Eddie Cerino owns and operates Eddie’s Pizzeria Cerino in Ohio. Open more than a year, Cerino’s unconventional cooking and menu offerings prove there’s more to pizzerias than pies and pasta.
Q: Your menu items use expensive ingredients like San Marzano tomatoes, seafood and fresh cheeses. How are you keeping food costs down?
A: We run a 29-percent food cost, which is high for a typical pizzeria and low for a full service restaurant. Controlling food cost always starts with your menu and amount of inventory items, especially perishable inventory. We limit our seafood to two items on the menu –– shrimp and clams. Both come out of the freezer and have no or very little waste. We run one fresh fish special at a time and watch over it like a hawk to maintain proper par levels. Portion control is crucial. We portion everything from all of our different pastas to sauces, proteins and breads. Lastly, we have a very detailed system for hot prep that allows us to make many items from scratch and still maintain consistency in our flavor profiles.
Q: Your weekly specials are inventive! What’s your secret for duplicating these homestyle recipes in a commercial kitchen?
A: We are a company of systems and recipes. We change our specials every two weeks. We limit them to two lunches and two dinners. We have make-cards for the line to ensure that everyone is preparing them the same. We also are very careful that the special fi ts our hot line system. It cannot be too complicated, too many ingredients or take too long to get out of the kitchen. It is very important that the quality of any special be consistent whether there are two checks hanging or 20 checks hanging. This takes careful planning and monitoring.
Q: You make your own desserts, and they’re decadent –– like your Smores Cookie Pizzette and Chocolate Cassata Cake. Why not outsource these like so many other restaurants?
A: I believe that appetizers and desserts are two great ways to differentiate you from the competition. If you are buying desserts from your purveyor or from a local provider, the restaurant across the street could be serving the same item. We do buy a couple desserts from a local purveyor, but we make the rest. We limit the dessert menu and run monthly specials. This controls the amount of prep and inventory and allows us to take advantage of seasonal items.
Q: Your menu transcends pizza and spaghetti. How well do items like cioppino & baked wild mushroom ravioli sell?
A: Selling specials is all about the customer’s confidence in your kitchen. After we opened, it took about six months of aggressive in-house marketing and strong server suggestive selling to get customers to try some unconventional specials. Unconventional for a pizzeria, that is. Now our specials usually outsell most menu items. Once again, it is all about differentiating you from the competition. Offering specials like cioppino or wild mushroom ravioli and preparing them with quality ingredients consistently gives you a leg up on the competition and allows you to build the important “regular” customer base.
Q: You’ve been open more than a year now. What’s the one thing that has surprised you the most about this business?
A: One of the changes I have noticed over the last year is customer knowledge of culinary ingredients and preparation. The plethora of food and cooking programs on television are making for a more educated and adventurous dining public. More so now than at any time in my 30 years in the restaurant business. You can’t brown some ground meat, add it to your marinara sauce and call it Bolognese. This does put pressure on operators to be creative and truthful in their menus and specials. If you don’t, the restaurants down the street will, and take some of your customers along with them.