Tony Palombino is feeling pretty proud about now.
The hectic November opening of the third Tony Boombozz Pizza and Panini is behind him, crowds are packing the Louisville, Ky., quick-service pizzeria, and response to the new, "beyond pizza" menu has been very positive.
It's not always been this way, however, Palombino said. To assume the new smooth-running operation as a snapshot of his career as a restaurateur would be wrong. Boombozz is the strongest of a litter of about a half-dozen concepts Palombino created, but only one of two still living. After some 15 years running his own operations, he thinks he's finally hit on the one that works, but getting to that point hasn't been easy.
"People think it's always been this busy, that I've always made good money, had a cool car, all that," said Palombino. "They don't know what it's taken to even get this far — and I've got a long way to go."
At the 2005 North America Pizza & Ice Cream Show last February, Palombino was a table moderator at the pre-event Pizza Operators Workshop. The intensive, daylong seminar featured sessions led by pizza industry experts, as well as extensive networking and brainstorming opportunities for attendees. Palombino encountered operators of equal experience, those with much more than him, as well as pizza newcomers just searching for help. Listening to their problems and sharing solutions was "very gratifying," he said after the event, and when the workshop resumes this coming February, he'll return to help again.
"My approach is to tell people everything I've gone through and how I've learned," he said. This year's event is scheduled for Feb. 18, 2006, in Columbus, Ohio. "I don't hold back on anything: recipes, marketing ideas, nothing. We learn from each other in this business, and I like helping others."
Jeff Aufdencamp wishes he knew a few Palombinos when he and wife, Jodi, started Mama Mimi's Take 'n Bake Pizza six years ago. The couple had extensive restaurant experience, but they lacked pizzeria knowledge. To have had a workshop at which they could have networked with other operators might have made the early years a little easier, he said.
"I hope we're able to help others avoid making some of the costly mistakes we made in our business," said Aufdencamp, whose Columbus, Ohio, operation now includes four units. He and his wife both will serve as operator experts at the POW. "I doubt there are many problems they'll encounter we've not encountered ourselves, so I know there's a lot to talk about. Plus, we're the people who are in the trenches every day, we have real-life experience to share."
Talk amongst yourselves
The core curriculum for the POW centers on a blend of classroom-style presentations and hands-on work in the NAPICS Interactive Pizza Test Kitchen. Attendees can choose from two programming tracks: Business Basics (for new or start-up operators); and Taking Your Business to the Next Level (tailored to the needs of seasoned operators).
Noted industry consultants "Big Dave" Ostrander, Kamron Karington and Tom Lehmann, a.k.a. The Dough Doctor, will lead sessions (scheduled separately for each business track) on operations, marketing and dough, respectively. Both Lehmann and Ostrander will also work with attendees in the test kitchen.
At scheduled times throughout the day, attendees will have opportunities to talk to operator experts like Palombino and Aufdencamp and ask
Operator Experts Lineup
Attendees of the 2006 POW will get to network with the following operator experts:
Scott Anthony, a single-unit Fox's Pizza Den franchisee in Punxsutawney, Pa., said he's eager to talk with new operators now walking the path he did 12 years ago.
"It seems like everyone's biggest concern (when they're new) is, 'How can I save money?'" he said. "They're saying, 'All this cash flow is turning into an expense instead of going into my pocket as profit. How do I stop that?'"
Anthony said newcomers often get caught up doing too many disparate things at once, such as aggressive marketing programs or building costly operations. The result is a lack of cash available for use in more important areas of the business.
"Once you learn to manage money and save it, you start to see more profits," he said. "Sometimes that just means focusing on the basics."
Both Ostrander and Karington have plenty of their own success stories to tell as well. With shrewd marketing strategies, Karington turned a struggling one-store pizza company into a four-unit cash cow. After he sold the business, he penned "The Black Book," an exhaustive tome on pizzeria marketing.
When word got out that Big Dave's Pizzeria was making a killing in tiny Oscoda, Mich., the big chains moved to town with hopes of slicing up Ostrander's profit pie. Over the next several years, Ostrander proved himself a Goliath-slaying David that sent two of the chains out town for good. He has spent much of the last 15 years working as a consultant teaching other independent and small-chain operations how to do the same.
If the Pizza Operators Workshop appears geared more toward inexperienced operators, think again, said all three men. Anthony said seminars such as these are where veterans like him pick up new ideas all the time, typically from other operators. Aufdencamp said much the same, adding, "There are no secrets in this business. ... It's a matter of whether an operator is motivated enough to capitalize on the information that's available out there."
Palombino said when people ask him for his secrets, it makes him laugh because, like Aufdencamp, he believes any of his tricks of the trade were probably picked up from others.
"I love telling people what I do and how I do it — not to impress them — but to help them," he said. "If I can see a guy who's worked for me become successful five years from now, and I know I've given him a stepping stone, that's great for me. I like seeing people I worked with become a success."
* The Pizza Operators Workshop will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. Registration is $199 per person; all additional registrants from the same business pay $99 each. Registration includes lunch and admission to both days of the North America Pizza & Ice Cream Show, Feb. 19-20.
To register, call the Ohio Restaurant Association at 800-282-9049. Online registration is available at napics.com.