Ask Joey

Almost everyone in the pizza industry knows the Todaro family and La Nova's Pizza from Buffalo, New York. They have the busiest pizzeria in America. (Read their stories online at www.pmq.com/lanova_pizza_before.shtml and www.pmq.com/mag/2002winter/lanova.shtml). After speaking with Joey Todaro, he agreed to share some of his knowledge in a regular column for PMQ. In each issue, Joey will answer questions you submit. If you have a question you would like to have him address, send them to PMQ, Attn: ASK JOEY, 1295D N. Lamar Blvd., Oxford, MS 38655 or email them to askJoey@pmq.com.

Question 1: Unfortunately, I have no formal training in the culinary field and aspire to be a pizza restaurant owner. After eight years of formal education and six years of working in a field I have been unhappy with, I'm ready to shift my focus to one of my obsessions (pizza!). Other than reading a handful of books and manuals, and working briefly at a successful pizza restaurant in the past, I have no knowledge of this field. Can anyone shed some light on how to get started? As with many businesses, there are probably several routes to pursue, both formal and informal, what sort of training should I seek in order to get the ball rolling?

Joey: I definitely think that it is great to read industry magazines, such as PMQ. I also think that it is important to get hands on experience by working in a pizza restaurant. "Knowledge is power".

Question 2: Being new to the industry, I have nothing to compare my average monthly sales to. With the economy as sluggish as it is and the threat of WAR at the forefront, it's hard to tell if I'm doing good, bad, or ugly. Can anyone shed some light on what the "Pizza industry" is doing this year compared to years previous?

Joey: It doesn't matter what the pizza industry is doing. It is important to focus on your own pizzeria. Try to come up with fresh ideas to keep your customers coming back for more. Also, give outstanding service to make a good impression and don't forget to give your customers quality products. In this business, people don't mind paying a little more for great pizza!

Question 3: Two months ago a pizza delivery opened right across the street from our place. We both serve similar styles of pizza and salads at about the same price point. I want to know what your recommendations are for rebuilding our sales. We have taste tested both products to a few volunteers and all agree that the pizzas are similar in taste. So what can I do to build some momentum for my place? We are currently involved in the following: direct mail, city-wide promotions (via chamber of commerce), and just Good word of mouth. We don't have a POS system as of yet, otherwise I would have implemented a database marketing system as well… PLEASE ADVISE.

Joey: Focus on your place. Make sure you are giving everything of yourself to the business. Keep asking yourself, "What can I do better?" And always strive on quality customer service. I always watch the competition, but I don't chase it. I believe in watching my business to the fullest. I think if you use this philosophy, it will be very successful for you. Good luck.

Question 4: I am a pizzeria newbie and am opening my first pizzeria/restaurant in the New Jersey area. I am at the point where I am looking to start relationships with food vendors. I seek vendors who are dependable, trustworthy and can sell me high-end ingredients. Any tips?

Joey: I think you should sit with some vendors and compare levels of service, cost, frequency of deliveries and items carried by distributor. I also recommend attending distributor food shows to make a decision.

Question 5: How do you discipline employees without reprimanding them?

Joey: When reprimanding an employee, I think it is important to listen first, and then decide on what needs to be done to correct the situation. It is important to remember to make the right decision for the business.

Question 6: I am thinking of offering items like t-shirts and such in my pizzeria. What are some advantages, strategies and what should I expect to pay for shirts and what should I charge? Should I give them away or sell them and why?

Joey: I am a firm believer in t-shirt giveaways (thanks Dad). My father taught me that there are two important things to remember when purchasing t-shirts for giveaways: 1. Buy a quality t-shirt that won't shrink. 2. Print both sides and use the shirt for advertisement by making sure your company's name is recognizable. Cost? Shop around for the best price.