January 13, 2014

Respecting the Craft: Ready for expansion?

As I write this article, it’s December 2013 and I have seven restaurants. But six weeks ago I had four. Over the last 12 months we have been building three new ones, including Pizza Rock Two in Las Vegas. My first Pizza Rock is in Sacramento. They say your second restaurant is harder to open than your first, and in some cases it really is. For example, I corrected several things I didn’t like about the original Pizza Rock. We’re going with slightly different ovens, more storage space, a bigger mixer, larger walk-ins and an overall better layout. With all these corrections and changes we will be ready to go and nothing can stop us now … right? Or could we still get derailed?

We had our first health inspection prior to opening. In Las Vegas if an inspector is unfamiliar with equipment they may hold it or red tag it. In my case, they certainly did just that. I purchased what I call the Ferrari of pasta machines. This equipment was nearly $20,000 and the inspector didn’t approve it. He also cited three pizza prep tables and said they would need floor drains until I could prove that there were others in the Las Vegas area like them. I was able to do so and they were later released. But we also were given a 30-day proof of UL on a German oven, and oil cruets were red-tagged for cleaning purposes. The list went on and on and delayed us severely.

Another big problem was that we purchased an oven that our restaurant equipment expert was not knowledgeable about. It came with its own hood, needed drainage and water for steam injection, and sits away from the wall nearly 18 inches — which encroached into the make line and created a major problem for flow. This caused us to pay extra money to make changes. In fact, we had so many changeovers that it ultimately amounted to more than $20,000. Big mistake and major dent in our budget.

When you have your neon designed, typically all cities want you to make it smaller, have less lights and be somewhat toned down. Not in Las Vegas. A city ordinance made our sign have five times more wattage and lights than it was supposed to. We made ours bigger that the first one, but it still wasn’t big enough. We ended up quadrupling our costs. Another dent in our budget.

Next we had an electrical nightmare with our first engineer, who did several things wrong. Our electrician pulled all the wire throughout the entire 9,000-square-foot building. Once all the equipment came in most of it did not match. We also had a several-thousand-dollar computerized dimming system — and 60 percent of the lights were not compatible with it.

Then there was our bar. We built a beautiful bar that could seat 40. It was state of the art, complete with four wells, 20 foot ceilings, plasma televisions, etc. The height of the back bar shelves was correct for the bottles. Unfortunately, when the pouring spouts were connected the bottles didn’t fit. Luckily my partner, George, saw this early enough in the build out. But it still caused a major delay.

We’re just getting started here. I’ll spend 2014 telling you about the challenges we faced while opening multiple stores in different states. It’ll make your head spin, but hopefully it will help keep you from making the same mistakes when you go to open store number two or three.

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.