Randy's Wooster St. Pizza serves up hot deals and Hot Wheels

In Connecticut, the question is an easy one. Where did pizza originate? A) Italy? B) New York City? C) China? Or D) Pepe's on Wooster Street in New Haven?

The answer is D. Pepe's Pizza on Wooster Street in New Haven. Who's to say that local opinion is wrong? After all, this is the home town of Yale University. It doesn't matter here whether New York City celebrated the 100th birthday of pizza a few years ago or or whether Italy celebrates the 500th anniversary of Pizza. That's not really pizza anyway. Pizza is only that which tastes like it came from Pepe's or one of their many seedlings who carry on that special New Haven style. Although Randy traces his roots and pays homage to Pepe's as the originator of the New Haven Style of Pizza, he, as any pizziolo worth his own salt, believes his pizza is the best.

How Randy makes the perfect New Haven Style Pizza.

Randy has dedicated himself to preserving New Haven-style pizza the way it used to taste when he was a kid. If New Haven pizza isn't a well defined pizza choice outside of Connecticut, it will be one day if Randy has anything to say about it. He is passionate about pizza. "The pizza must be thin crust with a well done brick oven bake. It needs to be cooked long enough for the oils to separate and for the crust to become firm."

"All the flavors of pizza must be respected. There is a role for both cheese and sauce and that calls for balance."The more the better" is wrong when it comes to cheese. The New Haven taste needs a higher sauce to cheese ratio for the right taste," according to Randy.

"Since sauce is so important to the pizza, it really has to stand on it's own." Randy has developed the ultimate sauce according to his taste buds and highest authority. He concocts a sauce with a combination of Chilean sweet tomatoes and Italian tomatoes from the San Marzino Valley to get the right sweetness.

"When it comes to the cheese decision, we use a mozzarella made by a local cheese company, which used to supply Pepe's and a lot of their spinoffs. We still use them. (Calabro Cheese 203-469-1311) And I don't care what anybody says, we take the time to grate the cheese ourselves. It's worth it."Randy uses the old Blodgett 1000 series and plans on putting them in all his future stores. " I really like the bake they give, I think it's the tiles that give them their edge. They haven't made them since the 70's, but with so many operators converting to conveyor there are still plenty of them around. I can still pick them up for around $1000 per oven."

Of course the dough is made fresh daily. "We use a Con Agra winter/spring blend, with a medium high gluten, but the key to making the New Haven style is to use an unbleached and unbromated flour."

If you look at the inner workings of Randy's brain you will find that he is passionate about several things that have defined what Randy's Wooster Street Pizza has become. Randy has always had a fascination with cars. He knows how they work and he loves how they look. He collects cars and drives them. He can tear them apart, rebuild them, repair their bodies, paint them and clone them. Cars and Hot Wheels satisfy both the mechanic and the artist in him. Since he was a kid he has collected Hot Wheels and now has one of the most coveted collections in the country.

Randy's Pizzeria consists of 1 part Car Nut, 1 Part Hot Wheels Collector, 1 part artist and two parts pizza fanatic.

What happens when you bring all the things you love doing and make a business out of them? For Randy it means success, and his pizza stores and sprouting chain are the result.

What if you were to incorporate your other passions or interests into your pizza business? What kind of concept would you have?

PMQ Interview
Inside Randy's Brain.

PMQ: How do you want your customers to react when they come into your store?

RANDY: I want them to feel that they've entered a really cool place while at the same time getting the best pizza they've ever had. I want them to leave with a good taste in their mouth, a happy memory in their mind, and a reason to come back in their pocket (Free Hot Wheel gift). I want them to become addicted to the New Haven style of pizza, which I think is the best in the world.

PMQ: Why is your store designed the way it is? Why cars? Why kids? Why this food?

RANDY: Randy's Wooster Street Pizza is designed to satisfy the kid in me. I've made each of the stores just the way I'd want them to be if I were a customer looking for a cool place to go. I don't use focus groups or a culinary institute to help with the recipes. I know exactly what I want and I enjoy nothing more than bringing that vision of what I see into a concrete state for others to enjoy. The same is true about the food, I work on it till it produces the tastes that I feel in my tongue.

PMQ: What is the best promotion you've ever run?

RANDY: Oh that's an easy one. It's got to be when we gave a Corvette to the lucky customer who bought our one millionth pizza.

That promotion lasted almost the whole year of 2000. We made a calculation of where we thought we were in terms of our sales history and began counting every pizza starting on January 1, 2000. Finally we passed the 1 million mark on September 7, 2000. When we knew we were getting close we started to promote it heavily. We began using the radio in June and by the end of the summer the talk in town was about who was going to win the Corvette from Wooster Street Pizza. The day we went over, the place was packed, the press was there, and I delivered the pizza to the lucky winner. Actually, they were sitting down and we announced that the millionth pizza was on it's way out of the kitchen. I knew which table it was going to and I walked right by it, meandered around the store and came back making a quick turn, placed the pizza in front of the winner. It was a man with his son and they couldn't believe their luck. The place went nuts. It was well worth the cost of the 1976 restored Corvette. And besides that, I restored it myself. Our sales had to have been at least 15 percent higher just as a result of the extra business we had during the last three weeks.

PMQ: You have a lot of Mattel Hot Wheels memorabilia around the store and you use the Hot Wheels name in your marketing. Do you ever worry about Mattel showing up and complaining about your use of their product?

RANDY: If I ever did worry about that, I don't anymore. Word got out about me a few years ago and the Vice President of Marketing for Mattel actually came by the store to investigate. She identified herself after carefully examining the store. She told me that she had come out with the intention of filing a complaint about us, but instead told me that we had the best display of their merchandise she had ever seen. Since then Mattel has worked with us very closely and has entertained a number of future cooperative efforts. I think we see each other as future partners of some kind.

PMQ: What's the best money-maker on your menu?

RANDY: Wicked Wooster Sticks! We sell lots of them, which is our signature fried bread stick. Another one is our 32 ounce refillable soda for $1.75. Hardly anyone actually ever goes back for the refill. It sounds like a great deal, but how many people can really drink more than a quart of soda during one sitting?

PMQ: How do your sales break down between delivery, sit down, and eat in? Do you mind talking profit?

RANDY: Well, we don't do any delivering. Our concept is focused on good food and atmosphere. I'll let my competition fill in the convenience niche. As far as eat in, that's 60 percent with 40 percent going to carry-out. Now that we are attracting investors and partners, I am used to showing my books to people so I don't mind saying that we run a very steady 12 to 15 percent bottom line. We run a generous 31 percent food cost and a 29 percent labor, which includes our corporate office salaries.

PMQ: Where do you see Randy's Wooster Street going? What part of the pizza market are you trying to fill in?

RANDY: Randy's Wooster Street Pizza is kid friendly with an atmosphere a step more sophisticated than Chuck E Cheese. It's adult friendly with California Pizza Kitchen style food. I think we are the ultimate family place with prices that parents don't mind paying. The concept has worked beautifully twice and since it sits right between two of the highest growing pizza concepts out there; Chuck E Cheese and California Pizza Kitchen, we plan on going into markets where higher income families dominate.

All of the things Randy has done well during his life are coming together in one enterprise. His love of cars, his love of graphic art, his love of collecting Hot Wheels and his love of food. The result is a unique dining experience that only Randy could pull off. It was his previous work with cars and body work that allowed him to make the molds for all the vehicles in his shop. Because of his interest and expertise in all of these areas he was able to construct his second store for under $300,000 dollars, that's everything. Oh he's also good with money.

Sales History

Randy has been proving his Hot Wheels/hot meals concept since 1990 when he opened his first unit with two partners. He ran his first store in Cromwell, CT, for seven years. Sales were $12,000 per week when he started and were $14,000 when he sold out to his partners. Wanting to take things to the next step he sold out and reopened a much larger location on his own. In March of 1997, he proudly opened his new location in Manchester at $ 25,000 per week and has been steady since then (PMQ's Marketing Phd Kirk Wakefield reports how size matters on page 24 of our Fall 2000 issue). Two years later Randy did it again in Southington, CT. Sales have been steady as a rock at $21,000 per week.

What's Next?

Randy has his eyes firmly set towards taking his two store chain to the next level. He's got the people ready and even the manuals written. The employees are very focused and genuinely look like they enjoy working there. Is it the way Randy treats his employees? Perhaps. He has gone to great pains to be sure everyone is recognized with clever incentives and routine employee evaluations. There is the annual review of each employee, incentives and bonuses, and informally everyone looks forward to getting the day off on Labor Day for the picnic at the boss's house. One thing obvious about Randy's operation is the quality of his crew. It really helps recruiting to say you work in the coolest place in town. PMQ

The Kids Happy Wheel

For just $2.99 you get 2 Dinky Pizzas (3"), french fries, cookie and a soda.

The Super Dog

A corn dog is disguised as the body of a race car with pickles for wheels.

Kids Pizza Pro Kits

Here's a box of goodies needed to make your own 8" pizza at home. Dough, sauce, cheese and instructions for $2.50

SALES BUILDING

Birthday Party Bus

Free Hot Wheels® to every customer, after 4 pm with every ticket on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Randy does all of his own design work, from the molding of the Corvette and painting of the Hot Wheels¨ wall to menus and marketing materials. He does everything in Adobe Printshop 6.0 and even laminates and creates his own football challenge cards and everthing you see here.

Food for Families Grownup Promotions Too

  • Monday Night Football Special
  • All the Pizza Wings and soda you can eat. Admission $10
  • TV is always on. Part sports bar.

The 4×4 special

The lunch special that really works: One slice, one salad, one soda for $4.44 and served to you during your busy lunch time within 4 minutes and 44 seconds or it's free. Stopwatches are located on tables for customer verification.