Continued — More firsthand accounts of how pizzeria owners and leadership have handled the COVID-19 Pandemic (Page 2)
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Pizza Zone — Spring Texas
We are one of the lucky ones. Thankfully, we had been in the carry-out/delivery business for 17 years prior to relocating to a bigger location 3 years ago, where we opened a brand new dining room along with our carry-out/delivery services. We closed our dining room to the public on March 14th, 3 days before the directives were made to close down dining rooms in our state. Thankfully, our business increased and we started seeing record sales due to all the restaurants and bars around us that had to close.
Since our roots were already in carry-out and delivery, there was no new training or nothing new to implement…..just doing what we had always done best. As time went on and people became more and more scared about the virus, we implemented “no contact delivery” and curbside pickup. This was a reassurance to the customers who didn’t feel comfortable in our shop to offer these services. Our governor still has an order in place that restaurants can only open with 50% capacity right now, but we still have kept our dining room closed down. We’d rather focus our efforts on the carry-outs and deliveries rather than having to use an extra person to keep up with all the current regulations required to having a dining room open. Someday when we feel the time is right again, we’ll open it again. In the meantime, we’re still kicking butt with the carry-out delivery business.
— Owner Debbie Gainor
Marion’s Piazza — (9 units) Dayton, Ohio
Roger Glass here, President of Marion’s Piazza, with nine locations in the greater Dayton and norther Cincinnati, Ohio areas, founded in 1965.
What a crazy year it’s been so far with all of the changes, regarding how we do business since COVID-19 hit the scene! Before the pandemic hit, 85 percent of our business was dine in ( our restaurants seat approximately 500 patrons each) and about 15 percent was carryout. We never offered delivery service until last September when we signed up with DoorDash, and believe me, as things have turned out, we are glad we did!
In March 2020, the state of Ohio ordered all Ohio restaurant dining rooms closed and imposed COVID-19 guidelines for employees and restaurants that were permitted to remain open with carryout and delivery. This meant that all employees were required to wear masks while working, daily health checks were performed by management, restaurants had new strict daily sanitation protocols, and employees were required to social distance as much as possible in the kitchen.
Thus, during the period our dining rooms were closed, something called “Curbside Pickup” was born, where “runners” bring your order out to your car in the parking lot! For the two months that our dining rooms were closed, curbside pickup and DoorDash delivery were the only two options for conducting business. In the first six months of this year our sales were down 11 percent. If you take the bar sales from 2019 that we lost during the time our dining rooms were closed our sales would have been down only $2,000 for the first six months of 2020.
With the knowledge that our dining rooms would be reopened at some point, we installed iWave Ion air purifiers that kill the COVID-19 virus in all restaurant air conditioners as an added protection for our employees and customers. In May 2020, Marion’s Piazza was allowed to reopen dining rooms with additional mandates from the state of Ohio. Approximately one half of the dining room capacity was required to be removed, reservations were now required, parties of more than 10 people were not allowed to make reservations and masks were required for all customers (unless they were eating).
To date, only six of our dining rooms have reopened due to staffing shortages. Potential employees hesitate to work due to the fear of becoming infected. But to our credit, during these challenging times, we’ve never had to lay off any employees. Even with dining rooms operating at half capacity, customers evidently are still leery of dining inside. As a result, our curbside pickup and delivery currently account for about 70 to 80 percent of our business.
I think until a vaccine is proven effective and readily available to the public nothing will return to the way it was before COVID-19. I hope that everyone makes it through this pandemic and I believe that it is fortunate we are all in the pizza business during these trying times. Admit it…who doesn’t like pizza?
— President Roger Glass
Stoney’s Sourdough Pizza Co. — Kokomo, Indiana
“If you can’t tell by our name, sourdough is our thing. Every pizza, strom, breadstick and everything in between is handmade with real sourdough that we make in-house. We even began selling our own organic sourdough bread after it occurred to us that we could “recycle” our leftover pizza dough into bread loaves.”
Being the father of 2 young children and having the ultimate responsibility to keep my family and staff (and self!) safe during a very uncertain time, I made the decision to temporarily close up my shop to sit back and see how this pandemic was going to play out. When we closed, which was March 20, there were not a lot of cases going around in our relatively small town of Kokomo, IN and there was a lot of uncertainty of how fast this virus spreads and how it would affect a food business if word got out that an employee tested positive. Would it be detrimental to your company if there were rumors that someone in your restaurant tested positive? Would people steer clear of your establishment to avoid COVID? With all the chaos and panic going on, it sure seemed so. That’s why my wife and I made the ultimate decision to close. Although it seemed like the takeout pizza business was booming (since people could not eat at dine-in restaurants), the profits were nowhere near as important than keeping my family and staff healthy, as well as doing our part to be part of the solution to this whole thing.
I will admit, it was nice to have a little break from the non-stop hustle of running a pizza joint, but I could not stay idle for long. Although I had closed up shop for the time being, I had to find something else to keep myself busy (and maybe make a little money, too).
Since there was an apparent bread shortage at grocery stores, and we just so happen to bake our own bread, we began selling our organic sourdough bread and hand-delivering it to basically the whole city of Kokomo.It was an experiment in which I had nothing to lose. If it worked, cool. If it flopped, it did not affect my company in anyway. It just so happened to take off. Now people could be guaranteed freshly-baked (and organic!) locally-made bread without having to leave their house. The response was great and I was so busy baking and delivering bread that I could hardly keep up.
Since I knew that grocery stores were struggling to keep up with bread demand and I knew that people liked my product, I figured I’d take a shot at trying to get it in Kroger grocery stores here on a local level. So began the journey of establishing contact and eventually getting accepted, as a new vendor in Kroger! It was an exciting accomplishment for me and my company.
We reopened our pizza shop in May after being closed for about 6 weeks. We had a better idea of how this virus was evolving and felt it was safe to reopen (with precaution). We all wear masks and have been really pushing our curbside service so customers do not have to come in (especially if they order online).
I guess we had been missed by many because we sold out of everything for days and even weeks on end. I though “Is this the new normal?” Business since then has been very steady and we are extremely fortunate that we have a business model that allowed us to close and then reopen as if nothing ever happened. Our community has also been very supportive during these times. We really feel the love.
— Owner Adam Neher
Mountain Mike’s Pizza
Learn how Mountain Mike’s Pizza with over 220 locations across the U.S. has handled the COVID-19 Crisis from Co-owner/Co-CEO Chris Britt, Jim Metevier, President and COO, and Ed St. Geme, Co-owner/Co-CEO.
Famous Pizza — Bethel, Connecticut
We continued our support for the local school lunch program we called “Pie it Forward” for the ENTIRE remainder of the year with the support of local organizations, businesses, and individuals. We would use Facebook Live Videos every Monday morning when it was Pizza Lunch Day to help recognize those who sponsored us that week and inspire others. We were able to get sponsors for weeks 2 – 11 (we donated week 1) and wanted to see it through so we donated the last couple weeks supplying over 1,000 large pies in total. What started with a simple intention to help those in need turned into a huge community event with amazing support. In addition, we made sure to donate to pizzas to all healthcare workers and first responders in the area to show our appreciation.
We still have our store closed for public entry even though CT allows for dine in at 50% of occupancy. The support from the community has been overwhelming with our Curbside Pickup & Contact Free Delivery and feel that this best protects the safety of our staff and decreases the likelihood of any potential infection. The feedback we have received is that our customers feel very safe with this decision and appreciate the extra measures. We have added custom signs in the parking spaces out front with our name and phone number and a parking space number to help make curbside as simple as possible. We also have a large sidewalk A frame sign that clearly outlines our procedures. We have also added (2) 4’x8′ huge custom banners on the outside of our building promoting “WE ARE OPEN” & another uplifting one that says “BETHEL STRONG”. We offered Make Your Own Pizza Kits that were a hit in the beginning but not as much currently.
I am proud to say that although we had 2 servers that were not cross trained and were not able to come back we did hire additional drivers so that the total employees has not changed at all. All of our employees have been very well compensated with the increased tips this entire time. Everyone seems to be extra generous and appreciates the hard work and morale has been great. We have not had any labor issues throughout and our sales have increased from the same time last year even without our entire dine in business…we are truly blessed!
We close every year the week of July 4th and decided to take an extra week since everyone has been working hard. My entire full time kitchen staff received a paid vacation for BOTH weeks and were very appreciative.
The big news is that we are making changes. We had a tenant (we own the building) next door to us that never re-opened after the virus hit and decided to move to that smaller (1500sf) space and change our business model. We have been noticing a shift in recent years from the dine in business to delivery and thought this was the perfect time to make a change. In addition, the minimum wage just went up and will continue to every year so anything we can do to cut labor will help us. We are building out a new kitchen with a limited menu and are fine tuning all of our recipes…lean & mean in 2021!
I forgot to mention even though it is assumed but when I went for a coffee I was reminded that following the rules in place are not being practiced by many restaurants. We have been wearing masks in the store at all times and gloves are worn by everyone in the kitchen. We were taking temps of all employees but discontinued that practice since guidance has changed. We also have setup a few tables across the street on our town green where customers can call us and are welcome to eat although full service is not available. It is basically curbside to a table we provide.
— Co-Owner Perry Anastasakis (My parents founded the family business in 1982 and I took over in 1997)
Fong’s Pizza — Des Moines, Iowa
The pandemic has proven to be one of the most challenging times for business, but has brought out an even greater drive for me to help our community. When Iowa shut down restaurants and bars in March; my first thought was “How can we help the helpers?” Big Mr. Rogers fan 🙂 My sons and I donned our Pizza Ninja suits and ended up donating pizzas to our healthcare heroes and essential team members who weren’t able to stay home and isolate. Here’s a link to the adventure that continued once the community learned of our efforts and encouraged us to create a fundraiser. We ended up feeding over 3000 heroes. https://www.facebook.com/donate/225068735361278/
Now, we are focused on helping our teachers and students to make sure they’re all equipped with masks for those that have in-person learning. Des Moines Public Schools (where my sons attend) is still 100% virtual right now as Iowa continues to be a hot spot with our Governor refusing a mask mandate and many folks not taking the pandemic seriously. It’s a tough time, but we focus on doing what we can to support the community. You can check out our mask giveaways on our Facebook page and we’ve already donated 500 masks in less than a month. https://www.facebook.com/fongspizzadesmoines
— President & Co-Founder Gwen Page
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