Man on the Street: ‘What’s Your Story?’

storyI felt simultaneously enraged and enlightened when I read an interview with a restaurateur on a food Web site last week. He insisted that the reason people return to restaurants has nothing to do with the food itself, but instead hinges upon the other components of a dining experience. I’ve always thought of myself as someone who cares about food above all other elements, but upon careful examination it became clear that the interviewee was right! In fact, most stories I’ve read about pizzerias recently concentrate primarily on the story behind the pizzeria owner rather than the food itself.

Your origin story is the simplest way to welcome customers like me into your restaurant. If you’re a third-generation business, tell me about your grandparents and why they opened a pizzeria in the first place. I love seeing articles and photographs of original locations and old delivery cars. Instead of printing a generic logo on their boxes and menus, Rizzo’s Fine Pizza in Queens proudly displays a picture of their founder. That human connection is something the big chains can never achieve.

Not every origin story has to reach back into the archives. Lots of new pizzerias are getting press traction with the born again angle. After the economy tanked, loads of professionals used the situation as an opportunity to follow their dreams by opening pizzerias. We’re currently experiencing a huge wave of pizzerias that are being opened by passionate pizza fans who are not experienced restaurateurs. Varasano’s in Atlanta and Paulie Gee’s in Brooklyn were both opened by IT professionals who ditched their gigs to open their own pizzerias –– and both have received major press coverage because of it. Feel-good stories like these resonate deeply with the public, which will be inspired by your decision and come to your restaurant to show support.

In the current climate of viral news clips, absurdity is an extremely potent hook. Every time a pizzeria announces that they have created the world’s most expensive pizza, I get dozens of alerts, e-mails and tweets about it. It seems like every media outlet covered the story about the $1,000 bottle of ranch dressing at Cane Rosso in Dallas, a policy that is clearly highly effective in educating the public about a style of pizza with which they are unfamiliar.

Of course your story can still be about your food, just be sure to emphasize what about your process is so unique. If you source produce from local farms, show photos of your staff helping with the harvest. If cheese arrives from Italy every other day, bring us into the process with your social media channels. The public is more highly educated about food than ever before, so the story of your recipes could be the perfect way to give people something to talk about.

I’d like to think that good food is all I need to be attracted to a restaurant, but I find myself more interested in supporting businesses because of their personal stories rather than their “Best Pizza in Town” promises. Your story is yours alone and it’s up to you to leverage it.

Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.