Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Build Good Pizza and They Will Come

Build good pizza and they will come… even the U.S. President.  Just ask Chris Sommers of Pi Pizzeria based in St. Louis Missouri.   That’s just what happened back in 2008, when Obama was passing through on his campaign trail.  The advance team had ordered carryout from Pi and when Obama tasted it he proclaimed it to be the best pizza he’d ever eaten. 

Obama talked so much about “that pizza in St. Louis,” in fact, that when he became President, his assistant, Reggie Love, called in May 2009 and invited the Pi team to the White House to “satiate their cravings” (in the words of Sommers).

Pi attributes the success of its pizza to the quality of its ingredients.  The restaurant’s thin crust dough is always vegan and their deep-dish crust pizza is vegan, on request.  Gluten-free crust made from rice flour tapioca flour, potato starch, egg whites, olive oil, vegetable oil and water is also on the menu as is vegan cheese and vegan meats.

Pi is also committed to creating ecologically sustainable, “environmentally benign” restaurants.  90% of the restaurant’s materials, including art, furniture and flooring, are reclaimed and only 25% of its waste goes to landfill.  And Pi was the first restaurant in St. Louis to adopt the 100% recycled multifunctional GreenBox pizza box.  Sommers involves his restaurant in Earth Day too, with a focus on developing a green restaurant division for the organization.

So what has Sommers been up to since 2008?  He opened a Pi restaurant in Washington, D.C., of course!  Not to mention three more stores in the St. Louis area as well as a couple of roaming pizza trucks.  He also did some catering recently for the President’s recent campaign fundraiser in the St. Louis area, a nice by-product of producing quality pizza.

So build good pizza and they will come… Oh, and don’t be afraid to create some hype about it.  Chris Sommers wasn’t, as evidenced by his multiple television appearances and press mentions… not to mention his 2008 launch of election win pizza, the Broccoli O'Bama.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Pairing Organic and Local Wines with Pizza!

This past weekend I took my very first trip to California’s Napa Valley.  Given my love of wine and Napa Valley’s reputation as one of the top Viticultural Areas in America, I’m kicking myself for not making that trip a long time ago, but better late than never I guess. 

Napa Valley is beautiful at this time of year - it just the perfect temperature and there is something so fun about stumbling across a small boutique winery off the beaten path and discovering a wine that you’ll never find at retail.  And one of the wonderful things I learned on my many winery visits was just how far organic wines have come over the past few years (1,200 acres to date the Napa region alone, in fact).

What does “organic” mean when it comes to wines?  It simply means that no chemicals can be used in the vineyard; no chemical fertilizers, weed killers or insecticides. The only substance that is permitted for use is elemental sulfur, which is itself organic and which is used to prevent powdery mildew.

Both organic and local wines represent a neat opportunity for pizza operators to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Slice pizzeria, for example promotes an “Organic Wine Pairing Night” at their restaurant in New York.  For $35, clients enjoy two glasses of wine, an appetizer, gourmet pizza entree and dessert.  Mobile pizza vendor Beatrice’s Inferno, a user of the eco-friendly and multifunctional GreenBox pizza box, is invited many weekends to Galen Glen Vineyard and Winery in Andreas, PA and Va La Vineyards in Avondale, PA because these winemakers know that pizza and wine together create great draws from their local communities.

So to pizza operators that haven’t stomped their feet in the organic and local wine barrels yet - give them a chance.  By turning your organic and local wine pairings into a fun experience as did identical twin owners Slice founders Miki and Radha Agrawal and Beatrice’s Inferno owner Jason Brown, you can generate traffic, help your local and organic vineyards and most importantly, bring something different and more unique to the table than your competitors.

My personal organic fave on my visit to Napa?  Frog’s Leap!  It is a winery that tries not to take itself to seriously that has an impressive of list of very good, albeit sometimes a little pricy, wines, including zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, rosé, and even a dessert wine.