One of my favorite days each winter is when many of my family members gather to make homemade salami and sausage. This family tradition started in Italy many generations ago and thankfully came to America with my Nonno (grandfather) Amerigo and his closest relatives.
A few years ago, Andy Brown convinced a successful pizzeria owner to teach him the business. In the process, he fell in love with the art and science of pizza baking. Opening his own place in 2018, Andy focused on learning all he could about dough preparation, fermentation, and hydration to the gentle handling techniques which influence crust texture and density!
Key Idea – In addition to perfecting his own dough recipe, Andy worked to identify
the most flavorful, highest quality ingredients and toppings, by repeatedly comparing top brands in blind, side-by-side tastings. Soon his clientele began to grow as Word of Mouth spread about his place.
To keep perfecting “the main thing,” Andy limited his menu to strictly pizza and a variety of premium craft beers, wines, and sodas in single cans. To help guests keep multiple beverages chilled, he also sells reusable coolers and throws in the ice for free.
Despite the Pandemic, the popularity of Andy’s Pizza kept growing, leading him to open a second store, followed by
Key Idea – To help maximize baking consistency, especially across multiple locations, Andy’s team solely offers 18” pizzas sold by the slice or the pie. Sticking to a single size helps standardize bake times across different pie versions and simplifies ingredient portioning as well.
Key Idea – Since Andy can’t be everywhere at once, he also encourages his kitchen leads across shops to hold each other accountable to attractive presentation. He has them each post photos daily onto a text thread shared by the entire team showing off their best freshly baked slice pies on display and ready for
the lunch rush!
Key Idea – To further reinforce employee pride in quality from Day #1, all new hires including counter staff begin their training by tasting Andy’s premium olive oil, tomatoes, mozzarella, and 24-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano head-to-head vs. the best available super- market versions. Having them taste the flavor difference premium ingredients make also helps Andy explain his premium menu pricing versus other restaurants. (“It costs more to make the best!”)
Key Idea – Because slice quality declines with hold- ing time, Andy limits his selection of slice pies to a short list of the most popular flavor combinations. By only offering the most popular versions (and avoiding slow-sellers), Andy keeps his slices tasting their freshest due to their frequent turnover.
As part of Andy’s drive to further hone his craft, he regularly competes in pizza-baking competitions. In 2022, he placed first at Pizza Expo in the traditional pizza category! Meanwhile, Andy’s sales continue to grow across multiple locations! Bravo
At their cozy Philadelphia storefront pizzeria Pizzetta, co-owners Davide Lubrano and Vinny Gallagher specialize in sourdough pizzas made with traditional starters and lengthy rise times. Their crust’s signature flavor and especially light, airy texture has made Pizzetta increasingly popular with locals. Growth has been a mixed blessing as rising customer demand increasingly bumps up against their current oven capacity.
The partners are particularly sensitive to not allowing peak oven capacity to sacrifice “bake quality.” That is, trying to push too many pies through a busy oven prevents the deck from properly reheating, risking disappointing customers with soft “underbaked” pies. They also don’t want excessive wait times to disappoint their best regulars.
They plan to eventually tear out a fryer to add more deck ovens. But until then, they have come up with some unique steps to solve the capacity challenge.
Key Idea – First, they determined an upper limit to orders they can properly bake per hour to still allow proper deck heating. When they start approaching this limit, they adjust their online order-taking software to reduce the number of online orders it will accept per hour. As a result, online consumers find that they can only access a limited number of oven “time slots” staggered through the evening. Metering online demand allows David and Vinny to keep things timely for both in-person guests and phone orders.
Key Idea – To alert the team to demand levels, they marked the bar where they queue side-by-side make tickets with strips of white masking tape to indicate when the line of tickets hits 30, 45, and 60 minute wait times. Whenever the ticket queue reaches a higher marker, the staff calls it out (“45 minutes”) to focus everyone on not missing a beat.
Key Idea – To keep their oven baking at peak efficiency, they store key ingredient stocks close at hand to avoid having to leave the prep area during the dinner rush. Davide and Vinny have also physically reconfigured their prep area, including moving equipment and rewiring several times to further minimize travel distance between make tables, the oven, and where finished pies are cut and plated or boxed.
Even after the new ovens arrive, streamlining and simplifying their kitchen configuration will continue to pay off as the restaurant grows even busier!
Davide Lubrano and Vinny Gallagher, Co-Owners
For three decades, Frank’s Pizza and Pasta has satisfied Baltimore locals with great- tasting Italian specialties.
Key Idea – To appeal to both younger and older takeout customers, second-generation
owner Gerry Buontempo offers BOTH online electronic ordering to attract younger consumers and
voice-to-voice phone ordering to satisfy older regulars. Adding electronic ordering has helped Gerry expand hiscustomerbase. As a result, more than half of Gerry’s takeout orders now arrive electronically through his POS and flow seamlessly to his kitchen “ticket printer.”
Gerry Buontempo, Owner
Frank’s Pizza and Pasta
The driveway entrance to Jolene DeFranco’s deli and catering kitchen is located on a blind corner of a winding rural road. Departing customers are sometimes surprised by fast vehicles appearing around the bend.
Key Idea – To reduce potential accidents and boost awareness of their location, the DeFrancos mounted large roadside signs ahead of the curve in both directionsreading“PleaseSlowDown … Great Tasting Italian Food Ahead!” As a result, traffic speeds are down and first-time visits by curious locals are up!
Jolene and Joe DeFranco
Joe DeFranco and Daughters Catering
La Vera Cucina:
A favorite comfort food for Chicago restaurateurs Vicki and Michael Nelson and their family is Pollo Francese. Especially for Vicki, who grew up in an Italian restaurant family, the aroma of chicken browning with freshly cut lemons instantly rekindles fond memories of enjoying this dish at a favorite ristorante back in New York – The Milanese Restaurant in Poughkeepsie. While the Nelsons prefer vividly robust lemon flavor and aroma, they suggest adjusting lemon levels to your own family’s tastes!
4 boneless chicken breasts pounded out
1⁄3 cup All Purpose Flour
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1⁄3 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons butter, divided for use
1 large lemon thinly sliced
1⁄2 cup white wine (one you would drink)
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 cups chicken broth
1-2 tablespoons cornstarch slurry
2 tablespoons lemon juice (taste before adding and adjust)
1⁄2 teaspoon fresh parsley
Instructions for Chicken
- Pound out chicken between plastic wrap until you have thin cutlets; lightly salt and pepper cutlets.
- Mix flour, salt, and pepper in a bowl.
- Whisk eggs, heavy cream, Parmigiano Reggiano, and parsley in a bowl until smooth.
- In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat.
- Dredge chicken in flour and then egg wash.
- Place two chicken cutlets into the pan at a time to avoid crowding.
- Cook approximately 4-6 minutes per side until golden brown.
- Remove chicken from pan and place on paper towel; cover to keep warm. Wipe out pan with paper towel.
Instructions for Chicken
- Heat 3 tablespoons butter in pan over medium flame. Add lemon slices and cook until brown, approximately 3 minutes per side. Remove lemon slices and place on top of chicken for presentation.
- Pour in white wine, add garlic, and simmer for 3 minutes.
- Add chicken broth and simmer another 5 minutes.
- Add rest of butter.
- Add cornstarch slurry to thicken.
- Add lemon juice to taste (the Nelsons prefer a strong lemon flavor).
- Return chicken to pan and spoon sauce over.
- Plate your choice of pasta and place chicken on top of pasta. Pour sauce
over chicken and garnish with sliced lemons and fresh parsley.