How to make your pizzeria perfectly imperfect
As a child, I lived in Okinawa on a Marine Corps base. I was young, but I vividly remember living there and all the amazing culture and people I came into contact with. At one time, a local woman who was working for my Lt. Col father saw my long ear lobes and said I was going to be lucky in life because they were like Buddha. Lobe size had not entered my social awareness yet, so I got very self-conscious (which was a new feeling for me.) She then told me, “It’s okay, it’s perfect Wabi-Sabi.” I didn’t know what that meant. My Dad told me later it meant that it was ok to be different.
Turns out Wabi-Sabi essentially means perfectly imperfect, in the sense that if everything was completely uniform, it wouldn’t be interesting. I believe strength as an independent pizzeria operator comes from Wabi-Sabi. My bar that we built for our second Andolini’s location in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is not the most pristine bar in America. Far from it. There is no up lighting or glass shelves catching the eye for enhanced product sales. However, we sell the hell out of booze at that bar and it was named by The Chive as the best bar in Oklahoma. So maybe the whole ear lobe luck thing is true. We have a damn good bar; it is not the best bar in Oklahoma, visit sometime and find out yourself, but I will happily take the accolade. I believe we won that award because you can tell that regular nonprofessionals built the bar and that gives it character.
Pizza should have wabi-sabi. Sure, all of your pizzas should have the same amount of toppings and be uniform in most aspects, but slightly different char and a little bit of a larger crust on one side to the other gives it the feel of authenticity that people are so desperate to be a part of. This is Wabi-Sabi and it translates into monetary benefit!
If you are reading this article and own a pizzeria, odds are you don’t own a cookie cutter restaurant — and that’s a good thing. The world doesn’t need any more of them. What the world, and more importantly your community, needs and wants is to learn and embrace the kooky different fun things about your restaurant. Your job is to make the customer more cognizant of them and also to maximize them to create profit for you and your staff.
If your staff behave like soldiers, great, but they shouldn’t look like them. They should have their own vibe and style with some things that are the same across them all, like parameters for a uniform and parameters on how to speak to a table. Inside those parameters staff should be able to decide their intro lines with their own stock quips that you approve of and wear any of your pizzeria’s shirts, not just the one you gave out last. Gone are the days of forcing staff to hide tattoos and piercings, for example. Now it’s about bringing their own interesting, different Wabi-Sabi personalities to their day-to-day operations to enhance your day-to-day sales.
It’s like perfectly imperfect jazz that avoids being polished to bring it to a new and unique light. Seek out the appreciable characteristics of your restaurant that you find different and interesting, and then maximize them.
Mike Bausch is the owner of Andolini’s Pizzeria in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is a frequent speaker at the International Pizza Expo family of tradeshows.