2011 November: RISQUE BUSINESS

It seems all pizzerias start with a dream, but for Taylor Maia and his co-partner Gina Gochez, their four-unit company was built on more than just some family handouts and a prayer. San Francisco-based Pizza Orgasmica & Brewing Company knew just how to grab attention –– and it’s a centuries-old idea. By pairing pizza and beer with a –– shall we say –– hedonistic marketing angle, Maia could marry his love of America with the culture of his home country of Brazil, and Californians are eating it up.

Maia came to America 22 years ago, and “I could not even say the word ‘water’ in English,” he says. “I was fresh. I was brand new. It was always my dream to come here since I was a little kid.” He began his career in food service delivering menus and washing dishes. It was while working as a driver for a pizzeria that he began formulating the idea to open his own pizzeria. In 1996, he and Gochez scraped together the money to open Pizza Orgasmica at its flagship store. “I think everything happens for a reason,” he says. “I was fortunate enough to come in and look at the papers. I walked in and I said, ‘You know what? This is going to be a perfect location.’”

The second unit opened on Clement Street in 2002, and today, Pizza Orgasmica has four stores and a brewery operation in nearby Marin County that together brings in more than $7 million annually.

How did they know they were ready for a second location? “The way I look at it is that if (you) have the consistency, if you have the resources to develop the idea that you already have, there’s no way that you can go wrong,” Maia says. “You need to have the logistics to make sure everything is going to work out and also to make sure that each product that you make at every location is always going to be the same.”

What sets Pizza Orgasmica apart from its competitors –– and San Francisco has a rock-solid dining scene –– is its kitschy, tongue-
in-cheek sex appeal. Maia even went so far as to run the sexy name past his mother before launching the concept –– she approved.

The company uses the trademarked tag line “We never fake it!,” and pizzas carry names like the Latin Lover (refried bean sauce, linguisa, cherry tomatoes, jalapeños, cheddar cheeses and cilantro) and the Kinky Cow (light mozzarella cheese, tomato, shredded carrot, ground beef and bleu cheese). Maia doesn’t worry about overkill –– he embraces his Brazilian heritage. One location is even tented with bright pillows and cushions for an even sexier feel. “Pizza and beer sells,” he says. “You put pizza, beer and sex together? That’s a concept.”

And no, there’s no lack of families who patronize Pizza Orgasmica. “You go to the Marin County location, and it’s packed with kids,” Maia says. “We have a whole playground area for kids.

“We are in San Francisco, and I do believe that I’m not building a restaurant in Wyoming or Arkansas. If we grow, we’ll go to places like Las Vegas, Ft. Lauderdale, Portland (or) Dallas. There’s a lot of space for this type or restaurant, for the concept we have. We can have Pizza Orgasmicas in every major college town in the United States.”

The top-selling pizza is the Orgasmica, which has pepperoni, salami, sausage, mushroom, onion and bell pepper (a 16-inch large is $27.80). The Girl from Ipanema, a Brazilian-style chicken, corn and bianca cheese pizza, ranks second. The restaurants’ gourmet emphasis is popular with Californians, and
80 percent of sales are pizza-based.

“We do calzones, we do salads, but we don’t do burgers or pastas,” Maia says. “I needed this to be a place … to go to eat pizza. The San Rafael location does offer a full Brazilian menu,” (including grilled tri-tips, fried calamari and fried yucca) to serve a large local Brazilian community.

There are at least 25 specialty pizzas on the menu. “They all sell really well,” Maia says. “We have a huge variety of vegetarian pizzas, and people love that. There are over 50 different toppings.” Food costs are controlled by using the same ingredients across different pizzas. “If you’re going to use something for a pizza, but you’re not going to use it a lot, you just need to watch how much you’re purchasing.

“We make everything –– dough, tomato sauce, (we cut) fresh vegetables every day,” Maia says. Pizzas are baked in either deck or rotary ovens. Although they’re using two different types of ovens, Maia doesn’t worry about consistency issues across the brand. “As long as the pizza is prepared the right way, as long as the dough has enough time to rise, the ingredients are the same,” he says. The dough rises for about 48 hours before use, and “sometimes we don’t have enough time to let it rise. We can’t! We’re making dough (before opening).”

All the dough is made at the store on Clement Street, but Maia hopes to begin using his larger Marin County location as a commissary in the future. “It will make everything much easier –– the same cuts of vegetables, the same cuts of beef.” He hopes to have the commissary open by next spring. “We really, really need it.”

Maia also recognizes the need for branding, especially in a market that’s already saturated with both chain and independent restaurants. He spends about five percent of his budget on marketing, which includes commercials, radio, television, mailings, couponing and menuing. “But, word-of-mouth, that’s the best advertising that you can have,” Maia says. “People coming into your place, enjoying your food, enjoying your pizza, then going out and saying, ‘Wow! I loved this.’”

As part of their branding campaign, Pizza Orgasmica realized they were selling a lot of beer –– and what’s better than selling it? Brewing it themselves.

“I –– coming from Brazil –– am a beer drinker,” Maia says. “To be awesome, we needed to have our own Orgasmica beer brand.” So Maia hired Rev Jackson as his main brewmaster (they now have three on staff) and they started with small batches in pony kegs. When a brewery restaurant closed in Marin County, Maia purchased the site and the equipment and now rotates 10 styles throughout his locations. The I.P.A. (a California India Pale ale) is the top seller, and Pizza Orgasmica can sell up to 10,000 pints of beer a month.
The Clement Street location offers a full bar, and alcohol accounts for up to 15 percent of sales.

Now that Maia has four locations and a brewery under his belt, is expansion in the future? “People call me to franchise all the time,” Maia says. “We’re just going to take it one step at a time. I do know that someday there’s going to be somebody coming in who says, ‘You know what? I want to invest money in your company. I know it has the potential. I know it has the quality.’ And like I say, sex, beer and pizza –– it all sells altogether.”

Maia would like to find investors to franchise, but he’s also content putting money back into the current locations, and he’s in no hurry to expand just for expansion’s sake, especially with the wrong people. “For 14 years, my wife and I have been doing this,” Maia says. “From $20,000 to $7 million in gross sales in 14 years? Believe me –– I’m happy, and I can live with that.”

Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.

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