COLUMBUS, Ohio—What do pizza operators do on their day off?
Attend pizza tradeshows, apparently.
An estimated 4,000 pizzeria owners and managers descended on the Columbus Convention Center for the first-ever North America Pizza & Ice Cream Show (NAPICS), Feb. 8-9. The event marked the end of the show's 12-year run as the Mid-American Restaurant, Pizza and Soft-Serve Show, and its relaunch as a pizza-centered event.
Show organizers believe the bulk of this year's attendees came from Ohio and the six contiguous states, but show badges revealed addresses in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
"That this show would grow someday to become a pizza show for the Eastern U.S. is our goal," said NAPICS show chairwoman Ann Reichle. "It looks like it's on its way."
Attendees perused, tested and tasted the latest wares, equipment and foods on display in nearly 380 booths. Fidelity Communications President Rick Stanbridge was one of nearly 3,000 exhibitors on hand to answer shoppers' questions, particularly about his company's new call sequencing system, MessageStar 700. The system is suited for pizza shops using two to six phone lines, and it serves up multiple greetings and marketing messages while ensuring customers' calls flow in an orderly fashion.
"This is a brand-new product that's very affordable for a mid-level operation," said Stanbridge, adding that it sells for about half as much as Fidelity's flagship CallWorks system.
Also in Fidelity's booth was what Stanbridge called "the first truly wireless headset" for foodservice operations.
Fidelity Communication's Rick Stanbridge showed off what he called the first truly wireless headset for the foodservice industry. The Plantronics unit sells for about $300, and is operated by the silver button on the earphone.
"The reception on this is incredible; you can go inside a walk-in and not lose the signal," Stanbridge said.
Hoping to ride the rising tide of the low-carb craze, Jason Link, regional manager for B&B Creative Marketing, showed off the company's reduced-carbohydrate crust. The simplest way to reduce crust carbs, Link said, is to make them thin.
"This has 13 carbs per slice, versus a traditional pizza which has 34 carbs," said Link, basing his information on a 12-inch pie.
Many pizza shops, said B&B account executive Leah Foster, don't want to change their standard crust recipes to meet low-carb demands, and that creates a demand for her company's preformed, frozen product.
"We're just offering an alternative for the shops that don't have a thin crust," she said. "They don't have to make another dough recipe with this. And since it's
Jason Link, regional manager for B&B Marketing offered low-carb samples of his company's crust product.
Though arguably the most low-tech innovation of the show, Express CAM, Inc.'s box-top supports were among the most clever. The multi-color plastic supports include a pseudo-serrated edge suited for cutting cheese that melts together between the slices. The center of the support can be branded with a company's logo and popped out and used as a redemption token.
"We also have this one, which is designed like a tray, so it can hold a cookie if the operator wants to promote a dessert," said Jim Martin, owner of Express CAM. "Or he could use it as a relish tray to put peppers on it."
Tomanetti's Pizza president George Michel hawked his company's specialty parbaked crusts as an ideal way for operators to add take-and-bake to their traditional pizzeria menu.
"Most importantly, a parbaked crust gives you consistency," Michel said. "All you're waiting for with a parbaked item is your cheese to melt and your toppings to cook, so the customer has a much easier time getting a consistent product."
Should a pizza operator want his own dough recipe turned into a parbaked product, Michel said Tomanetti's is able to deliver. "We're a specialty crust manufacturer. We can do that."
Jeff DeGrand, a commodities broker for Chicago-based Downes-O'Neill, led a technical but insightful session on cheese price risk management strategies for pizza operators. Despite having its profits pinched by cheese price changes, the pizza industry as a whole has resisted using multiple tools available for smoothing out the annual price roller coaster ride, DeGrand said.
"I'm always surprised the pizza industry has been so slow to adopt these strategies when it's so vulnerable," he said. "Price risk management isn't about making money on the market, it's about creating certainty. ... When you do that, you can ignore price and focus on your profit margin."
To do that, DeGrand said operators should lock in their prices through annual cash contracts with cheese suppliers, or
Express CAM's new box-top supports double as cheese cutters (see the serrations on the green models) and cookie trays. The centers of each pop out for use as frequency-redemption tokens.
"While portion control in your restaurants is crucial, price control is essential," he said. "And you can achieve that by using any of these tools."
Activity on the futures market, DeGrand said, indicates prices will rise steadily throughout the first half of 2004.
"This is probably going to be a volatile year for prices, based on what we're seeing now," he said. "But, really, when it comes down to it, who the heck knows? There are so many factors affecting milk prices that it could go either way."
In his seminar titled "Top Three Insurance Issues Facing Pizzeria Owners in 2004," speaker P.J. Giannini discussed other costs draining operators' pockets. As if insurance costs connected to delivery driver liability weren't staggering enough, Giannini predicts the need for protection from claims for worker's compensation and employee practices problems (such as sexual harassment) will increase.
To illustrate his point, Giannini showed several news headlines about lawsuit settlements against pizza operations and crimes committed by and against their workers. Motivated by claiming shares of large settlements, lawyers are increasingly seeking to force operators to pay for employee mishaps, Giannini said, such as driving accidents or worker's compensation.
"Here's one of my favorite quotes from Vito Corleone: 'One lawyer with a briefcase can take more money than 10 men with guns,' " said Giannini, quoting the character from "The Godfather." Giannini then held up a stack of pages he'd pulled from a Columbus phone book. Three pages bore ads for pizza operations, while more than 50 pages contained ads for lawyers. "Amy Sue—and I find it ironic that's her last name—she's got to make her money back on that $2,000 a month ad, and getting into your pockets could be how she does it."
Giannini, an insurance broker with Assurance Systems Group, Inc., said pizza operators who want to protect themselves from potential lawsuits and claims must first operate fully above board regarding their employees. Case in point, he said, was calling delivery drivers independent contractors to avoid paying worker's compensation should they be hurt on the job, or to free an operator from liability should a driver harm someone while delivering pizzas. When operators dictate a driver's schedule, his deliveries, his uniform, etc., those operators have control and that driver is an employee.
"Believe me, if I'm a driver, when I get hurt, from the accident scene, to the hospital and to the lawyer's office, I'm going to magically transform into an employee because I want benefits," he said. "Bottom line: you're responsible for what your drivers do on the road."
Operators also are responsible for their drivers' welfare, he said, yet some think more about the sale of a pizza than whether they're endangering the driver.
"Pizza drivers get killed more often in the line of duty than firefighters," Giannini said, adding that robbers "have come to define your drivers as roving ATM machines." Consider the risks to a driver's safety before sending him into a known high-crime zone, he said, and ponder the potential harm to your business should something happen.
The Women's Touch
Among several firsts at NAPICS was the Pizza Women's Roundtable, which assembled three successful female operators for an informal question-and-answer session.
Debbie Antoun, owner of Taranto's Pizzeria in Lewis, Ohio, said success in the pizza business is sweet, but that hers came after many hard lessons.
"Everything I could have done the hard way, I did it," Antoun said. "But I absolutely love the pizza business; it's a disease."
Like many women operators, Antoun had to divide her time between work and family, and, in the beginning, work was winning out. She since has learned to delegate more to responsible employees and to work just four days a week in her operation. "On the four days I'm there, I work open to close, but I get a lot done on those four days."
Michelle Burt, president of Spanky's Pizza in Fremont, Mich., said that finding other women like her--family centered but in the workplace—was essential to surrounding herself with a reliable team. Her two women managers have been with her for about a decade each because all three share the same mind-set.
"It's always been a situation where if one of us has a sick kid, 'I'll cover your back, and you cover mine,' " Burt said.
Jodi Aufdencamp, co-owner of four-store Mama Mimi's Take 'N Bake Pizza in Columbus, Ohio, solved the family problem many times by bringing
Owner-operators Jodi Aufdencamp, Debbie Antoun and Michelle Burt served as the "pizza divas" on the NAPICS Pizza Women's Roundtable.
"They played there, they took naps there, they were potty trained there," said Aufdencamp of her daughter and son, now 6 and 8. Customers, she said, would just have to step over toys now and then if they were going to buy her pizza, though no one ever complained.
As her children got older, she involved them in the operation by letting them count change for customers or having them take customers' pizzas to their cars. On one evening, daughter Gabrielle earned $25 in tips. "She said, 'Mom, I tried to act like I didn't want the money, but they gave it to me anyway.' "
All three women advised the crowd not to make the mistake of being so compassionate to their employees that they mothered them.
"If I'm their second
If you missed the show, buy the tapes and CDs!
Antoun recalled how she loaned a company van to a long-time delivery driver whose car had broken down. Now without a real need to repair his own car, he used the Taranto's van for a full year--until it broke down. Antoun now wishes she wouldn't have enabled the driver to avoid taking responsibility for his own vehicle.
Seminar moderator Big Dave Ostrander summed up the panelists' sentiments this way: "If you make decisions heart, you'll wind up with heart problems. Those people will either contribute to your business or become a liability. And if you can't be the hatchet man, then hire one."
Pizza Pizzazz results
The annual Pizza Pizzazz contest was held over both days of the show. Top honors for gourmet category went to Brynne Humphreys of Avalanche Pizza, LTD, Athens, Ohio, for her "Godzilla Pizza." Humphreys won $600 cash, and an expenses-paid trip to Salsamaggiore, Italy, to compete in the world championships in March as a U.S. Pizza Team member.
The traditional category winner was Romeo's Pizza owner Sean Brauser. The Medina, Ohio, operator won for his "Butcher Shop Pizza." Brauser is now a two-time winner in the category, and will return to Italy for a second time.