Dig Into Your History
What makes your pizzeria different from the other 75,114 in the U.S.? You’re probably not the only “Home of the Buffalo Chicken Pizza” and you’re certainly not the sole “Best In Town.” Everybody’s always looking for ways to boost their pizzeria above the competition, and there’s a fantastic opportunity right under your nose. As a small business owner, you have a unique asset in your own personal story. Hopefully that’s already part of your brand, so I’m asking you to go deeper. I’m suggesting you dig into your family history.
There’s a pizzeria I love in Brooklyn called Luigi’s Pizza. As you can imagine, there’s more than one Luigi’s Pizza in Brooklyn, but this one really stands out. As you wait for your pie, owner Giovanni Lanza will tell you about how his parents worked day and night to start the pizzeria. He’ll show you photos, articles and, if he really likes you, he’ll even bust out his parents’ wedding album with black and white photos from the ceremony in Italy. That’s more than you’d ever get from the “Established 1972” sign on the door. Sharing his story forms a connection with the customer that makes them feel like they’re not just buying a pizza from a local shop, they’re supporting a local family.
Memories and family stories are great, but I get even more excited when I see old ads and photos. Just last week I checked out a pizzeria in Borough Park, Brooklyn. The place was totally sterile and boring, but a blown-up image of an old ad for a long-gone pizzeria in the same neighborhood caught my eye. I love the connection to the past!
Where do you even find old images and documents? It’s much easier than you’d think. Start by poking around online newspaper archives like Newspapers.com or your own local paper if they have a digitized backlog. By searching your pizzeria’s name or even some general terms like “pizzeria” you’ll find that old ad you placed in a local paper in 1994. Search your grandmother’s name and maybe you’ll find an article about her from when she owned a bakery down the block.
Check out genealogy websites like Ancestry.com and you’ll find your grandfather’s WWII draft card, old marriage records and photos. Talk to your local library or historical society. Maybe they have photos of your block before your pizzeria ever existed. There’s a trend among restaurants in NYC posting old tax photos taken by the city in 1940. I love seeing what business predated yours, even if it wasn’t a pizzeria. It instills a connection to the community.
Even more importantly, learn from them. There are nuggets of information on these old records that might completely change your understanding of your own pizzeria. We’ve found evidence that some pizzerias in New York City are actually older than their signage claims! Previously unknown links between pizzerias came to light and now there’s an even more interesting story than previously thought.
Customers like me are tired of the ubiquitous photos of Frank Sinatra and the cast of The Sopranos. We’re ready to see your past, to learn where you came from. It’s guaranteed to set you apart from the competition.
SCOTT WIENER is the founder of Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City and SliceOutHunger.org Instagram: @scottspizzatours