I haven't been here in a while so let me weigh in.
I started my adventure right here, on pizzamaking.com. At first I just wanted to make great pizza at home. The more pizza I made, the more I thought about turning it into a businsess.
However, I already had a businsess. I owned a very successful, high quality ice cream and chocolate shop in Princeton, NJ. After seeing a little note on this website about Doug Coffin and his pizza truck we decided to buy a truck and do pizza catering while maintaining our current jobs. We found a beautifully restored REO Speedwagon on Ebay and bought it for $5000, in Canada.
I visited Doug and learned much about the catering business. He was very generous with help and information. He invited me to observe a catering event he was doing that day.
We completed our truck construction in May of 2007, costing about 100k. A local business weekly newspaper used us as their cover story and we were in the traveling wood fired truck catering business.
I had been working on making the perfect pizza for 2 yrs after installing a wood fired oven in my kitchen. That work was beginning to pay off. Everywhere we went, people loved the pizza, loved the truck, loved the whole concept. And everywhere we went, people asked where our restaurant was located. We had to give them the bad news that we only cater parties. If they wanted our pizza they need to hire the truck.
We had a good summer but in winter, there is no business. The truck was profitable for 4 or 5 months of the year. It made money, but not enough to call it a living for two of us. We started thinking about a pizzeria for two reasons. First, we wanted to make a living doing pizza and we couldn't do it with our truck, and just as importantly, we needed a commissary. We were telling the health department that we were preparing food at a friends restaurant when we were really doing it at my home. My house was becoming covered in flour. We were getting busier and working out of home was becoming uncomfortable.
A beautiful tiny restaurant (600 sq ft) became available in our small town. We rented it and I sold my ice cream business. My partner sold his landscaping business. Our pizzeria could only fit 35 seats. We added a patio and can fit 25 more seats in the nice weather. Oh to be in Southern California when it is nice almost all year. Our truck could operate most of the year. Our patio could be open most of the year. But, here we are here in NJ. You have to work with what you have. We put a walk-in ref outside. We borrowed an unused lot that is situated next to our pizzeria and installed a beautiful garden to grow basil, garlic, herbs, tomatoes, flowers and whatever.
We decided to keep things very simple. Just pizza and salad. Nothing else. No dessert, no coffee, no apps. Simple with a fast turnover.
We thought about not permitting 'to go' pizzas but since we had limited seats, we should. Pizza to go sucks, totally sucks. But people buy it, and lots of it. Our to go orders on weekends are about a third of the pizzas we make. I still hate selling them, but its a big part of our business. And we have lots of repeat customers that buy it to go.
We were worried that we were in a small town (2000) that already had 2 pizzeria. We had to be extra special to be a draw from nearby population centers. We would have to be a destination. We didn't know if anyone would walk in the door when we opened. But, I have always felt that if you do your best, put your heart into whatever you do, you will be successful.
We built our pizzeria at a cost of 250k and opened our doors in mid August of 2009.
Our plan was to open only 4 nights a week. Wed, Thur, Fri, Sat. We were so busy that we decided to open Tuedsay night to ease the pressure. Last year, we decided to open on Sunday.
Sunday is the third busiest day of the week. Now we are open 6 evenings, no lunch ever. Who knows, we might do a weekend lunch next year.
Our worries were all for not. Wow, we were slammed. Busy from day one. Way beyond our expectations. We were dazed and confused. It took a few weeks to get our systems figured out and get things under control. We had (and still do) have over one hour and longer waits on all weekends and many week days. We soon became the hottest restaurant in our area.
Zagat gave us a great review, ranking our score higher than any pizzeria in NY or Philadelpha. (we are right in between the two cities). We became recognized as one of the best places in central NJ, and there some excellent places to eat out there. Almost 3 years later, business is still getting better. Our sales for the first half of the year are about a third over last year and last year was busier than the year before.
We decided to open our second (and most likely last) pizzeria in Philadelphia. We found a cool place with 100 seats (maybe too big) with a liquor license. We bought the property and renovated. All told, invested about 500k plus a big mortgage. Again, we kept it simple but not as simple. Pizza, Salad, dessert, some apps, 12 craft beers, affordable but good wine. We opened in February, which is the worst month of the year. We were way over budget and had to open. We opened to a fairly big yawn. A little fish from NJ in a shark tank in Philadelphia.
Last month we got a review from the most feared food reviewer in Philadelphia. He basically said we were the best pizza in Philly and the best pizza he has had outside of Naples.
Our business doubled that day. We are doing well there, and we have a lot of room for growth. And, our pizza truck has been a big hit in Philadelphia. We took it to last years 'Pizza Olympics' and won best pizza. We reently took it to a "Best Chefs" event and won.
The truck is a great way to introduce your pizza to people unfamiliar with good pizza. Every time we take our truck to an event, we are introducing great pizza to people who have never had wood fired pizza. And you can see their amazement. I had the same experience in Naples over 10 years ago. It is a great way to get new customers into your pizzeria.
We go to several street festivals and will make 100 pizzas per hour. We have a crew of 8 or 9 and we make as fast as we can. We will have lines of 30 or 40 hungry customers.
Many of these people are having wood fired pizza for the first time.
The pros of having a pizzeria with a truck are many. The pizzeria get business for your mobile WF0, and visa versa. The pizzeria gives you a paycheck all year long (though smaller in the winter). People love the success story of going from a small mobile business to a more established business. There is a certain 'cool' factor in having a moblie oven.
There are cons. The con is that it is all year long. No long periods of time off in the winter. Work 6 nights a week making pizza. Work most daytimes doing bookings and book keeping.
Work, work, work Time, time time. In many ways, I have built my own prison. You have more employees to deal with. More book keeping, more administration stuff. Yes, you will make more $$$ but there is a cost. I haven't had time to see a movie or go out to dinner in many months. I work the oven every night with few exceptions.
But - I do love the business. We are somewhat of a local celebrities and there is tons of positive feed back. Customers always heap on the praise and we have few complaints.
And the profits margins in this business are exceptionally good. One day we might get to enjoy the profits if we ever quit opening new places.
And I do have one more pizzeria I want to open. Here we go again. A Roman pizza. Very different than the Naples variety. Different dough process. Extremely thin edge to edge, rolled out - not hand tossed. A third less dough and bigger. We have it on our 'secret menu' and customers love it. We have Italian customers that say it is better than the pizza in Rome. I love it. It should be done on this side of the Atlantic. Maybe I give it a shot. Then I'll retire.