March 1, 2017 |

Respecting the Craft: Hated on Haight, Part II

By Tony Gemignani

Adapting to your environment pays dividends

Tony's Slice House, San Francisco, California

Tony Gemignani World-champion Pizzaiolo and Pizzeria Owner

Tony Gemignani
World-champion Pizzaiolo and Pizzeria Owner

Last month I talked about our effort to succeed with a Tony’s Slice House on quirky Haight St. in San Francisco, where the clientele will either embrace you or quickly run you off. This month I’ll finish the two-part series.

One of the most important components is that we did not land on Haight St. with a corporate feel. Quite the opposite, actually. Even the new signage we used was different. Rather than neon, like I do at most of my restaurants, we utilized a different approach with a wooden painted sign. The light fixtures inside are steampunk style and we surround it all with decades of pop scene art.

Taking it a step further, my Slice House logo was changed just for this store. Not that the logo was prehistoric — it just needed to fit the vibe.

Since Haight Asbury is so iconic, I felt like we could have big merchandise sales if we had shirts that looked right. As it turns out we did a nice job with merchandise and it worked. We sell T-shirts every day in our store. In fact, now we have them available to purchase by anyone in the U.S. A customer can order from our T-shirt printing company through a portal on our Web site. The funds get sent into my account and the shirt gets sent to the customer right from the factory. It’s that simple.

Originally, the entrance into the restaurant did not have good flow and we corrected that right away. There was an ATM right when you walked in the door, which obstructed the view of the open kitchen. Now as you enter you walk right to the pizza showcase, where we have several different slices available with a great light fixture shining on it. It glows pizza!

The menu is also different than my other slice houses. For example, I added house-made burgers and buns, beer-battered onion rings, psychedelic lemonade (hand squeezed with fresh mint), more vegetarian pizzas and vegan burgers. I listened to the previous owner, and some of those items I mentioned were on the existing menu and were customer favorites. I changed them, however. I also changed the recipes to scratch items made in-house instead of frozen patties, frozen onion rings and frozen buns. The old customers were ecstatic with these changes. To boot, we had a lower food cost than before (and sell these items at a higher price)!

If we didn’t think about all of these things that go into making the very best restaurant and take the time to understand how important it is to adapt our pizzeria to its area, we very well could have been hated on Haight Street. Don’t be so set in your ways that you can’t adapt when necessary in order to take advantage of a good opportunity.

RESPECTING THE CRAFT features World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento.  Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.