April 1, 2017 |

Pizza Today on the Road: Five Points Pizza, Nashville, TN

By Jeremy White

On Point

Five Points Pizza expanding, again, in Nashville


Five Points Pizza has become one of Nashville’s top slice destinations thanks, in part, to a fortuitous drive that took one of its co-owners past an empty store that caught her attention.

“It really just came down to good timing,” co-owner David Tieman says when asked about his restaurant’s origin story. Tieman owns the business along with his wife, Tara, and long-time friend Tanner Jacobs. “Tara and I were both attorneys before we opened the pizza shop, but really wanted new careers. Tara just happened to see that our current space was up for rent on her way home from work one night, and she called the landlord almost immediately.  That same night, we called my best friend, Tanner, who had been in the restaurant business in Chattanooga before moving to Nashville, and grabbed a six-pack and walked it over to his house a few blocks from ours to ask him what he thought. That’s when the three of us formed our partnership. If Tara hadn’t seen the sign in the window, who knows what we’d all be doing right now?”

The trio named their pizzeria after its neighborhood, a move that played well with the locals. As more attention has been turned to East Nashville recently, a slice spot that serves craft beer is well positioned to succeed. Tieman says he liked Five Points from the start, but the space “sort of chose us, and the restaurant followed.

“All three of us live about six blocks from the shop and were huge fans of the neighborhood long before the restaurant came around,” he says. “It’s where we live and play. It’s a great walking neighborhood with so many bars, restaurants and music venues — and it’s really just a great place to have a beer and people watch. And we’ve watched the neighborhood — well, actually all of Nashville — change so much over the years. More people, more restaurants … it’s just become a hot spot around town. I can’t say we foresaw the extent of the actual growth of the neighborhood, but we did believe that East Nashville in general would keep on growing. It fared really well during the recession in 2008, and we believed it was as good a place as any to set up shop.”

Tieman says the neighborhood has a strong sense of community and is “really supportive of local business.”

So there was a restaurateur’s dream and a viable location … the next step was to choose a cuisine. With all the options out there, why pizza?

“When we met with Tanner that night, one of the very first things out of his mouth was: ‘Pizza by the slice,’” Tieman recalls. “No one is doing pizza by the slice in this neighborhood, and nobody’s got pizza and beer. Back in those days, our neighborhood had several high-end restaurants and as much bar food as you could stand. But there weren’t many spots to get a reasonably priced meal that was also family friendly. We wanted to fill part of that niche.”

The pizzas at Five Points could be categorized as New York-style — large pies cut into foldable slices. The style satisfies the needs of families and hungry solo diners equally well.

“Tara and I both lived (in New York) for a while,” says Tieman. “And, in the end, it just seemed like the natural choice in terms of style. Our pies are big, our slices are big, and our ingredients are the freshest possible. We really try to straddle the line of not being too fancy, but keeping the menu creative enough to keep our customers happy. Our pizza menu kind of crosses the spectrum from basic pies to some pretty complicated builds, such as our habañero cream sauce pie. Hopefully, we’ve been able to offer our customers as many options as possible, with a relatively limited number of ingredients. We also have a few really great culinary minds in our shop, so we let them get creative from time to time. We do a ‘Farmer’s Market’ pie every week, and we let our pizza guys come up with the slice pies every day. Really, though, our aim is just to be a typical NY-style pizza shop.”

To that end, Five Points eschews a longer menu for a streamlined lineup. Simply put, it allows for better execution.

“We’re really just a one trick pony, and that’s been intentional since day one,” Tieman contends. “No sandwiches, no pasta, no wings … Just pizza. And we did as much research on it as possible, especially on dough and dough making. I think that was the hardest part for us to master. All our dough is aged a minimum of 48 hours, and it took some practice to dial it in. We also got a lot of advice at the Pizza Expo the year before we opened. We went to the seminars, talked with folks like Tom Lehmann and got some good advice from our pizza heroes like Phil Korshack from Home Slice in Austin. We listened to what people were telling us not to do more than anything, and it really paid off. When we had some basic ideas on who we wanted to be in the industry, we headed up to Staten Island for pizza school with the guys at Goodfella’s. That was our first time in a commercial kitchen getting to test out all our menu items. They were really helpful on so many levels.”

One of the great things about the industry is that, just like the Five Points neighborhood, the pizza tribe always stands ready to help one another out. Tieman says he received plenty of menu development and design advice.

“As to menu design, we got a whole lot of help there too. And we learned from a lot of people smarter than us to avoid ingredients that can only be used on one menu item,” he says. “Keeping product moving through the store as fast as possible is the best way to keep the freshest items on the table and avoid potential waste.  We’ve also benefited from the principle that it’s better to do one thing great than many things just okay. I also think our professional backgrounds helped us come up with a good pricing model.”

Of course, with any restaurant venture there are so many moving parts that need to come together at once. While Five Points may have hit on a food the neighborhood could embrace, it still takes a solid marketing plan to get customers in the door. Tieman admits there may have been an early learning curve, but Five Points eventually settled into a program that has served the business well.

“When we started out, we were actually fairly horrible at marketing,” he says. “We used most of the money we would have spent on print ads, flyers or radio for local charitable causes and bonuses to our staff, and I think it ultimately served us well in the end.

“We’ve got a great location with good visibility that got us moving forward early on. Since then, we’ve hired a PR firm to help us out. But in all reality, we’ve just tried to focus on consistency, customer experience and high quality food. That keeps our regulars coming back and bringing in new folks with them. Our regulars are really what make our place special.”

Five Points does a Free Slice night annually. It began as a way to promote the takeout slice window the pizzeria opened after expanding. Tieman says it has been the restaurant’s most effective non-traditional marketing initiative.

“We held our first one when we opened up our slice window, just to get the word out,” he says. “We literally just gave away slices to anyone who showed up between 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. There was a line down the block, and it drew a really diverse crowd from the neighborhood. We realized what a cool neighborhood event it was that first year, so we do it every year now.  And it’s actually not that much more expensive to give away 1,000 slices than it is to run a large ad in a lot of publications.”

The takeout window has been a nice addition to Five Points. The pizzeria is split into a dine-in area and a separate carryout area (which has limited barstool seating for those who want to scarf down a quick slice).

“We were running all of our carryout through the bar in our dine-in space before we opened the carryout/slice window side,” says Tieman. “And it was flat-out crazy back then. We have a really small space, so people were crammed in four deep at the bar, servers could barely get to the kitchen, and our bartenders were on the phone all night, trying to run the bar, the well and all the carryout. It just got to be too much.

“We were scared we were going to break the restaurant. When we finally got our hands on the space next door, we knew we needed to dedicate it to carryout and counter service. Now people have the option of just grabbing a quick slice at the counter instead of waiting for a table, and they don’t have to wade through the dine-in side to pick up a pizza.”

The carryout portion of the business is open late, which allows Five Points Pizza to cash in on a demographic and a time slot that other restaurants don’t serve.

“We have a really solid late night business, and it’s really been the result of having our slice window and proximity to other late night venues,” says Tieman. “We love getting to lock the doors, and then just serving pizza out the window.  We’re firm believers that nothing good happens inside a restaurant after midnight.

“And I’d also say for late night, it’s really a volume game. Not too many people want a whole pizza and a salad at 2:30 a.m., and we’re not selling anyone wine or beer at that point.  It’s mainly just slices. And you need to sell lots to justify the costs. It really wouldn’t work if there weren’t such a large demand in the area.”

What about safety issues that arise during the wee hours?

“Being able to lock the doors and only sell through the window has been really helpful,” Tieman says. “You would think it would be out of control, but it’s really not that crazy. And the lines actually do a pretty good job of policing themselves. That being said, though, we have a security system, emergency alarms and cameras in the event something does happen. But for the most part, we have a pretty respectful late night crowd.”

Five Points is once again expanding, but this time with a new location. Tieman says the restaurant has been operating “above a reasonable capacity” and that he feels like the company is “in a really great position” as store No. 2 approaches.

“We swore after the first one, we’d never do it again, then we forgot how hard it was and decided to expand next door, then we forgot again and decided to do it all over,” he laughs. “We try to keep a good sense of humor about it. And now that the new one is coming down the pike, we’re just as excited as we were about the first one.”

Jeremy White is editor-in-chief at Pizza Today.