I recently read a statistic that more than 4,000 pizzerias opened their doors in the U.S. last year. That’s insane. The mere thought of all those potentially delicious new destinations gets me jazzed up, yet I can’t help but worry about all the fresh-faced entrepreneurs diving head-first into the complicated pizza universe. It’s an attractive industry to enter, but things get much trickier once you’re elbow-deep in tomato sauce. As a professional pizzeria customer, I have some words of advice for those of you who are experiencing, or thinking about experiencing, your first taste of the pizza biz.
Since you’re holding this magazine in your hands (or reading it online), you already know that this industry boasts an incredible array of resources. Seasoned veterans are available to lend their advice through Web sites, online forums, YouTube channels, newsletters, and private consultations. Pizza Expo, the Super Bowl of pizza events, even tacked on an additional day of programming for new operators before the show floor even opens! It’s true that the field is crowded with over 73,000 pizzerias, but think of the other 72,999 as mentors rather than enemies and you’ll be surprised at the amount of support you receive.
Continuing on the theme of education, it’s a good idea to know as much about your ingredients as possible. Pizza eaters are getting much more sophisticated, so be sure you and your staff know all the important details so they don’t have to scramble for answers when someone asks a question. In an ideal world, your distributor would supply you with any information you need but they don’t always know what they’re selling. Either research all your ingredient suppliers or work with a distributor who does. This gives you the upper hand when dealing with customers who are interested in your process.
Speaking of customers, keep in mind that your vision of pizza perfection might not be the same as that of your market. Teaching people about the special oven you use or the flour you import can only go so far; at some point you may have to adjust your product. But even if you do tweak your recipe enough to satisfy the masses, you’ll never be able to please everybody. Whether it’s on Yelp, Twitter, Facebook or personal blogs there will always be people who just don’t like your pizza and feel the need to tell the world why. You may feel a strong reflex to slap them upside the head with a response, but a public Facebook brawl will only make you look bad. If you need to respond, keep it civilized. Maybe even write a draft and sleep on it before you post. It could save you from an unnecessary PR nightmare in the future.
What’s so exciting about all the new faces in the pizza industry is that so many of them have never worked in restaurants before. Entrepreneurs are following their passions and finding a minefield of questions and conundrums they never expected. Just remember to stay focused and use all the resources available to find the solutions you need. I’ll be rooting for you!
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.