Category Archives: Pizza Today Articles

Respecting the Craft: Classic Chianti

Respecting the Craft: Classic Chianti

For many years Chianti has been called the wine of Italy. Well known for its original straw bottle, Chianti goes very well with pizza and pasta due to its light character and good acidity content. Other wines, such as Barberesco, Lambrusco or Gragnano, are also amazing and considered to be pizza wines — but Chianti always reminds me of that go-to wine during lunch or dinner.

After the 2014 World Pizza Championships in Italy, my wife and I decided to visit two very special wineries in the Chianti region. Rufino and Cecchi. Cecchi was founded in 1893. We had several different styles of Chianti. My favorite was the Chianti Classico Riserva di Famiglia, which has to be aged for at least two years before the release. The Riserva is a more structured and powerful kind of wine. It ages well, and the complexity and elegance are noticable. This, like all other Chiantis, pairs well with foods that are robust and have rich sauces.

Many ask about the straw bottle Chianti was famous for and the unusual shape which you tend not to see anymore. Two reasons: one was for transporting. Back in the day this protected the bottle from breaking, especially with horses going through steep terrain. The other was that many Italians would spray the bottles with cold water and the straw would keep the bottles cooler, especially in the warm summers of Tuscany.

We also visited the Ruffino winery. The Chianti produced here reminded me of my grandfather’s wine. The first sip I took instantly brought back memories of watching my grandfather drink wine at the dinner table. He would have a jug under the table and pour it himself. It brings you back to a time when things were so much simpler and less rushed. It was amazing. Here, Edoardo Torna, my wife and I engaged in similar stories of growing up with family dinners of pizza and pasta while sipping on Chianti.

The legend of the Black Rooster symbol that is on chianti bottles had always been a question I wanted answered. The Black Rooster has always been the symbol of the entire Chianti region. The origin of this is lost in time: an amusing legend narrates of the rivalry existing in the Middle Ages between Siena and Florence.

According to this legend, in order to cease their endless fighting, the two Tuscan cities decided to leave the definition of their respective boundaries to a remarkable feat between knights; they were to leave their hometowns at cockcrow and wherever they would have met each other, that exact spot would have been the border between the two republics.

For this purpose, the citizens of Siena raised a beautiful white rooster, which grew big and fat. The Florentines, instead, chose a black rooster and never fed him, so that on the fateful day he was so famished, he started to crow even before sunrise. As a result, the Florentine knight was able to set out very early in the morning. He met the knight from Siena in Fonterutoli — merely twelve Kilometers from Siena — as the latter had left much later. This is the reason why almost all of the Chianti territory was united under the rule of the Florentine Republic.

Even if this is merely fictional, it is confirmed that the Black Rooster profile has represented the emblem of the historic Chianti League, which ruled over these lands since the beginning of the 14th century. The artist Giorgio Vasari painted the Black Rooster on the ceiling of the Salone dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio, as an allegorical representation of the Chianti region. The Consortium has ultimately selected this seven-century old symbol as a certification of its wines.

Like many Italian products, there’s so much history behind Chianti. You can never go wrong by serving it.

RESPECTING THE CRAFT features World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento.  Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail jwhite@pizzatoday.com and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.

Respecting the Craft: Do as the Romans do

Respecting the Craft: Do as the Romans do

Roman-style dough can be made several ways. One of the best recipes I have worked with is a bulk ferment. To do a bulk ferment, mix the dough and then, instead of cutting and balling it, divide the large dough in fourths, place into sealed containers and let rise for 48 hours in a refrigerator before cutting, balling, proofing again and using.

Typically a Roman dough recipe has a high percentage of water. I feel most recipes lack salt, so in the recipe below we will have three percent salt to our flour weight.

Since this recipe has such a long maturation I suggest using a flour that has at least 13-percent protein. I use a preferment/starter in my recipes, but the one below will be easier and give you great results. The water could be increased if desired.

For your convenience, I’m also listing the amounts in baker’s percent.

50 pounds flour (13 percent protein)  – 100 percent
34 pounds cold water (45 F)
1 pound warm water (85 F) – Total water = 70 percent
24 ounces fine sea salt – 3 percent
16 ounces extra-virgin olive oil – 2 percent
4 ounces dry active east – .5 percent
8 ounces dry malt  – 1 percent

Use a 60-quart mixer. Add your flour to the bowl. Blend your malt into the flour. Mix the cold water into the flour for 1 minute on slow speed and then let it sit for 45 minutes covered (this is called an autolyse method).

Using a wire whisk, activate your yeast and warm water and let sit for 10 minutes. Mix warm water and yeast mixture into the bowl and start mixer. Mix for 3 minutes and add salt. Mix for 3 minutes then add oil. Continue mixing for 3 to 4 minutes.

Take dough out of mixer and divide into fourths. Place pieces separately into large, air-tight containers and place into the refrigerator for 24 or 48 hours.

Take out of refrigerator and place all pieces into mixer and mix for 1 minute to degas. Take the dough out of the mixer and cut into 26 to 35 ounce dough balls depending on your desired thickness after baked and shape into football/oval shapes. Your dough should be a bit tacky. If it is too tacky you can either add flour or do a stretch and fold method.

Let rise overnight, covered on sheet pans or dough boxes in a refrigerator, or let rise at room temp for 8 hours before use.

There are several ways to prepare your Roman style pizza. Here are three methods:

  • Take your dough out of the fridge for 1 hour before use. Place dough into a well-seasoned sheet pan. Cover with olive oil and then push your dough out as far as you can. Place it in a warm area for an hour and then stretch your dough to the corners and let re-rise for two hours. Top and bake at 535 F in a gas or electric brick oven. This will be similar to a Sicilian-style pizza.
  • Or you can dust your dough with flour and semolina. For thick pizza gently shape and stretch your dough, not degassing it. Place on a three-foot wood peel. Top and bake at 535 F in a gas or electric brick oven.

For thin pizza, roll your dough using a sheeter or rolling pin. Roll it thin enough to cover the board. Dock your pizza, then top leaving a one-inch border. Next, cut about ½-inch of your dough off using a pizza wheel. Top and bake at 535 F in a gas or electric brick oven.

RESPECTING THE CRAFT features World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento.  Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail jwhite@pizzatoday.com and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.

Respecting the Craft: Pizza Romana

Respecting the Craft: Pizza Romana

One of my favorite styles of pizza is pizza Romana. Some people can get confused because, like New York-style, there are sub-categories. For example, there’s Pizza in Teglia (pizza in the pan), Pizza al Taglio (pizza by the slice), Pizza a Etro (pizza by the meter), Pizza Focaccia and Pizza in Pala (pizza on wood peel). All of these styles can be thick or thin.

Over the years I have been back to Rome several times. My recent trip was to do even more research on the Roman craft. I stopped by Pizzarium for a short visit. There, pizza maker Gabrielle Bonci uses a 00 and/or 0 Stone Ground Ancient Grain and blends his flour making an amazing crust that’s light, airy and digestible. This type of flour and method will become very popular in the U.S. and I am already using the same flour today in my San Francisco location.

I visited several other Roman pizzerias such as Boccacia, Garden Pizza, Roscioli Forno and Pizza Pazza. All of them have different methods using a type 00 flour with no added blending. Some of the more popular ingredients used are squash blossoms, Romanesco, basil, Pecorino Romano, ricotta, fresh mozzarella, Bufala mozzarella, tomato, arugula, eggplant, sausage and cured meats.

Roman-style pizzas can be cooked in several different types of ovens such as electric, gas and wood-burning brick ovens. They could be cooked directly on the brick or in a pan, but either way is “right.” I tend to see a higher hydration and a lack of salt in the dough, which is typical for most Roman-style dough recipes.

Pizza Romana is one of the most popular pizzas in my restaurants. I use an Italian oven and a German electric brick oven in five of my locations. Both work great. The Roman pizzas I make are nearly three feet long. What’s great about these ovens are they are very versatile and deep with a stone bottom, have multiple chambers and you can control the heat source at the bottom and top unlike any oven with added convection. They are great for cooking in the pan or on the stone and make amazing thin-crust pizzas.

The size of this pizza is great for a family of four and can range from $25 to $40. It’s communal and sits well without getting soggy. Typically, I have seen more white pizzas (no sauce) than sauced — and several of the preferred ingredients tend to go on after the bake. This method of more finishing ingredients rather than cooked makes a stronger pie. Finding a box for to-go orders is sometimes a challenge depending on the length of your pizza, but some box companies do make a long rectangular box.

I know you probably want to try it after the brief introduction. So next month I’ll feature a basic Romana dough recipe and will offer step-by-step instructions on how to make this great pizza.

RESPECTING THE CRAFT features World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento.  Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail jwhite@pizzatoday.com and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.

Respecting the Craft: Everyone’s a Critic

Respecting the Craft: Everyone’s a Critic

Being critiqued is difficult for any restaurant owner. And it’s not just newspaper and magazine critics anymore. These days there are so many critics or “want to be” critics out there when you take Bloggers, Yelp, Tripadvisor, etc. into account. It can be tough, especially when you go into a new market where you have no customer base and are trying to create one and mesh with the community. Typically writers have their favorite spots, so turning someone from the dark side to your side can be very challenging. Typically a true critic will give you six to eight weeks before coming in. They should be unannounced and come in at least three times. Other professional critics — typically with newspapers, magazines, blogs and freelancers — do sometimes inform the owner. That is great for me because I could let them order but also drop some items which I feel are my best and want them to try.

Yelp has really changed the entire critiquing system. Everyone’s a critic. It’s pretty bad, when you think about it, because it’s difficult to know who to believe. Are these real customers reviewing your store or are they false statements made by competing pizzerias, an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, an employee of Yelp, a past enemy, etc. I used to read these all the time. It became a bad habit. I do take them into consideration, but I also have to read between the lines to make sure they are legit. For me Tripadvisor has the best, most honest reviews — at least in my experience.

When I opened up my new stores I was really under the microscope even more than ever due to my credentials and longevity in the industry. The build-up and hype with a strong marketing team behind it does bring you to a level where you can’t just be average. You really have to go above and beyond to make sure every pizza, the experience and the service are at their finest. It’s very stressful. I feel having a PR agency is important for an opening. You could pay an agency for a three-month launch, for example. This can help you with access to several media outposts and sometimes one on one with writers and some critics. I am personable and like to talk to everyone — especially someone writing about my food. It’s great when a true critic can come in well after your opening and not be pre-judgmental. Those are the ones I really enjoy. The worst ones are the ones that come opening week — rookies.

But you have to be prepared because someone is always watching and always ready to write a blog about you.

RESPECTING THE CRAFT features World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento.  Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail jwhite@pizzatoday.com and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.

Tony Gemignani talks secrets to great pesto

Tony Gemignani talks secrets to great pesto

Q: Can you tell me how to make a great pesto?

A: I sure can!
Pesto is traditionally a sauce made from fresh basil, pine nuts, olive oil, grated cheese and garlic that have been ground together in a mortar and pestle. Here at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana we stick to tradition in that we always use fresh basil and pine nuts. But, like many others, we change the recipe slightly to make something new. In making pesto you always want to use the freshest basil you can find. In using fresh basil, your final product will have more flavor and have a more vibrant green color. There are a few tricks to maintaining that green color, although some pizzaioli and chefs will disagree. One of which is to blanch your basil quickly in boiling water for 1-2 seconds and then quickly transfer it to cold water (this seals in the color). Adding lemon or lime juice to your recipe will also aid in preserving the green color we all know and love.

We use an extra virgin olive oil of good quality, but one that does not have such a distinct flavor of its own that it will over power any of the other flavors. At Tony’s we always use pine nuts in our recipe instead of other nuts. Pine nuts are generally one of the more expensive nuts on the market. Switching to another nut such as walnuts, almonds or even cashews could lower your food cost. It also would provide the added bonus of changing the flavor of your pesto to make it more your own.

In some areas of the country depending on the season, basil can be hard to come by or can be expensive. So changing to another green is a way some restaurants and chefs work around those problems. Other common ingredients used are arugula, spinach, or even sun-dried tomatoes and red peppers. Just like mentioned previously, the flavor and intensity of all herbs and vegetables varies throughout the year depending on what season it is. Garlic is subject to this fluctuation as well. The intensity and spiciness of garlic fluctuates throughout the year and there are a couple ways to counteract this. You could just add less garlic to your recipe to cut down on the intensity or you could add something sweet to counteract the spiciness. At Tony’s, we like to add a little bit of agave nectar to cut down on the garlic’s spiciness.

When it comes to the cheese in pesto we like to use Parmigiano Reggiano in both grated and shaved forms. Using the cheese in both forms adds a little bit of texture to the pesto so it’s not all one smooth consistency. When we blend all of the ingredients together here at the restaurant we hold back some of the oil so as to keep it more paste like and thick. A thin layer of oil at the top helps keep oxidation at bay and keeps the color bright green. When we want to use the pesto we take a small amount and thin it out with the remaining oil we reserved.

RESPECTING THE CRAFT features World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento. Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail jwhite@pizzatoday.com and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.

Respecting the Craft: How to open with correct menu pricing

Respecting the Craft: How to open with correct menu pricing

When opening a restaurant, one of the worst things you can do is over price your menu. You can always raise your prices, but when you see a restaurant lower them that could be the sign that they are in trouble.

This principle not only applies to menu items but also for coupons and discounts. A general rule is to have introductory prices when you open –– nothing substantial, but prices that are reasonable while you build a customer base. Follow with a slight increase four to six months later, and then another by the end of your first year.

Local loyal customers are the bread and butter to your business, especially during slow seasons along with a diverse approachable menu that separates you from the other guys. It’s always better not to shock customers with extremely high prices right out of the gate.

When we opened in Las Vegas we had a meeting about offering local discounts to certain agencies and businesses. We settled for a 20-percent off, which I felt was too high. If you’re running a 22- to 25-percent food cost and take 20 percent off, this would get you near a 40-percent food cost, which is a little scary. The hardest thing about this scenario is changing this to a 10-percent or 15-percent discount. This change is very problematic especially if it reached several different outposts and notifying everyone can be really hard and frustrate a customer. We did adjust our discount when 2014 came and it was a very tough transition.

Designing a menu that can be easily reprinted without significant costs is the way to go. I have this at a few of my restaurants and changed my store in Las Vegas to this type of menu within seven months because this year’s prices on raw products were at an all-time high. If items like romaine, arugula, chicken, pork and beef go up you can easily make a change or take the item off for a while and add it back later in the year when or if they go down. Typically produce always fluctuates so it is easy to control when you have a menu that can be easily changed.

I strongly feel that you should always price your menu items based on your cost. When I do make a price change on menus I always lower and raise prices. One really great reason is the response you and your employees will have when a customer asks.

Customers will always say, “Boy, did you raise your prices?” Your employees need to have a frank and honest answer at the ready. Typically, it’s the rise of products, gas, rent, meat –– general inflation. Another great response that you or your employees can say is: “Yes, we raised and lowered our prices.” This can ease the anger coming from that customer because it’s true and it’s a great response. Never raise prices by $1 but instead in cents, such as 50 or 75 cents. It’s easy to argue about raising dollars –– it’s a tough argument when your talking cents. Making incremental changes at least three to four times per year is better than once so it isn’t such a giant change or sway in prices.

Back in the ’90s when I was working with my brother at Pyzano’s we were into that coupon war. We took $3 off a large and $2 off a medium. Our large was 16 inches and we were using premium products. Eventually, our $8.99 large pepperoni went to $9.99 and then $10.99. The increases had to stop. I realized that these coupons were killing us especially if it was carryout when you added a box, corrugated square or parchment, and pie stack. I remember restructuring our coupon with free two liters or breadsticks with any purchase of a large pizza at regular menu price (which cost me 80 cents to $1). I added value for the customer without devaluing my product.

RESPECTING THE CRAFT features World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento.  Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail jwhite@pizzatoday.com and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.

Respecting the Craft: Lean and Mean

Respecting the Craft: Lean and Mean

I had to make an executive decision. I realized at the 11th hour that my kitchen at Tony’s of North Beach in the Graton Casino would not be able to handle the original menu I planned for it prior to opening. Simply put, we would not be able to execute it perfectly due to a variety of factors. Well, perfect execution is what I expect. In order for my new staff to be able to provide that to our guests, I decided that I would need to take roughly 30 percent of the items off the menu.

One hiccup: I’d already paid to print menus. Still, I couldn’t let a few grand derail our opening by overwhelming our staff and therefore providing poor execution. So I had new menus printed — at the cost of $3,000 — just three days before we opened. Was it a total necessity for me to spend $6,000 on two menu printings?

Yes, it was.

Funny thing is that this is the third time I have done this when opening a new restaurant. You would think that I would have learned something about menu development for a new pizzeria by now, wouldn’t you? But here’s the thing: as an owner you are so eager to open your restaurant that it becomes difficult to slow down the flow of “great ideas” that fill your head.

Still, opening a restaurant with a menu that cannot be executed is a huge mistake. I fully believe that once you hire your kitchen staff and have training, that’s when you understand your team’s limitations and what it is capable of accomplishing. Like I said, I have been known to downsize my menu before an opening at three other locations. While it may have caused me to spend more at the beginning, the move definitely saved me customers and thousands of headaches all three times. First impressions are everything, especially to a new customer.

As a pizzaiolo I really want to show off everything on the menu. Yet, in the midst of it all I seem to come to reality and say to my self that the customer won’t get around to sampling 20 to 30 percent of the menu until their fifth or sixth time in. So why not keep my most popular items and delete the rest?

This is not only good for execution, by the way. It also gives writers something to hype on your behalf about six months down the line when you add the 30 percent back to the menu. And it satisfies regulars who are beginning to look for something new from you at about that time. So don’t be afraid to cut your menu a bit when you go for that second or third or fourth location.

RESPECTING THE CRAFT features World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento.  Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail jwhite@pizzatoday.com and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.

Respecting the Craft: Opening Day

Respecting the Craft: Opening Day

Three restaurants opening within 10 days — How am I going to do it?

I am literally 10 days away from opening two new restaurants in Northern California at a casino called Graton. This is one of the biggest tribal casinos in the U.S. and we were selected to be there. There we will be an 8,200 square-foot Tony’s of North Beach and a 1,000 square-foot Slice House.

It was crazy — Pizza Rock was near 12 weeks delayed and the two new places were practically a week early. Ideally, we wanted them spread out by three months but that wasn’t the case. With delays in Vegas, that’s when it caught up to us. I had a total of almost 250 new employees and I had to get them trained for some giant openings. Two months prior to the Graton project, I hired my kitchen management, GM and AGM who were training at one of my existing locations. It is important to train your core group before hiring your entire staff and everyone begins training.

At the beginning of Pizza Rock Vegas’ orientation I had a team that was part of a guerilla hiring program for the entire Graton staff. So after three-day introduction in Vegas, I spent the next three days at Graton doing it all over again with three to five days of training. This all happened quickly before our first practice mock opening.

Not only were my team hiring nearly 125 employees at the casino, the casino itself and other restaurants had a combined 2,200 jobs in a town that couldn’t support it (more on that in next month’s column).

In the month of October, my partner George and I were on a plane 17 times. As I was gone from Las Vegas back to Graton and then vice versa, I had a core group of trainers dedicated for each line, covering pantry, pastry and pasta, wood fire, NY slice, dough, sausage-link production, and Romana-, Sicilian- and classic American-style pizzas. My front of the house was handled by our new GM and AGM and a territory manager who was a previous GM from Pizza Rock Sacramento. I had my mixologist from SF and bar manager flown in to handle the bar and my wine specialist assisting the wine program, which were very different and select from each location. I even had Bar Rescue’s Bartending extraordinaire Russell Davis come in for some amazing cocktails and a pre-training party. This thrilled the staff and was another part of the marketing campaign.

Everyone had a specific duty and were specialists in their own areas. This kept from stretching George and myself too thin and saved me money in the end. Always have more than enough trainers and help to support the new crew. The family feel of owners who can lead by example and their team is important for morale and camaraderie. Sure there was some confusion, as operations differed at each location, but remembering everyone’s names was the hardest.

The official opening of the new Graton casino was pretty amazing with nearly 40,000 people on day one. We did weekly numbers that I thought were impossible to achieve especially with an unseasoned new team. I treated it like a festival and for seven days straight it was. Several other restaurants ran out of food and had to close early. We did not. At Slice House alone we sold over 2,000 slices on opening day. It was a mad house and I loved it.

During openings, I typically take 30 percent of my seating out so we can handle it. It’s always better to make sure that 100 percent of the customers feel happy and served plus our team builds confidence both in the back of the house and front. Once we establish that our crew can handle the business and we strengthen our systems and flow, we add 5 percent seating each week until we reach our max. This also helps if a launch happens to be slow. It always better to be full than half full. Having a host can help a lot to hold the door and seating which will assist our staff when keeping up with a rush.

When somebody says: “do you think we will pull it off?” I say: “We aren’t just going to pull it off. We are going to kill it.” We did,   and all three openings were giant successes.

RESPECTING THE CRAFT features World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento.  Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail jwhite@pizzatoday.com and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.

Respecting the Craft: Know your demographic

Respecting the Craft: Know your demographic

When I opened Pizza Rock II in Las Vegas, I tailored the menu very much like I did in the first store in Sacramento. However, I did add a few new styles. You see, I have a restaurant in San Francisco where my Neapolitan line is the busiest and my Margherita pizza is the most popular overall on my menu. I remember a discussion I had with my partner, George, about the Margherita and how it was his favorite. At the time, we were building our first Pizza Rock in Sacramento and I told George that I doubted the Margherita would be our most popular there. In fact, I predicted that the Neapolitan line in Sac could be the slowest of our pizza styles. He said I was crazy.

“It’s the best pizza in the world, and it has the trophy to prove it,” he quipped.
I told him that not everyone gets it, that Sacramento is a meat and potato town and our combo would be the most popular. And for that reason, on our menu I called it “The Sacramento.” As it turns out, I was right.

So as we were building Pizza Rock II in Las Vegas, I followed the same philosophy. I added a Chicago Cracker Thin as well as partnered New York/New Haven and added them to the top of my menu. It was my belief that downtown Vegas was not looking for the unique pizzas that were more out of the box. Like Sacramento, that part of “Sin City” is much more traditional. So as we designed our menu I focused lightly on my Neapolitan section and gave more weight to our other lines. Even though areas like Sacramento and Downtown Las Vegas are not suburbs, they are still what I would call “semi-metropolitan” areas. With places like this, good, old-fashioned pizzas remain a grand slam not only with customers, but with critics and bloggers, too.

And since it’s about value in places like this, my Sicilian style pizzas (that can feed up to six) have been a hit as well. In fact, some of our most requested pizzas simply have pepperoni and sausage as toppings. That’s what people want and ours is as good as it gets.

In Las Vegas, I also added a New York-style slice kitchen and window up front to satisfy sidewalk traffic, long waits, and late night drinkers coming out of the local bars. It brought in an entirely different clientele. Patrons who don’t like to sit in restaurants, those who may be anti social, folks who hate waits, people in a hurry and customers on their way to work all like the convenience and affordability the slice window offers.

The point? My restaurant in San Francisco is very different from my restaurant in Sacramento or downtown Las Vegas. Why? Because the demographics are different. If I would have tried to force the San Francisco way onto residents of downtown Vegas, it may not have gone well. Know your market and cater to it.

RESPECTING THE CRAFT features World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento.  Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail jwhite@pizzatoday.com and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.

Respecting the Craft: Down and out in Las Vegas

Respecting the Craft: Down and out in Las Vegas

Honestly, I have never been a fan of a certain nationally known food distributor. Early in my career I disliked their approach and practices when it came to their reps. Over the last 23 years I have always bought from independent Italian distributors. And I still do.

Opening a new restaurant and going into a region like Las Vegas, which has practically
everything, I never thought sourcing ingredients would be an issue when I opened Pizza Rock II. But it sure was! My new restaurant has a very unique menu. We have eight different styles of pizzas that are made with five different ovens. With all of these styles, we use several regional and imported ingredients. When I started sourcing around Las Vegas I came to realize that I couldn’t find over 25 ingredients — which would have eliminated half my menu. I was at a stand still. One of the only distributors that had no problem getting most of these ingredients was the large national distributor I always despised. My rep went out of her way to source everything she could and made sure it was at a reasonable price. My pizza is unique and my ingredients were the key component when it comes to separating me from everyone else.

My contacts on the manufacturing side were a great help as well. Many, many companies worked hand in hand with the national rep to get me certain products I needed.  It’s
important to find out who the importer is in your quest to get specific ingredients.

Regional products such as specialty cheeses and salumi were a challenge, but West Coast distributors I know actually worked together to help me get the product I needed. Stocking one product for a single store could be a nightmare for a distributor and a warehouse, but the distributors assisted me with everything I needed regardless.

I have always been fond of a good relationship with reps when it comes to my distributors, and I was lucky to find that in Las Vegas. My reps eased the stress level when it came to my opening. The first few weeks are always a challenge and my reps really went out of their way to help me through it. I remember getting an order in on a Sunday night when we ran out of something. It was one of those opening weekends that you were banging your head against the wall. The next day I called my rep and said “Thanks, that saved me.” He said: “You don’t have to say thanks — that’s my job, and it’s about dedication. You would have done the same for me.”

That was an experience I will never forget. Your distributors play a major role in your success. Always remember that.

RESPECTING THE CRAFT features World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento.  Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail jwhite@pizzatoday.com and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.