Are You Ready to Turn Pro? Part 5

Note from Peter: If you'd like to read all five of John's columns on this subject you can go to the Guest Columns section instead of scrolling down the home page. There, you will find them all in one place. Either way, please do read them; it could make all the difference between success and failure. And even if you're not thinking of opening a place, this is great, universal wisdom, applicable in any venture.

Well, so far we have explored some of the demands of opening a pizzeria so now it is time to ask yourself something that could change your life.  Here is the easy part. What type of pizzeria do you want to open? Everyone has a vision of their ideal place, so I bet the answer popped into your mind immediately.  Now it gets tough. Here is the big question: Why? Why do you want to build that particular type of pizzeria?

You see, in the modern era, something very interesting has happened, something that has never occurred in the world of pizza before: choice. In the not too distant “old days” virtually every factor that shaped one’s pizzeria was predetermined by their environment. Equipment? The Neapolitans made wood oven pizza because they had 2,000 years of experience building those ovens. Service style?  Pizza by the slice developed in New York because of fast paced foot traffic. Ingredients?  Sausage was the pizza topping of choice in Chicago because they processed a lot of pork in the Windy City. In modern times many of those limitations have been lifted.  You can now make a conscious choice about what you want to serve, how it will be prepared and how you will serve it. That’s good, right? Not exactly, because with freedom comes the responsibility of due diligence.

Here is an example: A few months ago I was contacted by a restaurant group that needed a consultant to develop a deep dish pizza concept. I turned them down and here is why: Their location was in an office park that would require multiple table turns with 80% of sales at lunch time. Deep dish pizza has a long bake time and people tend to eat lighter at lunch. On top of that, they were in a city that is usually hot and humid, which is not the perfect place to eat a cheese and meat laden pie. Why did they choose deep dish for their concept? Because the CEO had visited Chicago and loved that pizza and they reasoned, “We will have the only deep dish pizza in the area.”

Sound familiar? Each of us has had similar thoughts when we find a special place on our personal pizza quest. “Wow! This is amazing. I can bring this pizza to my home town and make a fortune.”  The honest truth is, maybe you can and maybe you can’t. You see, there may be some good reasons why a certain type of pizza isn’t available in your area. Sure, a high traffic urban location with a food savvy population can support many different pizza styles. Tony Gemignani has proven that this is true with his fantastic multi-style pizzeria in San Francisco. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you like something it will be successful. It is all about the right fit. If it is in your heart to make a certain type of pizza it is absolutely crucial that you are brutally honest when you evaluate your proposed trading area.

So it all comes down to choice. To be successful you must either choose a certain pizza style because you honestly feel it is right for the location, or, you must choose a location that is right for your style. Sure, passion is important. Having a unique high quality product is important. But those factors alone are not enough to guarantee success. Remember, as you transition from accomplished amateur to pizza professional you must continually evaluate not only what you want to make but also what your guests want to buy. That is the major difference between cooking for your friends and family and staying in business.

In the next segment we will take a look at the things you must consider when shaping your pizza concept.



#1 Brad English 2013-02-19 16:34
Great piece John! Interesting to think about, even though I'm not planning on opening a pizzeria. But, maybe if I could serve a pizza like the one I had...
#2 Jeff Davis 2013-03-04 17:30
John; great series of articles. I'm looking forward to the next one. I appreciate your no nonsense approach. I think we all have had many thoughts of opening a pizzeria. I've held back for years because of understanding some of the things you've discussed. Thanks again for the great time at Metro last summer!
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