March 1, 2014

Respecting the Craft: Down and out in Las Vegas

Honestly, I have never been a fan of a certain nationally known food distributor. Early in my career I disliked their approach and practices when it came to their reps. Over the last 23 years I have always bought from independent Italian distributors. And I still do.

Opening a new restaurant and going into a region like Las Vegas, which has practically
everything, I never thought sourcing ingredients would be an issue when I opened Pizza Rock II. But it sure was! My new restaurant has a very unique menu. We have eight different styles of pizzas that are made with five different ovens. With all of these styles, we use several regional and imported ingredients. When I started sourcing around Las Vegas I came to realize that I couldn’t find over 25 ingredients — which would have eliminated half my menu. I was at a stand still. One of the only distributors that had no problem getting most of these ingredients was the large national distributor I always despised. My rep went out of her way to source everything she could and made sure it was at a reasonable price. My pizza is unique and my ingredients were the key component when it comes to separating me from everyone else.

My contacts on the manufacturing side were a great help as well. Many, many companies worked hand in hand with the national rep to get me certain products I needed.  It’s
important to find out who the importer is in your quest to get specific ingredients.

Regional products such as specialty cheeses and salumi were a challenge, but West Coast distributors I know actually worked together to help me get the product I needed. Stocking one product for a single store could be a nightmare for a distributor and a warehouse, but the distributors assisted me with everything I needed regardless.

I have always been fond of a good relationship with reps when it comes to my distributors, and I was lucky to find that in Las Vegas. My reps eased the stress level when it came to my opening. The first few weeks are always a challenge and my reps really went out of their way to help me through it. I remember getting an order in on a Sunday night when we ran out of something. It was one of those opening weekends that you were banging your head against the wall. The next day I called my rep and said “Thanks, that saved me.” He said: “You don’t have to say thanks — that’s my job, and it’s about dedication. You would have done the same for me.”

That was an experience I will never forget. Your distributors play a major role in your success. Always remember that.

RESPECTING THE CRAFT features World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento.  Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.