When Tom Monaghan took over a struggling pizzeria in Ypsilanti, Michigan, called DomiNick’s in 1960, one of the biggest changes he made (besides changing the name to Domino’s) was to slim down the menu. He reduced the number of pizza sizes he offered and slashed the sandwiches off the menu. Simplicity was his key to success. Pizzerias across the country live by the mantra of simplicity, but I’ve noticed a trend over the past few years that challenges it. I’m not talking about diner style menus offering everything under the sun, which is usually a recipe for waste, high food cost, low quality food, or all three. The trend I’m seeing is pizzerias offering a single non-pizza specialty item as a way to stir things up and attract fresh business.
Back in 2015, a little Brooklyn pizzeria called Emily made a splash when they introduced a dry aged burger topped with aged cheddar, caramelized onions and house-made “Emmy sauce.” That’s the only burger on the menu. There’s no burger list with options and fixin’s; that’s the burger. Emily is primarily a pizza restaurant, but this burger gave them access to a completely new identity. They scored fresh press coverage from media outlets that had already written about their pizza. Burger fanatics traveled to this tiny pizzeria just to try their burger. It was, and continues to be, a huge hit. Emily and their sister brand Emmy Squared now have over a dozen locations across the country and they all serve a signature burger alongside their Detroit-inspired pizza.
Pizza is easily my favorite food, but my No. 2 is ice cream. When I find a place that combines the two, I’m in heaven. That’s why I’m such a huge fan of Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty in Portland, OR. Their menu consists of a few small plates, about a dozen seasonal pizzas, and house-made ice cream. That’s it. Like their pizza, the ice cream at Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty rotates with the seasons. They only offer six flavors at a time. In the mind of owner Sarah Minnick, ice cream and pizza are equally important to the restaurant. That’s why she named it Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty; 50 percent about the pizza, 50 percent about the ice cream. If you come to the restaurant for one, you’ll likely stay for the other.
Back to the East Coast, we have to swing by two cosmically good slice shops that have both found success with sandwiches. L’industrie in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Mama’s Too in Manhattan’s Upper West Side both offer specialty sandwiches every Wednesday. These are slice shops, so they sell pizza to-go, and their only real seating comes courtesy of COVID-era parklets. Both pizzerias spend the week tinkering, then announce the Wednesday sandwich via an Instagram post. They are guaranteed to sell out. Someone who showed up Tuesday for a slice will be back Wednesday for the sandwich.
In the case of L’industrie and Mama’s Too, the limited time element is part of what makes Sandwich Wednesday special. They do it on Wednesday rather than on the weekend to boost an otherwise slow day. When Emily introduced their burger, they only made 25 of them per day. I remember calling the restaurant to find out how many were left as a means of tempering my expectations. The revolving flavor list at Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty gives a reason to keep coming back as the menu changes through the seasons.
Simplicity is extremely important for anyone who wants to maintain consistency, freshness and low food cost — but there’s still room for some excitement from a limited specialty item on your menu.