Wonder women

Taranto’s Pizza

Lewis Center, OH

Owner: Debbie Taranto Antoun

1. How did you start out in thepizza industry?

My brother started a pizzeria about20 years ago. I started working thereand absolutely fell in love with it. Thepeople I worked with, the customersand the great-quality food inspired meto go out on my own. My father and Iconsequently opened up a restaurant inLewis Center. I’ve been in the business12 wonderful years. We modernized ourpizzeria with new conveyor ovens andstarted making pizza!

2. What were you doing before youwent into the pizza business?

I attended The Ohio State Universityfor a degree in communications. I alsoworked as an insurance consultant foran insurance company.

3. Tell us about your pizzeria and whatmakes it unique.

My pizzeria has involved the entirefamily! At the beginning, my brotherDan got all the Tarantos together, andwe experimented with dough, sauces,meats, cheeses and other toppings.My mother worked hard on the doughrecipe. We came up with a distinctivehomemade sauce. We knew we hada high-quality pizza pie! We are alsovery active in the community, and weare family-oriented. My father stilldoes the ordering and inventory. Wehave cousins, my brother, and my sonworking in the kitchen.

4. What are your most popularmenu items?

Our pepperoni pizza with mushroomseems to be a fan favorite around here.We also sell a lot of stromboli, pasta,salads, and our awesome Italian subsandwiches. We have a full range ofmenu items.

5. What are the pros and cons of being awoman in the industry?

Sometimes it is harder to get loans ormake purchases, and it just affects overallbusiness transactions. Also, solicitorsselling items tend to try to take advantagebecause I’m a woman and think thatI’ll buy anything. Having children anda pizzeria is also a complicated jugglingact. One big pro that has helped me as awoman is my ability to be more sensitiveto the desires of my customers. I alsohave a great relationship with my employees.I feel that being a woman bringsa friendlier, easier feel to the pizzeria.

6. How do you promote your pizzeria?

We have a fabulous website wherepeople can order online. Taranto’s Pizzaalso stays current with new technology,including email that reaches more than2,000 customers in our database. Ouremail program focuses on current customers.We mail postcards every month,give out coupons, and insert menus inlocal mailings.

7. How are you involved inyour community?

I started the Orange Township BusinessAssociation. Taranto’s has networkedthrough this association since its beginning.I also started a yearly parade, whichis put on for the Fourth of July and hasbecome very successful. We are involvedin school events, helping those in needwith donation drives. We are on the boardof the Ohio Restaurant Association. I amalso running for Orange Township trustee.All of these take time, but the benefitsare worth it. You know your customers,and you impact the community.

Pizza by Elizabeths

Greenville, DE
Owner: Betsy Leroy

1. How did you start out in thepizza industry?

My friend (and future business partner)Betty Snyder was speaking theoreticallyabout what kind of business would dowell in our area of Delaware. Since weboth loved cooking, and had attendedsome cooking schools together, weshared recipes, and we both loved makingpizza for our families. We decided to“imagine” our perfect pizza restaurant,and the next thing I knew, we decided todo it! (My partner, Betty Snyder, left theoperations of the restaurant nine yearsago when her husband died suddenly.She now works for a family business.)

2. Tell us about your pizzeria and whatmakes it unique.

We opened in 1993 using only fresh,quality ingredients. We offer morethan 60 different toppings (all handmade),and suggest vintage wineswith pizzas. Also, all of our pizzas arenamed after famous (or infamous!)Elizabeths. We were featured lastyear in USA Today in the “50 bestpizzas in 50 states” article.

3. What are your most popularmenu items?

Our most popular pizza is still the BarrettBrowning, which has spicy tomatosauce and mozzarella cheese. After that,it’s the Davis, which has fire-roastedpeppers, blackened chicken, cheddarcheese, bacon, and a honey mustarddrizzle. We were just named by FoodNetwork Magazine as the best pizza inDelaware, and the pizza they are featuringis the Saint, a creamy Parmesan-andartichokeblend with lump crabmeat.

4. What are the pros and cons of being awoman in the pizza industry?

I don’t think there are really any cons.Most vendors treat you differentlybecause they don’t think you know whatyou’re doing at first, but that assumptionusually comes back to haunt them. Thepros are that it’s fun! I think one of theadvantages to being a woman is that weare very picky, aesthetically. We wantthe restaurant really clean and lookingperfect at all times, and we especiallymake sure that the food comes out lookingbeautiful. Women are generally morecompassionate, too, so we have hadmany employees longer than 15 years.We care about them as much as we doabout making money.

5. How do you promote your pizzeria?

We are on Facebook, have a monthlynewsletter, and do some local print ads.We still think, though, that our biggestadvertisement is word of mouth. I readevery email and comment card, andanswer many of them.

6. Are you involved in your community?

We try to give gift certificates to everyneedy cause there is. We donatedmore than $8,000 in gift certificatesalone last year! We also have specialneedskids who do job training heretwice a week, and we do a lot of charitableevents in the restaurant.

7. What advice do you have for otherwomen who are thinking of openinga pizzeria?

My advice is, always look at starting abusiness from a customer point of view.What would your ideal dining experiencebe? What could you do better thanother restaurants in your area? Then,if you decide to do it, never lower yourstandards. Treat your employees verywell, and they will do the sameto you.And always make money and have fun—You need to do both!

Joseph’s Pizza

Jacksonville andAtlantic Beach, FL
Owners: Susie Bateh,
Rose Bateh, Sandra Hanania,Sabrina Bateh Kuruvilla
Interview with Susie Bateh

1. How did you start out in thepizza industry?

I was born into it! My father, Joseph,moved from California to Florida andbought into pizza when I was about 5years old. He purchased Joseph’s Pizza,which had been established since 1956,and my father’s name just happened to beJoseph. I started working in the restaurantat a young age.

2. Tell us about your pizzeria and whatmakes it unique.

Almost everything is made fromscratch. The pizza crust and bread ismy father’s recipe from the ’50s. Oliveoil, high-gluten flour, sauces made fromgrinding tomatoes—everything is veryhigh-quality. My father also made a lineof dressings and sauces, which we selltoday. High quality and low food costare keys to our success.

3. What are your most popularmenu items?

Our special “everything” pizza: mushrooms,olives, green peppers, beef,anchovies, pepperoni, sausage, ham andonions. Our hand-rolled manicotti andhomemade lasagna are also huge sellers.The Chicken Marsala is very popular.We also do some vegan dishes, includingpizza, sandwiches and pasta.

4. How do you promote your pizzeria?

We promote through social networking—online ads, Twitter and Facebook—andwe have radio commercials.

5. How do you get involved inyour community?

We are involved with the community in alot of ways. We love animals and supportthe Jacksonville Humane Society. Weare involved with the No More HomelessPets organization. We do fundraisingevents where we prepare and sell foodfor local schools.

6. What are the pros and cons of being awoman in the pizza industry?

Sometimes it seems as though some mendon’t take women seriously in the industry.As far as a pro, I would say that I thinkwomen are better at managing staff andunderstanding their issues with empathybut being firm as a boss when needed. Ithink there is an emotional connection;we’re more sympathetic to the needs of thecustomers, staff and community.

7. Who is your main customer?

At our Jacksonville location, it is oldercrowds mixed in with different ages. Atour Atlantic Beach pizzeria, it is usuallyyounger college and high school students,as well as families. Tourists alsofrequent us here at the beach.

8. What advice do you have for otherwomen who are thinking of openinga pizzeria?

Work in a pizzeria for at least a year.Do everything in the business to seeif you like it. Develop a tight businessplan. Don’t have too much debt, andhave fun!

Pizzeria Lola

Minneapolis, MN
Owner: Ann Kim

1. How did you start out in thepizza industry?

I’ve always had a passion for cookingand dreamed about someday openinga restaurant of my own. I spent yearsdaydreaming about different concepts,and since I didn’t have professionalculinary experience, I knew I had to keepthings simple. I ultimately decided tofocus on one thing and do it better thananyone else. Our approach was simple:great pizza and great service in a funsetting. The inspiration behind the pizzeriacame from spending my formativepizza eating years attending college inNew York and my business partner’stime in New Haven, Connecticut—twocities known for outstanding pizza. Wecouldn’t find the kind of pizza we wantedto eat nearby, so we decided to create it.Once I had my focus, I researched andread several books on artisan bakingand experimented with dough formulas,flours and yeast. I received intensive,hands-on training, gaining certificationin American-, Neapolitan- and Sicilianstylepizzas. Out of all the styles, I fell inlove with cooking pizzas in a wood-firedoven, so I decided to create artisanqualitywood-fired pizzas.

2. What were you doing before youwent into the pizza business?

I was a freelance actor for about 10years, performing in various theatersin Minneapolis. Prior to the pizzeria, Iworked as the director of education andcommunity engagement at HennepinTheatre Trust in Minneapolis.

3. Tell us about your pizzeria and whatmakes it unique.

Everyone thought I was crazy to opena restaurant having zero experience inthe field. What I lacked in experience, Imade up for in chutzpah. I followed mygut instead of the rules in all elementsof the restaurant, including the menu,design and philosophy.The atmosphere of the restaurant reinforcesthe sophisticated casualness ofthe menu, with an open kitchen adding energy and vitality to the entire experience.The Le Panyol oven is one of only ahandful in the United States. The woodfiredoven is built from Terre Blancheclay that hails from Larnage, France. Ichose the oven for its exceptional qualityand superior thermal properties but alsofor its beauty.

4. What are your most popularmenu items?

We feature wood-fired pizza characterizedby thin, crispy, but chewy andslightly charred crusts—the product of alengthy fermentation process and expertoven management. We top our artisancrusts with artisan-quality ingredientsin combinations that are familiar, suchas tomato, basil and mozzarella, andunfamiliar, such as LaQuercia guanciale,organic free-range eggs and leeks.Our most unique pizza is called theLady ZaZa, which features housemadeKorean sausage and kimchi. I also createspecials that reflect the seasons. Thegrowing season is short in Minnesota, soI take full advantage of the farmers marketswhen I can. In addition to pizzas,we offer a handful of starters, includingour housemade meatballs, salads andseasonal roasted vegetables. We also offercraft beers and food-friendly wines tocomplete the experience.

5. What are the pros and cons of being awoman in the pizza industry?

It’s rare to find female restaurateurs,even more so in the pizza industry; it’sdefinitely a male-dominated field. I’malso an anomaly as a Korean-Americanwoman running the show as owner andchef. I actually find it more challengingto garner respect from peers because ofmy lack of experience vs. gender. Thehours are long and the work is intense; Idon’t get a break because I’m a woman.Sometimes I work over 80 hours perweek, but I’m living out my dream andenjoying every minute of it!

6. How do you get involved inyour community?

We’ve been open for only nine months,but we already feel a strong connectionto our community. We support localcharitable organizations by donatinggift cards from the pizzeria. Our futuregoal is to be even more hands-on and dothings like teach community kids how tomake wood-fired pizza.

7. Who is your main customer?

We are located in a residential area, sowe attract neighborhood locals and families.We also attract foodies and pizzaconnoisseurs from the surrounding TwinCities area, and even a handful of peoplefrom out of state and out of country.We attract young and old, families andcouples. That’s the beauty of pizza—everyone loves it.

8. What advice do you have forother women thinking of investingin a pizzeria?

Running a successful restaurant is notfor the faint of heart. It’s very hard work.It means being present and hands-on.When the dishwasher is sick, be preparedto roll up your sleeves and do thedishes yourself. Investing in a restaurantis more about investing time, passionand energy than it is about money. In theend, do what you love and do it well.

Mike Robinson is a freelance writer based inPoland, Ohio.