We recently circled the wagons with Scott Anthony (Punxsy Pizza in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania), Nicole Bean (Pizaro’s Pizza Napoletana in Houston), Pasquale di Diana (Bacci Pizzeria in Chicago), John Arena (Metro Pizza in Las Vegas), Derek Sanchez (MiaMarco’s in San Antonio) and Michael Androw (E&D Pizza Company in Avon, Connecticut) to talk about the new Pizza Expo 365 platform, International Pizza Expo and COVID-19’s ongoing impact on the pizza business.
PT: What’s your favorite thing about International Pizza Expo?
Scott Anthony: The people. Nothing renews your love of pizza more than being around pizza enthusiasts.
Pasquale di Diana: While everyone enjoys walking the exhibition floor and sampling food from all the vendors, the seminars and panels are my favorite thing about the Expo.
Derek Sanchez: 1. The amount of knowledge and talent under one roof all at the same time is amazing. 2. It is the friendships and bonds made with all the great people involved.
Nicole Bean: Besides seeing everyone and mingling with new people (we always make new friends!), learning new things like business processes or dough techniques. There is always something to learn at expo and the classes/seminars are invaluable.
Michael Androw: My favorite thing at Expo is watching demos and competitions to see how my colleagues are utilizing new and different ingredients.
John Arena: Pizza Expo is an amazing opportunity to meet the greatest pizza makers in the world face to face and learn first-hand the elements that have contributed to their success. Products, equipment, education and the fellowship unique to our industry all come together at Expo.
PT: What is something about Pizza Expo that maybe you took for granted, but found yourself missing with last year’s cancellation?
Scott Anthony: The value of human connection.
Pasquale di Diana: Being a restaurant owner, we miss that camaraderie that a lot of people have in their workplaces. At the Expo, I get a chance to freely talk to like-minded individuals from all over the world about my shared passions. I’ve always left the Expo inspired, wiser, motivated and full of ideas. I really missed that last year.
Derek Sanchez: It’s the missed friendships, kind words, happy smiling faces.
Nicole Bean: Hugging people and education. I’ve felt a little incomplete for the year because I didn’t get too many chances to step away from the business to fully immerse myself into someone’s teachings. However, my husband Brad and I did go visit Mike Bausch in Tulsa for a few days and that did give me the little boost I needed to finish the year and start 2021 strong (like a freight train).
Michael Androw: I definitely took the camaraderie for granted. There are so many people throughout the country that I have totally missed being able to catch up with. We are all so busy with our businesses, but Expo is that one time that we all have the day off and can get together to visit.
John Arena: I most missed the happy social collisions that take place walking the aisles of Expo. The chance encounters where you get to exchange ideas with pizza operators from around the world are invaluable.
PT: How are you using the new Pizza Expo 365 platform?
Scott Anthony: I like to check in once or twice a week to see what’s new and to listen to and learn from other operators.
Pasquale di Diana: I’m using the platform how I used the seminars from the Expo. They help me when I feel lost and need some direction, and help me in my weaker areas.
Derek Sanchez: I use it to learn and research all things new about pizza, especially new science.
Michael Androw: I love that the 365 platform has the educational seminars available at all times so I can reference them at my own convenience, which is usually later at night.
PT: Where would you like to see it go in the future in order to maximize its value to you as a pizza-focused business owner.
Scott Anthony: I’d like to see weekly alerts and featured programming to be sure I don’t miss anything. Getting more vendors on board to see new or ‘new to me’ products.
Pasquale di Diana: The camaraderie and brotherhood in the pizza industry is a beautiful thing. If somehow that community can be developed online I think it could help me brainstorm solutions to my everyday operational issues.
Nicole Bean: Possibly smaller snippets sent via email as a weekly or monthly blast — something where I can get insight quickly and get back to the shops. Ideas that I can ponder on during the week and work to develop or maybe reach out to others about would be really helpful.
Michael Androw: I would like to see a fully archived library over the years of all of the seminars so they can always be referenced. I think with the recent passings of Big Dave and Tom Lehmann it has given me a new perspective. I would love if I had recorded some of those conversations over the years to look back on.
PT: Are you seeing a light at the end of the tunnel in your area with regards to COVID-19?
Scott Anthony: I see light. Sometimes it fades a bit as we hear of new outbreaks and mutated viruses, food costs, etc. — but we are making progress.
Pasquale di Diana: Yes, I believe a combination of people learning to live with COVID smartly and the hope that the vaccine will roll out rapidly puts us in a position that we can begin rebounding from all this later in the year.
Nicole Bean: Absolutely. I feel like people are getting tired of being cooped up and having to wear masks all the time. Eventually it’ll be normalized like the flu and we will have to learn to live with this new virus, and hopefully there will be immunizations available to all so we can move forward without having to wear a mask and social distance.
Michael Androw: I am definitely beginning to see a light at the end of the COVID tunnel. In Connecticut the positivity rate and hospitalizations have plummeted in the past two weeks. Our Governor has now begun the reopening process.
John Arena: Living in Las Vegas it is hard to predict how long recovery will take. A tourist/convention-based economy is highly vulnerable. That being said, the vibe here amongst operators is positive with new start-ups taking shape and residents rallying to support local restaurants.
PT: What did the Great Quarantine of 2020 teach you about your business model and what you needed to do to ensure its relevancy?
Scott Anthony: Be adaptable. I feel that keeping Top of Mind Awareness was critical, too. People needed to know you were there for them and they needed to connect with you, so I needed to keep my content relevant. Not just talking about food or specials, but about cleanliness, taking extra ServSafe classes, getting certified by the state for compliance with CDC and Department of Health guidelines.
Pasquale di Diana: The Great Quarantine taught me that anything is possible and no matter how much we plan and forecast, there are things that can come up that we just cannot control and are out of our hands. In the beginning of all this, I had to scale down the model and trim as much possible, and learned that we were able to do it rapidly. We needed to be quick to adapt to many factors and circumstances, and literally we were making changes daily to ensure our relevancy and survive through all this.
Derek Sanchez: We have a great model as it is 95 percent takeout. We now need to prepare for what people want next. A place to sit and enjoy with their family.
Nicole Bean: Being such a crazy turn of events that happened fairly quickly like a wave; I think it was important to let it come over you and then ride it out like a scene from Point Break.
I learned that my business model was resilient, moldable and ready for whatever was coming. We pivoted quickly and I wanted to make sure that my staff knew we wanted them to remain employed, but also for my customers to know that we would still be available to them at all costs. We removed third-party delivery and started our own in-house delivery to cut costs for us and the customer, but also ensured customer service was met. Along with many other pizzerias we offered pizza kits with a video QR code to provide the customers with not only a one-on-one experience with us, but also a chance to see what we do daily to create their pizzas.
I believe our biggest success was maintaining our regular menu throughout this entire pandemic. Where many restaurants cut menu items or revamped their entire menu and processes we kept moving forward in order to give our customers a feeling of normalcy that I think paid off.
Michael Androw: The Great Quarantine taught me one very valuable lesson: Adapt or Die!
I never thought I would see the day when I would bring contractors in to tear out my entire dining room and convert over to a 100-percent DELCO model. We adapted. We survived. We have thrived!
John Arena: Service methods must compliment changes in lifestyle. User friendly technology is going to be essential to success. Those who can pivot and accommodate the next generation of guests can thrive. Those who can’t will fade away.
If the pandemic has done one good thing it has served as a reminder that pizza can be the most resilient segment of the foodservice industry IF we are willing to adapt. The best operators have reinvented themselves, and even the artisan pizza makers have embraced take-out, delivery, frozen pizzas, home meal replacement kits and online ordering. Many of the things that people said they would never do are now standard practices. COVID seems to have accelerated changes that were inevitable. Ultimately we are in the business of feeding customers great pizza, that doesn’t change, but how we facilitate that goal must adapt with the times.