February 1, 2017 |

Respecting the Craft: Hated on Haight?

By Tony Gemignani

Opening a new restaurant in an iconic area can be tricky

slice house san francisco

Tony Gemignani World-champion Pizzaiolo and Pizzeria Owner

Tony Gemignani
World-champion Pizzaiolo and Pizzeria Owner

Here I was in a new remodel for a Slice House right on Haight Asbury in San Francisco. If you don’t know Haight Ashbury, it’s an iconic corner that became historic in the 60s (and it’s still very popular today). It’s where the hippie revolution started. Smoking grass, hanging in the park, sitting on the sidewalks and protesting made the area famous around the world. Haight Ashbury was where musicians and bands such as Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and the Doors hung out and lived. Peace, love, psychedelics and music ruled the roost.

I was going into a licensing agreement with some new partners and we needed to overhaul an existing pizzeria that’s been around for almost 20 years. We were converting it into one of my Slice Houses. Places have opened and closed on this street very fast, so the community could accept you or turn its back on you in a hurry. You never know. This shop had to be different. It needed to adapt not only to the hipsters, locals, tourists and kids, but it needed to have an independent and artsy feel.

The menu needed to be accepted by the demographic that I was looking for, not the type of customer that the past pizzeria catered to. The previous pizzeria, to be honest, did not understand my style and did not pay for the ingredients necessary to make quality pizza. You see, you could go two ways on this street: dollar slices or a high-quality slice.

The area had little pizza, which was surprising to me since the surrounding environ is very affluent. A lot of people told me that I would need to cater to the clientele that wanted the $1 slice. The higher-end customers, these skeptics claimed, were not out there. I proved them wrong, however, and we nearly tripled the sales from the previous pizzeria very quickly.

This place needed a facelift from the front to the kitchen. The existing ovens, hoods, walk-in, dish area and mixer, thankfully, were fine. I flew in an artist that did work on our pizzerias in Las Vegas and said, “This has to have a 60s feel on one particular wall.” On the other walls we added reclaimed wood, subway tile and painted pizza boxes by another artist. With the addition of a tin ceiling, tile floor, marble tables, al fresco windows and menu boards, we basically gave the shop a full makeover.

Next month I’ll tell you more about the changes we made that ultimately kept us from being hated on Haight.

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 jwhite@pizzatoday.com and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.