Editor’s Note: Located on the site of an old logging camp in the mountains outside of Los Angeles, LouEddie’s Pizza in Skyforest, California, has a history of adaptation and innovation, from a lucrative seasonal wedding business to live music and outdoor dining in historic and scenic Willow Woods Park. In the pandemic, owner Louise York remained flexible, creative and happy to experiment, and as a result, she is the winner of PMQ’s Covid Comeback contest. Pizzeria owners from around the country submitted their comeback stories for a chance to win a $500 cash prize. Our panel of PMQ judges, including our editorial and marketing staff, chose York’s story as the winner, and we’re happy to share it in her own words:
As a small-town, local pizza-shop favorite, the COVID-19 crisis brought with it for us not only health-related fears for our staff and customers but fears for the survival of our business, too. After mid-March 2020, the restaurant landscape changed for all of us. But we are like many restaurants—we are scrappy, determined and constantly evolving.
The ideas I’m going to share here are not all original ideas. We found some of them in the trade magazines or picked them up from other restaurants, while many ideas were in the “we-should-try-this-some-day” files. Well, “some day” came, and we were ready.
I often tell people—and I firmly believe—that it is not the idea that makes the difference; it is the implementation. Here are some of the ideas that worked for us, thanks to successful implementation.
Rule No. 1: Create Win-Win Business Partnerships
Shifting to delivery may seem obvious, but it was a challenge for us. We had been too busy to even consider delivery prior to the pandemic, nor did we have insurance set up for delivery drivers. During the stay-at-home order, we partnered with Thousand Pines Christian Camp. Their overnight programs for kids had been shut down due to COVID-19. They were hoping to keep a number of their key staff members employed and needed work for them to do. So we asked them to handle our deliveries. We offered them the pass-through on the delivery charge of $10 and the tips they earned. This approach kept their employees on the payroll, and we were able to utilize the insurance they had in place. We used a “keep-people-employed” marketing program, and our customers loved the collaboration and embraced the message.
Rule No. 2: Repackage Existing Products
We have a small brewery and offer the products on draft paired with pizzas. Well, we had a lot of beer to move through, and our saloon was closed. So we decided to create 22-ounce Bomber Bottles. The process was relatively simple: Labels were created, a bottling system was purchased, and we defined our procedures.
Rule No. 3: Create an In-House Store
Our dining room was turned into a small store. We offered beer and wine to-go, along with a lot of LouEddie’s swag, including t-shirts and gift certificates. It seemed that all of our customers wanted to buy something—anything. They wanted to help us.
Rule No. 4: Create Experiences for Your Customers
It was certainly a timely idea to create a cooking kit for children. The kiddos were all stuck at home and needed fun things to do—and, of course, they needed to eat, too. We all know the pride gained in cooking something good! Our Zoom cooking classes for the Girl Scouts were especially fun. Find the product and a market that needs the product and move toward implementation!
Rule No. 5: Sell Smart!
We looked at all of our costs of goods and thought about how to sell smarter and cut costs without affecting the quality of our products. For example, four-color printing on carryout boxes and T-shirts—did we really need that? The answer was no. We saved a lot of money by cutting costs on our custom-print goods.