As the newly named editor of PizzaMarketPlace.com, I was looking forward to attending my first Pizza Executive Summit. I was sure the experience, set in Chicago, would be the perfect place for me to sink my teeth into the pizza industry. I was not disappointed.
The tour's first stop was Pizano's.
The event started this past Sunday with a trolley tour of three Chi Town pizzerias: Pizano's, Coalfire Pizza and Bella Bacino's. There was a group of about 40 operators, event speakers and sponsors on the tour discussing various aspects of the restaurant industry as we ate our way through deep dish, thin and stuffed crust pies. Discussions ranged from which of the three restaurants the operators preferred – Coalfire Pizza came out on top for nearly everyone on the tour – to the types of dough and toppings used and whether styles were similar to tour attendees' own recipes.
Although the pizza tour was eye opening, the real meat of the summit was the sessions and speakers Monday and Tuesday.
Keynote speaker Gerry O'Brion led off Monday as he addressed the importance of branding and how pizzerias need to better market their areas of expertise and show consumers what makes them different from competitors. The former marketing executive for Coors Light cited the company's successful launch of its "frost brewed liner can" as an example.
A chef at a Coal Fire prepares pizza for the tour.
He pointed out that every aluminum beer can on the market already had the liner. His company simply turned it blue and launched a marketing campaign around it; can sales went up 5 percent.
Another highlight was Kathleen Wood's presentation, "Make More Dough: The Secret Sauce to Building Sales with Zero Marketing Dollars." Wood's high-energy was contagious as she fired up the room and offered attendees 30 specific ways for restaurant executives to increase productivity and sales without spending a dime.
One of the hottest topics at the summit was the use of social media. Although some operators were already using Facebook and Twitter to grow their businesses, others needed convincing. Michael Atkinson of FohBoh, Scott Baitinger of Streetza Pizza and Asif Khan of the Location Based Marketing Association, did just that in their session titled "Pizzerias and the Social Web."
Stuffed cheese at Bella Bacino's.
Many operators left the room chatting about their future plans for Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter.
Other Summit sessions covered the new workforce, menu labeling, franchise growth and financing and the possibility of new laws and regulations that will affect the industry.
I left Chicago with not only the same info operators received, but also with a new respect for how much goes into running a successful restaurant. My No. 1 goal as the site's editor is to deliver interesting stories on those topics. Feel free to email me at email@example.com if you have story ideas or comments on what you think PizzaMarketPlace.com should feature.
And I look forward to meeting you at next year's event.
Cherryh Butler has been a reporter for nearly 10 years, writing on a variety of topics ranging from the restaurant industry to business and health and fitness news. Before joining FastCasual.com as editor, she oversaw KioskMarketplace.com and PizzaMarketplace.com and contributed to RetailCustomerExperience.com. She's also written for several daily newspapers, magazines and websites, including The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine.