Inflation is wreaking havoc, and a recession is knocking on the doorstep. To survive, we all need to double down on the connection with the customer. In 2009, Tony opened in the heart of San Francisco with many people saying “Little Italy in SF is dead, stick to the suburbs.” Instead, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana destroyed all preconceived notions of what a pizzeria could be.
The reason there’s still a line today is not because of only good pizza. He would do well living off good pizza. It obliterates sales because the store is living, breathing and ever evolving. The relentless R&D and “Respect for the Craft” never stops with Tony. After my first visit to Tony’s, shortly after it opened, I told him: “This is the restaurant I know you’ve had in your head for the past 20 years. This is a pizza restaurant for pizza makers.”
Seeing a menu with that many styles of perfectly executed pizza left me in awe. The overwhelming thought I had was, “This is going to change everything.” And it did. Especially for me, because I now knew how much more business one store could do and do well. That trip to SF showed that it doesn’t matter how many seats you have or how small your kitchen is. Any brand can connect deeply to its customers through hustle, acumen and constant reinvention. People go to Tony for his school, and many hope to leave there knowing how to make Tony’s Pizza. The truth is you can’t do what he does. But you can take inspiration to do what you do in that vein of hustle, acumen and constant reinvention. That’s how to survive the upcoming recession and current inflation.
Acumen means you’ve tried out everything, KNOW why your menu items work and fixed what doesn’t. You’ve tried it dozens (if not hundreds) of times, without ego, to perfect it. All done with respect for the palate of your audience.
Hustle means that you not only work smarter but also harder, both simultaneously. I’ve seen Tony work until 3 a.m., turn around and be back at it by 6:30 a.m. making dough. All this well after you could classify him as having “made it.” That doesn’t need to be a daily occurrence for you, but it certainly should be within your wheelhouse. You must be willing to sacrifice if you want to thrive this year and not die or wither as a business next year.
And then lastly, reinvention. For Tony, it’s new styles of pizza, books, schools and everything in between to continue the connection. The name reinvention sounds like not being yourself. No, it means you find new ways to keep things exciting, so you never grow stale. So, your customer base is invigorated to come back, no matter what. When a pizza can FIX your customer’s day, like a perfect song on the radio on a long drive home, it’s recession-proof.
Be like Tony and double down on your hustle, acumen, and ability to reinvent — and you will survive this and any crisis before you. Andolini’s is where we are because I’ve followed his lead but did it my way. If he’s the Michael Jordan of pizza, I’m hoping to be Steve Kerr at best. So, on behalf of my employees, my family, and the entire pizza community: Thank You, Tony Gemignani, for everything you’ve done for and sacrificed to this industry.
It’s never been done before, and it will never be done again.