing CompuPay, one of the payroll industry’s major players alongside the likes of ADP and Intuit, Akhmedov holds confidence that his staff members are receiving accurate pay on time and that taxes and payroll regulations are being followed accordingly.
“They know what they’re doing and are skilled and professional,” Akhmedov says of the outsourcing companies. “I want consistency and accuracy and they provide that.”
CompuPay senior vice president of business development Kathey Palmer says many restaurant operators like Akhmedov outsource payroll because “it is a relatively inexpensive business solution that can give business owners peace of mind.” She adds that many others turn to a payroll service only after a painstaking pay issue, such as a tax penalty, arises.
“Outsourcing payroll is much like an insurance policy,” Palmer says. “Operators learn that it’s far less expensive to get it right the first time.”
As the payroll process becomes increasingly complex given various tax and regulatory issues, operators appear more eager than ever to hand the critical business function over to a specialist who knows the ins and outs of the employee pay environment.
“From changing state unemployment rates to federal and local taxes, there’s so much that small businesses need to know and account for that it becomes difficult to keep an eye on every detail,” Palmer says, noting the unforgiving nature of wage and hour laws.
Payroll service provider ADP has long embraced the saying “You Make Pizza, We Do Payroll,” a nod to the idea that pizzeria operators should do what they know best and outsource the tasks that fall outside of their skill set.
From calculating payroll checks and tax payments to printing W2 forms and incorporating new payroll and tax regulations, a payroll service can address many of payroll’s financial and legal matters.
“Operators are not experts in payroll,” Palmer says. “We are.”
Though prices vary widely by market and provider, payroll providers generally charge a per check fee –– often in the $1 to $2 window –– based on the number of employees and check frequency. Thereafter, some providers bundle additional services –– direct deposit, tax filing, check signing and sealing, quarterly and annual tax reports –– while others adopt the a la carte model in which operators select the services most applicable to their establishment.
While some operators seek traditional full-service payroll, which can be as simple as making a call and communicating staff hours to an assigned payroll specialist, many more have embraced online functionalities, which allow an operator to process payroll in a few mouse clicks.
Much like those operators who keep payroll in house, starting from a credible, solid foundation is imperative. At least one company we interviewed, for instance, works with operators to define wages and tax info before setting up a system that matches their needs.
“Within 15 to 20 minutes, we can typically help operators understand how the system works and walk them through their initial payroll run,” Palmer says.
Akhmedov says outsourcing the payroll function keeps his staff happy with accurate, timely paychecks, but also affords him increased freedom to manage staff, touch customers, and market his restaurants. He says: “Keeping the employees happy and compensated certainly makes my job easier and allows me to focus on other responsibilities.” u
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
PICKING THE RIGHT PAYROLL PARTNER
Following some unfortunate bumps with his first payroll outsourcing service, Alex Akhmedov of Sal’s Pizza
& Restaurant has moved onto a new provider. He urges his fellow pizzeria operators to fully vet any payroll service, looking for clues into their accuracy and customer service.
Operators, Akhmedov says, should inquire about the provider’s support model — “Who will handle my account?” — as well as how the provider will handle tax notices and rate changes.
Operators should also interview various payroll companies, inquiring about the base services and add-on options, and review the company’s history, including its business history and rating with the Better Business Bureau.
In addition, operators would be wise to consult with other businesses of a similar size. From those conversations, operators can better discern a company’s responsiveness and quality. Some payroll services, for instance,
may have a penchant for hidden fees or prove elusive at the first sign
CRITICAL ISSUES 2012
Employee Hiring Retention
It might surprise you to hear Brett Steiner’s No. 1 priority for his servers at Russo’s New York Pizzeria in Germantown, Tennessee: “School comes first,” says Steiner, who owns one of the 30 Houston-based franchises.
Five years ago when he launched Russo’s, Steiner started with “a choppy, sketchy staff.” But he wanted the reputation of an owner who cared about his employees’ education and personal welfare. With that, a steady stream of loyal workers grew up from area high schools, community colleges and universities. Within six months of opening, Steiner had his dream team. He was told that labor would be his biggest challenge, but he turned it into his strongest suit.
“They’re a great group of kids,” he says. “A lot of them have been with me since age 15 or 16 and are finishing college now. I keep a larger waitstaff, only because I am very happy to tailor my schedule depending on their school schedules and their needs. As a result, I have a higher quality and more enthusiastic individual that works here, plus loyalty.”
Steiner has hit on a salient point: Employment is a two-way street by which people’s performances are commensurate with the way they’re treated and respected, say restaurant consultants. True, most restaurants thrive on good food and libation –– but the service often leaves something to be desired. So how do you hire and inspire good servers, hosts and bar staff for your front-of-the-house operation?
First, what traits are you looking for in a server? James Sinclair runs OnSite Consulting of Los Angeles, a national restaurant consultancy that focuses on challenge, distress and growth models for restaurants operators. His advice is to look for one talent: greatness.
“That can be defined as the willingness to be great, to try hard to resolve issues, and more importantly, to execute common sense. So you are hiring for a great attitude and great outlook. Everything else, I can train,but you cannot train someone to be instinctively great,” Sinclair says.
The server is the marketer, the advertiser and the pacifier –– and you need someone who fits all three attributes, he adds.
David St. Louis is HR manager for Field Staffing for Pizza Hut, a division of Yum! Brands. He urges: “Hire for personality; train for skill.” A strong front-of-the-house employee “is someone who connects with people and is energetic,” he says. “Think about it from a personal standpoint: Which would you rather have as a customer? Someone who is grumpy? So strive for people with an over-the-top mentality.”
Pizza Hut ferrets out that type during the selection process, using a personality assessment test provided by an outside vendor. “If you want an animal to climb a tree, do you want the squirrel or the moose? It’s harder to train personality traits that you desire,” he says.
Follow up with training. The trick to hiring a great employee is to be a great boss, Sinclair says. It’s incumbent to “give them the tools to be fantastic.” Identify systems and processes and train heavily: what to do during down time, what to do when it’s busy, what to do when they have a crisis? “Without training and expectations being defined and without strict processes, you are solely setting them up for failure,” he says.
For example, Sinclair recently went into a busy restaurant and asked what was on tap. The bartender impatiently pointed to a lineup of bottles behind her and exasperatedly quipped that she didn’t have time to list them for him. “I could get angry at that person, but no. I get angry at the manager for not training her on how to deal with the crisis,” he says.
Pizza Hut also heavily emphasizes training, St. Louis says. “We have a lot of data on this. The better trained the employee, the more productive and less turnover you have. If the cook quits, the server is interacting with a guest who may not be happy. That is something we coach very aggressively on and work to build skills to diffuse situations.”
Steiner doesn’t leave his workers hanging. They’re trained to get a manager and not handle customer complaints alone. “I’m a field marshal, not a General Underhill, who is the last to get the information,” he says. “If you’re in the trenches, you’re the first to know about problems and build camaraderie. I don’t sit at a table drinking wine. You’ll see me cooking and washing dishes. I’m always the first to know if there’s a hiccup within the four walls, and by doing that they acknowledge you as the leader. How you manage conflicts will affect whether people come to you with open arms.”
Finding The Talent
If you wait for candidates to walk into the door, you’re already losing in the hiring game, says Pizza Hut’s David St. Louis. “We encourage the restaurants to be active. We hit career fairs regularly. Depending on the needs of the restaurant, we typically will hold fairs once a month or so. Our great stores will have a regular process. They have a day blocked out in the week for interview times and build it into the monthly process.”
And the company is getting involved in the social networking space, too. “The application process can feel like a black box. You submit it online and hope that it gets acted on, so we’re trying to break that feeling,” St. Louis says. The company has created a Pinterest page for all recruiters.
“We talk about all things interesting for us. I have beach pictures, charities, different organizations I admire and applicants get the personalized feel about each of us,” he says, adding that Pizza Hut has also just launched a Facebook page. And some recruiters are on Twitter. “We’ve learned that candidates have different ways they like to be interactive, so we take a multifaceted approach,” he says.
Heidi Lynn Russell specializes in writing about the issues that affect small business owners.
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
As Alex Taylor contemplates opening a second Due Forni location to complement the Las Vegas hot spot he shares with a collection of partners, he’s looking far and wide. Nevada. Texas. Colorado. North Carolina.
Knowing how critical site selection stands to his pizzeria’s success, Taylor’s taking his time. He’s researching, leaning heavily on credible demographic information to uncover the right spot. “Wherever we end up putting the second location, key demographics such as food and beverage spends and household spends will drive that decision,” Taylor says.
From independents to established mega-chains and growing companies, demographics can play an invaluable role in a number of key business areas, namely site selection and marketing, but also extending into customer communication, pricing, and merchandising. Al Beery, director of client services at Pitney Bowes Business Insight, a Connecticut-based customer communications management technology firm, says successfully utilizing demographic information can drive performance.
“If you can discover the characteristics of those who will frequent your place and reach out to them, you’re on your way,” Beery says.
To best apply demographics to the business, operators and providers alike agree it’s a two-step process.
First, pizzerias need to collect data that identifies their core customer. Thereafter, to propel site selection or marketing initiatives, operators can utilize third-party providers to find precisely where large numbers of those target customers reside.
Utilizing the “carrot approach” and offering customers incentives for their input, operators can collect data with intercept surveys that provide key profile information, including household demographics, dining frequency, sales drives and lifestyle characteristics. Such information will generate a profile of the pizzeria’s core customer and open new insights and opportunities.
If most customers live within five miles and dine with their families, an operator might eliminate spending large amounts of money on direct-mail campaigns that hit homes more than five miles away and assign marketing dollars to promote family dining deals.
Or if a great number of respondents cite fresh, local ingredients as their primary sales driver, an operator can then unveil marketing that showcases the restaurant’s use of locally sourced cheese and vegetables and pursue future locations where that product is similarly valued.
Charles Wetzel, CEO of Buxton, a Texas-based firm that utilizes extensive demographic data to provide market planning and marketing services for businesses, says that understanding the core consumer is a “monumental business step whether you have one location or 1,000.” “Just knowing the basics will help increase the bottom line,” he says.
With solid insights on the core customer in hand, operators can activate more targeted, informed efforts that drive business. For instance, bouncing the eatery’s primary consumer characteristics against entire household files from mailing agencies, such as direct mail companies or national database files (Experian being just one example), allows an operator to screen against numerous variables. “You have the ability to select specific households based on criteria, such as age or income, and to focus on those consumers most likely to drive your business,” Beery says.
To develop the Pie Five Pizza Company, an upstart brand with six locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, CEO Charlie Morrison employed Buxton to help Pie Five pinpoint the locations of its first shops. Buxton mapped out major U.S. markets and then highlighted the specific areas that fit the target Pie Five customer, one more likely to visit Chipotle over Taco Bell.
“If you have an opportunity to reach your target customer, then you’re increasing the likelihood that your investment will be successful,” Morrison says. Minus the budget to employ third- party services, Taylor’s gathered much of the demographic information himself to prepare for a second unit.
Taylor started with the “Best of ” lists from outlets such as Forbes, Money and U.S. News and World Report, accessible work that led him to trade areas that are entrepreneurial, food enthused, or favorable to small businesses. Like a detective, he has combed the reports’ footnotes for leads to reports from government agencies, university research, restaurant associations, or nonprofits.
Taylor has then contacted local chambers for additional insights. In many cases, the chambers have tracked down Taylor’s requested data for free.
“I’ve yet to meet a bad one,” Taylor says of the chambers’ helpfulness.
As Due Forni produces a specialty product blanketed in high-quality ingredients, Taylor knows he needs to find the audience that values such culinary exploits. In selecting its flagship Las Vegas site, Due Forni settled into one of the city’s higher- earning demographic areas and near one of the Las Vegas Farmers’ Market’s three locations.
“We need to make sure our target customer is wherever we go … and that they’re interested to invest in what we have,” he says. While it’s easy to be intimidated by demographics, Taylor says a little familiarity goes a long way.
“You can’t assume demographics,” he says. “Do your own digging and get your hands on credible data about your consumer and the area and you’ll be better off for it.”
GETTING TO KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER WITH SURVEYS
While broad-based demographic information, such as household counts and median income, provides telling information, operators and demographic providers alike agree that the Census-like data falls short of providing a predictable story. Accessing information on purchasing behaviors and lifestyle characteristics can inform important business decisions and direct opera- tors down new, more ROI-driven marketing paths.
“If you can dial in further, well, that’s the secret sauce,” Buxton’s Charles Wetzel says.
Key profile questions include:
Where do you live?
How often do you dine out?
What time of day is a typical visit to this restaurant?
What’s your average spend on a lunch visit? A dinner visit?
What drives your decision to more routinely visit a particular restaurant?
Where did you come from before your visit? Where are you headed after?
What conveniences do you most seek from a restaurant?
On a typical visit, how many people are in your dining party?
What do you enjoy in your free time?
What community organizations are you affiliated with?
What might we do better?
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
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