By Rick Hynum | Photos courtesy Mattenga’s Pizzeria

Mattenga’s Pizzeria might seem, at first glance, the unlikeliest of success stories. Co-owners Hengam and Matt Stanfield are engineers by training (electrical and civil, respectively) and don’t have a drop of Italian blood between them. They had zero experience in the restaurant industry. They didn’t even know how to properly use a pizza cutter. But they took over a failing pizza shop in San Antonio and turned it into a powerhouse brand that has scaled to eight locations, plus a mobile unit, over the past 10 years—with more stores coming later in 2024.

Because if there’s one thing engineers are good at, it’s solving problems. They figure out how stuff works—or why it doesn’t work—and make it better. Then they put systems in place to ensure smoother operations for the future.

Along the way, of course, the Stanfields have made mistakes. But engineers know mistakes lead to better systems. As the company began to scale to multiple locations, Matt says, “We broke everything,” to which Hengam adds, “You just break everything and then rebuild.” Matt continues, “Because you don’t know that you’re an integral part of this or that particular system—say, sales or scheduling—until you get to five or six stores, and you’re like, ‘Oh, I can’t do that anymore. So what did I break now? OK, now I’ve gotta fix this part.’”

Chat with Hengam and Matt for a while, and you get the sense that they relish those challenges. It’s their idea of fun. “We’re nerdy,” Hengam says, grinning. “The pi symbol is right there in our logo. We’re all about that stuff.”

PMQ’s Pizza Power Forum: How to start building the pizza business of your dreams

Planning + Spontaneity = Success

Logical analysis and systematic planning might not sound like a formula for a jolly good time, but the Stanfields will prove you wrong. It was Mattenga’s light-hearted, high-energy approach to marketing that first caught PMQ’s attention. If you judged their brand on social media alone, you’d probably never guess the owners were engineering brainiacs with a zeal for meticulous organization. 

Often showcasing the company’s teenage employees, every video feels spontaneous and off the cuff: A.J. and Marcus reviewing the new Hot Pretzel Rolls or Zeppoles with infectious enthusiasm; Aurora ringing a bell and calling out, in a singsong voice, “Tengadoodle Butter! Tengadoodle Butter! Get your hot and fresh Tengadoodle Butter!”; and Jasmin, the brand’s social media manager, following through on her “intrusive thought of the day” by unplugging the pizza oven (after which the screen goes blank).

Yet the seemingly impromptu merrymaking isn’t just about collecting likes. “I view social media as the tip of the iceberg,” Hengam says. “Underneath it is a lot of systems: emails, text messages that go out religiously to make sure we are turning those views into sales consistently. We don’t want to just have people in Russia viewing our posts. That does not translate into sales. We need to make sure it’s a marketing funnel.”

In addition to featuring their employees in Mattenga’s social media marketing, the Stanfields often showcase their own kids, including (clockwise) Jack, Luke, and Hannah.

The Stanfields maintain a spreadsheet for holidays and events, such as Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, the Super Bowl and Halloween, with special offers and deals for every occasion. The entire year is mapped out for marketing purposes. And most social media, tied in with loyalty program emails and texts, aims to drive traffic to the stores right away. The same goes for posts touting any special deal or new menu item. “If we’re highlighting our pizza rolls, it’s because we’re sharing a discount on pizza rolls in an email that’s only offered to people on that list,” Hengam says. “If we talk about calzones in an Instagram Story, there’s going to be a deal for that….From social we try to take people to our email, and from email we try to take people to social.”

But some of the content is, indeed, spur-of-the-moment stuff, and that’s why it helps to have a social media manager like Jasmin Mapalo on the team. “She does a fantastic job of capturing those magical moments—a crazy thing happens, and everybody is laughing, or a stressful moment, or a birthday party in the dining room,” Hengam notes. “It’s important to be mindful of capturing those stories.”

“I view social media as the tip of the iceberg. Underneath it is a lot of systems: emails, text messages that go out religiously to make sure we are turning those views into sales consistently.”

Hengam Stanfield

The Stanfields use every marketing medium out there: TV spots, ads on Facebook, YouTube, even Google Maps. “We post in Facebook groups as well as within our own Facebook,” she says. “That’s a different market to reach.”

Too many pizzeria operators treat marketing as an afterthought, if they think about it at all. “The popular quote is, ‘The food should speak for itself, so I don’t have to talk about it,’” Matt says. “But the reality is, today, you have to talk about it. You can’t not talk about it because, otherwise, you have no control over that conversation [about your food]. You don’t even know if it’s happening. Since COVID, people are interacting differently. They’re more online, and more online is more negative. We’ve known that in the restaurant industry since Yelp was invented….We’ve seen multiple restaurants in our area fail because they did not market themselves enough, even though they had a good concept.”

Hengam agrees. “I think marketing has to be top priority for an owner. It doesn’t matter if you have the skill set or you don’t. Everything depends on marketing to bring in the money and the customers.”

The Stanfields aren’t just marketing and operations experts. Their pizza is so good, it was named the city’s best last year by readers of the San Antonio Current.
Systems, Systems, Systems

Even with strong marketing, a good restaurant concept can still crash and burn without other crucial systems in place. The Stanfields didn’t write the book on that subject, but they have read every related book they could find, studying companies like Toyota, Starbucks and The Container Store and approaching Mattenga’s with a corporate mindset. “Systems, systems, systems,” Matt says.

Mattenga’s Pizzeria is basically a system of systems, engineered for scaling the brand over time. “Marketing is a system,” Hengam says. “Management is a system. Training is a system. You’ve got to have a systematic approach to everything you do. There is a system for all the different meetings we have. We’ve been working on that for 10 years, but we tweak constantly. A systematic approach removes a lot of friction, because you manage expectations up front. So, when somebody becomes a manager, they already know they need to report on these particular things. We have systems to reduce labor, manage sales projections, inventory systems. It’s a machine, right? A car ultimately has all these micro systems that work together to move and operate the car. Our training system feeds into our management system, and our marketing system is designed to systematically drive sales.”

“Marketing is a system. Management is a system. Training is a system. You’ve got to have a systematic approach to everything you do.”

Hengam Stanfield

What a “system” largely comes down to, Matt explains, is a protocol for doing just about everything in the restaurant, knowing exactly how to do it and how long it should take to do it right. “It’s a checklist of things that need to get done either on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual basis. We have a checklist, for example, for our cash management system. It’s two pages. You staple the receipts here, you write in the information here, you sign at the bottom, another person signs, so we know that both of you counted the cash, and you put the deposit-slip copy here. There’s a system for it, a checklist, and you’ve got to do it at the end of every night.”

And manuals. Don’t forget the manuals. “We have training manuals as well as training videos,” Matt says. “We also have our manager ops manual that includes all the checklists: closing checklists, opening checklists, deep-cleaning checklists.”

Go Bigger and Faster

Training manuals and videos are just the start when it comes to building teams for Mattenga’s various stores. The training really never stops. For example, after 30 days on the job, a pizza maker should be able to stretch the dough for a 16” pizza within 30 seconds. “Otherwise,” Hengam says, “it’s not going to be a good fit. Or if you don’t know our menu and don’t pass the menu quiz at 98% within 30 days, sorry, this is not a good fit.” 

Not only that, team members should get better and faster at every task with more experience.

“Time trials, yes,” Hengam says, nodding emphatically. “That’s one of my obsessions. I’m very obsessed with speed and accuracy.” An employee needs to be able to slice 15 tomatoes to standard thickness in under 20 seconds—a pace established by a former employee who was just 16. There are time requirements for slicing bell peppers, onions, mushrooms—you name it. Employees who can’t cut the mustard, so to speak, probably won’t last. They certainly won’t get raises. “We have training videos showing you the techniques so you can be fast at everything,” Hengam says. “We have posters on the wall so everyone can see the standards to be met. If you want to reach level 1 or level 2, these are the skill sets you need.

“I tell our people, I can bring my six-year-old over here, and she can top a pizza,” Hengam adds. “That’s not enough. It’s about doing things masterfully, and it’s all measurable.”

“The popular quote is, ‘The food should speak for itself, so I don’t have to talk about it.’ But the reality is, you have to talk about it. You can’t not talk about it. We’ve seen multiple restaurants…fail because they did not market themselves enough.”

Matt Stanfield

The Stanfields might sound like perfectionists, but, with four young kids to raise, plus eight restaurants and a mobile operation, perfectionism is a must. They haven’t brought in investors. At the end of the day, they’re a two-person show. And they will readily admit to past mistakes that have cost them big bucks—they have a long list, in fact—and they still “break things.”

But before 2024 wraps up, they plan to have 10 stores in operation and are shooting for 70 units in the next decade. The next step? “Probably franchising,” Hengam says. “We’d love to help somebody who might not have the restaurant experience, the systems or the brand that we have. If they bring in their own capital, that means skin in the game. At any point you can lose a manager that oversees a location, but if they have skin in the game, they’re not going to just quit on a bad day. [We’d want] more of a partnership so we can help someone else who has a passion for our industry.”

And the Stanfields know there’s still more they can learn themselves. “We’ve been at it for 10 years, and we still have a lot of problems,” Hengam admits. “People quit; we get bad customer reviews like everybody else. We are far from perfect. But [a brand with] 70 units or 100 units or just one or two, they’re not all that different. They all have problems. You might as well just go bigger and faster.”   

Rick Hynum is PMQ’s editor in chief.

Solving for 3xWin

Engineers love equations. Hengam and Matt Stanfield, who met as engineering students in college before marrying, starting a family and taking over the struggling pizza shop that became Mattenga’s Pizzeria, turned their four core values into an equation that drives success for the fast-growing brand. “We believe in 3xWin,” Hengam says, “and, in order for that to happen, the following values must all happen.”

TX Hospitality + Engineered + Always Invest = 3xWin

  • TX Hospitality = Warm and always respectful service
  • Engineered = System-driven, meticulous about numbers and cost control
  • Always Investing = Leadership development and investing in our people
  • 3x Win = Guest wins, team wins, company wins
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