2010 July: Five Questions

Willy Olund took second place in the International Pizza Challenge’s non-traditional category at the 2010 International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas.

Q. Entering International Pizza Challenge can be a daunting task. Why enter a gluten-free pizza rather than a more traditional offering?

A: When I developed the gluten-free crust, we got great response immediately. People that don’t even eat gluten-free or need to eat gluten-free were trying it and loving it. I had a woman … who was coming in regularly, and she said she had a friend who had competed in a gluten-free category in Italy — and our pizza looked a lot better than that pizza. I thought to myself, ‘Well, it’s time that I competed.’

Q. How well do gluten-free pizzas sell at Willy O’s?

A: We’re selling probably in the neighborhood of 250 or 300 a week. At this point, it’s fairly new. We’re just now getting known for it with Willy O’s being as new as it is –– it’s only 17 (or) 18 months old.

Q. One of the biggest concerns of offering gluten-free products is cross contamination. How do you avoid it?

A: We do it similar to how someone would do it in their own kitchen, and that is paying close attention to what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. Every time, before we make any pizza, we think to ourselves, ‘is this gluten or gluten-free?’ So we do a lot of handwashing (and) a lot of changing of the tools we’re using to make sure we’re staying on the gluten-free side. Our goal in the near future, as fast as we’re growing, is to open a new facility. In that, we’re looking at building two kitchens to make it easier. We feel it is easier that way, but I don’t think it’s impossible the way that it is (now).

Q. Much of what you make in-house is homemade. How are you keeping costs down in such a severe economy?

A: We’re really trying to keep costs down by using all of our products so that we don’t have any that we need to throw away. … Right now, for us, we’re not in a low-dollar pizza range. Even though we have five pizzerias that we can see out our window, we are not competing with those. We’re the only one with high-quality pizza, so we can demand the price that we need for the quality that we serve.

Q. We know you work with your wife, Carla. What advice would you give to someone entering the industry about working with family?

A: I think it’s good in that family is to be trusted. That’s one thing that you have going for you. You should have the same goals. There are always pitfalls (and) problems just like with any other employee.