The very first day Nick Bogacz spent in the pizza business, he crashed his delivery vehicle. He convinced his mother to let him drive her car instead and completed the day delivering pizzas—this would be the first challenge Bogacz solved as a pizza professional, but it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

That was back in 1996, when Bogacz was just 17 years old. For the past 28 years, he’s been a fixture in the pizza business. The last 12 years he’s spent as owner and operator of Caliente Pizza & Draft House, a Pittsburgh-based brand that he has scaled to seven locations and counting. Prior to that, Bogacz held just about every position within the pizza business: delivery driver; general manager of storefronts belonging to some of the world’s largest pizza chains; delivery manager at independent pizzerias. Each step along the way, Bogacz learned things he carries with him as he’s grown his brand—from the time he crashed that car to the time a mentor first showed him a P&L statement. 

“I always said, ‘I don’t know why it’s pizza, but this is what I’m good at,’” Bogacz said of deciding to start his own business in 2012. “And I knew if I was going to do this forever, I had to do it for ourselves—I always told my wife, she’s a pizza wife for life.” 

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Here are a few things Bogacz has learned during his busy career in the pizza business. You can think of it as advice he’d give to anybody running a pizzeria or hoping to break into the industry. 

(Caliente Pizza & Draft House)

Don’t Do This When Creating Menu Prices

One mistake Bogacz often sees operators make is trying to copy or beat a competitor’s prices. You don’t know how that person arrived at those prices, Bogacz points out, or if those prices are even working for them. So why would you base your own menu prices off of somebody else’s? 

“You need to know what it costs you to make your pizza,” Bogacz said. “If you price it off of what your neighbors are doing, you may not know that the other guy’s in debt. Maybe he owes somebody a couple hundred thousand dollars because he hasn’t done his own math right. He may be a week away from going out of business. So you see a $10 one-topping pizza and you think that’s how much you should charge. But what if it’s not enough to be able to operate your business?” 

Good Pizza Isn’t Unique. Find Other Differentiators. 

Bogacz purchased Caliente Pizza & Draft House—formerly known as Caliente Pizza & Bar—in 2012. He went to work developing a pizza recipe that he felt good about. He based everything on taste tests and settled on Grandé cheese and Stanilaus tomatoes. He admits that he didn’t know much about those brands at the time but came to understand they were industry standards. All he knew was that those ingredients helped him make the best possible pizza he could. 

But, in his own words, “Everyone opens up a pizza shop and says they have the best pizza around. I didn’t want to be that guy.” So Bogacz went to work on the other side of the business: the bar. It was, frankly, something that terrified him a bit. As of 2012, Bogacz hadn’t had a drink in over five years (a trend that’s continued—he’s been sober for the past 18 years). Bogacz didn’t know the first thing about beer, but he knew the beverage program could be a key differentiator for his pizzeria. He began spending much of his free time trying to figure out which microbrews would help draw in new customers. 

“Rather than going home and watching Sportscenter every night, I started researching breweries,” Bogacz said. “I learned their websites, learned everything about them, anything related to craft beer that I could find.” 

One of the easier tweaks Bogacz made was something he learned from Jon Taffer of Bar Rescue. “Sometimes he’ll switch a whole name [of a bar], but sometimes he just switches the second part,” Bogacz said. “I felt like we had a good name, but I switched it from Caliente Pizza & Bar to Caliente Pizza & Draft House because I felt like that sounded a bit more upscale.” 

Other things Bogacz did took considerably more effort. For example, he began noticing there were “destination” beers that he couldn’t get from his supplier. Never satisfied with being told something can’t happen, Bogacz went so far as to take trips across Pennsylvania to Philadelphia—an estimated 10-hour round trip—and load up a rented Suburban with hard-to-get beer to sell at his restaurant. (It should be noted that Bogacz consulted a lawyer to ensure he was following all the requisite liquor laws in order to pull this off). 

It helped that Bogacz nailed the timing of his dedication to craft beer. As microbrews steadily gained momentum, Caliente Pizza & Draft House had already established itself as a beer drinker’s destination. It became an edge his pizzeria had over competitors—and a lucrative one at that. 

Bogacz and his wife, Angie, are proud sponsors of Pittsburgh Penguins hockey. (Caliente Pizza & Draft House)

Seek Out Advice From Those Who Have Already Done It

One of the unique things about the pizza industry is that, sure, it’s competitive, but it’s also a collaborative environment, Bogacz says. Over the years, he has not been afraid to consult other pizzeria operators, and vice versa. 

“That’s one of the most common mistakes I see other operators making: not asking other operators what they’re doing to be successful,” Bogacz said. “I don’t know if it’s just getting caught up in your ego, or if you think your competitor isn’t going to want to give you an answer. No matter what you want to do at your pizza business, somebody else has already done it. Why not go ask them how they do it? You’d be surprised how open people are when you ask. Then you can go and make that your own.” 

Celebrate The Little Victories

Bogacz has opened seven Caliente Pizza & Draft House locations, and he will soon open an eighth—and that’s in addition to the several stands Caliente has at local stadiums and arenas. He and his team members are heavily involved in the World Pizza Champions, and they have taken home countless awards. But for somebody so accomplished, Bogacz strongly believes it’s important to celebrate even the smallest of victories. 

“So many things in this industry beat you up,” Bogacz said. “And if you don’t take time to celebrate little wins—along with the big wins—it can get exhausting.”

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