September 22, 2018 |

An inside look at Pizza & Pasta Northeast

By Jeremy White

Conversations with three seminar and demo presenters: Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana and Pizza Rock; Nick Bogacz, owner of Caliente Pizza & Draft House; and Eric Shepherd, Director of Marketing & Communications for OTTO Pizza

ppne, pizza and pasta northeast, tradeshow, atlantic cityPizza & Pasta Northeast will take over the Atlantic City Convention Center next month. The show is October 3 and 4 and will feature an expert lineup of speakers and presenters, not to mention a packed show floor geared towards providing pizzeria and Italian restaurant operators with everything they need to run their businesses more smoothly, profitably and efficiently.

Recent research conducted by Emerald Expositions, the parent company of Pizza Today, found that attendees at Pizza & Pasta Northeast differ significantly from those who attend International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. And those insights have guided the educational program for October’s PPNE show.

In this issue’s advance preview of PPNE, we talk with three pizza professionals who are set to speak at the show. Tony Gemignani, Nick Bogacz and Eric Shepherd all bring a passion to the industry that attendees will feel and appreciate.


Q&A with Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana and Pizza Rock in San Francisco, Sacramento and Las Vegas

Tony Gemignani, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, Pizza Rock, San Francisco, Sacramento, Las Vegas

Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza
Napoletana and Pizza Rock in San Francisco, Sacramento and Las Vegas

Tony will be leading a workshop and a food demo at PPNE. You can catch “Making Pizza with Tony Gemignani: Offering Multiple Pizza Styles on Oct. 3 at 4 p.m. and Oct. 4 at 10 a.m. His demo, “Grandma Pies,” is Oct. 4 at 11:30 a.m.

PT: You’ve done International Pizza Expo and Pizza & Pasta Northeast for a number of years. What commonalities do you see amongst the attendees of your workshops in terms of the type of information they seek from you?

TG: Several things, actually. For paid seminars in Vegas you see new operators vs. existing
operators in AC. These are always serious operators who invested in the seminar. Both are interested in learning new dough formulas or improving dough along with more information about specific styles such as Detroit, Neapolitan, Roman or Grandma. They want to know how to implement these styles and information about what ovens and mixers to invest in. Technique, baking fundamentals and procedures are always important to my attendees.

PT: What specifically do you hope attendees get from your workshops?

TG: Knowledge, recipes and understanding pizza in its entirety. Understanding styles, equipment involved and how to make dough correctly. How to bake pizzas correctly. Understanding traditional pizzas using quality ingredients. Dough making, management and digestibility.

PT:  Do you remember what it was like when you were in their shoes?

TG: Yes, and back then there was no Google, Web sites, and as many seminars as Expo has now. It’s so valuable to growth, and the evolution of pizza is growing. In the last 10 years we are living in a pizza Renaissance. It’s incredible.   

PT: What most inspires you about the new crop of pizza makers you encounter?

TG: The eagerness, the skill so much and so little. Wanting to learn this trade and work at it, trying to perfect it, studying it. There are so many operators willing to give a hand and share the knowledge. It’s this passion that fuels me and seeing and meeting people like me creates this energy. I love it, I teach it and I am still learning. I love this industry. Nobody loves pizza more than me!


Q&A with Nick Bogacz, owner of Caliente Pizza & Draft House in Pittsburgh.

Angie bogacz, Nick Bogacz, Caliente Pizza & Draft House, Pittsburgh

Angie and Nick Bogacz, owners of Caliente Pizza & Draft House in Pittsburgh

Nick will be leading a food demo at PPNE. Don’t miss “Cheese Blends for Explosive Flavor” on Oct. 4 at 1:30 p.m.

PT: How do you define quality at Caliente?

NB: We define quality at Caliente by using the best in the industry along with local bests. We define it by using ingredients that are never frozen and by taste testing every item that might end up on the menu. There is also quality to be found in how you store your ingredients once you receive them and how you prep them. We make sure the freshness never falls at our stores by having strict rotating and handling procedures. It is also important to the quality that recipes are followed and consistency can be tasted. We have gone through vast measures to create guidebooks on how to make every item at our stores. For example, we do not allow free-handing cheese at our stores. One reason is the cost, but the other huge reason is to create a consistent, quality product.

PT: Why is it important to be serious about cheese?

NB: Along with sauce there is one item that goes on every pizza and that’s cheese. Fake cheese can be tasted, and the way it looks after bake can be telling. When using real cheese, the taste is so much better and the look is so much better. Delivery may be a huge part of your business like it is for us — you need a cheese that stands up to the rigors of delivery pizza. Testing and tasting your cheese before you decide what cheese your shop is going to use is a must. As in any business there are places that you can cut corners and save money, but cheese is not one of them. Spend the money to use the best and don’t look back. Another factor is everybody loves leftover pizza for breakfast. Have you ever had a piece of pizza the next day and the cheese looks gross? We use 100-percent real cheese with no fillers. You can eat our pizza three days later and it still tastes great … not that it would ever last that long in your fridge!

PT: What common mistakes do you see other pizzerias make that drives you crazy?

NB: What a great question! The first thing that comes to my mind is not charging the right amounts for your services or products. To a certain point I get it, because it’s human nature to want to give something great to your customers at a great value. As soon as you can wrap your head around the fact that you are not competing with the cheap chains and your competition is really locally owned restaurants that have no problem charging $12 to $15 for a fancy hamburger, then you can really start to price your product right. Never be afraid to charge for your product. Use the best ingredients, inspect for quality, make consistent items based off of recipes and charge for them. Break down your menu piece by piece so that you know what every menu item costs — and then charge accordingly. Never just price menu items without knowing what they cost you.

I also mentioned services. What could this be? One that always stands out to me is delivery. It’s 2018, not 1998. If you’re not charging for delivery and you think free delivery is a selling point for you, then you are under estimating that you are giving away something that everyone plans on paying for anyway. Do you have an extra room you let groups use for parties? Charge the group right and make a menu priced just for the room so that 40 people do not take up your party room and order eight to 10 pizzas for around $160. That breaks down to $4 a person and you cannot even feed everyone fast food for that amount. And we all know PIZZA IS NOT FAST FOOD! We charge people per person to use the room starting at $7.99 and up, depending on what they want to order. We have parties now as high as $18.99 a person.


Q&A with Eric Shepherd, Director of Marketing & Communications for OTTO Pizza in Portland, Maine.

 Eric Shepherd, Director of Marketing & Communications, OTTO Pizza, Portland, Maine

Eric Shepherd, Director of Marketing & Communications for OTTO Pizza in Portland, Maine

Eric will be leading two seminars at PPNE. Be sure to catch “Social Media Measures for Today’s Pizzeria” on Oct. 3 at 9 a.m. and “Brand Building: How a Consistent Look and Message Sets You Apart” on Oct. 4 at 9 a.m.

PT: What specifically do you hope attendees get from your sessions?

ES: My goal is to demystify social media and branding for owner/operators who might feel overwhelmed or intimidated. While the digital landscape for restaurants is vast and can be cumbersome, it doesn’t have to be. I will be presenting scalable branding and social media strategies that have proven to be effective for one-unit mom-and-pop shops, chains, and anything in-between. My goal is to provide seminar attendees with what they need to produce measurable results on a shoestring budget — including increased customer engagement, brand affinity, awareness and (of course) sales.

PT: What are some of the more common marketing mistake you see others make?

ES: It used to be enough to just put out a great product. Now that’s no longer enough to guarantee long-term relevancy and long-term success. Brands today must foster an emotional connection with customers through thoughtful branding and social media engagement. I’ve seen many great restaurants fail because they ignored this shift.

I also see many restaurants view review sites as a threat instead of an opportunity. I get that reluctance; nobody likes negative coverage. The restaurants that are succeeding are embracing review sites and social media, warts and all, and using them to their advantage.

PT: How important is social media to a pizza concept? Can a pizzeria succeed without social media?

ES: Sure. Can a pizzeria grow and evolve without social media? Very unlikely. Every business, pizza or otherwise, needs to have a social media presence — and I don’t mean just  having a profile with a post every month or so.  Businesses need to be where their customers are. Most of them are on their phones engaging with social media, as are most competing businesses.

PT: Why is consistency in look and messaging important?

ES: We are visual animals, and we are emotional animals. Every experience we have in the world is tied to our emotions and to our senses, and these associations quickly become ingrained in our memory. As I said above, it’s not enough anymore to just have a great product. Restaurants need to understand that every part of the dining experience either enhances or subtracts from customers’ emotional experience, including your logo, the colors you employ in your branding (and in your establishment), the voice you use in your messaging, the look and feel of your collateral, and the language you use. All of these elements, and so much more, become (for better or worse) your brand identity. Take a look around and I am confident that you’ll find that the restaurants that cultivate a distinct and purposeful look and feel to their brand and messaging are the ones that are succeeding and growing.

PT: How does the current state of sales trends within your company impact your marketing decisions/initiatives?

ES: All marketers hope to plan ahead and to be as proactive and as deliberate in their strategies as possible. However, the reality of the restaurant industry is that sales can be volatile, and business can change on a dime.  In my company, we have many over-arching strategies for guaranteeing long-term success, but we also spend a significant amount of time analyzing real-time data and identifying trends (good or bad). We have several strategies for combatting lagging trends, and we make an effort to tweak strategies along the way to address challenges that may arise. While I would never advocate for spending a lot of time in reactionary mode, restaurant marketers need to constantly listen to their customers and their data. They need to stay nimble, and they need to keep an open mind.

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