2011 May: IT TAKES A VILLAGE…

When Pizza Today rolled into Macon, Georgia, to visit Ingleside Village Pizza, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Macon is more college town than big city, and the area isn’t known for a specific style of pizza that garners its own attention.

The existing restaurant sits across the street from its original location –– opened in 1992 –– in a converted gas station that offers proprietors Trevor and Tina Dickson a better internal configuration and 40 seats on the attached patio. Knickknacks and antiques line the ceiling –– including chandeliers, a neon sign of the restaurant’s signature jester (brought to life by Tina’s sister) and old gas signs, some donated by friends. “I did not want checkered tablecloths,” Tina Dickson says. “Evey time I go to those places, the tablecloths are sticky and it’s just one more thing. I wanted a place that I wanted to work in. I didn’t set this place up to earn a million dollars. I want to work. And I wanted to work in an environment that I liked.”

It’s kitschy, sure, but the company’s sales (just under a million annually) and its awards indicate that the Dicksons’ ideas of good food in a comfortable enviroment are working. As a fledgling restaurateur, Tina had an idea of what she wanted in her own establishment –– and what would work. Not only does she hold a degree in hotel, restaurant and travel adminstration, but she also worked for Domino’s Pizza in Atlanta at both the franchisee and corporate levels.

After her corporate job was downsized, Tina moved back to Macon and began waitressing and bartending and “figuring out what the heck I wanted to do.”

She began formulating a plan to open her own restaurant, and “Macon didn’t have any good pizza,” she says. “It was all corporates stores, and I knew we could do better. And nobody had a real beer selection. Heineken was the biggest import we could get.”

Ingleside is open for lunch and dinner, but Tina says dinner sales are better. Ingleside uses counter service over table. “I did not want to use tableservice,” she says. The reason? “I used to be a waitress,” Tina laughs. “I like counter service. It makes the customer more responsible for their own dinner.” In all, Ingleside employs about 18 people, many of whom have been with the company for more than a decade.

On the weekends, carryout accounts for 40 percent of sales. “But, on a regular weeknight, it’s more dine-in,” Tina says. When asked why Ingleside doesn’t deliver, she laughs. “I did Domino’s for three years. No, thank you! I will certainly have it ready for you to come pick up, though.

“If somebody calls and they have a really big order and they give me enough notice, I could set something up, and I have before. But I’m not going to do day-to-day toting food to an
office full of people.”

Pizza is king at Ingleside Village, and “having it by the slice was important,” Tina says. “We get that all-day long.” Nearly 75 percent of sales is pizza-based. Ingleside offers 12- and 16-inch pies as well.

Dough is made daily and vegetables are chopped in-house. Although they used to shred their own cheese, they now buy it preshredded. The top seller is the Ultimate Village (pepperoni, sausage, ham, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, green and black olives, fresh garlic and cheese at $14.50 for a large) and the White Pizza (ricotta, spinach, mushrooms, garlic and cheese at $14.50 for a large). The breadsticks (topped generously with butter and Parmesan cheese and priced at $3.50) are also favorites.

Wine is available, and Ingleside offers about 90 beer varieties by the bottle.

“You need a variety, and it’s a draw,” Tina says. “We’ve got the biggest beer selection in town. We still sell more Bud Light and Miller Lite than anything else, but we sell enough of it that we turn it over.”

Despite the three college campuses located in Macon, Tina says that families are their primary demographic “and that’s just fine by me,” she adds. “That’s a much earlier evening.”

There is a second Ingleside Village Pizza at Mercer University run by a franchisee.

“The president called me three years ago begging me to open,” Tina says. At the time, she had another location open at a
theater, but operations there proved challenging and it eventually closed. Mercer’s campus officials were insistant, so Tina eventually allowed a franchisee to use their name. “Everybody thinks (in franchising) it’s going to be money, money, money until they realize you got to work,” Tina says. “You don’t just sit here and count the money.”

Tina got the franchisee up and running using her recipes, and customer input helps her ensure consistency at the second location. Tina drops in occasionally to spot check for proper operations and cleanliness, but the Mercer location runs autonomously.

Beyond that, would Tina be willing to franchise further? “I’m good. I really am,” Tina says. “I’ve done that (with Domino’s). … It’s more time and energy than I’m wanting to put into something. … Our sales have climbed every year and then they leveled off (last year), and I’m good. I’m fine with that. If you look at our prices, it’s not a luxury to come and eat here like you could at one of those (fast-casual) chains. A family of four can come and eat here pretty
reasonably. Pizza is not a luxury
anymore. It’s dinner.”

Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.