I can’t shake the feeling that we’re about to experience a tidal wave of new pizzerias only to see most of them close their doors within a few short months.
Pandemic lockdowns resulted in millions of people learning how to work with flour, yeast and sourdough starters — so it’s inevitable that some of them will make the leap into pizzeria ownership. The floor at Pizza Expo was full of these folks, feverishly taking notes about ingredients and equipment in preparation for their next big step. These pandemic pizzaiolos are already making incredible pizza at home, so they see going pro as the next logical step. They’ll spare no expense in sourcing the best ingredients and equipment. Their pizza will be absolutely phenomenal, but I worry that some new operators won’t be able to reconcile their passion for pizza making against the realities of restaurant ownership.
With the entire restaurant industry experiencing a labor shortage, I wonder how new pizzerias will find enough staff to operate. I get messages every week from owners looking for pizza makers. If everyone who got religious about pizza making over the past two years opens their own shop they’ll be in a real pickle; too many conductors with no orchestra.
Then there’s the problem of shifting from the hero mentality to a service mentality. By that I mean that making pizza at home or at pop-ups is unexpected and therefore often exceeds expectations. You’re a hero when you make great pizza for your neighbors, but you’re a pizza maker when you do the same for customers. At home, you can put as much time and attention into every pie as you’d like … but that’s much harder to do under the weight of hungry customers and stacked tickets. The challenge of grafting a service procedure onto a craft mentality will overwhelm some new operators.
If pandemic pizzaiolos transform into professionals en masse, I hope they team up with business partners who can support their goals while minding the bottom line. The nightmare scenario is that pizza makers will launch their businesses only to forget that someone needs to do the books, check inventory and manage the staff. I’ve seen some crowdfunding projects list expenses for a few pieces of necessary equipment but lay out no clear plan for how they’ll cover rent and labor when winter comes. It makes me wonder whether they’re thinking about anything beyond opening day.
I actually think that a wave of new pizzerias founded by pandemic pizzaiolos will be fantastic for the industry. First of all, the pizza’s going to be incredible. These aren’t people who borrowed dough recipes from their cousins, they studied and developed their processes from the ground up. Secondly, lots of these new pizzerias will be founded on principles that aim to freshen up a rusty restaurant industry, such as more equitable hours and pay. Finally, the coming wave of pizzerias will be more collaborative and enthusiastic than anything we’ve seen before thanks to the vocal leadership of the industry’s top operators. Pandemic pizzaiolos pay attention to everything you post on social media, and they’ll base their businesses on it.
SCOTT WIENER is the founder of Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City and SliceOutHunger.org Instagram: @scottspizzatours