By Charlie Pogacar

It was another busy day at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. Here are a few things I saw and heard on the exhibit hall floor and in the educational sessions taking place upstairs. 

Session of the Day
Few, if any, educational sessions were as emotionally powerful as Wednesday morning’s session titled “Collaboration and Long-Term Sustainability,” featuring John and Jacque Farrell of Farrelli’s Pizza in the Seattle suburbs. The father-and-daughter duo energized the crowd with an effortless familial rapport that included several humorous barbs back and forth. 

The Farrells run their rapidly expanding pizza chain via a mission statement: “To use our business systems to create a vibrant working family that nourishes our neighborhoods.” 

The duo laid out a variety of ways in which they fulfill that mission, but it boils down to this: investing in their workers and trusting their people. They believe that will make them profitable, successful and best equipped to serve more and more neighborhoods. 

A lot of businesses claim to do this, but it was clear Farrelli’s doesn’t just talk the talk. Videos from employees singing the praises of the company and everything they’d learned there served as powerful testimony. One employee even used one of the brand’s catchphrases: “Great people make great pizza.” 

Farrelli’s Pizza was launched in 1995. John Farrell—who had run a number of restaurants before—recalled that seven different banks turned down the business plan he’d created with his wife, Margaret, and Jacque, who was just 23 years old back then. The SBA finally granted the family a $65,000 loan at 30% interest—a whopping rate that the family wasn’t in the position to turn down. In fact, they were overjoyed. 

It took them nine years to launch a second location. “We felt we needed to clean up our own backyard and pay off our debt before we could open another store,” Jacque recalled. “We also wanted to save up the money to open that second store.” 

Now, nearly 30 years after opening the first Farrelli’s Pizza in Lacey, Washington, the company has 13 locations. Each year, the Farrells host an awards show to recognize employees for their contributions to the business. They’ve assembled a mostly homegrown leadership team that helps carry out their vision, mission and values—a three-pronged foundation that anchors everything they do. Execute on those three pillars, and success will follow.

Booth of the Day: L2F
Are automated pizzerias the future?

At Booth No. 2637, the second generation of L2F’s PizzaBot was in action, pumping out pies in brisk fashion. It’s designed to operate in as little as 250 square feet of space. That includes room for a prep table, pick-up pizza lockers, ordering POS tablets, the PizzaBot itself and two employees to navigate the space. 

I was able to sample exactly what this would look like from a customer’s ordering-journey perspective. I simply walked up to a self-service kiosk and inputted an order for a pepperoni pizza. I entered my name and a phone number and hit “order.” The machine fired up the pepperoni pizza; a dough tray with pre-prepped dough sent the pie into the machine, where it was then topped with sauce. (The machine holds up to three gallons of sauce.)

Next, the machine distributed mozzarella evenly over the sauced pie, which then moved over to a dispenser with two available toppings—pepperoni and sausage—and pepperoni was added. Tom Kunkel, vice president of sales and marketing with Middleby Automation, parent company of L2F, noted that the sauce, cheese and other toppings are evenly distributed every single time. The machine is almost certainly more consistent than an employee could be. 

The pie was sent through an oven, cooked to perfection and cut, boxed and placed in a food storage locker. I received a text with both a code and a QR code, either of which would unlock the food storage cubby, and voila! The pizza was served. The whole process took less than seven minutes.

The second-generation PizzaBot isn’t being used in pizzerias yet, but Kunkel said it’s set to launch in a couple of different kitchens in the fall. The first generation of the PizzaBot—which churns out between 40 and 70 pies per hour—found a home in a variety of spaces, including stadiums, university campus kitchens and large retail stores.

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