The pages of this magazine are always packed with creative ideas for running a better pizza business, but never before has doing so been so crucial. It’s no exaggeration to say that a business’s agility will spell the difference between survival and closure. In the past, the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” was an acceptable way to avoid change. At this moment, we know that staying the same just isn’t a viable option. We’re fortunate to be in pizza because other restaurant types are not doing so well. The closure of independent restaurants presents an opening for survivors to fill in the gaps. I’ve noticed loads of pizzerias tweaking their menus to serve their customers as a means of surviving the pandemic.
If you already have an audience of devoted customers, why not go beyond your standard menu to keep them engaged? Lombardi’s in Manhattan has rarely deviated from pizza, calzones, and salads since reopening in 1994 (after an 8-year closure at their first location down the block). With tourism gone and foot traffic in their SoHo neighborhood way down, they’re addressing the reality of the situation by adding Italian American specialties like chicken parmesan and pasta to the mix. This boosts check averages for both dine-in and DELCO business and it’s an entirely different meal than the pizza they already offer. Long known for only selling whole pies, they’ve even started selling grandma pizza by the slice. That’s not even a pizza they offer for dine-in, so there’s still some exclusivity in the slice option.
Some pizzerias see this time as an opportunity to add items they’ve always wanted to offer. Apizza Scholls in Portland, OR just added calzones to their lunch menu. Owner Brian Spangler has been thinking about it for years but finally found the time to make it happen now that his business has been forced to streamline. Now he’s starting to play with thin crust pizza, which he’ll also offer in limited quantities at specific times. Also in Portland, Scottie’s Pizza Parlor recently added a Caesar salad to the menu after years of customer requests. The week it was launched, Scottie’s saw higher salad sales than any week since they opened five years ago.
When Saverio’s on Long Island was forced to temporarily close, they took the opportunity to experiment with Detroit style pizza. Now in addition to their beloved Neapolitan pizza, they offer their own take on the Motor City squares — and it sells out every week!
Looking towards the coming winter, Michael Ayoub is adding hot soups to the menu at his Brooklyn restaurant Fornino. It’s seasonal and unlike the rest of his pizza-focused menu, so there’s an opportunity for some press attention. It’s also an item that travels well in the bicycle messenger world of NYC restaurant delivery.
Pizza Tree in Columbia, MO knew they’d have trouble surviving by sticking to their core so they added breakfast pizza and bagels to the menu. That opened up an additional day part for them with zero investment in new equipment, just a little (delicious) R&D.
The next year isn’t going to be easy and everyone isn’t going to make it to the other side. The ones who do are going to be stronger than ever, and their menus will be super-charged.
SCOTT WIENER is the founder of Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City and SliceOutHunger.org Instagram: @scottspizzatours