Campania Pizza & More is featured in an article at Pizza Today, at http://pizzatoday.com/features_articles.shtml?article=OTQwNnN1cGVyOTQwM3NlY3JldDk0MTA=
Campania offers Dallas a welcome break from barbecue, Tex-Mex and steak.
Jay Jerrier glides into the kitchen and plops a stainless steel bowl onto a counter. It's filled with fresh mozzarella that he made that very morning. Sure, he gets fior-di-latte supplied to him from a couple of different sources, but sometimes he likes to make it himself.
Perhaps it helps remind him that, even in an age where competitors stumble over one another to offer the lowest-priced end product possible, authenticity can still make a difference.
Jerrier is but one member of a group of individuals that owns Campania Pizza & More, a two-store juggernaut in Dallas. He serves as the face of an operation that includes nine other co-owners - partly because he's at ease talking with members of the media and partly because he's at ease in the kitchen. Far from being a casual investor, Jerrier has no formal culinary training. But he has a passion for pizza the way he feels it was intended to be made and served - the Neapolitan way, that is. Sure, there are variations. His hand is more liberal when it comes to adding fresh basil to a traditional Margherita, for example. But, by and large, Jerrier is a purist who seems intent on honoring and preserving pizza the way it is done in its birthplace. His establishment is part of a small-but-growing trend in America: Neapolitan pizza is hot and gaining traction across the nation in cities as different as Pittsburgh and Seattle.
Even Dallas, known for its steak and potatoes and not its Italian fare, is undergoing somewhat of a pizza Rennaissance.
"It's nice to see," says Jerrier, who doesn't shun the competition.
"We weren't the first and there's really this little group of pizzerias in Dallas that are bringing this higher end product to market."
By "higher end" Jerrier isn't just talking about the ingredients Campania uses. He's also referring to the look and feel of his stores. The two will gross a combined $2.5 million this year and boast an average guest check of $33. Despite its high volume - Campania serves an average of 9,000 guests per month - the restaurant's stores have a deliberate feel to them. Far from being designed to rush diners in and out, the ambiance encourages patrons to take their time and enjoy their experience. From a plethora of ornate tile work to an inviting bar and a strong dessert menu, Campania captures the "slow dining" feel that is a signature of upscale steak houses.
At least that's the case at the Southlake Town Square location - which cost $1.8 million to build and seats 230. The original store, in West Village, seats up to 120 and has more of a casual feel.
"They are two different stores tied together with the same menu," explains Jerrier. "There is some tile work in West Village and the Italian theme is there, it just isn't to the level of Southlake. We were able to get into a larger location there and the success of West Village enabled us to put more into the opening of Southlake."
In fact, roughly one-third of the Southlake store's buildout cost went to an Italian company that laid the tile and brought in the chairs. All told, Jerrier says Campania spent nearly $600,000 on the tilework, which includes an outdoor mural on an upstairs dining deck.
"We ended up going over our budget by $300,000 because of construction delays," Jerrier says of the Southlake buildout. "Plus we had some problems with the roof and we had to install an elevator."
While the end result is a beautiful pizza palace, the question begs: was it worth it? Definitely, answers Jerrier.
"Yes, because we're the only pizzeria that can be in this whole shopping complex," he says. Southlake Town Square offers dozens of upscale shops and caters to an affluent suburban demographic that has plenty of disposable dining income in even these tough economic times. "Even though we have 5,900 square feet here, the lease is only on 3,100 square feet and it's for five years with five-year renewal options. Southlake is a really well-to-do area with a lot of families and some of them eat out seven nights a week. We're not serving bone-in ribeyes here, so a family of four can get out of here for $30 or $40. But, at the same time, people can still come in here and feel like they're in a nice restaurant.
I think we've built a pretty good concept. We just have to have good quality pizza and treat our staff well and keep our customers and our staff happy."
Those are, in fact, the challenges of every pizzeria. Campania makes fulfilling those goals look easy by taking a "quality first" approach. The trademark of many of today's top independent restaurants, this mindset means being ruthless about ingredient selection and being willing to pay more for the best the marketplace has to offer.
"You can't use substandard ingredients in a concept like this and expect to pull it off," says Jerrier. "Our focus here is on bringing an authentic Italian pizza to Dallas. You don't do that by starting off with inferior flour."
Though the menu at Campania is diverse, it is far from overwhelming. True to Italian form, it is characterized by simplicity.
Take the "Estiva," for example. The gourmet Neapolitan pizza contains but four ingredients (besides the dough, of course): tomato sauce, extra virgin olive oil, mozzarella and white onions. The basic salad, or "Basica," offers Romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella and Parmesan. It's finished with a house-made dressing. Then there's the "Prosciutto Melon" appetizer. The name speaks for itself and is one of the most simplistic, authentic and delicious of all Italian dishes.
Prices range from $5 for an appetizer of imported olives marinated in extra virgin olive oil and herbs to $21 for an 18-inch "Primavera" - a large, white pizza with cherry tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, arugula, Parmigiano Reggiano and San Daniele prosciutto.
Food accounts for 73 percent of Campania's sales. Pizza, meanwhile, comprises 80 percent of food sales. The most popular pizza size, says Jerrier, is the medium. Though the menu lists it at 14 inches in diameter, Jerrier says it's usually closer to 12 inches "depending on who's stretching it." Campania also offers a 7-inch small pizza. Five ounces of dough is used to make its base, while 9.5 ounces is used for a medium and 16 ounces for a large. Jerrier says the company starts its dough production with 55-pound bags of flour. Each bag yieds approximately 150 pizzas.
"We make our dough every morning for use the next day," he says. "We mix it for 15 minutes and then give it a one-hour rise with a damp towel. From there we ball it up and cover it in the fridge. It gets about a 24- to 28-hour rise before we use it the next day."
It's a pretty typical process, but since Campania more or less sells all of the dough it makes each day, there is little margin for error. In the case of a mid-day equipment failure, Jerrier says Campania's dough can be rushed into service.
"If there's an emergency and we're out of dough, we can let it sit outside for about seven hours and then use it," he explains. "We want it to have a little bit of a yeasty flavor still, but of course we don't want to blow it."
Though not ideal, the option allows Jerrier's kitchen crew to get through the day without management having to turn customers away.
"It's a simple dough," says Jerrier. "Water, flour, yeast and salt - that's it. It's about mixing it in the right combinations.
"With our sauce, we like to add a sprinkle of grated Parmesan to it. It disintegrates right into the sauce and gives it a real nice flavor. Since we don't put any salt in the sauce, it's an important step."
Many of the pizzas receive a drizzle of olive oil before they go into the oven. Though most Italian pizzerias prefer to add fresh basil after the 'za comes out of the oven, Campania takes a different approach. While he realizes it isn't conventional to add the basil beforehand, Jerrier says, "we do it that way because we think it makes it a little more aromatic."
Panini, calzones, pasta and dessert round out the menu.
"We run three or four pasta specials each day," says Jerrier. "The lasagna Bolognese is probably our best seller. It's really, really popular. There's no ricotta in it, and I think that appeals to a lot of people."
The daily pasta specials make use of various sauces, ranging from Alfredo to tomato vodka. Growing in popularity is the pesto, which is made in house and is characterized by a uniquely sweet flavor.
The pasta, meanwhile, is cooked just short of al dente every morning and then finished to order. Besides having a more luxurious feel, the Southlake Town Square location has two more key differences from the West Village store. Production wise, West Village has deck ovens while Southlake features the wood-burning variety. Jerrier says the latter is his preference, but the West Village store simply doesn't have the space to accommodate them. The second difference is an important profit center: the bar. While West Village doesn't have one (subsequently its check average is about $12 lower than Southlake's), alcohol accounts for 27 percent of sales at the Southlake shop.
"It makes a huge difference," says Jerrier.
"Our bar gets real busy and you'll see a lot of beer and wine on our tables when we're packed."
The top selling beer is imported Peroni. "I think it's because we're an Italian restaurant and people want that experience when they come here."
In fact, beer sells so well that Jerrier says, "If I knew when we opened what I know now, I would have put in a lot more taps."
According to Jerrier, Campania pays between 50 and 75 cents for 16 ounces of draft beer and between 80 and 90 cents for a typical 12-ounce bottle.
"We pay less for the draft and charge more for it," he says. "That's why we're looking to add five more taps."
In all, Campania offers 16 beers and 43 wines (15 whites and 28 reds). The top sellers are the usual suspects: pinot grigio and chianti.
"We wanted to put together a big wine list, so we put a lot of thought into it," says Jerrier. "We wanted to be sure we offered a lot of Italian wines."
Glasses are priced between $7 and $13, while most bottles are below $40.
"We could mark up our wine more, but we're trying to get people into them, so we have priced it very reasonably," Jerrier says.
One of the ways Campania is striving to move its customers deeper into the wine culture is by educating its front-of-the-house staff so they can better upsell the product.
"Wine reps do classes with our servers once a month," says Jerrier. "And our beer distributors show our servers how to pour the beer so it has a good head on it."
In fact, Jerrier says liquor distributors can be one of a restaurant's most valuable business partners.
"We bought a lot of different glassware in the beginning," he explains, "but then we pretty much discovered that the beer vendors will give you pretty much whatever you want - glasses, napkins ... whatever will help them sell their product to you."
Campania is in the enviable position of not having to market much to produce big sales.
Thanks in part to its authenticity and pacesetting ways in Dallas, the concept has garnered plenty of positive local press. In fact, D Magazine even named Campania one of Dallas' best new restaurants. The word of mouth has created considerable buzz - made more valuable by the fact Campania's owners went so far over budget on the Southlake buildout.
"We do a lot of community outreach," Jerrier says of Campania's marketing program. "We donate a lot of gift cards to local high schools and stuff flyers into goodie bags at events. We'll get involved with charity auctions and other events that give back like that.
"One of the things we really like to do is what we call 'Pizzaiolo for a Day.' Whoever wins an auction for charity gets to come in for two or three hours and prep stuff. They make mozzarella, make sauce, make dough, make fresh pasta. They cook a few things and then they get to have their friends come in at five o'clock and eat what they worked on making that day."
Besides that, Jerrier says wine tastings have worked to bring in news customers as well.
"Another thing we do is pick a slow day, usually a Monday or a Tuesday, and team up with a charity. They do all the work by spreading the word for the event and we donate 10 percent of sales for that evening to the charity. That works out well and we don't have to do anything to promote it."
Jerrier adds that the gift card donations Campania makes have a high redemption rate and usually work to cultivate new regulars. He tracks their usage on the company's point of sale system, which he says is indispensible to operators in this day and age.
"I don't know how anybody runs a business without one," he says. "It gives you instant data and I'm a big believer that what gets measured gets managed. You don't have to wait until the end of the month to track trends, track inventory, track your gift cards or loyalty program. It's so easy to load your customer info into a database and track their recent orders and how often they're in here. As you can probably tell, I Iike to be hands-on and see the data in a certain way."
Jeremy White is editor-in-chief at PIZZA TODAY.