2010 April: Five Questions

Brian Behrens bought Pizzarelli’s Pizzeria in 2007. The store had an existing customer base built over 10 years and a solid dough recipe. He added two additional dough styles and sales have been rising steadily.

Q. St. Louis is known for having its own style of pizza, but your dough hails from Chicago and New York with thin and crispy, hand-tossed and deep dish. Why offer so many styles?

A. We don’t even mess with the St. Louis style at all –– for one, it’s a style I’m not familiar with, and two, I personally don’t care for it a whole lot. The New York-style, the previous owners had, and we bought the recipe from them. … The Chicago-style, I’m more familiar with because my brother owns a place up in the Southwest suburbs of Chicago, so we brought his recipes in for our Chicago-style Thin & Crispy and the Chicago-style deep dish. We don’t get people who are in love with the St. Louis-style. We get people who are from out of town or want mozzarella cheese and fresh ingredients.

Q. Your business model is labor intensive, with sauce and dough made in-house, vegetables cut and meats prepped daily and even grinding your own cheese. Have you considered reducing your labor costs in any way?

A. We don’t cut corners at all. When we first bought the place and I was making our Thin & Crispy dough, I was calling suppliers in the area to make sure we got the right fl our that we wanted. A lot of them said, “Well, a lot of people just buy our pre-made crusts. We sell them all over St. Louis.” I said, “Well, we’re not doing it. … Absolutely not. That’s something we’ll never do.” One of the things we really stress is our fresh ingredients and our dough made daily. People enjoy coming in and seeing us throw the dough. People get a kick out of that.

Q. What types of marketing are you planning to do this year?

A: One of the things we’ve learned in two-and-a-half years is that direct mail is the way to go. We do some database marketing. We try to send out postcards every month or six weeks to our current customer database. We really try to take care of our current customers, and then they spread the word. Occasionally, we’ll run an ad page, but the one thing I’ve learned with that is that you’re busy for the weekend, and then it dies down. It’s a little more expensive than what you’re looking at.

Q. You offer a rewards program –– how well does that work for you?

A. We send out one to two e-mails a month. We’ve got an outside company that takes care of that for us. … We tiptoed into it at the end of last summer. We went at it kind of hard that first month, and it went well for us. For some reason, we didn’t push it very hard after that. For the last month, we came up with the idea to collect information right there in the store without pushing too hard. We ask for an e-mail, a name and the phone number. In turn, we use those for promos and rewards. People really like it.

Q. Any plans for growth in the future?

A. Hopefully at some point. One thing we have to look at is can we do it cost effectively? If we open another store, are we taking too much away from one store and putting in the other one? We wouldn’t want to lose quality, and talking to our customers who go to other places who have expanded, sometimes the (second) store isn’t quite as good as the first. We’d have to make sure we had the right people and it financially makes sense.