September 1, 2015 |

Respecting the Craft: When can I step away?

By Tony Gemignani

Sooner or later, you are going to need to take a break


Tony Gemignani World-champion Pizzaiolo and Pizzeria Owner

Tony Gemignani
World-champion Pizzaiolo and Pizzeria Owner

I have had several calls in the past few months that touch upon this question: “When is the right time to step away from your restaurant?”

This is tough because sometimes you may never feel 100-percent ready to step away for a while. You always have that worry in the back of your mind. And, really, you should — because you are the owner.  It’s like leaving your home alone with the kids and a babysitter.

Ultimately, it all comes down to your management and team. Hiring the right people is crucial. I had to learn how to delegate and put people in positions like manager, kitchen manager, general manager, bar manager, assistant manager, wine director, accountant, etc. This doesn’t all happen or have to happen at once. It can be a slow process. I would choose two to begin with: a kitchen manager who can handles the food and purchasing and a supervisor/manager who handles the front of the house. If you’re a working owner that is the head chef or Pizzaiolo, then a kitchen manager is very important to work closely with you.

makeline, making pizza, pizzeria, kitchen, pizza, pizzaioloHow many years did it take to go on your first vacation? It took me two years at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. I learned from that. With other stores that I opened, I concentrated on the infrastructure more so that I could be away more easily. I learned that having a strong management team that’s reliable is the biggest key. So I pay an above-average wage and that’s way better than trying to cut costs and not hiring a legitimate, professional team.

Focusing on that support helped me immensely. Delegating tasks to management and having that team delegate through this portal made for a much more efficient business.

How do you know when to trust your employees? It’s always about trust. Start by giving them duties a little at a time. Watch them on the cameras. Oversee their procedures and notice how they handle situations. It takes time to build this and you could be watching those cameras all day, but sooner or later you’re going to have to take that day off. Before you know it you have that three-day weekend and then, finally, a real vacation.

Once I establish a good foundation of management and employees, I quickly view who is working out. If someone isn’t cutting it, we address it immediately.

They have to be team players. In fact, I like to look for employees who have played team sports. Sounds funny, but typically employees that have a sports background are accustomed to being coached, are more disciplined, know how to win or how to kick it in gear and understand the concepts of team and sportsmanlike conduct. These attributes are important in an employee — especially on Saturday nights when it’s crazy. I’m not saying that you have to only choose people who play sports, but I do think it helps.

The funny thing is that at the time I fielded these calls I was literally on vacation. Some of these people probably saw me on Facebook posting pics and decided to reach out to me. To tell you the truth, I had to cut that vacation short by four days and fly my wife and son home early. People on Facebook probably don’t know that. Something came up and the owner (me) had to fix it. I was upset, but that’s the business and I will go on another vacation next year.

After almost 25 years you think you have it all figured out and then you get that call. You never know.

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.