365 DAYS UNDER OUR BELTS! Well, it was back in November, 2015 actually, but time has flown. Yes, we made it one full year and are standing proud given the atmosphere, workplace environment, growth and success that our diligence, perseverance and hard work has fostered! How does one go from nothing to something in one year? As I’ve stated in the past there are many pieces to the puzzle. They include:
- A solid plan
- Repeat, a solid plan.
- A team of like-minded individuals who share your values, diligence and perseverance
- Checking your ego at the door
- A great product
- A loyal customer base that appreciates what you bring to the area
- The ability to measure your goals and adjust should you fail to reach one or more
- LISTENING SKILLS
- Mastering your craft
- a whole lot more, but these are the first pieces that come to mind when I think about the puzzle of success
First and foremost, thank you to all of the pizza loving people who have given us a shot. To anyone for whom we have blown it, we are sorry and appreciated the opportunity. We’ve improved markedly and continually since we first opened. To all those who make statements like “this is the best pizza I’ve ever tasted”, thank you for driving us. You see, we don’t rest on our laurels. Never. Instead, our continual improvement and attention to detail, coupled with our unwillingness to accept anything but the best, has led to noticeable improvements in every part of the business.
What has changed? Our approach to nearly everything we do. One thing that hasn’t changed is the respect we have for our customers and the sense of family that exists within Antonio’s. Our dough has improved; the sauce has changed quite a bit from when we started; our pizza making skills are light years better than a year ago across the board. Our oven skills are outrageous. Now, we can work with any dough you throw at us and make a nice looking pie. Some of the “artisan” pies we made early on are laughable shapes compared to those we make today. Progress is visible, measurable and memorable. The layout has improved, we put in new heating, did upgrades wherever they were necessary, added two ovens, made her pretty and on and on. The investment in improvement is continual and there are many who can attest to our sometimes heated discussions over how to improve a given process. We are blessed to have four seriously driven leaders who are the backbone of our store. We don’t miss days, we don’t no-show, we don’t leave each other stranded, we never leave unless the others can handle the tasks at hand. In short, we have one another’s back. That’s what a team is. We set each other up for success!
One thing you’ll notice about our staff, they are all adults but one. The idea of trusting the hard earned respect we have earned to people who simply “need a job” is unacceptable. Our success has allowed our workers to earn real wages and the idea is that our family of workers will grow with the store and earn wages that can support a family. It takes a tremendous investment in people, processes and equipment to reach the levels of proficiency necessary to afford higher wages, healthcare and pensions, but that’s the goal. It’s in sight and we are attaining it, a little at a time. We’re not just creating jobs, we’re creating opportunities for a genuine career. Not all restaurant jobs suck. This I can say with absolute certainty.
Please allow me to expound on some of the aforementioned puzzle pieces above. Let’s start with “A Solid Plan”. A solid plan isn’t “we’re gonna make pizza”. It’s “we’ll start with this list of products and allow the customer base to show us which they want and value”. You need capital, credit for the down times and upgrades, machinery, equipment, techniques, ingredient testings, soft openings, etc. Then, you need to measure the success of what you initial projections were against actual sales and experience. Did it work? If not, why? Have you asked your customers what they genuinely think with questions like “is there anything you would change in the sauce”? We’ve done this countless times and more often than not, people have very constructive and supportive ideas. Sometimes they fit your plan, other times they render your initial projection incorrect and aren’t what you were looking to hear, but have a duty to consider. The ability to forget about your ego and listen to people who don’t have an axe to grind is often the difference between success and failure. The people you listen to are genuinely appreciative and you get to improve your product or process. Our plan initially involved a much larger menu than we currently have. Customers would come in and say “that lasagna looks and smells outrageous, I’ll have a large pepperoni pizza”. You only need to throw out $100 trays of something so many times to learn the lesson. But, that same product is ordered on nearly every catering order. Lasagna is a specialty that you don’t take lightly when serving to guests. It damn well better be outrageous. We had to modify the plan continually to meet the ACTUAL wants of our customer base. Just because I love pasta fagioli doesn’t mean everyone does. That said, we have many recipes up our sleeves just waiting for the opportunity. Again, the moral of the story is to measure your results against your plan and adjust accordingly.
A great product! Just because your neighbors think you make the best chili doesn’t mean you should run out and start a restaurant around chili. Whatever you choose as the product, it has to be a PASSION. You cannot survive on neighbors alone. The product needs to continually be honed to the point of excellence and then it needs to be consistent as the atomic clock. Once you have it down, perfect the next piece. A friend we made here from back east named Collan helped keep me on track when competitors and their friends were bashing us online. He said “pay attention to mastering your product and ignore the haters. The people will come.” He was right. Thank you Collan.
In addition to your product, you have to really understand the demographic you are looking to attract and whether it actually exists in your immediate geographic area. You can’t sell boxed wine to folks who have a wine cellar. Conversely, if your food is too expensive for the demographic, it won’t work either. Expensive is a very relative term. To those who understand the relationship between price and quality, it”s a simple decision. You can’t have prime rib every night or lobster tartare, nor do you want it. Pizza is a passion for most who truly love it. To others, its just lunch or dinner. Our customers are largely in the passionate camp. They are looking for a superior product and some are surprised to actually find it. Those make our day. I cannot tell you how many times “this is unbelievable” has been blurted out in a full dining room of people. Conversely, there are those who compare our pizza to dominos or little caesars. This is not an apples to apples comparison. If you want $5 pies, we are not the place. You cannot get your tomatoes, flour and olive oil from Italy and sell $5 pies. You cannot pay your employees living wages and sell $5 pies unless you work them to death to do the volume necessary. Our product is rather high level in quality, yet has a realistic price point. That said, I recently heard “I don’t care how much your prosciutto costs, I’m going to Dominos next time”. While only one customer out of many, it speaks to knowing your demographic and serving what they are looking for. We are not looking to fill the lower end niche where specials and cheap pizza are the norm. To all those who would start a business, you have to know your demographic. I’ve been part of a retail business that failed miserably and while it’s a diversion, the lesson will hold value to someone who reads this. The business was in a part of town that had much lower income residents than the client base who made it a destination. Problem was, the clients who made it a destination didn’t grow at a large enough pace to offset the competition which sprung up around it. When we took over, there was a lot of backlash from the clients who were only in the place because prices hadn’t been raised in 10 years and they essentially were taking advantage of that and the free wifi. That should have been the first sign and a glaring red flag. Don’t take over a business unless you know the customer base will support the changes in your plan.
Your plan had better include quantifiable and measured marketing. Not everyone understands how to market and in those cases, it pays to hire someone who is a verifiable expert in the field. Lots of people hold themselves out as such – just check the spam folder in your email – but few are actually. Always ask a prospective advertising person to show you the success they’ve had with their own company’s marketing. If they can’t, move on. We have grown our Facebook presence slowly and steadily since the first day and have regular contributors who we enjoy immensely. Our base now includes over 3000 people. That’s a major achievement! A realistic budget must be earmarked and the results of it cannot be ignored. If you offer a coupon, keep every one, add them up and divide the number of coupons into the dollar amount of revenue they generated, that’s the average value of each order. Subtract the price of the ad from the sum of all sales. How’d you do? Do some of the people only appear when there is a coupon? Of course. Some only buy when there is a deal and are not your core clients. Your core clients are those whose orders you know without asking- your regulars. Remember, every interaction is an opportunity. It’s up to you to recognize and seize them. Marketing alone will only drive people to your business. It’s the product and service they receive that turns them into a loyal customer and keeps them coming back. The minute you stop innovating and improving, competition who haven’t let off the gas will pass you by. It’s a fact, Jack.
Vision: It’s where you intend to take the business, how you see it progressing. Let’s face it, people – especially employees – don’t like change. Positive change is what differentiates you from those who are satisfied with things as they are. If used properly to bring incremental improvements, change is very valuable. If you just change your mind frequently, on a whim, it will frustrate the hell out of your employees. Think hard before making changes that you are uncomfortable with because they don’t fit your vision. Staying true to your vision allows you to stand behind every product with the knowledge that it’s up to your standards. There are times where there is a disconnect between what people want and what you know. That’s when you have to step back, drop your ego for a moment and consider whether being uncomfortable for a bit in unfamiliar territory will allow you to meet their needs and progress as a business owner. Other times, you have to resist change that doesn’t match your core values or menu. If you aren’t constantly looking to the horizon and taking the steps to get there, prepared to be passed by your competitors. This is the adaptability I listed above.
Delivery is a sore spot. All we hear is how much business there is in pizza delivery, but drivers are transient and deliveries in this town are difficult at night and during the summer. “Turn by the red mailbox, then make a left at the big tree” only works if you can find the mailbox. In this town, some of the homes are so remote that you cannot find them without a guide. Frankly, we don’t need to deliver to be successful yet we understand there are times you just don’t want to leave or are sick. It flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but delivery’s not our sweet spot. People love to come into Antonio’s, even if just for a moment to pick up the pie and chat. Personally, the smells emanating from this building would keep me coming back, but we’d all like to think its the personalities and the food. You’d really be surprised at the conversations that occur in our store, never mind the density of former east coasters. It’s very common to have tables full of people talking to one another for upwards of their entire dinner. Our focus continues to be on dine-in and pick up. This brings me to the next puzzle piece: atmosphere.
Atmosphere! Atmosphere cannot be forced, it has to be naturally occurring. Great service, attentiveness, genuine caring and taking pleasure in seeing folks enjoy your product is what creates atmosphere. People who share a common denominator such as the same origins, a love for pizza, nature, etc., will strike up conversation if you put them in the same room. Antonio’s is a destination for people who love pizza, love quality and appreciate atmosphere. We’ve had phone calls from Denver just to confirm when we close and to say “we’re on our way”. Having people drive 100 miles EACH WAY just to have your food is an honor. We treat our customers like family and you will often see hugs exchanged, handshakes and genuine delight in seeing one another. If you build it, they will come. Just last night, one of our favorite families, the McDonald’s came in for a birthday party. A few moments later. they were followed by sisters from Erie who originally come from NJ and a man we know as Hays from the Bronx. The delight in seeing them and they us is what make this place special. The sisters haven’t had anything like the food from back in their hometown and have been craving it. They drove up here just to eat and were overjoyed at the meatball parm hero they had that reminded them of home. The sisters and the McDonalds were talking for quite some time with the surrounding tables joining in. Tony and I stood in the kitchen smiling at the laughter being shared. I was proud that the one thing I really missed about New York – the atmosphere – had developed to this point by a bunch of transplanted New Yorkers. Fostering this environment may be our greatest accomplishment. The atmosphere of the restaurants we frequented where we knew everyone in the place and they knew our order without ever seeing a menu was truly special. Colorado is a transient place on the whole. New York is full of lifers who will never leave and let’s face it, most people are scared of New York. What New York and places like it teach is the ability to get along with people from anywhere. Doesn’t matter the color, nationality, etc., we know how to get along. We missed the familiarity. Hays always orders a pepperoni pie as does RJ and I enjoy the NY handshake that cannot be faked along with his smile. Kerry likes light cheese and David loves the Godfather. Knowing your people is as important as knowing that your brother hates lima beans.. You know what else is paramount to the atmosphere’s existence? Our team.
Our Team: At present, 4 of our staff are from New York- two from upstate, two from Long Island. Jessica’s from AZ, but you’d never know it because of how naturally happy, confident and authoritative she is. These traits compliment the New Yorkers. I think she might actually be a New Yorker…. With 4 born and raised New Yorkers in here, you can feel and hear the presence of East Coast hospitality; words like dawg and cawfee are spoken with authority. Each member of our team brings certain strengths to the table, that, when combined, complete the circle. A real team is much like a family dynamic. There are days you drive one another crazy and have to go outside to breath, but you wouldn’t desert them regardless of how pissed off you are. When you reach this point, it’s like jello- the team/family has been formed. It wiggles and wobbles, but it holds together. We support one another, nurture and dare I say it, love one another like family. Regardless of where they are all from, each and every one shares the same attention to detail and unwillingness to compromise our product in any way. They work efficiently and persevere. I am proud of each and every one, especially the progress they have made as a team. Special thanks to my wife and children who support every effort, not to mention the great cannolis! We are also blessed with a great photographer and person- Kate Francher. Thank you, Kate for all of the beautiful photos and menus.
When taste and authenticity matter, come to Antonio’s Real New York Pizza. You may reach us by phone at 1-970-586-7275 and our online ordering page is at https://antonios.pizza