Photos by Josh Keown
Today’s pizzeria customers are savvier than ever thanks in part to a growing trend in upscale options. Sure, pepperoni and cheese are still king in this industry, but customers looking for fresh, organic and locally grown toppings now have more choices than ever. Add in the rise of Neapolitan and artisan focuses, and the pizza scene has grown into a competitive landscape. We talked to 10 pizzeria operators across the country to find out the hottest new toppings for 2013 –– and how to use them.
Ingredient: Quail eggs
Pairs with: crispy soppressata, roasted potatoes, arugula
“They are perfect for Neapolitan pizza ovens because you can crack them on the pizza going in and they cook to a perfect over easy in 75 seconds.”
-Jay Jerrier, owner of Cane Rosso in Deep Ellum, Texas
Ingredient: Sweet Piquanté Peppers
Pairs with: goat cheese, pancetta, escarole, mozzarella
“The flavor and usage of peppadews is like no other topping. They are sweet, spicy, sour and tart. These peppers can pair with almost anything and can be applied fresh, whole, halved, stuffed, quartered, sautéed and come in different colors. It’s one of the most flavorful universal toppings I have ever used.”
- Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco, California, and Pizza Rock in Sacramento, California
Pairs with: provolone, onions, peppers, teriyaki, cashews, chicken, sausage
“We have captured the Asian market in this college town with this ingredient. It’s also funny to see some of the country folk around here order ‘that Kill-chee...Mim-chee...dag gum...just put some of dat spicy Chinese stuff on my pizza!’ ” Har har … it’s Korean!”
- John Gutekanst, owner of Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio
Ingredient: Hot soppressata
Pairs with: Grana Padano cheese, cherry tomatoes
“It’s the new upscale pepperoni. It has a little bit of kick to it and it offsets the freshness of the cherry tomatoes. The customers have really been taken aback by it and just love it.”
- Chris Lombardi, partner at New Jersey-based Tommy’s Coal Fired Pizza & Bar
Ingredient: fried chicken livers
Pairs with: super thin sliced lemon, Calabrian chili, olive oil, garlic & mozzarella
“Chicken livers have always been a favorite for me –– along with pizza. I love the texture and the mineral-ity of livers. We use livers from Plum Creek Farm in Burchard, Nebraska. The chickens are free range, antibiotic free, all natural, etc., which makes for super delicious livers!”
- Nick Stawhecker, chef/owner of Dante Ristorante Pizzeria in Omaha, Nebraska
Ingredient: roast pumpkin
Pairs with: salty ingredients, especially prosciutto, feta cheese or spicy sausage
“Our two most popular pizzas both contain roast pumpkin. ... We have a vegetarian pizza, which we use roast pumpkin, roasted garlic, spinach, feta zucchini and roasted bell pepper. The combination of flavors is perfect and people love it. It also looks amazing with the array of colors.”
- Adam Borich, owner of Lucifer’s Pizza in Los Angeles, California
Ingredient: Pistachio cream; walnut & pine nut cream
Pairs with: Pistachios go well with sweet Italian sausage & fresh mozzarella, while walnut and pine nut cream pairs well with coal-roasted zucchini and bufala mozzarella
“These flavors are one of our most popular new additions to our menu. They are delicate, yet flavorful. (They are) versatile and are not limited to traditional uses. Nuts make an exceptional and unexpected base for pizzas!”
-Mark Dym, owner of Marco’s Coal Fired Pizza in Denver, Colorado
Ingredient: smoked duck breast
Pairs with: gorgonzola, figs, walnuts, pistachios, red onion and pear
“We have a little smoker to house-smoke the duck breast in the wood oven. We then slice it paper thin.”
- Dave Brackett, owner of Pizzeria Rustica in Colorado Springs, Colorado
Ingredient: Conciato Romano
Pairs with: sugna, crushed black pepper, fresh basil, fresh oregano, extra virgin olive oil and fresh figs
“I was introduced to this cheese by the Lombardi family of the Agriturismo Le Campestre in Castel di Sasso, Italy. The cheese itself is considered one of the oldest cheeses in Europe dating 2,000 years to the time of the Roman Legions. It’s an aged sheep’s milk pecorino (six months to two years), and the pie itself (the Schiacciatta di Cinque Cento) is the creation of Franco Pepe of the pizzeria Pepe in Grani in Caiazzo, Italy. I love this cheese because it honors tradition and the artisinal process.”
- Jonathan Goldsmith, owner of Spacca Napoli Pizzeria in Chicago, Illinois
Ingredient: D’Anjou Pears >>>>
Pairs with: French brie, arugula, prosciutto, apricot-chili drizzle
“After 22 years in business we have a new No. 1 selling pizza: pear and Brie. Times have changed since the days of pepperoni and mushroom!”
- Peter Danis, owner of Figlio Wood Fired Pizza in Columbus, Ohio
Photos by Rick Daugherty
In the literary world, the phrase “write what you know” rings true for many writers. That same principle can be applied in the restaurant industry –– and that’s what Corbett and Julie Monica have done in their 2,770-square-foot trattoria-style restaurant, Bella Monica, in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Owners Julie and Corbett Monica
Corbett, whose grandparents owned a restaurant in New Jersey, has worked in restaurants since the age of 16. Julie worked her way though college serving and bartending as well, and the two eventually married and landed in NYC. “We knew we wanted to open a restaurant, but it wasn’t necessarily happening in Manhattan,” Julie says. “Corbett’s mother had moved down a few years before to this area, and we had visited and fell in love with the area. There was a lot of opportunity here.”
They made the move to Raleigh and opened Bella Monica in August 2000, opting for an Italian focus simply because “this is our heritage,” Corbett says. “My family’s from Naples, and this is the food I ate growing up, both in the restaurant and (at home). It was a very easy decision. It’s what we know, and it’s the food we love.”
Today, Bella Monica brings in $2.4 million annually and was No. 81 on Pizza Today’s Hot 100 Independents in 2012. Pizza accounts for about 40 percent of sales, but the restaurant has a full menu of traditional Italian offerings. “We started with a smaller menu, certainly, than we have today,” Corbett says. “We focused primarily in the beginning on pizzas and just a few pastas –– zitis and lasagnas. Things that we could execute well. As those things worked and as we got more business, we were able to execute more.”
Part of that success is having a staff capable of creating the recipes that have been in Corbett’s family for years. The restaurant employs around 40 people, and the kitchen staff works with two conveyor ovens in a former takeout and delivery space.
“It’s not the most efficient, but we’ve made it work,” says Corbett as he inspects his small bustling kitchen. Those two ovens are able to push out nearly the entire menu, including creamy polenta, baked pastas, fish, fried eggs and the restaurant’s thin-crust pizza.
“When we first thought about taking this place over, it would be the first restaurant that we owned. I was perplexed on how we were going to get it done in a conveyor oven,” Corbett says. “It’s been a blessing in disguise. You want to fry an egg? You put it in halfway. They guys have formed a system, and so far, it works.”
The house specialty, baked ziti, was Corbett’s grandmother’s signature dish. Lasagnas are popular, both meat and vegetarian, and the pizza’s flatbread-style crispy crust separates Bella Monica from other pizzerias in the area. The Margherita is a top seller, and they recently added the Frisco pizza which features broccoli rabe, sausage, caciocavallo, garlic, olive oil and chilies.
Bella Monica’s extensive menu requires smart ordering, and they receive shipments several times a week to ensure freshness. Limited storage in the kitchen reduces their ability for buying in bulk, but “we have pretty good relationships with most of our vendors,” Corbett says. He regularly compares prices with other restaurateurs in the area. “We’ve been loyal customers to most of our vendors, so we have fairly good pricing, I think, for being a single store. That, and we’re pretty watchful. We don’t have a lot of waste.”
Lacking the space for a full bar, the restaurant serves beer and wine only. They’ve implemented an extensive wine program, which has earned the restaurant accolades from Wine Spectator. Beer and wine make up to 20 percent of sales. They have an off-site facility where they store Italian varietals for several years –– even up to 10 years –– before opening and “our clientele is very wine savvy,” Corbett says. “Over the years, we’ve kind of exposed them and taught them about Italian wines.
“One of our big focuses (for employees) is wine training. And most of them enjoy it. … Our wine list is only Italian wine by design.”
As an independent restaurant, word-of-mouth advertising has become crucial at Bella Monica, and “we really try to pay attention to people inside so that they go out and spread some good word-of-mouth,” Corbett says. Social media like Twitter and Facebook have worked well, and one of the company’s assistant managers handles that aspect. “We’re very active in the community,” Julie adds, including donating food to and participating in local school and charity events. While they could spend more dollars advertising in more traditional outlets, Corbett prefers to participate in local cooking and “Best of” contests. “This is more social,” he says. “It’s just more fun.”
After nearly 13 years in the industry, the Monicas say they have found a balancing act when it comes to being owner/operators. While they used to be chained to the store from open to close, they realized after the birth of their daughter that they could scale back and trust in their management. They’re still in the store every day.
“I love the business myself,” Corbett says. “For me, if I’m not in my own restaurant, I want to be in somebody else’s restaurant.”
Julie says back office management is time consuming, but she still wants to be in the dining room daily to greet guests, feel the pulse of the restaurant’s clientele and gauge customer satisfaction. “I don’t want to be bogged down and locked in the office,” she says. “I want to be out where the fun is!”
The Monicas have considered opening another store in the future, but when the economy took a nose-dive a few years back they instead launched a retail gluten-free frozen pizza line that eventually made its way into grocery stores.
Made by an off-site vendor in a full gluten-free facility, the pizzas are privately packaged under the Bella Monica name and helped the bottom line without relying on expansion or franchising. In addition, “we have a full gluten-free menu now,” Julie says.
“The (gluten-free) pizzas that we sell here are actually the same pizzas that we sell in grocery stores because we can’t make that pizza here,” Corbett says. But for salads, gluten-free pastas like Eggplant Parmigiana and Cheese Ravioli, they use separate utensils and pans in-house to reduce cross contamination.
“As a lot of people were seeing (sales) taper off (during the recession), we had a lot of gluten-free folks coming in,” Corbett says. “It has boosted our business.”
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor of Pizza Today.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
From left, owners Jeff Janik and Lindy Janik, manager Kristal Johnson, general manager Patty Imperial, manager Edgar Sanchez, manager Kevin Lail, manager Mary Anne Janik and catering director Steve Hooker
This is the best pizza!” says a diner coming out of the door at Milton’s Pizza & Pasta on the day of our February visit. “We’ve been coming here, what –– 27 years now? The buffet is just perfection.” And that was our first introduction to the Raleigh, North Carolina, company owned by Jeff Janik and his wife, Lindy. “This is the only job I’ve ever had,” says Janik. “I started washing dishes for a gentleman named Milton Papadopoulos back in 1976 … for $2.13 an hour. It gets in your blood. I knew the first week. It’s either in you or it’s not. The restaurant business and I hit it off from day one.”
That was in Chesapeake, Virginia, and when Papadopoulos’ sons moved to North Carolina to expand in 1981, Janik went with them as a manager. He eventually bought the business in 1983 and opened a second location in 2004.
Today, Milton’s sales sit at $4.6 million with two stores, earning the company the 40th position on Pizza Today’s Hot 100 Independents list in 2012. Pizza accounts for 75 percent of sales. The restaurants have a heavy dine-in component but don’t deliver mainly because “we couldn’t handle a busy in-store restaurant and that, too,” Janik says. “It’s two separate businesses. The only way I could do it was if I did it out of a separate location with separate people. It seems like a natural fit –– you’ve got people here and you’ve got ovens, so why not? But when you’re busy, you’d be that much busier.”
Carryout makes up a hefty 23 percent of sales, “and that’s not an insignificant number at all,” Janik says. “I think it’s pretty awesome that our customers drive here to get our food when there are so many delivery options around. I always felt that if we started delivering right away, we’d just start trading off our take-out sales for delivery.”
Milton’s specializes in pan pizza baked in the company’s deck ovens and while pepperoni is the top seller, they offer a line of “showcase” pizzas, of which the Milton’s Special Pizza is king. That’s a whopper of a pie topped with pepperoni, ground beef, sausage, ham, salami, mushrooms, black olives, green peppers, onions and extra mozzarella cheese –– and jalapeños and anchovies can also be added.
Much is made by hand, including dough, sauces, grinding cheeses, and prepping pasta. “We’ve got a team of six guys who come in at six o’clock in the morning” to start prep, Janik says. “I’ve got friends who own breakfast restaurants and they laugh at me because they don’t get in as early as we do.
“It is a handful every day. It’s not a readily duplicatable concept that we have here, that’s for sure. That’s probably why we’ve stuck with the two (units) that we have and kept adding on.” The menu also features salads (and they have a fresh salad bar available), plated dinners like Pasta Primavera and Beef Lasagna, gluten-free offerings and an extensive dessert list made in-house. A lunch buffet features more than just pizza –– including ribs, fresh chicken, spaghetti and sweets.
A full bar was added two years ago “because I wanted to offer the option for those people who wanted to go out and eat and maybe have a drink. Somebody in the party would say ‘I want to have a margarita,’” Janik says. He initially worried that the addition of liquor would affect their bread-and-butter clientele –– families –– and he didn’t want to offend anyone. “Everybody serves alcohol now. It hasn’t been a big issue for us,” Janik says
Like most operators, Janik is working to keep his food costs down without compromising the integrity of the menu. The company weighs and measures ingredients and uses a “more is not always better,” approach to topping pizzas, Janik says. Those procedures help consistency across the brand.
“In addition to meeting with vendors, and staying sharp on portion control and recipes, there are a couple of other things we are doing that have helped,” he adds. “We have never been able to make a ‘prime vendor’ contract work for us. We have two great vendors that we have a long-standing relationship with. The opposite of a prime vendor agreement would be the cherry-picking method. I am not a fan of that either. I think it destroys loyalty and costs more in money and headaches in the long run if you try to buy from everyone that knocks on your door offering cheaper prices. We do a sort of ‘hybrid’ method. We do shop our two vendors, Reinhart and Sysco, against each other. We offer to send our Reinhart order guide to Sysco, and our Sysco guide to Reinhart monthly. We do not include pricing, and we make sure that we are doing an apples-to-apples comparison. This has saved us some very real dollars.”
Janik also credits the nearly 110 employees for Milton’s long-term success. “We’re very lucky to have so many of our management team who have been around for so long,” he says. “I really do believe that has been the success of Milton’s –– the people.”
Building a positive working environment is critical, and Janik realizes that “most people don’t get up and say, ‘You know… I want to be a server for the rest of my life, or I want to be a dishwasher.’ Certainly, most people aspire to do more or do something different. We will always be a way station for some people while they work their way through college (or are) single mothers.”
Milton’s employees take pride in the product they put out, however, and Janik strives to find those people who buy into that philosophy. He’s been challenged with helping his staff see that the restaurant industry “provides great, honorable professions,” he says. “You don’t have to hang your head and say ‘I’m a waitress’ or ‘I’m a cook.’”
As a result, he has some employees who have been with the company for 20-plus years. Since Janik himself has worked in nearly every job in the company, “I do have a profound appreciation for what they do, all of them,” he says. “I like to think that the staff does see that.”
Although word of mouth is Milton’s No. 1 advertising avenue, they review their marketing budget quarterly and drop what doesn’t work. Janik likes social media because it can boost business quickly during slow periods with immediate impact. He also relies on customer comment cards but avoids deal-a-day sites because they don’t generate repeat business. Instead, Janik prefers the company e-mail club, which “is the most effective form of advertising that we use,” he says. “We have been building that list for a long time and currently have over 20,000 Milton’s guests that subscribe. We offer a free pizza or pasta to guests as an incentive to join. We try to mail twice per month –– sometimes a special offer for them, sometimes just an announcement to keep them in the loop as to what is new at Milton’s.”
“We have been building that list for a long time and currently have over 20,000 Milton’s guests that subscribe. We offer a free pizza or pasta to guests as an incentive to join. We try to mail twice per month –– sometimes a special offer for them, sometimes just an announcement to keep them in the loop as to what is new at Milton’s.”
Janik would rather focus on providing a good customer experience over crunching marketing numbers. “We’ve tried everything over the years –– you know, radio, television –– and there’s no one silver bullet that we’ve been able to find. … Whenever we have our marketing discussions and our managers’ meetings, we always end up saying ‘You know, at the end of the day, we have to do an outstanding job with the guests that are here.’ That’s going to be our best marketing, always.”
With the company’s great food and longevity in the industry, Janik has been approached to franchise in the past. But, he still spends a good amount of time in his two stores. While he says his management team is strong enough to support another store, he has been reluctant to expand in the current economic climate, choosing to focus instead on maximizing day-to-day operations in his existing units. “After 30 years of this? It’s still exciting to come in to work every day,” he says. “There are still things you can do to make a difference in the restaurant, and I think that’s lucky.”
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
Photo by Josh Keown
The performance kitchen at Cane Rosso takes center stage. Built around a wood-fired oven, the workspace is home to leading man Dino Santonicola, the Naples-born master pizzaiolo hired by owner Jay Jerrier to put his restaurant on the map. And he’s not alone –– more attention than ever has been placed on hiring as a marketing ploy. Bring in a big name (even for a limited-time engagement), garner attention and bam! Instant fame. But is a chef –– one with street cred, a degree and/or acclamations –– really needed over a cook who worked his or her way up in an organization?
“A chef brings a lot of the ‘business’ side of the restaurant to the table,” Jerrier says. “He handles all of our unit costing, ordering, scheduling/staffing, quality control, vendor management, documentation, cleaning routines, etc. A cook is there just to execute the menu. I don’t want to rely on an hourly employee to have to deal with the big picture items.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 100,000 people were employed as a chef (or head cook) in 2010 (the last year surveyed) with a median pay of $40,630 per year. Most had one to five years of work-related experience, but many chefs received more formal training at a college or technical school.
“Most people who have culinary degrees will call themselves cooks,” says Chad Pritchard, a chef instructor at the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Dallas, Texas. “Just GOING PRO MOONEY FARMS because they’ve graduated from culinary school doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a chef.”
Although the two titles are often used interchangeably, G. Allen Akmon, a chef and the culinary arts department chair at Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky, says professionally trained chefs and cooks offer their employers experience, a greater focus on the bottom line and an emphasis on quality.
“In the industry, we always focus on how rather than why,” Akmon says. “Experience coupled with education brings mastery and the ability to apply different techniques to different products so with only one of the two components in place an individual is limited in the area of growth potential.
“Proper training is more than just the action and reaction of food products. Many times, the experiences that are learned in the industry are the fundamentals of cooking and when an individual rises from that position, it becomes very difficult to learn about recipe costing, labor and resource maximization, interviewing and management skills without at least a basic understanding. These foundations present another benefit of education that are not always realized immediately after graduation but rather further down the road as positions dictate.”
Pritchard, who has owned three pizzerias and two Italian restaurants in the past, finds that “there are a lot of culinary graduates who are very loyal to those who brought them on,” he says. “People are very afraid of hiring culinary graduates. When I owned my pizzerias, I always hired culinary graduates because there are a lot of graduates out there who don’t have the experience to go to a fine dining restaurant or a higher-end restaurant. Pizzerias and Italian restaurants are great places for these cooks to learn. As they do that, they become very brand loyal and they in turn send their friends and family to you. A lot of times, you’re their first job out of culinary school and they’re very proud of what they do. I think it elevates the craft more to hire those who are classically trained. It elevates us to more than just spaghetti and meatballs.”
This creativity plays a crucial role for some independent restaurants that rely on quickly changing their menus and rotating seasonal ingredients. “I think what you’ll end up finding is that you have more creativity in your kitchen,” Pritchard says. “You’ll end up saying ‘Hey, we need to do a daily special’ and they can get one on the menu.
At Cane Rosso, hiring a more experienced chef, while initially more expensive in terms of benefits and salary, increased quality overall with a more authentic product and employee training. “We also wanted to set a new standard for ‘authenticity’ in Neapolitan pizza,” he says. “There are very few places in the U.S. where you can get a Neapolitan pizza made with dough made in a Neapolitan mixer, cooked in a Neapolitan oven, by an actual Neapolitan from Naples city center...not a suburb!”
But for some companies, consistency is more important than creativity as they grow to multiple units and create more uniform products across their brand.
“We actually prefer to hire (line) cooks,” says Chris Lombardi, a partner at Tommy’s Coal Fired Pizza in New Jersey. “We try to keep our menu simple. We have four locations now and we feel by using simple menus, with less ingredients in the store and constantly turning over product, our employees can do it simple but do it right.”
Like other chains both large and small, they have created a recipe book that is standard as the company adds stores to its brand, and following that to the letter is imperative so that customers get the same product no matter which location they visit. “Chefs try to get creative, and that’s hard when you have more than one location,” Lombardi says. “When you own single restaurants, you can change it up on the fly. But for us we’re trying to keep it the same across all the restaurants. We use proven recipes that we know our customers like time and time again.”
One happy medium? Hiring local culinary students for internships. Most pizzerias are relatively casual, and that provides a good learning experience for many students as opposed to a formal dining establishment with more rigid kitchens. Pi-zzeria, located in Virginia Beach, often hires students from the local Culinary Institute of Virginia, which gives them real-world experience as well as college credits and a paycheck. Although the pizzeria’s parent company owns and operates a number of restaurants, initially, “we probably came out with ‘hey, let’s pay everybody minimum wage –– it’s a pizza place,’” says Darin Zediker, food and beverage manager at Pi-zzeria. “But we found out that … you have to be as skilled in one of these operations as you do one of our full-service seafood restaurants.”
Interns “are people who are working towards finishing up a culinary degree –– whether it’s getting them in to gain that experience or we actually have two or three (employees) who graduated from the institute,” Zediker adds.
In the end, finding the right combination of experience, ability and loyalty is what works for most operators. Training is critical for the days when a chef isn’t on the schedule –– afterall, there are only so many hours in the day and while an employee can work a lot of hours, they can’t work ’round the clock.
“One of Dino’s main tasks is to make sure he trains the pizza makers personally,” Jerrier says. “He is on the hook to make sure the pizza is just as good if he is not personally making it … We are finally to the point where we have a good, reliable team covering all of our shifts. Dino does still cover some of our busier weekend shifts –– but as we look to grow and add additional restaurants he won’t be able to personally work those shifts. His team is ready to rock.”u
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
In our experience, there are a few necessities that make a winning pizzeria. There’s personality, of course, and great food. There’s a good business model and experience to back it up. Finally, it takes gumption to tie them all together, and that’s precisely what Kelvin and Mandy Slater have done. Their company, Blue Moon Pizza, has two locations in the
Atlanta area, and brings in a combined $3.2 million annually. We had to see for ourselves what made Blue Moon so successful, and it did not take long to figure out that the Slaters are the operation’s heart and soul.
The husband and wife team have a natural give and take that began when the pair met while working for a fast casual restaurant chain in Florida. They have experience in several corporate brands, and “we bring a lot of that to this concept –– the structure, and the training and the staffing,” says Mandy. “But, we’re also kind of mom-and-popish in that we have a small staff (and) we’re closed on Sundays –– we’re a nice little mix of both.”
The original Blue Moon Pizza opened in 2003, with the second three years later in a mixed-use facility that includes homes and businesses. Why pizza, especially with the couple’s background in corporate cuisine? “We felt that you didn’t have to introduce it,” Kelvin says. “When you think about other concepts, not everybody eats those things. Everybody loves pizza.”
When coming up with their own concept, the Slaters wanted a place that was inviting and would appeal to many different demographics. The two locations are polar opposites when it comes to day parts –– one is surrounded by businesses and does a better lunch, while the other caters more to the dinner crowd. Dine-in accounts for about 40 percent of business, with delivery about 30 percent. They deliver within a three-mile radius. How does the Smyrna location, which is surrounded by homes and other restaurants, manage with so much competition? “We’re the only pizza place,” Mandy says. “Everybody’s a little bit different. There’s a tavern, there’s Mexican, there’s sushi –– there’s one of everything. We do have a lot of regulars who live in the complex. But the tavern does a great bar business, while we close at 11. We’re just different.”
Blue Moon has its deck ovens front of the house, allowing guests to watch as their pizzas are created and baked. “People like to see the ovens,” Mandy says. “They’re attractive. (People) want to see the guys cooking … Our line guys, they have a lot of fun. We try to include our guests in some of that fun as well. It is an entertainment factor.” On a busy Friday or Saturday night, the ovens –– manned by seven or eight employees –– can pump out more than 200 pizzas. “I can cook 20 large 18-inch pizzas every 8 minutes. I can do 24 mediums and probably 40 personals,” Kelvin says.
Both locations have full liquor licenses, and alcohol accounts for about 10 percent of sales. “We have a nice list of specialty martinis, and we do a Martini Night and different drink specials every day,” Mandy says. “People do tend to gravitate towards beer and wine here, although we do have some higher-end beers on tap and also by the bottle. … We don’t just have the regular, average beers. We try to offer something for the connoisseur as well.”
That same philosophy applies to the food menu as well. Blue Moon offers appetizers, salads, calzones and stromboli sandwiches, pizza and desserts. While traditional pizza is available, a line of specialty pizzas sell well. At the beginning of their business, “we started
asking our friends what was an absolute must –– what’s the best part? Is it the sauce? The cheese? The dough?” Mandy says. “Hands down, everybody said the dough.”
The Slaters put their own signature touches on traditional toppings, lending a unique spin to their eclectic pizza menu. For instance, the bestselling Classic uses red onions over white and tri-colored peppers instead of the more traditional green. Their barbecue sauce is a blend of sauces they liked, they season their own chicken and they flavor their bacon with brown sugar. It’s labor intensive –– the staff starts prep at 9 a.m. –– but it’s what makes Blue Moon unique. “We make our own meatballs –– it’s actually Mandy’s grandmother’s recipe –– we make our own mozzarella sticks (and) chicken Parmesan. Everything that we have, we season,” Kelvin says. “We want the flavor, not just the ingredients.”
Kelvin says that while many pizzerias limit the size of their gourmet pizzas, Blue Moon offers theirs up to 18 inches. They also offer a Grandma’s Pizza, a 16-inch Sicilian-style topped with cheese, EVOO, hand-crushed plum tomatoes and fresh basil.
To keep food costs down, the company orders daily and “we have a good understanding of what we need day in and day out so we don’t over-order,” Mandy says. “As far as keeping food costs down goes, we measure cheese to some degree. … We cut portion size and we make sure the cuts are right. But, that’s the corporate side of us. Measuring is nice for two reasons –– of course, you want to cut costs, but you want people to get the same pizza every time. … Your regular customers notice the big differences there.”
They also try to use ingredients across the menu to avoid waste. “We use our pizza dough for anything we can –– sandwiches, rolls, appetizers, salads … anything,” Mandy says.
For many pizzerias, opening a second location is often the hardest, as restaurateurs struggle with operations and management issues. Now that the Slaters have two stores under their belt, are there more Blue Moons in the future? Kelvin says they have three leases in the works and plan to utilize managing partners in future corporate stores. “We know we can’t be in all these places at once, but we’re just going to have to rely on hiring the right people,” Kelvin says.
Mandy agrees. “It’s going to be hiring the right people and developing the right training materials and manuals.”
What’s in a name?
Where does the name Blue Moon Pizza come from? Co-owner Mandy Slater says she wishes she had a better story, but their partner at the time suggested it. “We were saying that pizza this good only comes along once in a blue moon. We’ve since done a little branding and refined it a little bit. … The actual blue moon event is a rare and special event and we try to be a rare, out-of-the-ordinary place.”
Of course, Blue Moon is also the name of a popular beer. Do the Slaters have to worry about trademarking issues? “They love us,” Co-owner Kelvin Slater says. “We sell a lot of Blue Moon beer for them. Everything you see, they give us, like the mural, the umbrellas, the beer, the glasses, the coasters. … It’s been a good partnership. I’m just waiting for them to come to us and want to do a brewery and pizza place together!”
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
When Ray Perkins, owner of Chubby Ray’s Louisville Pizza Company in Louisville, Kentucky, was approached by a group of Girl Scout Brownies to do a pizza workshop for one of their badges, Perkins agreed, even though he’d never really worked with kids before. In fact, his establishment is known more for game day excitement, poker tournaments and live music. Still, Perkins saw an opportunity to cater to new clientele, so he agreed.
Rather than let 15 first-graders take over his kitchen, Perkins set up a conference table in an area usually inhabited by his week-day buffet. He brought out tubs of cheese, sauce and pepperoni, and used personal-pan-sized dough skins his staff had previously rolled out. Though he only had eight kid-sized pans, he used the same size dough on larger screens so each girl would receive the same pizza once baked. He then allowed each Brownie to build her own pizza. The workshop was priced at $5 a girl, including a soda and a tip for each of the two servers who assisted in the project.
“Our kids’ meals are $3.99 plus tax, so that just added a little bit of a tip for the servers,” Perkins says.
The fact that Perkins offers a kids’ meal as part of his regular menu isn’t surprising –– most kids between the ages of 3 and 11 list pizza as their top food choice. But did you know that families with children account for 14 billion meals and $70 billion in sales, according to marketing research firm The NPD Group?
“We do a lot with the youth football and youth baseball here,” Perkins says. “We host a lot of the parties here. It exposes (kids) to a place they maybe haven’t been before, and it’s all about the fun. It’s about the experience –– you want them to come back, and Mom and Dad will come with them.”
Kids are important at Washington-based Farelli’s Wood Fire Pizza, where Clayton Kreuger, director of marketing and communications, says each kid is given an unrolled doughball to play with at the table. “We have a special kids menu that is filled with fun coloring activities and such,” Kreuger says. “We have game rooms at all of our locations with video games and candy crane machines.”
Does focusing on family help the company’s bottom line? “Absolutely,” Kreuger says. “We are even exploring more new ways to engage with kids this year. After all, it is them who decide where their parents take them to eat.”
If you’re not catering to kids, here are some quick tips to get you started:
u Offer at least one healthy meal option. A grilled chicken breast and veggies with a side of dressing is an easy choice.
u Train your staff to alert parents if your meats (pepperoni, sausage, etc.) are spicy. Different brands have different heat levels, and this can be a deal breaker for future visits.
u Offer cups with lids, and train your servers to ask about refills. Since the cups may be smaller than adult-sized cups, they may need more refills.
u Preprinted kids’ menus should be brought to the table upon seating –– don’t wait for parents to ask. And use fresh crayons –– used crayons get grubby, aren’t visually appealing and carry germs.
u If you’re handing out toys, brand them. When they’re taken home, they’re obvious advertisements. “We also have a balloon artist come in once a week to make special balloon creations for the kids,” Kreuger says. “We give every kid a balloon on their way out the door that is branded with our logo.”
u Consider menuing at least one kid-friendly appetizer –– such as breadsticks or mozzarella sticks –– and train your servers to point them out on the menu.
u Offer one or two reduced portions from the adult
menu. “We’ve expanded our menu for the first time to
include a kids’ menu because we’ve gotten so many kids
in here,” says Dave Elliot, who owns New Hampshire-
based Zacky’s Pizzeria.
u Not non-smoking? Consider
voluntarily doing so. Perkins says
although he was mandated to go smoke-free by county law, “it changed our demographic. We were really more adult-oriented. I found out there were a lot of families who wouldn’t come in if we allowed smoking.”
Finally, consider putting together a birthday party package. Zacky’s offers kids at parties a personal pan pizza, a beverage and a bag of chips. They hand out a bottle of their private-label soda as the kids leave. “They’re actually going back to mom and dad and saying ‘Here. This is what’s left.’ ” says Elliot. “We’ve had a lot of parents come back because the kids like it. The parents may never have been here.” u
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
When Facebook was first introduced, the site was the online version of the Wild West, devoted primarily for collegiate use and of little consequence to a young suburban mother like myself. Fast forward a couple of years, and just about everyone I know –– including my in-laws, my 83-year-old great aunt and my friend’s dog –– has a Facebook account. Facebook reports a whopping 750 million active users –– and of those, 50 percent log on to Facebook on any given day. That’s a lot of potential customers you’re not reaching if you haven’t already built an online social media presence.
Twitter, on the other hand, hit the social networking scene in 2006 and has had more than 200 million users. Here, users send out microbursts of text-based messages called Tweets in 140 characters or less. That 140-limit includes your user name (e.g., @BellasPizza) and photo or Web links.
As a small business owner, you’re not limited to using one or the other. There are pros and cons to both, but the capability to link the two sites –– for example, to post on Facebook and have it also applied as a Tweet on Twitter –– makes it a win-win for users.
(For the record, Facebook overtook ailing Myspace as the No. 1 social media site in April 2008. Since then, audience measurement site Quantcast estimates that Myspace’s monthly U.S. visitors ranked at just under 20 million and in June of this year, Myspace laid off a substantial amount of employees.)
Setting up a Facebook page and a Twitter account is free and easy –– all you need is someone to maintain them. Bill Jacobs at Piece Brewery & Pizzeria in Chicago maintains the majority of his company’s social media presence through apps on his smart phone. He can Tweet a new special, upload a photo of one of the company’s new signature brews to Facebook or give a shout out to the employee of the month on both sites –– all without leaving his busy dining room. “We are active on Twitter daily and we update Facebook either every day or every other day,” Jacobs says.
Ray Perkins, owner of Chubby Ray’s Louisville Pizza Co. in Louisville, Kentucky, also uses Facebook to update his customers. “It's all about making friends,” he says. “People are going to eat and they like to buy from their friends. It doesn't hurt that we have excellent food, too.”
Here are some tips to set up and maintain accounts for two of the most popular social media sites:
• Twitter. To set up a Twitter account, visit www.twitter.com. You’ll need to submit your full name, e-mail and create a password. On the next page, you’ll then be prompted to tighten your password if it’s easily detectable (use a combination of numbers and letters for maximum security). You will also learn if the username you’d prefer to use is taken –– all usernames begin with the @ symbol (our own is @PizzaToday). If your restaurant’s name is Bella’s Pizza, there could be dozens of similar names in use across the country. Try adding on a street name or city abbreviation if you’ve got several locations. You’ve got the option to create separate Twitter accounts if your company’s units act independently (for instance, a downtown location may offer slices while its sister suburban location might not). A good example of this practice is exhibited by Tutta Bella, which has several locations in the Seattle area. The company’s different locations have their own accounts and Tweet separately –– @tuttabellaWL is the company’s West Lake location, while @MyTuttaBella is its corporate account.
Once you’ve set up your Twitter account, start advertising it on your marketing by encouraging your customers to follow you. To do so, those that have Twitter accounts simply hit “FOLLOW” on their own pages, and your Tweets become visible in their new streams.
It’s important not to inundate your followers with too many Tweets (I’ve often “unfollowed” companies who seem to be clogging my feed with Tweets every three minutes). Tweeting your lunch special once every half-hour in the morning will get the attention of those who glance through their Twitter feeds periodically.
Other potential topics to post on Twitter:
• new drink specials
• happy hour offerings
• special events such as karaoke, live bands or kids’ nights
• job openings
• special awards
• Facebook. Here at Pizza Today, we originally set up our company Facebook account as a private account that required approving anyone who wished to join our social network. We shuttered that account for the more user friendly Facebook fan page about 18 months ago.
Global online intelligence service Experian Hitwise reports that social media users spend more than four-and-a-half hours a month on Facebook, compared to two hours and 12 minutes on Twitter. Much of that is due to the fact that Facebook moves at a slower pace –– posts tend to remain in users’ news feeds for a longer time than on Twitter. Here, you’re able to post longer messages to your users, maintain galleries of photos and create events to which guests can RSVP.
A great example of a Facebook fan page is Eddie’s Pizzeria Cerino in Ohio. “We have been managing a Facebook page for the pizzeria for over two years. We find it to be an extremely effective and cost efficient marketing tool. We post at least four to five times a week, usually with a food picture,” says owner Eddie Cerino, who maintains a personal page for his own private use, but his company’s fan page features daily specials like the Veal Saltimbocca, pictures of his chefs in the kitchen and gorgeous food photography shot by his wife. “Having a wife who is a professional food photographer and graphic designer allows us to post great photos of our product cheaply and easily. We constantly have guests tell us that the latest post on Facebook is the reason they are dining with us tonight,” he says.
Still, you don’t need professional photography to get your point across –– feel free to post simple cellphone shots of new dishes, bands in your dining room and behind-the-scenes shots of cooking (Pizza Today’s Facebook fans enjoy photos of our in-house chefs and artists during photo shoots –– and I shoot many with my smart phone).
To set up a Facebook fan page, you’ll first need to set up a personal account for yourself. Next, go to www.facebook.com/facebookpages and click the ‘Create a Page” tab on the right side of the page. On the next screen, click “Local Business or place” and the site will then prompt you through the easy process.
You also have the option to link your Facebook and Twitter pages, so that if you post on Facebook, it automatically posts on Twitter. The only downside to this practice is that if you post pictures on Facebook, it will link to Twitter — but if users are on Twitter and do not have a Facebook account, they will not be able to see the photos.
When it comes to maintaining your social media, it’s best to either do it yourself or delegate to someone you trust, such as a manager or longtime employee to avoid abuse or accidental slips (last March, car manufacturer Chrysler issued a public apology after an inappropriate Tweet went out on its corporate account via an employee of its social media agency of record who thought he was on his own account. Oops). Also, avoid multiple accesses to your accounts –– you don’t want three people Tweeting or posting on Facebook the same announcement.
It’s also important to track your Facebook comments and return Tweets –– this is direct feedback from your clientele and is a great communication tool. “We also notice interaction with our staff and customers on our site,” says Cerino. “The staff loves discussing specials and how many they sold on their last shift. They also enjoy commenting and posting photos of company functions such as Christmas parties and holiday cookouts. Customers appreciate and feel as they are part of the pizzeria family.”
Finally, should you monitor your employees’ personal social media? Two years ago, Domino’s Pizza had to deal with public backlash concerning YouTube videos of two errant employees conducting multiple violations in a store that was eventually shuttered. (The company later earned a public relations award for its handling of the events). California Pizza Kitchen tracked down and fired an employee who complained on Twitter about a uniform change. In a world where social media is the everyday norm, it is wise to include a section concerning social media in your employee handbooks. Policing your employees’ social media use is time consuming, but ultimately can affect your brand’s image and your bottom line.
Once you've got your social media designed, this is not something to "set and forget." You’re going to need to stay atop of the constantly changing landscape of social media sites, such as the recently launched Google+. Doing so will help you stay on top of your marketing game –– and your competitors.
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today. Visit our own social media sites by using the Facebook keywords PIZZA TODAY and following us at @PizzaToday on Twitter.
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
When you’re located in a large metropolis, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. Luckily, Los Angeles-based Fresh Brothers is not just a standout in the pizza industry but also in the bustling central California restaurant landscape. Since its inception in late 2007, the company has grown to six stores with sales of more than $8 million. Sure they’ve got high volume, but their noteworthy leadership skills and successful operations have garnered the company national attention –– including our 2012 Independent Pizzeria of the Year award.
Adam and Debbie Goldberg, along with Adam’s brother, Michael, launched their first store in June 2008 following careers in television, but they didn’t enter the pizza business blind. Adam and Michael’s brother, Scott, owns Miller Pizza Company in northwest Indiana, and Adam and Michael based their core menu and pizza recipes on their brother’s. They tweaked it for central California, however, and placed a greater emphasis on fresh salads and wings. Today, the company has six stores in the L.A. area with two more slated to open by the end of 2012. Sales are expected to weigh in at just over $8 million this year and are projected for more than $10 million in 2013.
When coming up with a concept, why pizza? The Goldbergs noted a lack of upscale fast-casual pizza in their market, and having the support of their family made the career transition easier. “The big reason, for me, was because I thought I could spend more time with my family and my kids to be an owner-operator business with the intention of growing,” Adam says. “Our business plan was to open five stores in two years, and we ended up doing five stores in about 28 months.”
Fresh Brothers proves that a menu doesn’t have to be large to generate high volume. The focus remains on pizzas, salads and wings even as they expand, Adam says, “and we’ve made the ordering process easy. That’s very important. People can call us here who have never seen our menu and order a pizza.”
They make dough at their Manhattan Beach store and transfer it daily to the other units. “That’s a big end of quality control –– to make sure the consistency of the pizzas (is) the same from store to store,” Michael says. Sauce is made in-house, and in a bit of ingenuity, Fresh Brothers offers a secondary sauce for kids (offered at the cost of an additional topping) that includes a blend of vegetables mixed into the pizza sauce. The idea was even featured on the syndicated talk show “The Doctors” in a discussion on whether pizza was an appropriate menu item in schools. (Fresh Brothers has school contracts to supply pizza to several school districts.) “When we were coming up with the concept, we looked at everything from the perspective of a parent,” Debbie says. “I think our most powerful customer is the mom, and this is one thing that parents just love.”
Like most pizzerias, pepperoni and cheese top the list of bestsellers, but Da Works (Sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers and onion) and the Fresh Vegetable (fresh green peppers, onions, mushrooms, green and black olives) are favorite specialty pizzas.
“We bake everything –– nothing’s fried here,” Michael says. “Our fries, our wings –– everything’s baked. It goes right through the pizza oven.”
The company even hand-chops the vegetables for its popular salad offerings, which is based off a salad bar concept without the self-service, making it easier for the customer and faster for the stores. “We have a 40-item salad table, and we give people the opportunity to create their own salad,” Adam says. “People can choose how they want their salad –– tossed or chopped, do they want the dressing tossed in or on the side –– and (what exact) ingredients. Of course along side of that we have seven other set staples –– our Fresh Market, our Farmer’s Market, our Cobb … but I really enjoy making salads, though, and there (are) very few salad bars out there anymore that aren’t Bristol Farms or Whole Foods that you walk out at 14 bucks a piece. We wanted to do a fair-priced fresh salad.”
Debbie says part of Fresh Brothers’ salad appeal is that they go beyond the Iceberg lettuce and stringed carrots found at many contemporary restaurants. “We knew we could really set ourselves apart,” she says, by offering salad ingredients like hearts of palm, pepperoncini, avocado, fresh eggs and a variety of dressings.
Menuing items beyond pizza would require better packaging, and “we chose nice, clear plastic bowls,” Adam says. “We grew up eating salad in a bowl, not in a Styrofoam container. We thought that was real important as part of the marketing so you can actually see the fresh salad when you were handed it.”
While pizza makes up a significant portion of sales (up to 95 percent), “on a Friday or Saturday night at all of our locations, anywhere from 65 to 80 percent of our salads go with a pizza,” Adam says.
Vendor deliveries four times a week ensure freshness, and smart ordering and reducing waste keeps their food costs manageable. “We’ve actually found that we’ve made our ... walk-in cooler smaller, which forces us to order (product) more,” Michael says. “We’ve found that if we shrink down that walk-in cooler, it really makes you think how your product control is.”
“We’ve also pushed and negotiated with our food purveyors to give us multiple deliveries,” Adam adds. “They don’t want to do it. When you’re a one-store unit ... your terms are not nearly as good. You don’t have that credit yet. They only want to drop once a week.”
And when Fresh Brothers couldn’t source what they needed locally, they weren’t afraid to ship in product, such as the giardiniera they buy from a Chicago company. “We could not find a good giardiniera out here,” Adam says, “so we ended up shipping it by the five-gallon bucket. Now we bring it in by the pallet. We get one to two pallet loads at a time.”
They added gluten-free pizza to their repertoire after finding that many residents in their market had switched not only out of necessity but also as a lifestyle change. Michael says it took trying out six to eight different crusts before finding one that best replicated their thin-crust. “We now sell over a thousand of those pizzas a week,” he says. “We have our own menu dedicated to it, and it’s a big part of our business. The wonderful part of our gluten-free menu is that we’ve been able to bring families together to eat at our restaurants or to eat (pizza) at home because they couldn’t before. Johnny had a food allergy, so Mom and Dad stopped eating pizza. Now they can order a pizza for Johnny and a regular pizza for themselves, and everything that goes with it.”
They have a strict training program that educates employees on the gluten-free process. The crust comes from a vendor in a sealed box, “and we don’t want to say that we make it, because it’s a lot safer that we don’t,” Adam adds. They have a whole set-up in their walk-in cooler dedicated to making gluten-free pizza including separate products, tools and packaging. Boxes are taped shut for delivery or carryout so gluten-free customers feel secure in knowing their product hasn’t been tampered with.
Debbie adds that the addition of a non-dairy vegan cheese alongside the gluten-free menu has been “life-changing” for some customers who have not been able to enjoy pizza of any kind. “Being able to offer those has been very rewarding,” she says.
They test-marketed beer and wine at one location, but the upcoming Santa Monica store will have a full beer and wine selection, and future locations will offer it as well. Adding that component has been hindered by the size of their locations and current laws mandating bathroom sizes for restaurants with bars, but it’s not a large part of Fresh Brothers’ business. “A lot of it is just the demographics that we’re in,” Adam says. “Our model is based on a pick-up and delivery service, which is what we’re sticking to, but with our second unit, we found that when we put about 24 seats inside, all of our restaurants have communal seating outside as well, so we take advantage of that outdoor seating. In California, we have about 320 days a year that we can use that seating. We’ll always have some kind of seating in there. … A lot of it just comes down to the cost of real estate. We’d rather get more pizzas into people’s houses on the pick-up or
delivery side than have to pay for a larger space.” Delivery accounts for about 55 percent of sales across the chain. Michael spent 25 years in the trucking industry and brings that operations experience to the business. Managing the delivery side has been done through use of their POS system, and they say training helps expedite the high delivery volume. “We’ll have anywhere from four to 10 drivers, depending on location, working at one time,” Michael says.
Part of Fresh Brothers’ success lies in its infrastructure, starting with a director of operations who oversees a team of 12 managers. The company employs 255 people and like most restaurants, retention is crucial to smooth operations. “We’re honest (with employees),” Michael says. “We respect them. We’ve given a lot of people their first jobs just from walking in, right out of high school or while they’re in high school. Our management team, we train them very well and we watch what’s going on. I think it all comes down to respect, though. If you respect them, they’ll respect you back.”
Adam adds that since the company was founded as a family business, they try to extend that relationship to
employees. “We want them to feel, at the end of the night, that they had a good day at work,” he says. “They’re going back home to their families, and we want their families to feel good about where their kids are working.”
“Our retention is very good,” Michael adds. “We have original employees at our Manhattan (Beach) store who have been with us since the start. And, we have original employees who have moved up through the system. We have always put that goal out there for people if they are interested. Our management team probably consists of 50-50 coming from within or coming from the outside.”
The Goldbergs remain visible in their stores as much for the employees’ sake as for their customers. “The one thing you can’t put on paper is the attitude that you give to your customers and your employees,” Adam says. “They’re able to pick that up from Michael and I and Debbie, (and) when our brother, Scott, comes out or when our father, Gary, comes out. They see how we work and how we deal with people and how important it is to kind of duplicate that.”
Back-of-the-house functions such as payroll are kept out of the stores so managers can focus on day-to-day operations. They rely heavily on their POS system for daily ordering reports, which helps them stay on top of their food and labor costs. “That is a big part of our success,” Adam says, “to make sure that we’re on top of those numbers, even down to making sure our credit cards batch each night and the banks have receipts.”
“There’s no way we could be at six stores if we were sitting up at night cutting paychecks or trying to reconcile our bank accounts,” Michael adds.
Despite six stores and their planned future growth, Fresh Brothers’ owners remain active on a daily basis. Jumping from two stores to three was the most challenging –– Adam and Michael joked that since there were no brothers left to take the next store, they’d have to rely on outside help for management, and giving up that control –– even with 15- to 16-hour days –– was difficult at first. After six stores, though, “it surprises me every time I’m sitting in a store and I see someone park their car, come in and get a pizza and walk out to go home,” Adam says. “It’s the greatest feeling I have, and not that I should be surprised –– because that’s exactly the idea of owning a restaurant –– but four years later, I get such a kick out of knowing that that dad just came over to pick up a pizza to go home and feed his kids.”
With units now covering more territory in the L.A. market, Fresh Brothers has turned its attention to extensive marketing. Even with its first store, emphasis was placed on direct mail and print, and “a very big part of our marketing is through social media, as well as Internet sites,” Adam says.
More stores covering a larger area requires more advertising, and “we’ve sprung into radio in the No. 2 market in the country (and) we have three billboards throughout Los Angeles,” Adam says. “It all ties in. We have people who live in Calabasas and (work) in Beverly Hills. They order for their office at one location, and on Friday night, they can order food for their family at another. That’s the real key to our growth and building the brand, and that’s why consistency is so important, because many of our customers eat at more than one Fresh Brothers.”
Aside from in-store branding –– everything, right down to the napkin holders carries the Fresh Brothers logo –– they also have a “Fresh Fan Club” and “we’ve absolutely taken the
approach that it costs us less to bring in our current customers than to bring in new customers,” Adam says, but “we do both. We have marketing geared toward our loyal members who like to eat our food on a regular basis (and) to those who have never tried our food. And how do we get them?
“Our No. 1 secret is sampling our food. It’s where most of our marketing budget goes to on a monthly basis. We will spend upwards of $10- to $15,000 a month in giving away free food.”
All the stores with the exception of the Manhattan Beach location, which doesn’t have the walk-in traffic of the others, samples anywhere from 5 to 15 pizzas a day. An employee hands out one-by-two inch slices one customer at a time. It encourages people who might have seen the company’s billboard or heard their advertisement to put a taste to the name, and it also reinforces the brand for current customers and
encourages them to try something other than their usual cheese or pepperoni pizza.
Debbie coordinates the company’s social media and “in keeping with the idea that Michael and Adam are in-store every day –– at least one of them is walking around –– it is me talking to our customers,” she says. “We don’t farm it out. I know our customers through our Facebook page. I know who I’m tweeting with. I think that’s amazing, and that’s really unique. I think that’s where a lot of people go wrong.”
The team personally handles complaints through their Web site and social media, and five customers are called each day to get feedback and offer a discount for their next order. If the customer had a bad experience, that is expedited to an owner for follow-up and a promise to make the order right. Catering orders are also followed-up on in the afternoons after delivery.
“We encourage our management team to write up a gift certificate request for even the smallest mistake or issue that happens,” Adam says. “For instance, somebody orders an additional ranch dressing with their order of chicken wings, but they only got one and they call and we learn about it. We want to know about that, and we’re going to acknowledge that with a letter to them and give them a little something to get them to come back in next time. It’s all about that customer retention.”
They launched apps for iPhone and Android smartphones this year and offer a 10-percent discount just for using those. “We’re trying to draw them to that web ordering or app ordering because somewhere down the line, we’re going to start seeing the percentages change, and we can start reducing our labor,” Michael says.
An additional benefit to smartphone and Internet orders? “We see about a 10- to 15-percent increase per ticket,” Adam adds. Folks who might just order a pizza on the telephone see enticing offers for additions like salads and wings. The more menu items customers try, the more apt they are to reorder those items.
With its operations firmly under control, Fresh Brothers, it seems, is on the precipice of a very real and envious expansion, but this isn’t a spark-and-fizzle plan. In June, the company announced that it had received an equity investment from Michael Greenberg, co-founder and president of international shoe company Skechers USA, Inc. The partnership will add fuel to Fresh Brothers’ fire, and two new stores are planned this year in Santa Monica and Brentwood, California.
“I acquired a meaningful position in Fresh Brothers and expect to be an active partner in helping Fresh Brothers build upon the solid foundation that has been established since the company was founded in 2008,” Greenberg says. “I was attracted to Fresh Brothers because of the company’s family friendly menu and its compelling store level economics.
“My investment will be used to repay Fresh Brothers debt and to fund new store growth, with Fresh Brothers planning to double its store base over the next 12 to 18 months.”
With the new partnership, they don’t worry about growing too fast too soon, especially in the Los Angeles market, which has plenty of room without the potential to cannibalize themselves. When the company expanded from one store to two, “we were looking to tag the market,” Adam says. “Where we are, we’re looking at about a three-mile radius around each store to add the next store.
“As we got to our sixth store, we knew we needed to bring in not only somebody with some capital with the potential to recapitalize the company but (also) someone with the knowledge of how to continue to grow and what it takes to move forward in opening stores and other potential investment opportunities.”
Greenberg’s investment is not only financial. He also brings a wealth of business experience –– including international operations and expansion –– to the partnership, which is critical for the level of growth the company hopes to see in the next few years. “Michael’s vast knowledge of real estate development and business experience makes him the perfect strategic partner for Fresh Brothers,” Adam says.
Along with expansion comes the need to standardize their operations to ensure consistency from one location to another. They’ve created a master plan and future units will use the same design, which includes warm, muted colors, televisions and an open floor plan. They also use scales to measure and the exact same product from store to store. That uniformity strengthens the brand for growth outside their own system, but the intent is to remain private for now with a focus on Southern California first. “We’re not looking to sell franchises,” Adam says. “Every time we open a store, we get that much better. We’re constantly learning.”
FRESH BROTHERS BY THE NUMBERS
- Fresh Brothers served over a half million orders in 2011.
- Fresh Brothers mixed up more than 5,000 gallons of Fresh Kids’ Special sauce in 2011.
- 15 percent of Fresh Brothers’ customers order online or use their iPhone or Droid App.
- The Manhattan Beach and Las Virgenes school districts served more than 85,000 Fresh Brothers pizzas to their students during their 2011-2012 school year.
- 400,000 pounds of dough were made fresh at the Manhattan Beach Fresh Brothers commissary in 2011.
- The six Fresh Brothers units went through 375,000 pounds of part skim, lower fat mozzarella cheese in 2011.
- Fresh Brothers sold 225,000 pounds of baked Buffalo wings in 2011.
- Fresh Brothers is looking at 39 potential cities from Santa Barbara to San Diego to open locations in the next several years.
- Fresh Brothers locations are earning an average of about $1,250 in sales per square foot. A typical location is about 1,200 square feet.
Here are some tips for setting up your own frequent-diner program:
• Train your employees about the importance of your frequent diner program. Offer incentives to employees who sign up the most customers. Also train them to remind the customer to present any type of loyalty card during the transaction to ensure customers remember.
• Gather demographics information. Gather the gender of the client, as well as the approximate ages.
• If your company has more than one location, you have the option of making the rewards program chainwide, and thus increasing brand loyalty, or allowing your stores to individualize their loyalty programs according to their needs. The problem with the latter, however, is consistency –– if your customers don’t know their projects rewards, they’re less likely to use the program in general.
• Consider using free product (such as buy five pizzas and your fifth is free!). It’s cheaper, you’ve already got it on-hand and you’re not taking money out of your pocket.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
Drive up the Virginia beach coast, and just about every block is peppered with at least one pizzeria, full-service restaurant, bar and shake shack. That’s a lot of white noise to wade through, but Pi-zzeria, with sales at $1.2 million annually, seems to have found its voice. The full-service pizzeria launched in 2003 is part of the gold Key/ Phr hotels & resorts development group, which houses eight different restaurants under its umbrella.
“We didn’t want to do your ordinary pizza,” says Chuck sass, vice president of food and beverage. ”We wanted to do something different … That would be suitable for the visitor market being that we are a resort visitor town, but that would also differentiate ourselves to attract the locals. A lot of the pizza restaurants close at the end of the season.
We wanted to (operate) year-round. “For our portfolio, we found that (pizza) was one of the things that was missing, and at the end of the day, one of the big drivers was the profitability in terms of food costs. Being able to support oceanfront rent requires a year-long business. You have to be profitable to be down in this area.”
Standing out is key for any restaurant’s success, but for Pi-zzeria, it is crucial. “On the oceanfront, there are 15 different pizzerias, and that’s just from 1st street all the way down to 35th,” says Scott Farrar, director of seasonal outlets for parent company Phr. “Most of them are your walk-in, fast-casual (to-go) places. One of the things about us is that we are truly a sit-down, dine-in restaurant. We’re very kid friendly but we’re adult friendly as well –– everything from the design and layout to the way we handle our guests when they come in the door.
“We give all of the kids who come in dough balls to play with, we have Pi-zzeria tattoos –– we’re just a little bit different from your standard restaurant. They don’t just walk in and we give them a piece of paper and some crayons.”
The restaurant employs about 50 people, “and all cooks have been cross-trained and can cook all stations,” Farrar says. while they have dedicated pizzaiolos, most employees can work the pizza station if needed.
Although the restaurant is backed by the buying power of its corporate brand, it still operates on an independent basis. Dough and sauces are made in-house, and the company puts its chefs center stage. “We have an exhibition kitchen right here facing Atlantic Avenue so that the people who walk by can see it,” says Farrar. “We have the only rotating brick stone oven at the beach, which gives us another (point) of differentiation between (us) and our competitors.” Nearly 80 percent of sales are pizza based, but “we have a good variety of pasta dishes, different sandwiches, multiple salad offerings –– we have pretty extensive menu offerings for a pizzeria.”
To help keep food costs down, the company installed an automated inventory and cost control system that helped shave 4½ percent off their food costs. “we know, for example, if we buy 100 pounds of pepperoni during a given week and we sell a certain amount of the pizzas that we’re supposed to, we can nail it down to the specific cook who might be putting on too many,” Sass says.
Farrar estimates that nearly half of pizzas sold are traditional one-toppings — but Pi-zzeria have more than 22 specialty pizzerias on their menu. “The selection that you’ll find as far as specialty pizzas is far greater than anything you’ll find down here on the oceanfront,” Farrar says.
The top-selling specialty pizza is the Chicken bacon ranch (pepper fried chicken, bacon, ranch dressing and mozzarella) and the gorgonzola (artichokes, spinach, roma tomatoes, pine nuts, red onions, chicken and gorgonzola cheese). The latter “is something that we’re known for,” Farrar adds. “it’s something that you won’t find anywhere else around here.”The East Coast Hawaiian style (slow-roasted barbeque pork, grilled pineapple, mozzarella and apple-smoked bacon) has also been a longtime menu staple.
Adding a small 6-inch pizza has helped increase specialty pizza sales because “where typically you and i might split one type of pizza, now we can have our own individual pizzas,” Sass says. The restaurant does not deliver aside from two hotel properties, but sass says local delivery is in Pi-zzeria’s business plan for 2013. “The reason that we don’t do delivery now is that at 7:30 at night, there’s a line out the door,” he says. “we’re at capacity in terms of our oven space.”
Aside from the food, alcohol makes up nearly 25 percent of sales. “In terms of alcohol-to-food ratios out of all of our restaurants, it is the lowest, which you would expect in a family friendly atmosphere,” Sass says. Sangria is the restaurant’s signature drink and is made in-house, with three varieties (white, red and a blush) offered by the glass and carafe daily. It’s so popular that it can comprise nearly 50 percent of alcohol sales. “You see a tray coming out with four glasses and a carafe, and the next thing you know the whole restaurant wants to order it,” Farrar says.
Still, beer and traditional wines are more popular than hard liquor. “We have a decent selection of bottled beers as well as three different beers on tap,” Farrar adds. “We sell frozen drinks as well being that we’re on the beach. Single liquor drinks is probably the least in terms of sales that we do.”
Pi-zzeria handles marketing strategetically — it accounts for nearly three percent of the restaurant’s budget — and its primary target are the nearly 500 hotel rooms under the parent company’s hospitality wing. “We own the rooms, and it’s really the lowest hanging fruit that we have,” Sass says. “we also have five other resorts in which we market in the rooms.”
They also advertise in the abundance of visitors’ guides that line the hotel lobbies and local sidewalks, which is their most effective marketing tool. “You almost have to be in the guidebooks,” Sass says. “with the economy, the visitors are looking for a bargain.” (Pizzeria’s buy one, get one half-off a large pizza is the most effective campaign.)
While the majority of advertising is geared toward visitors in the summer, the focus in the off-season is on attracting locals. That includes utilizing social media and building sponsorships with local sports teams. “We measure the effectiveness of our marketing programs by each specific campaign, and we review and critique that for the following years,” Sass adds.
The company is looking at expansion for the Pi-zzeria brand, and “if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it all out,” Sass says. They are actively looking at growth on the oceanfront but also via catering, which will require more labor and oven-capacity.
They would like to open a store at the south end of the beach and another in the central part, which will give them full coverage for delivery.
The key, says Farrar, will be consistency. “This restaurant, you can come in and i don’t care if it’s December or July, if there (are) two people in here or 200, you’re going to order something and it’s going to come out the same way every time. We have people who come down here every year besides our local clientele that have been coming here since 2003 specifically because of our consistency.”
That relentless quality control is what helps Pi-zzeria succeed on a daily basis. says Sass: “With the increasing quality of the chain brands –– and they’re getting better and better, and cheaper and cheaper –– you’ve got to deliver an overall experience versus just good pizza … it’s delivering the whole package.”
Mandy Detwiler is managing editor of Pizza Today.
CANE ROSSO - DALLAS, TEXAS
Primed And Ready
Dallas-based Cane Rosso on track for serious success
BY MANDY WOLF DETWILER PHOTOS BY RICK DAUGHERTY
Cane Rosso –– Italian for “red dog” and named after a beloved pet who passed away –– has made headlines on its own since it opened last Valentine’s Day. Jerrier, who had served as a minority investor at Campania, says he wanted his own smaller concept (Campania weighed in at 6,000 square feet over three floors) in which he could create authentic Neapolitan pizza.
“In 2008, I bought my own mobile pizza oven,” he says. “It was a wood-burning oven on a trailer and we started a catering company.” That got off the ground in 2009, and he started doing private events that resulted in “a cult following” in the Dallas area. By the end of that year, Jerrier began actively looking for a space. “That’s when the economy was really tanking and landlords were asking too much. We were confident that we’d eventually find something.”
By the middle of 2010, his current landlord had tracked him down with the first location Jerrier had seen that had character with room to grow –– just what he wanted in a fledgling restaurant location. Deep Ellum had become a hip spot for restaurants and boutiques, and he was able to build the restaurant for a fraction of what it would have cost anywhere else. His tables were created from reclaimed shipping palates, he bought chairs at auction and he found his barstools in storage in the building next door. Pillows flank the booths, many of which were brought by friends and family during the restaurant’s soft opening.
Jerrier expects Cane Rosso to bring in between $1.5 and 1.8 million in sales in 2012. The restaurant was named one of D Magazine’s 10 Best New Restaurants and has already garnered attention in Dallas’ competitive dining scene.
Taking center stage is the wood-burning Stefano Ferrara oven –– burning at 900 degrees –– and mixer, both of which he sourced from Naples. “I had this oven designed probably a year before I actually ordered it,” Jerrier says, adding that it was brought into the restaurant via forklift through the patio doors and he built a bar around those –– essentially creating a stage for his pizzaioli. The restaurant can seat 100 with an additional 40 on the patio, and guests can wait up to two hours during peak times –– an indication of the restaurant’s popularity and reputation. Crucial to maintaining that reputation is the pizzeria’s AVPN certification –– one of a growing number of American pizzerias who have met the rigid standards of the Italian-based Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. “It’s the kind of pizza that I like,” says Jerrier, who honeymooned in Italy with his wife in l995 and later built a pizza oven in his own backyard. “I was frustrated with how I couldn’t get it to work right, and then I went and trained with Vera Pizza Napoletana. ... I like other styles of pizza, but this is the style that I prefer to eat all the time.”
Last fall, Cane Rosso brought celebrated master Italian pizzaiolo Dino Santonicola on board to help tweak the authenticity of the pizza (he’s currently looking for other master pizza makers). At Cane Rosso, the pizzaioli are “really passionate about this product,” Jerrier says. “They’re not just clocking in and clocking out –– they’re on the Web, reading the journals. They know who all the big U.S. pizza makers are. We’ve surrounded ourselves with like-minded people. They’re more than just line cooks. They know when the dough’s not right, when the dough needs more water (or) more salt. They know when the
oven’s not right. And they’re all faster and better at making pizza than I am. When we work, I usually man the oven to stay out of their way.”
The oven can fit five to six pizzas at a time, but “if you cook six in an oven, you’re going to burn two or three,” Jerrier says. With just four in at a time, he can keep a better eye on the oven’s temperament and adjust accordingly. Cane Russo puts out 400 to 500 14-inch pizzas a day, which are slightly larger than the typical 11-inch Neopolitan offerings. Pizzas are made with high-end ingredients that the customers appreciate as well, including San Marzano tomatoes, house-made mozzarella (600 to 700 pounds a week) and fresh-grown basil as mandated by the AVPN. “Really, the food cost isn’t that expensive,” he says. Cane Rosso does use a high quality Italian flour, but Jerrier says it is comparable to any high-gluten offering and he keeps his doughballs at about 23 cents each.
“The most expensive thing that we have from a food-cost standpoint are our cured meats,” Jerrier says, “because we don’t do any pepperoni here. We use a hot soppressata ... In terms of keeping food costs down, we don’t have any single-stock items in the restaurant. Everything is reused. If it’s on a pizza, it’s on a sandwich.” They also added a Saturday brunch and spread their ingredients across that offering as well. “Dallas is a very brunch-y town,” Jerrier says. “Part of it, too, is that we’ve been making brunch here for ourselves for a long time.”
Beer and wine are available, but the wine menu “is not very complicated,” Jerrier says. They even offer wine on tap with a portable wine cart, just one more point of differentiation.
Despite opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant, Jerrier has kept his catering oven and added a second to run out of the Forth Worth area last fall. “We bill $20,000 to $25,000 a month in just catering with one mobile oven,” Jerrier says.
The restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays and is only open on Tuesdays for lunch. “Really, I wouldn’t even be open (on Tuesdays), but it’s a prep day,” Jerrier says. “We need to make cheese, we make dough. We figure we might as well open for lunch.”
By Wednesday, however, they can have as many as 60 reservations on the books. There’s one table in the front window that is referred to as “Table 20” that is highly reserved and regarded amongst Dallas’ dining scene.
Jerrier handles his advertising himself, and “we don’t pay for any
advertising ourselves,” Jerrier says. “It’s all Facebook and Twitter and me 100 percent reaching out to local media. I think it helps when it’s an owner-
operator reaching out versus a PR person. We don’t do press releases.” He’s also active on local dining message boards and sites like Yelp.
Next up, Jerrier plans to build out a casual sports bar restaurant in the space next to Cane Rosso. Aside from the second mobile oven in Fort Worth, Jerrier is already looking for a new space in that area, but “we’ve got a good brand. I don’t want to over-expand too quickly, but we want to keep the momentum up where I can use that leverage with landlords,” he says. He’s been approached by outside investors but is keeping his cards close at the time. “I’d like to have one, maybe two more in the Dallas area, but I don’t want to over-saturate. ... I’d like to be open more than a year before we get too crazy.”
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
EDDIE'S PIZZERIA CERINO - CLEVELAND, OH
On the Edge
Cleveland Pizzeria Breaks Traditional Restaurant Mold
BY MANDY WOLF DETWILER, MANAGING EDITOR
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
Not according to Eddie Cerino, who owns and operates an upscale pizzeria in Seven Hills, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb. Cerino, whose name is a familiar one in the area thanks to his family’s restaurants and bakeries, cut his teeth in the family businesses before setting out on a course of his own with Eddie’s Pizzeria Cerino, a dine-in concept that partners quality food made by hand in an upscale setting.
Cerino has certainly had a plethora of learning curves. Aside from his youthful adventures in the family businesses, he is a Culinary Institute of America graduate, opened his first restaurant at age 25 and helped charter the San Francisco Oven, a fast-casual concept that he started with a partner in 2000. After opening 27 stores in seven states, Cerino calls it an educational experience but ultimately realized he didn’t want to be a franchisor –– he missed the hands-on intimacy of running an independent restaurant and returned to his roots with Eddie’s Pizzeria Cerino, which opened in January 2009.
“We knew we wanted something that had quality food, was simple and had authentic Italian food using authentic Italian ingredients,” he says. “We wanted it (to be) affordable and we wanted it to be creative (and) inspired. We wanted an atmosphere.”
That meant going beyond the traditional red-checkered tablecloths commonly found in the industry. He designed the restaurant to be open, modern and inviting, and says it exceeds customers’ expectations. Initially, the 3,100 square feet of space didn’t include a bar, and the restaurant served beer and wine only. Starting small allowed them to hone their menu and fit the economy, and “we were very busy right from the get-go,” Cerino says. “But then I’m wondering, the honeymoon period –– when’s that going to end? For the first eight months, we just stayed busy. I then committed to add another 1,100 square feet … the landlord was very generous helping us out, and we added the bar on. That’s what really put us over the top with our sales.”
The bar increased sales by nearly $300,000 (not only in liquor sales but also with the addition of 40 new seats), and the restaurant recorded $1.6 million in sales last year.
The average guest check sits at $15 to $16. Cerino initially thought pizza would comprise the majority of food sales, but that hasn’t proven true. “There aren’t many places in Cleveland where you can get a pizza, a glass of wine and a really good salad in a dining-room experience,” he says. “We initially thought pizza would be the mainstay of our menu, but it’s actually reverse. We do about 30 percent (in) pizza sales and about 70 percent (in) pastas and plated dinners.”
He attributes that to the restaurant’s high-quality preparation and ingredients. “I think the thing that makes us special is that we still cook,” Cerino says.
They make their meatballs fresh everyday, sauce is made with San Marzano tomatoes, and soups and bread (a foccacia that takes two days to rise) are made in-house –– even the lettuce is cut by hand. Pizza dough is crafted with a poolish, a wet sourdough starter that gives it a unique finish that sets it apart from other pizzerias. What they don’t make in-house –– the pasta, for instance –– they source as high in quality and as locally as possible.
“That really gives us the creative license to really make us a step apart from the competition,” he says. The Lemon Parmesan Chicken ($11.95) is a big seller, as is the traditional Bolognese ($7.95 for a half-portion and $10.95 for a full). “It’s straight out of Verona and is definitely one of the highlights of our menu,” Cerino says.
He also credits his hearth-bake oven for his great-tasting pizza, and “one thing I’ve learned with hearth-baked pizza is that it doesn’t lend itself to carryout. It just doesn’t. Hearth-baked pizza, to me, is still the No. 1 delicious (pizza), but you’ve got to eat it right out of the oven. It doesn’t sit well if it’s going to sit for a 10- or 15-minute car ride,” Cerino says. They don’t offer delivery, and carryout makes up 20- to 25-percent of sales.
As for competition, Cerino says there isn’t much locally in the full-service dine-in category. “And, we really have beaten them because of the value perception. We just don’t charge as much as we could, I think. We keep our prices economical, we try to give (customers) value, and it’s worked well for us.
“We’re very competitive in our wine sales and our wine marketing. You can get a great bottle of wine for $18. … The whole idea is that we’re not going to gouge you on anything. We’re going to make a fair profit, we’re going to run the most efficient operation we can and we’re going to keep the savings and the value perception as high as possible.”
Cerino’s wife, Elisha, is a local designer and photographer, so they have the built-in capability to produce excellent flyers and advertisements beyond the black-and-white Xeroxed menu. They utilize local newspapers as well as social media outlets like Facebook, “so we get a big bang for our buck,” Cerino says. “We put new pictures up (on Facebook) constantly, change our seasonal specials with pictures –– it works very well for us.”
Cerino says the restaurant does not discount, and they had a poor experience with a Groupon promotion last year. After the local sales rep encouraged them not to cap the promotion (a $30 coupon for $15), 2,600 coupons had been sold resulting in $75,000 in discounts. “It was not a good experience,” Cerino says. “It did bring some new customers in, (but) you still get those customers who come in and spend the minimum and don’t tip on that. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t do the $15 for $30. I’d do $7.50 for $15 and cap it at 1,000.” Last November, he still had 1,000 vouchers yet to be redeemed and feared a rush at the end of the promotion. Legally, he is obligated to accept them.
Still, marketing is crucial, and he says he spends about one-and-a-half percent of his budget on it. Advertising gets customers in the door, but it is then up to the employees to get them to return. “You’ll never see a single ad of ours that talks price,” Cerino adds. Instead, he focuses on the food and quality, which makes their marketing timeless.
He also expects his staff to serve as marketing agents for the restaurant by being knowledgeable in wines and up on the daily specials. “If somebody asks you what a poolish is or ‘What’s a San Marzano tomato? Why is that better?’ I expect them to know. … If the answer is ‘I don’t know,’ it should be followed up by ‘but I’ll find out.’ ”
Cerino has been approached to open a second store but instead plans to open an upscale concept in nearby Lakewood that will feature bourbon and desserts –– an idea spearheaded by son Ed Jr. (Ed Jr. maintains the spirits side of the business and daughter Elise has a fashion design background and has helped with interior design and uniforms. Both are hands-on in day-to-day operations.) He’d like to open more pizzerias, perhaps with the help of his family, but he’s content as an independent and isn’t in a hurry to franchise again. After all, he’s navigated those waters before. “I didn’t care for the franchise business at all,” he says. “I hate to say it, but you almost have to dummy down your concept (and) dummy down your recipes.” For independents, it’s all about the creative edge.
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
Photos By Rick Daugherty
Tony and Harry Disilvestro aren’t your typical beach town residents. their company, ynot Pizza & italian Cuisine, doesn’t cater to the hoards of tourists who fill Virginia beach during the warm months. they don’t cater to spring breakers, and they don’t feature portraits of sandy scenery on their walls. what they do bring to the proverbial table is a taste of home –– the Jersey shore, about a 20-minute drive outside of New York, where they spent their formative years spinning pies before transplanting to Virginia beach in the early 1990s.
“We started as kids, you know, 15 years old (and) making pizza,” tony says. “A friend of the family just kind of roped us in at a young age, and we’ve been doing it ever since. We’ve just run the gamut from there –– fine dining, italian restaurants, pizzerias …we’ve probably (worked in) 20 different pizzerias.”
When the time came to open their own, “at first, we thought we were going to open up and people were going to come to the counter and order,” Tony adds. “The first customer came in and sat down at the table, and all of a sudden we have waitress service.”
The company was founded by tony and his wife, Cindy. Harry Disilvestro later joined the couple in the venture, which has since evolved to five pizzerias in the region with sales expected at more than $9.5 million by the end of 2012. “Our demographic is families, obviously,” says Tony.
“That’s where we like to be.” still the most recent location opened on the campus of old Dominion University, so they’re able to target both students and neighborhoods. Dine-in accounts for 50 percent of sales, with delivery at 30 percent and carryout at about 20 percent.
YNOT’s menu started with pizza and pasta but has evolved to include appetizers, chopped salads, pasta creations, plated entrées like veal Parmigiana and mussels marinara, cold and hot subs, gluten-free pizzas (up
to 70 a week) wraps and desserts ––including house-made gelato.
“We’re just constantly making sure that the brand is fresh and new,” says tony. “That’s very important to us. we don’t sit still well.”
Harry is quick to add that “we never jeopardize quality. it’s always been to improve quality and service.” “I think the second you start sitting idle, you’re in trouble,” Tony adds, “especially in this changing industry that we’re in today.”
Pizza accounts for 40- to 50-percent of sales, and they make as much in- house as possible, including dough, sauces, lasagna and soups. “obviously, pizza is our no. 1 item,” Tony says, and while pepperoni is an obvious choice, the white pizza with spinach and tomato ($15.50 for a 14-inch and $18.50 for an 18-inch) is popular.
They added chopped salads, which lend a healthier option to their menu to keep up with customer demand. (the Cindy salad, a greek salad named after Tony’s wife, is a favorite.) the chopped salad menu offers 36 different options from which to choose, “and it’s just opened us up to a whole different market,” Tony says.
“We started looking at other chains and seeing what they were doing and their positioning towards, say, women and athletes and helping people try to be healthy. it was pretty obvious that being in the pizza industry, we didn’t have that appeal.”
Since pizza already encourages customization, adding that create-your-own element to both their salads and pastas has allowed them a greater market share. “It really comes down to (the fact that) the customer has many choices and they’re not just stuck to a menu,” harry says. “you can truly create your own meal.”
Ynot has impressive display cases in its stores that show off their desserts, which includes cakes, cookies and pastries sourced from New Jersey, New york and local bakeries. They used to make their own because “when we first opened down here, we didn’t have the availability,”Tony says. “So now, with distributors consolidating as much as they are, it’s much easier to bring in product from New York and New Jersey.”
Beer, wine and a full bar are available but make up only about 10 percent of sales. Much of that is craft beer. with 40 different offerings from which to choose, “it’s just a huge niche market for us,” Tony says.
“For years, you paired wine with food,” harry says. “now it’s getting to the point where our servers are actually savvy enough to start pairing beer with certain dishes.”
While making so much in-house is labor intensive, “Tony and I are out there every day trying to find the best prices that we can get for the best product out there that we can get,” Harry says. “and that’s a big part of our job every week.”
they use their POS system to keep track of labor and food costs “and we apply that to our everyday business not only with us but with our managers at weekly meetings –– knowing where their food cost is and where the labor cost is,” Harry says. “It’s a daily conversation at our restaurants.”
Harry says utilizing their Pos system is key to keeping track of rising costs and encourages other operators to learn how to best utilize their own equipment. “I do think there are a lot of people out there who do spend a lot of money (on POS systems) and don’t get a lot of bang for their buck.”
Ynot also has one manager for every 10 staff members, “and they really keep a close eye on their scheduling and overtime predictors,” Tony says.
Management is open with the company’s 260 employees, and shares those critical food and labor numbers with them to foster a sense of awareness and responsibility. “in the restaurant business, that day-to- day operation can be overwhelming to the point where you’re not taking the time to look at those numbers,” Harry says.
Cross-utilizing products, such as using some salad ingredients on pizzas and receiving deliveries twice a week, ensures freshness. “We try not to keep (product) more than three days on our shelves,” Tony says.
And when it comes to getting the word out about YNot, they don’t shy away from marketing, “which is huge for us,” Tony says. “We do a ton of social media, e-mail blasts, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest … If there’s something new out there, we’re trying it.”
“Probably about four years ago we realized we were doing the same thing year after year and how quick everything was changing,” adds harry. they dropped more traditional marketing avenues, such as the local telephone book, in favor of more dynamic opportunities and they hired an outside company to manage most of their media. still, word of mouth remains their best marketing outlet. as part of their brand awareness, they hold events with local college and sports teams, participate in the special olympics and charity walks and even host their own event, known as the Ynot Pizza olympics (contestants attend qualifying events similar to those at the world Pizza games at international Pizza expo at each store before competing at a local italian festival.) “that’s the kind of branding that we do,” Tony says. “we’re all about the community.”
E-mail blasts have been successful –– packed with videos from their events –– and online ordering adds $2 to $3 to each guest check. “retaining e-mail addresses is a huge part of our business,” Tony says.
The DiSilvestros own the majority of the stock in their restaurants, with three franchised by long-term employees. “expansion is coming from our employees. it’s coming from within,”tony says. “these people have been standing beside us for 60 hours a week for 19 years and when you put them in their own store, they know the business, and they know it well.”
Says Harry: “I think you always hear about owners who start multiple locations and spread themselves out too thin. with all of our other locations, there’s peace of mind knowing somebody’s doing the right job on the other side of town.” they’ve had locations with partners in the past but found it difficult to control brand consistency. Franchising with their own employees seems to work and a sixth location is under negotiation, but “we’ll never expand faster than our crew,” tony says. “Our expansion plans are just to continue growth and to control growth.”
The focus, say the Disilvestros, is quality over quantity, and they’re not out actively selling franchises just for the sake of expansion. “we could stop now if we wanted,” harry says, “but as long as these employees are coming up and they’re willing to march on with us, let’s do it.”
Mandy Detwiler is managing editor of Pizza Today.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
In a competitive market, standing out is imperative to success. For Orlando, Florida-based Flippers Pizzeria, differentiation has been key to its execution –– but so, too, has putting into place the right management team to take the company to the next level. As a result, Flippers has flourished to 14 stores with sales of more than $15 million, and the company is on the precipice of an enviable wave of growth.
Flippers Pizzeria started 25 years ago by Scott Kousaie and partner Todd Dennis, but “where we started and what Flippers was originally is nothing close to what you see today,” Kousaie says. “We had the basic philosophy of wanting a higher quality and we had some ability but not the knowledge or the know-how … and the (right) people around us to make it all happen. In the beginning, you’re struggling financially with investment and what your dream is and what your reality is usually doesn’t marry up in the beginning.”
By the mid 1990s, Flippers had grown to five stores and a commissary, “but we really hadn’t found a way to put it all together,” Kousaie says. They focused less on physical growth and more on building store sales and by 2004 in-store sales had doubled. They implemented profit sharing with their managers and put into place an upper management team that “took the concept to another level,” he says. The year 2008 proved to be pivotal when new partner Don Howard helped the company smarten its brand, modernize their fast-casual look and place a greater emphasis on franchising. “We took the food and our culture and wrapped it into an attractive package that had the look and the feel of a national brand,” Kousaie says.
From left, Director of Purchasing & Distribution Jessie Malek; Regional Director Gwen Kousaie; VP of Operations Ben Richardson; CEO and Founding Partner Scott Kousaie and Director of Training & Development Josh Hogan
Today, Flippers Pizzeria encompasses nine corporate and five franchise stores, and a 16-unit franchising agreement has been signed for the Tampa area. They also operate a commissary, which “gives us the ability to actively select the ingredients and products that we want,” says Jessie Malek, Flippers’ director of purchasing and distribution. “If we don’t have it, then we have the ability to produce it. The fresh chicken, as an example, is an all-natural chicken and we manufacture that at the commissary. We went from a pumped up chicken breast to an all-natural product, and that has done wonders for us. We package it ourselves and we private label it.
“Another ingredient (processed at the commissary) is the prosciutto, which is a little bit more on the high-end side and that’s definitely what we’re more about.”
Ben Richardson, vice president of operations, says that dealing with distributors at the corporate level allows franchisees to focus on their product in the stores. “To be able to send an order off for 250 items is huge,” he says.
Still, Kousaie is quick to point out that much is made in-house. “We make our dough fresh, on-premises,” he says, and sauce is made and vegetables chopped on-site. “Our concept is premium. We go for the best.”
They prefer to let the stores handle as much as possible to build what they call “Passion for Product’ because “when the team members see what goes into making our pizza sauce, that’s one of those intangible things that really builds pride and passion,” Richardson says. “Making dough on premises is another good example. We use extravirgin olive oil and All-Trumps flour –– the best stuff that you can get.
You would think that team members would be reluctant to make dough, but knowing they put their hands on it –– from the ingredients to the finished product –– is a really great discovery that we’ve had with our team. It really builds pride for the product.”
As a result, pizza accounts for 70 to 75 percent of sales. (Alcohol accounts for two to 10 percent depending on location). “Without a doubt, pizza is our driver,” Kousaie says. “Pizza is our passion.”
Aside from traditional cheese and pepperoni, Flippers has 23 specialty pizzas and more than 40 toppings on its menu. One of the biggest sellers is the Mediterranean Chicken (basil, pesto sauce, chicken, spinach, roasted peppers, Roma tomatoes, black olives and feta cheese). They added a smaller personal-sized pizza known as the “My Pie,” and “the driving force behind that is when you typically have pizza with a group of people, you end up with something like cheese or pepperoni,” Richardson says. “One of the things that makes us different is that you can get one of these and get what you want and don’t have to worry about sharing. You can get something that you crave. That’s what we do here –– create that perfect pizza experience.”
And Flippers elevates its flavor profiles with fresh ingredients like basil, garlic, sea salt and a propriertary spice blend that lends uniqueness to their dishes. Deliveries two to three times per week keep ingredients at their peak and lower the need for walk-in cooler space.
Recently, they added a Margherita pizza to their menu, but didn’t just use the toppings already found in their kitchens. They use D.O.P.-certified San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil and EVOO. “We knew we could sell it, but the goal for us was to do it right, and we could bake it in our brick ovens,” Kousaie says. “I’d stand our Margherita up against anybody’s out there in terms of taste and quality.”
While Flippers’ focus on food and quality has helped establish it in the Orlando market, the company also realizes that marketing and community service are vital. School sponsorships and donations such as student achievement cards have been successful tools for the company, says Kelly Pfister, director of sales and marketing. “Whatever the schools need we’ll do –– taking our sponsorship ads on the football fields and scoreboards, encouraging them to come in for spirit night as well as sponsoring Little League and men’s softball teams.”
Donating slices during events gets Flippers’ name into the community and generates positive word of mouth, which increases catering business and promotes lunch specials.
Social media is used to drive guests to the Web site and their mobile app, and they do some couponing to increase traffic in some of their tourist locations. “Direct mail goes out every week at all of our stores, so we’re consistent with that,” Pfister says.
Joshua Hogan, director of training and development, says their customer appreciation card (which gives customers a free two-topping My Pie) is another tool that is especially successful in new markets. “We stand behind our product so well that we give out hundreds a day leading up to that opening,” Hogan says. “Sometimes, we’ve reached into the thousands just so that people can get a free sample of our product. We stand behind it, and we know once they taste it, they’ll be back. I think that is the biggest tool that we have.”
Adds Richardson: “We put a lot into our product, and we don’t want to devalue it. Even though we do feel that we compete with the big three for our customers, we don’t consider them competition. We don’t want the discount pizza competition.”
With operations and marketing down, the company is poised for expansion. They have plans for growth at the corporate level and have a 16-store franchise deal in place for expansion in the Tampa market over the next eight years.
“We want to make sure that we grow smartly, so that the brand is protected,” he adds. “We’re not going to grow beyond our ability to handle it.”
Franchise openings are handled the same as corporate stores, with Hogan and his team on-site for training and continuous evaluations to ensure consistency. “We’re not branching out too quickly or too far to where we can’t handle it or build the infrastructure to handle it,” Kousaie says. Adds Richardson: “Building a strong culture at each store that we open is what will be the continued success of the company.”
Mandy Detwiler is managing editor of Pizza Today.
The dollar signs may not exactly dance before your eyes when a single diner walks into your pizzeria. You’d much rather seat the party of four who will order a bottle of wine and an appetizer.
That might be your first mistake: not welcoming the solo diner warmly. Remember, you should be thankful anytime anyone wants to spend money in your pizza shop instead of spending it elsewhere. A customer is a customer. Sure, the solo diner that just walked in may only spend $11 this visit — but you have an opportunity to cultivate her into a real regular.
How? By treating singles not as a nuisance, but as valued guests. Much like senior citizens, single diners are a fickle bunch. They’ll easily dismiss a shop if they think said pizzeria won’t cater to their ilk. At the same time, they’re loyal and tend to frequent restaurants that make their dining experience enjoyable and take the time to connect with them. Just like the theme song for Cheers, solo diners want a place where people know their name.
In a recent Web poll, individuals that live alone were asked how and where they consume their meals. Nearly 63 percent said they cooked at home. Another 25 percent said they utilized carryout. The remaining 12 percent dine out. Since carryout likely accounts for somewhere around one-third of your business, your shop is a natural option for these customers.
Additionally, a report by the U.S. government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (titled “Consumer Expenditures in 2003” — true to government form, this report is the most recent available; newer data is still being analyzed and packaged), single-person households spent $1,525 on food to be consumed at home in 2003 and $1,306 on food consumed away from home. In other words, the average solo diner is going to spend around $1,300 on prepared meals. Your goal is for as much of that $1,300 as possible to be spent in your pizzeria.
Here are some tips to help accomplish this:
• Ask single diners where they would like to sit. Don’t assume they want to be stuck at the bar. This step alone will help win their hearts.
• Don’t be shy in offering an appetizer or attempting to upsell wine. Also, offering half-bottles of wine goes over well with this crowd.
• Have reading materials nearby. A good server will offer a solo diner a newspaper or weekly tabloid.
• Personal-size pizzas are a great option, particularly at lunch.
• Be sure to offer to-go boxes near the end of the meal.
• Don’t assume the guest is in a hurry because she’s dining alone.
• Do beer or wine tastings on a monthly basis. These events typically draw single diners.
• Beyond that, do the same thing you’d do for a couple or a party of four: offer great service, upsell dessert and invite them back soon. Good service appeals to everyone.