Marketing Marvels: Pizzi Café carries out 100-plus marketing strategies every year.


After 80 years as a Conneaut, Ohio, favorite, Pizzi Café ( could probably get by on word-of-mouth alone. But owner Patrick Griswold has never been satisfied with the status quo, which is why he runs the historic pizzeria like a well-oiled marketing machine. Whether it’s personalized direct mail campaigns, rewards for customer referrals, or free dinners for school district employees, Pizzi Café implements more than 100 marketing strategies each year, and Griswold shares some of the best with us here:


PMQ: Tell us about the history of Pizzi Café.  

Patrick Griswold: Pizzi Cafe was founded by Italian immigrants Tony and Mary Pizzi in 1934. Round pizza was unknown in those days in the region, and by mistake Tony and Mary only had round pie (as in apple pie) baking pans to use when they brought their family’s square pizza recipe to Ohio. We are one of the 25 oldest pizzerias in the United States. The history/story includes our cozy brick building and, obviously, our 80-year-old recipe that uses the finest and freshest ingredients—still the same after 80 years—plus the raised sides of our crust, similar to a dessert pie.


PMQ: Who is your average customer?  

Griswold: We are not the normal neighborhood pizza place. We are somewhat of a destination and draw our clients from up to an hour away. Our clients prefer a premium product, outstanding but unrushed service, and a warm and friendly atmosphere.


PMQ: What are the top three ways you market to new customers?  

Griswold: Personalized direct mail (not menu drops!), current customer referral programs and social media. The first letter we send to new leads is eight—that's right, eight—pages long. If they don’t respond, we will then send two follow-up pieces with the same $20 discount offer.


PMQ: You mentioned “current customer referral programs.” Do you have an actual program, or are you referring to word-of-mouth?

Griswold: Our recent referral contest generated more than 100 new customers. We inserted a flier, which offers the referring customer a chance to win a $500 gift card and $20 off to those referred, into our monthly newsletter that’s mailed to every customer.


PMQ: What are the top three ways you market to existing customers? 

Griswold: 1) Within a week of their first visit, new customers are shipped a Pizzi Café coffee mug with a handwritten note from me and my wife, thanking them for choosing our restaurant. The mug contains a refrigerator magnet, Hershey Kisses and tea bags. One customer noted that he has purchased several automobiles from one car dealer and never received such an acknowledgment of appreciation for his business. Imagine how many people he has told about our coffee mug! 2) We send customers a monthly newsletter as well as birthday and anniversary postcards. 3) We practice “four-walls marketing” in our store.


PMQ: What kind of returns do you see with direct mail that you send to prospective customers, and how do you track it?

Griswold: We record how many pieces of direct mail we send, how many were returned, and the total spent compared to the cards returned. For instance, we mailed out an offer for Pizzi Cafe’s 80th birthday this past summer. The first mailing was 1,212 postcards, which cost us $415. Of that, 164 cards were redeemed (13.5%), and the total revenue was $6,588. So for every $1 we spent, $16 came back. Pretty good ROI!

Our recent referral contest generated more than 100 new customers.
—Patrick Griswold, Pizzi Cafe


PMQ: What are a few examples of your four-walls marketing?

Griswold: We advertise our catering, since someone always has a party, event or other occasion to provide food for. Also, we sell gift cards, apparel and coffee mugs, and we even ship frozen pizza to our customers’ family members who no longer live in the area. These items are always promoted inside our restaurant.


PMQ: How do you collect names and addresses for your loyalty program and direct mail?

Griswold: We purchase lists in the neighborhoods of our best customers and send them our three-step mail campaign with a strong offer. When they come in with the unique coupon, we know they are new, and our servers introduce them to our VIP Club and sign them up. We have preprinted forms for them to complete while waiting for their food or at the end of their meal. We also drive traffic to our website and Facebook page, where they can sign up themselves and receive an immediate strong offer by email. Our average customer spends about $780 a year with us. For every list of 1,000 leads we send the three-step campaign to, we spend approximately $2,250 and get 45 new customers, worth $35,000 per year. Who can argue with that result?

Even the parking lot at Pizzi Cafe is a marketing zone. Griswold has created a number of humorous and self-promotional parking signs for his customers' amusement and to grab the attention of passersby. 


PMQ: How have you overcome marketing challenges over the years?

Griswold: By automating things as much as possible and being disciplined with regard to getting things done. We now have a monthly checklist and budget the time to get it done. We implement well over 100 marketing strategies every year.


PMQ: How do you stay involved with your community?

Griswold: We are big supporters of the schools and hand out pizza certificates every day to “good kids.” We also send all of the school district employees (four districts) a free dinner certificate (along with a nice letter) at the beginning of the school year, thanking them for what they do.


PMQ: How does your loyalty program work?

Griswold: We use Sales Builder from Granbury Restaurant Solutions, which offers completely automated email, point tracking, rewards, follow up, SMS, print and more.


PMQ: Do you offer delivery and/or online ordering? 

Griswold: We have had online ordering for years and have just started delivery; after 80 years, we thought it was time!


When customers aren't enjoying the pizzas (made with peasant dough) at Pizzi Cafe, they're entertaining themselves with origami demonstrations.

PMQ: Can you share a few of your best tips for those who are struggling with marketing their pizzeria?

Griswold: If you do not have a customer database, start building one immediately! If you are spending money on traditional advertising, stop at once and first focus only on communicating with the customers you already have. If you get the customers you currently have to come in just one more time per month, it will increase your business 30% to 50%. 

While that may sound farfetched, it’s the truth. Also, while social media is important and here to stay, it should be just a part of your overall marketing plan. By a big margin, we get much more return on investment using personalized direct mail than any other type of marketing. Think of your business having a volume control for sales. As bad as you may think things are, you can probably “crank it up” much, much higher than you ever thought possible. 

Liz Barrett is PMQ’s editor at large and author of Pizza: A Slice of American History.