Jack Bennett and Ken Gillespie, with help from general manager Suzanne Brown, have been operating Slyce Indian Rocks Beach (Slyce IRB) since June 2011 and recently opened a second location, Slyce Madeira Beach (Slyce Mad Beach), last February. Both pizzerias are located on the west coast of Florida, near Clearwater. PMQ sat down with Slyce digital manager Christopher Derry, who maintains the company website and manages social media and creative development, to find out how Slyce competes so successfully in the Florida pizza market.
PMQ: How would you describe Slyce?
Derry: Slyce is a contemporary, family-friendly restaurant featuring artisan pizzas, unique appetizers and amazing salads alongside seasonal craft beers, an extensive wine list and handcrafted cocktails. We showcase live music and offer indoor and outdoor dining at both locations. Slyce Mad Beach is a waterfront property with beautiful views of the Intracoastal Waterway and easy access for guests arriving by boat. Slyce IRB is directly across the street from the stunning waters of the Gulf of Mexico, offering guests the opportunity to transition from beach to stone-baked pizza in about a minute.
Slyce occasionally offers free pizza coupons as a method of getting customers through the door.
PMQ: What has been your most successful promotion?
Derry: We’re not big on promotions in the traditional sense. We run ads in the local visitor guides, and we have relationships with several local hotel properties. But we primarily rely on conversational communications with our community through our social media profiles. We have a ton of incredibly loyal locals, and we also serve many out-of-towners visiting the area. Many visitors to our area return for annual vacations, and we see them year after year.
PMQ: How often do you feature live music?
Derry: Both locations feature live music seven days a week, including two music sessions (two different musicians/groups) on Saturdays and Sundays beginning at 1 p.m. and lasting until 10 p.m.
PMQ: Being on the coast, do you offer any seafood pizzas?
Derry: When in season, Slyce offers a Blackened Grouper pizza, featuring fresh, locally caught grouper, red onions, spinach and tomatoes. Those who enjoy something unique and different rave about this pizza when it’s available. In addition to being an amazing pie, it allows us to create something that features an ingredient truly synonymous with Florida’s Gulf Coast.
PMQ: What is Food Pantry Monday?
Derry: The first Monday of every month is designated Food Pantry Monday, and we donate 10% of our day’s total sales to our local Beach Community Food Pantry. They give so much to those in need, and as a small local food bank in Indian Rocks Beach, they need all of the community support they can get.
PMQ: How do you utilize your Slyce mobile pizza kitchen?
Derry: With our mobile pizza kitchen, a fully functioning pizza kitchen on wheels, we take the flavors of Slyce to the community. We use the kitchen at local food festivals such as Taste of IRB, and also occasionally as an auxiliary kitchen on our own property when we have large events. The Slyce mobile pizza kitchen is also available to those who wish to have us cater their private gatherings.
PMQ: Tell us about Slyce’s Sitton Supreme initiative.
Derry: When we learned of the passing of Matthew Sitton, a Largo, Florida, resident and Army Ranger who was killed on August 2, 2012, while serving in Afghanistan, we wanted to use Slyce as a rallying point for the community. As proud supporters of our nation’s military families, we wanted a way to come together in support of Matt’s surviving spouse, Sarah, and Brodey, their 9-month-old son. Being the pizza fanatics that we are, we chose to create a pizza in honor of our fallen hero. For every Sitton Supreme sold, we donate $2 to the Brodey Sitton Fund, and we will continue to do so until Brodey turns 18.
Slyce owners take the "bar" part of their name seriously, offering weekly events such as Wine Wednesdays and Thursday Ladies Nights in addition to a daily Happy Hour.
PMQ: What other community programs have you been involved in?
Derry: Too many to list, but a few that come to mind include a fundraising event supporting Steve Chamberland's 50 Legs, which helps amputees obtain the care and prosthetics that they need. We also support the 9/11 World Trade Center Memorial Fundraiser, benefiting our local fire rescue; an annual charity golf tournament raising funds for a local girl with leukemia; and various area school events.
PMQ: In addition to free cheese slices for kids under 12 on Tuesdays, happy hour pricing, and Wednesday wine specials, you also have a Sunday Brunch menu. Tell us about that.
Derry: Sunday Brunch is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Sunday at Slyce IRB. We feature unique breakfast pizzas: bacon, egg and cheese; tomato, spinach, onion and goat cheese; ham, egg and cheese; sausage, ham, bacon, egg and cheese; and a create-your-own breakfast pizza. We also offer delicious Belgian waffles with fresh seasonal fruit, whipped cream and maple syrup, and another unique item, our famous garlic knots topped with Southern-style sausage gravy.
PMQ: You offer a virtual tour of the pizzeria on the website; what are those small screens on the wall?
Derry: Our “media wall” of small screens features photos of our guests, a.k.a. “Slyce Nation,” enjoying themselves at Slyce. We also use these to display food photos and promo creatives.
PMQ: What’s your advice to operators who are trying to reach more customers in their area?
Derry: Focus on your product and train the heck out of your staff to provide an experience that far exceeds expectations. A clever promotion may get a customer in the door once, but it’s the food, service and experience you provide that keeps them coming back. And when they come back, they bring friends, they bring family visiting from out of town, and they will ultimately become your best source of new customers.
PMQ: What are your feelings about customer feedback?
Derry: While we’re certainly proud of the overwhelmingly positive reviews we consistently receive, we know we’re not perfect. This is a human-based business, and mistakes do occasionally get made. Sometimes customers leave dissatisfied. When we receive a bad review, we make it a priority to personally follow up with that individual so we understand precisely what issue caused him to be dissatisfied. We make it a point to take ownership of the problem and to use feedback to learn how we may improve every experience. It’s always nice to hear praise, but it’s often the critical feedback that offers the best opportunity to continue to grow and improve. And the truth is that most people really appreciate the follow-up when there was a problem and our efforts to make things right. It’s important they know their voices are being heard and their feedback taken to heart. Be real, be genuine and be humble.