How Pi Pizza scored a “hole-in-one” in pizza making
Hoping to re-energize a tradition-bound food, Pi Pizza founder Steve DeLisle looked to the donut for inspiration
Photos courtesy Pi Pizza
Pizza has looked essentially the same for centuries, but one pizzeria operator in Florida decided to try something a little different. PMQ sat down with Mike Burdick, president of Pi Pizza (pipizza.pizza) in Winter Park, Florida, to talk about how a unique pizza presentation has customers talking and its fan base growing.
PMQ: What makes Pi Pizza unique?
Burdick: Our biggest hook is the patented process of cutting a 5” hole in the middle of our pizzas, where we place a variety of appetizers, salads and desserts. We also par-grill our pizzas for taste, crispness and consistency before topping them.
PMQ: How did you come up with the idea to put a hole in the middle of your pizza?
Burdick: The idea came from Pi Pizza’s founder, Steve DeLisle, who was intrigued by the food scene in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and thought it was time to do something different with pizza. He visualized a donut and applied the concept to pizza. The original Plymouth location was moved to Winter Park, Florida, in 2014, and we now have a total of five locations in Florida, with additional locations opening soon in California.
PMQ: What happens to the dough that gets cut out of the pizzas?
Burdick: We use the extra dough to create homemade chips for our spinach dip and 5” pizzas for the kids.
PMQ: What are your most popular pies and holes?
Burdick: Our slices sell more than pies, but that varies by location. You can get any of our pizzas by the slice, including Your Father’s Garage for the meat lovers and The Sweet Chick for barbecue chicken fans. The holes are available with the pizzas or by themselves, with the most popular choices being chicken wings and our signature mac-and-cheese balls.
Pi Pizza's multifaceted marketing strategy includes a logoed vehicle, a loyalty program and online ordering.
PMQ: Tell us about the Golden Ticket promotion you ran this year.
Burdick: Golden Ticket stickers were randomly placed inside of our pizza boxes, with prizes including a free large pizza, free combos and even free cruise tickets. Customers looked for their ticket, took a photo to post on Facebook, and contacted their local store to claim their prize. We gave away one cruise per week, per store—300 trips total. Luckily, we had internal sources that allowed us to run the contest without breaking the bank.
PMQ: Is it true that you give away beer every day?
Burdick: Yes. We used to give two free beers on Fridays but then changed it to one free draft beer every day with dine-in orders. Beer is the cheapest thing to give away, and our customers love it.
PMQ: Pizzerias are known for delivery, but you enlisted some additional help, too, right?
Burdick: We handle our own delivery plus use a local third-party delivery service called Doorstop Delivery that’s wildly popular. It brings in more orders for us while also providing additional marketing for the pizzeria.
PMQ: How do you attract students to the pizzeria?
Burdick: Students enjoy a BOGO offer whenever they use their student ID, which allows us to track the percentage of students who come in. We see about 50/50 students and professionals, but the demographic varies by store location. Our product is received well by students and families due to the value. The combo meal, which includes a slice of pizza, appetizer and a drink, is popular in all of the stores.
PMQ: What is your favorite way to reach customers?
Burdick: Social media has really become a focus—especially Facebook, Yelp and Instagram—in order to reach everyone out there with a smartphone. We try to integrate traditional media with our social media, and whenever we launch a promo, it goes out over all of our channels.
PMQ: In what other ways are you marketing Pi Pizza?
Burdick: We go out of our way to impress upon management and employees the need to gather information from customers about where they heard about us. We’ve incorporated marketing buttons on our POS system so we can track responses. We run a marketing report every Monday morning and have found that Yelp and Facebook are popular. Local billboards, spinner signs, advertising- wrapped vehicles, ads on downtown rickshaws, and cable TV have also helped our branding.
PMQ: Tell us about your patented pizza box.
Burdick: We consider our unique, patented pizza box to be a great marketing tool for us and have gone to great lengths to have it created specifically to fit our pizzas and holes.
Pi Pizza's unique presentation has proven time and again to bring customers back for more.
PMQ: In what ways are you reaching out to the community?
Burdick: Becoming known in the community helps to get our product out, and letting people try our pizzas and appetizers provides an immediate, positive response. We bring pizzas to churches, schools, senior living complexes, community events, golf tournaments and the local chamber meetings. It all helps our awareness and popularity in the community.
PMQ: Do you offer online ordering?
Burdick: We’ve seen our online ordering increase, as well as customers’ desire for a mobile ordering app. Sales are currently 10% to 20% and growing for online ordering.
PMQ: What’s your advice for those who may be struggling with their marketing?
Burdick: I’ve been in the restaurant business for 25 years, and I’m still learning and adjusting. Things are so different today, and pizza is so competitive. You have to be incredibly open-minded and listen to what your customer has to say. You may need to try what you’re not comfortable with. Don’t just stick to the traditional marketing that worked in the past. Gather as much information as you can and use it to grow your business.