April 21, 2020

New Ideas Keeping Tony’s Pizza Napoletana Top Of Mind

by Joe Bonadio

It has now been five weeks since San Francisco began the lockdown to combat Covid-19, and the changes have been dramatic for all of us. And Tony’s Pizza Napoletana is no exception: As one of San Francisco’s favorite eateries, our delivery and takeout business has been steady at Tony’s, but the loss of in-house dining has been devastating.

Happily, San Francisco appears to have done a good job in terms of containing the virus; on Thursday, the daily count of new confirmed cases was the lowest recorded since March 20, a very hopeful sign. And talks are under way at the state level to reopen the economy, which is music to the ears of small businesspeople across California.

Tony shows off the crust profile of a recent creation, his pizza Romana. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

In our last post, we wrote about some of the ways Tony and his staff are adjusting to the lockdown, and some of the clever ideas they’ve put in place to keep business moving forward. I checked in with Tony again last week, and not surprisingly, San Francisco’s most famous pizzamaker had even more to report. Our conversation is recounted below.

Joe Bonadio: You’ve been particularly creative in the face of the lockdown. What are some of the new things you are doing?

Tony Gemignani: Well, we have a family special that we’re offering. A lot of restaurants are doing it, but some of the restaurants are bringing their prices so low, that they’re competing with the Domino’s and Pizza Huts of the world. We don’t want to get into that, but customers want to feel like they’re getting something.

So instead of devaluing your product—it’s good to have your product at a certain price —we’re offering them a bottle of wine for a dime if they buy a package. We’re bringing in imported soave white wine, and it’s a $30 package. So, basically for $30 and ten cents you get a pizza and a salad, and either meatballs or breadsticks. It’ll feed a family of four.

I thought it would do well—and it actually ended up killing it! We’re doing it on Thursdays and Sundays each week.

JB: I’m not surprised, that is a great deal.

TG: Yeah, it is. Also, last week for the holiday we were giving away Easter egg coloring kits with any $30 purchase. A lot of kids are stuck at home, so it was something to help keep them busy, you know! That worked really well, and they sold out fast.

The award-winning Cal Italia, available for takeout and delivery at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. | Photo: Sarah Inloes

Another thing we’ve been working with is neckerchiefs. They are like a pizzaiolo uses when he is making pizza, but instead of wearing them around the neck, we’re using them as masks. Most of my staff have them now, and that has worked out well.

Once we posted it online, people really reacted. There’s a picture of us wearing them, me and Natale and Oscar. I had a lot of people ask if they could buy them—so I’m having 150 of them being made with the Tony’s logo on them, and we’re going to start selling them.

Another thing that worked great for us was the branded pens, which I mentioned to you last time. We just ordered 1,000 more, and people use them all the time. So that was a giant success.

JB: I also saw that you installed some new screen guards inside.

Michael Anthony poses with one of his viral screen guards, now in place at Tony’s Pizza & Giovanni Italian Specialties. | Photo: Tony Gemignani

TG: Yeah, we did. It’s actually a local company called Viral Guard Systems. Michael Anthony and Micah Byrnes got a grant from the city to make them for lots of different companies. These were actually given to us: some for Slice House, some for Giovanni’s and one for Tony’s that’s going to be even bigger.

(Editor’s Note: Byrnes is currently running a GoFundMe campaign to keep this important work going.)

JB: So overall, has business been pretty consistent?

TG: You know, the neighborhood has been great. And I think San Francisco in general has been great in supporting their restaurants. We’ve felt the support. I think that the third party delivery companies have been a little overwhelmed, so there have been a lot of glitches, and they’ve admitted to it.

So there have been times when there are ten, fifteen pizzas left over, and we don’t know why no one’s picked them up. We’ve always been a company that’s been used to delivering, and the hiccups have been in their systems, not so much in ours.

But overall, it has been pretty good. Now that we’ve been in a routine long enough, it’s been almost steady. If you look at this Tuesday compared to last Tuesday for instance, it’s a $100 difference. It’s been that consistent.

Julie White Gemignani, ready for the public at Giovanni Specialties in North Beach. | Photo: Tony Gemignani

JB: Aside from the obvious drop in business, do you have any complaints?

TG: One of the things that bothers us is people that don’t understand social distancing. The delivery drivers are on top of each other, and so many people are congregating in the park too close to each other. We can only say so many times, ‘Hey guys, six feet away from each other!’

It really seems like people aren’t watching the news or listening to the radio, at least with a lot of these drivers. You just want people to realize that it’s not all about them. We’ve been posting it, and shouting at people as much as we can. I think my employees that are working have been really good. And they are in positions that they are not typically in, because we’re now just a to-go and delivery outfit. It’s a different animal.

But it’s been good. We see a lot of neighborhooders—a lot. Its a big family in North Beach, and it’s nice to see everybody.

And by the way, I hear that our Virtual Tip Pool is doing really well, too. Of course you can’t know exactly, but I’ve heard of people donating literally hundreds of dollars to servers and bartenders in the neighborhood. And that’s great.