September 4, 2018 |

The Operating Table

By Mandy Wolf Detwiler

pepperoni pizza, artisan pizza

Breathe new life into your pizzeria with these tips

If you’re running a pizzeria, especially one that is successful, it’s easy to get in a rut. After all, the old adage says: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That doesn’t mean you can’t learn something new to help your business thrive. After all, that’s the goal of the educational program at the Pizza & Pasta Northeast show next month in Atlantic City.

Pizza Today: What are you doing to combat turnover in the industry?

Tony Cerimele, owner of New Columbus Pizza Co. in Nesquehoning, Pennsylvania: We are kind of old school at our place in Northeastern Pennsylvania, (but) I tend to hire people who have retired and are looking for extra work. I find that they are extremely loyal and almost never miss work. I wouldn’t call it a trend, but it works for us.

RC Gallegos, owner of RC’s NYC Pizza & Pasta in Kingwood, Texas: I have begun a new incentive program with my staff. YELP and Google have really been achieving some steam with the consumers. We have always had a great customer service presence and our restaurant’s “culture” has always been 110-percent customer service. Consumers have become so much more saavy as far as food goes and have very busy lifestyles that I saw our customer-service rating dropping. I empowered my staff by offering a $5 incentive to each staff member mentioned by name in any 5-star review! It has worked really well. Our ‘superstars’ are making money and (are more) friendly. Competition amongst peers has served its purpose to show the staff how they can earn extra money and have a long-lasting, fulfilling impact on our guests, their experience and the business, while at the same time raising our on-line presence. It’s a win-win.

PT: Dough primarily consists of flour, salt, yeast and water. Can you offer any new dough tips?

Derek Sanchez, Mia Marco’s Pizza in Selma, Texas: When it comes to something new we picked up within the last couple of years, it has to be variations in dough making and management according to ambient weather. When we first started, we never really adjusted for ambient weather after our dough was made. Now, we constantly keep our eyes on the weather, play weather forecaster and adjust to our environment to produce excellent results.

The science of weather changes the science of our pizza dough. When making pizza dough, you have those good dough days, just ok dough days and bad dough days. Why? If you do not change any of your variables, it’s the weather! Rainy or humid? Hot and humid? Hot and dry? Cold and rainy? What you gonna do? We’ve been using a wireless weather station that is extremely accurate and have logged weather patterns/temps and humidity for the past couple of years. We look up our recorded data to help us produce consistent excellent outcomes. We have enough data now to say goodbye to our bad dough days.

PT: What do you think is the No. 1 operational mistake most operators make in their early days?

John Zozzaro, owner at the Downtown Café in Glen Cove, New York: I think adding too many items to the menu. Having an extensive menu might mean having to hire more qualified people to make extra items. So that would mean more payroll. Also having to order more food and making sure all these extra items aren’t getting thrown away because of spoilage. So unless you’re opening a diner, try not to go over the top on menu options right from the get go. Just add new items to the menu as you go along and you know what your facility can handle better at that time.

Dave Garcia, owner of Halftime Pizza in San Antonio, Texas: “I’ve learned that not having your systems in place before opening can be detrimental to your operations and training. If you want to set yourself up for success, it starts at the beginning.

Meghan O’Dea, chef/owner at Pi Gourmet Eatery in St. John’s Newfoundland: I think the biggest mistake to make in the early days of opening is to go overboard on purchasing too much product and have too much staffing. Having too much product and staff means wasting too much money and time. Until you know your business needs and how many staff you need to make it work. Also thinking that you can do it all until you really do know what you are doing will hurt you in the end.

Sanchez: Early on people get shell shocked at the cost of expenses, from buying equipment and taxes to permits and food costs fluctuating. Plan to budget and only buy what you need, not what you want. (I have learned the hard way).

PT: How do you know you’re ready to go from one to two stores? If you haven’t opened another store, what are you waiting for?

Zozzaro: I am just now expanding for the first time after 20 years in the business. My concerns have always been finding the right people to run the new business, and I feel it’s just getting harder every year to find these people in our industry. I am currently expanding my brick-and-mortar location to add a wood-burning mobile fire truck to establish a catering pizza business. In this business, it will be me and a partner doing most of the work with a couple of other part-time employees at the beginning. Hopefully, we can expand on this and get some more mobile units in the future.

Garcia: We opened our second store after three years of operating our first location. Opening a second store is risky. One is hard, two is harder. I hear that three gets easier. I would say if your systems are in place and have been tightened over the years — and you feel that you have some of the right employees who believe in you and your concept — then you should go for it. Just don’t sacrifice the first store to keep it going. Remember who you are and what you stand for. Don’t sacrifice quality!

O’Dea: How do you know when to open another store? When you truly feel that your product will continue the same in another location and you have loyal staff that will continue your value of standards in the other location.What am I waiting for to open another store? Money! And time.

Sanchez: When one store can run itself or you have an operations manager who is highly trained and cares about every aspect of the business.  If you haven’t opened a store what are you waiting for? Searching for a great location is always a challenge.   

Michael Athanasopolous, owner of The Lamb & The Wolf in Auburn, California: After you feel established with the first business (around three years) and you know the market, have positive sales and have systems in place, then you can go for the second! The biggest difficulty is identifying and processing your systems. 

Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor of Pizza Today.