It's a mess!
Traffic is backed up on Main Street. Police officers are busily working to keep traffic moving. Neighboring businesses are complaining that their parking lots are filled; yet their stores have no customers. The commotion at 5151 Main Street is no accident, it's the long awaited opening of La Nova's second store and Buffalo, New York, is celebrating. Sales for the first few weeks of May 2001 were incredible, even by La Nova standards, PMQ had to come back and revisit the Todaro family to follow up on the original story we did three years earlier. When America's busiest pizzeria opens a store as popular as the original you have to ask, " How did they do it?"
After spending another memorable four days in Buffalo doing this second La Nova story, I can tell you that there have been quite a few changes. The interior of the old store got a facelift. The wing side of the business has doubled and Carla Todaro became Mrs. Sam Pantano. Much has changed in the way things are, but nothing has changed in the way the Todaro's manage their business. The success formula is still the same: product first, operations second and then when you have something worth telling people about, market like mad. And they have their special definition of marketing given their unique history and status in the Buffalo pizza market.
In the fall of 1998, we did our original story about La Nova. If you'd like to reread the story for background information, you'll find it online by going to www.pmq.com and clicking the "Previous Issues" picture and clicking the fall 1998 cover or go straight there at www.pmq.com/lanova_pizza_before.shtml.
Now that there are two locations with monster sales, it takes more than managers Jimmy "D" at the new location on Main Street (Amherst) and Vinny D'Amico at their original store on West Ferry Street. It takes more than Kuzara Brothers, Mike, T and Joe; they've been helping out for more than 20 years. ThereÕs their floating manager, Santo Falsone. Working everyday are the five members of the Todaro family: Cookie, Carla and the Joes. Yes, there are actually three Joe Todaro's. Papa Joe is 78 and is the one most in charge of the product and recipes. Big Joe, 56 years old, is most responsible for a quality product out the door as he cheerleads and continuously trains the crew. Joey, 33 is most in charge of marketing and of course the wing side of the business. To ensure the family business continues in perpetuity, meet Joey's first son who just turned 7. His name? You guessed it. No doubt, you'll be reading about him in the future. More fourth generation superstars are on the way.
All the Todaro's get involved in all activities on any given day, but the focus in always on the pizza. "Watch the pie," says Joe, "and the rest will take care of itself." Well, that's almost true. But it's really what he does while he has that thought planted in his brain that makes the difference.
The Power of Caring
It's not just a philosophy poster. Their business and their personal reputations are on the line everyday. They really care that every pizza is perfect, they really care that every customer is happy. They care so much they will do whatever it takes to do a quality job. Joe Todaro is probably the most visible example of the missionary zeal that is a Todaro management trademark. Watch how in the following illustration of his management style how his caring for quality is taught to his crew as he constantly recruits converts to the La Nova values of quality and perfection.
Joe's management skills are as strong as any manager I've ever seen in action. He is a natural. He can be as serious and as stern as the teacher who never let you get away with anything when he needs to be. At other times he will tease like an older brother, laugh with you like a dear friend, unconsciously dispense hugs, winks and smiles like your own dear old dad. The results are spectacular. A hard working focused crew that knows what they are doing.
As he walks through the crowd of employees, he touches or slaps the backs of nearly everyone in his way. He fires a comment acknowledging them and making each one smile. He electrifies the crew charging them up for the eminent dinner rush. He yells a "welcome back" to an employee on the other side of the store forcing the attention of the everyone on the singled out and slightly embarrassed driver. The employee lights up while others work even more intently not wanting to be the next to draw his attention.
Joe makes his way through the crowd like a respected politician slowly making it to the ovens where he kids with the employees, and then he uses the attention he's gathered to make a point. He shifts a pizza reminding the group about oven tending basics. He pokes down a bubble, "What's a matter with you?" he shouts to the oven tender. "Why did you let this bubble get on the pizza, here let's fix it." He pokes down the bubble and asks for three pepperonis to fix the hole. "There, don't let that happen again." He smiles at the tender, laughs, gives him a poke and moves on to an employee named Salvatore. "Hey, it's so great you came in today. We love you." Out of the corner of his eye, he spots a problem across the room. An employee forgets to sprinkle Parmesan cheese on the sauced pizza. He appears very upset at what he views as an insult to a customer. He yells out toÊthe employee and store manager the problem that he spotted. He turns to the employee and says, "Do that again and you're fired." Before the employee has a chance to fully register the comment, he produces a hearty and contagious laugh and hugs the employee. The point is well taken; I really care about this pizza and so should you!
Joe is able to create excitement and urgency in his crew and keep them trained with his nudges and comments, yet he leaves them with a level of acknowledgement and attention that makes them feel like part of a real family. At La Nova that is not an empty slogan, people really do feel that way.
"That's what we are here," says Joe. "This is our family. These are good kids we have here and we appreciate each one of 'em. Without them, where would we be? We don't ever use coupons. When our customer pays top dollar for a pie, we have to give them what they paid for- a quality pie. And if we want to keep and attract employees that can give us the level of service we need to produce that quality, we have to make La Novas a fun place to work. A place where people can come and feel comfortable and be part of something they can be proud of."
La Nova was started by Papa Joe back in 1957 and for the most part ran only one store until 2001 when the Todaros opened the second location. So, with all of the success of the first store and the second location looking to perform equally as well, why has La Nova not expanded to more locations or franchised the concept? "That's a question we hear a lot", says Joey. "Buffalo is home and our focus right now is to satisfy our existing pizza customers who have been very good to us for many years. Instead of opening more pizza stores, we've really ended up using our knowledge of pizza and wings to make our La Nova Wings business better. Owning and operating the pizza stores has been invaluable to us in competing in the wing business. Having these two stores in the birthplace of the chicken wing, gives us the most knowledgeable group of wing taste testers in the world. And that's allowed us to test new ideas and products and share them with our La Nova Wing customers."
While Joey doesn't like to talk about what all they do to serve the community, he does say that they contribute to several local charities and work with many local youth groups like little league teams. So how do you operate the busiest pizzeria in America? It's no easy task. It takes over 100 employees at the original location and the newest store employs over 60. That doesn't mean the Todaros have time to sit around and let the shops run themselves. "Every member of the family is in here seven days a week," Joey says. They work side by side with the employees and take the time to meet and greet as many customers as possible. Creating a sense of family with the employees makes them feel like a part of the business, which also makes them take pride in the food they are serving up to customers. Creating a sense of family with customers lets them know La Nova appreciates their business and keep them coming back.
When we first visited the Todaros in the Fall 1998 issue, the article ended by saying that any pizza operator was welcome to drop by and get a tour of La Novas. Since then, they have simply had to stop giving tours. Pizza operators from all over the world were showing up to take a look. Now that the store is running like a top, here are some specific ways the Todaros are building sales. Let's take a look at some of the marketing strategies you missed in the first story.
CHECK OUT THESE LINKS:
1. BE PREPARED – Have enough dough and be sure your prep work is done.
2. WORK SIDE BY SIDE THE CREW – Keeping them pumped and focused.
3. TURN UP THE MUSIC – Good rush music is upbeat or R&B. Don't forget Lovie Prima, Frank Sinatra & Dean Martin. That's how you keep sales going.