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The taste of freedom

From Audio: Episode 2: Brave Big Chef - How the Food Network’s Tom Pizzica Pivoted His Business to Feed Customers in a Pandemic

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station description The Podcast changing the way the world works
Brave New Workforce
Duration: 30:39
Philly's own "Big Chef" Tom Pizzica describes the unexpected freedom that came from thinking differently about feeding his customers in the Pandemci.
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Philly's own "Big Chef" Tom Pizzica describes the unexpected freedom that came from thinking differently about feeding his customers in the Pandemci.
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um, it's, ah. It's an easier lifestyle because I can plan around things a lot easier than if you could if your, you know, stuck in a restaurant 15, 16 hours a day or even mawr. Um, so my age right now, I'm 42 years old. I really don't miss anything about owning a restaurant or being in a restaurant. I enjoy my family. I enjoy free time. Um, and I just basically enjoy being able to create my own schedule. Take gigs when I want them. You know, if I can't take them, it sucks. But, you know, you gotta, you know, you deal with it. So what I'm hearing from you is it's actually working out pretty well. Oh, I I love it. Yeah. I mean, I I really I think I made the right choice with going into the catering three catering realm, I should say of of the food business. Um, and a lot of this stuff I'm doing now, I'm essentially doing by myself with maybe one person or two people to help me part time. So that aspect of it is is really comforting because I'm not relying on so many people because in the restaurant business. If you've ever been in it, you know that those people have a tendency to let you down like, ah, lot of times like no call, no shows. People just quit. Somebody's too hungover to come into work, you know? And that stress was the biggest stress for me and owning a restaurant, um, was the reliability of the people that you had to hire. So doing the catering thing, having it so small, I guess, is good for me. Like I I enjoy it. You've kind of had an awakening. And I think this is what's happened with a lot of people recently is they've had to change the way they're running their business and doing their work. And initially it was kind of a setback, and they're like, Oh, this is so weird. It's so different. I don't like it. But now that we're a few weeks into it, they're starting to see the good side of it. Like wait a second, you know, maybe they're questioning their future. And so, as you look out, you know, 10, 20 years, where do you think you could take this? And where do you want to end up eventually. You know, it's it's interesting. Yes, I question. I was just thinking that to myself last night, and the honest answer is I don't know, Um, it's so new and it's something that I'm still trying, you know, wrap my hands around and get a firm grasp on logistically and where could really go. But I you know, I don't know. I mean, like, this guy could be the limit. I really think it just depends on I don't know. It's a tough question to answer. I haven't really thought about that far ahead. Honestly, you know, And so what kind of roadblocks are you running into currently with this new kind of model that you're developing of a more ready, ready, prepped meals Thio the house? That's a great question. And because I like, like, how is this different than a catering business or running a restaurant? Cause it seems like there's there are some big differences. So for me, you know, I'm all about the quality of the food. You know, the food is first and foremost in my mind. So the biggest challenge that I'm finding is creating dishes that will reheat Well, um and that will keep, you know, essentially for at least three or four days in someone's refrigerator. You know, once the food leaves my hands, I don't know what they're going to do with it. You know, if they have a refrigerator that is 50 degrees and they don't know it, they're gonna be like your food was bad when I got it, but there's nothing I could do about that. So another challenges, you know, leaving it up to the people to kind of reheat it and make it what I want it to be. And that's tough for me as a chef, you know, ego eyes. And I mean, that's pretty much, I would say, the main road block and the challenge is developing menus that will travel the re heat. And they'll keep because I don't want to serve anything like frozen. You know, like you can go thio. You could get a lean cuisine. You know what I mean or something. If you want to do that like my whole concept is, E wanted to be fresh. I wanted to be ready to go, and I necessarily don't want it to be re heated in a microwave. You know, I want you to be able to break it down. Put the chicken in the oven. You know, throw the rice in a in a saute pan and you know, and get it nice. Get everything nice. So there's a little bit of preparation to it, but at the same time, you could just throw in the microwave if you wanted Thio. So you know, it's really up to the client for how they wanna go about preparing it. But and then So how are you educating your customers on how to better prep your food for the for the ultimate quality? Well, so what I'll do is I'll give reheat instructions, um, for the best way to reheat stuff. But what I also I'm thinking about doing is throwing up tutorials on social media like, Hey, if you got the Jambalaya, here's how I would reheat it. You know, like, hey, if you ordered X this week, here's how I would put it together. And that's something that I was thinking about last week about doing just to give some people some heads up as the how to best execute my food and how many meals I guess. Are you delivering to one household? Is it a set of meals or is it just one meal for like a family of four? How does it kind of breakdown? So how I break it down is I break it down in individual meals. So in one package they'll be, say, like pork, rice and a vegetable, you know, so they'll order if they want to order three of those. The order three of those. But it's meant for one serving for one person. Now I also have side dishes that I'll put on my menu that will serve 2 to 3. So say, I'm doing mashed potatoes for one dish. I'll just offer it. You can get a bunch of mashed potatoes if you want, you know, as a side dish for the whole family. And then I also offer some like, you know, pre breaded chicken cutlets. All you need to do is follow him a little bit and fry them, which is a really popular item. I offer some fried shrimp that I'll fry and I'll blast, freeze, and then they could just throw them in the oven, You know, stuff like that. So there's some like sides and snacks. That I'll do is well, but the order volume per family is it varies so much because because of covert, I can't get a huge grasp on it because people are ordering for their parents. People are ordering for neighbors. People are ordering for, you know, friends and family that can't really get out of the house. So one week somebody will order three meals the next week. The order 10, you know. So it's and I haven't asked him like who you were in these four. So, Tom, that's a great question. And I think there's a lot of questions like that. Um, how are you finding customers? And how are you sort of processing their orders? Because it sounds like there's some lead time in this. And how do you get your menus up? How do they know when and how are you processing those orders? But also like, how are you getting new customers? How many customers? You've only been doing this for a little while? How many customers do you have and where do you want to grow? So right now I've got an email list of about 45 people it started out friends and family and people that I've cared for in the past. When I put it up on social media that know that I'm, you know, I'm I'm a decent cook and my food's good. So they ordered from me. So a lot of its friends and family and then from there, word of mouth. And then I've gotten some people via social media, and I'll put it up on Neighbor the neighborhood app. In my immediate area, I've gotten some hits on that, but for the most part yeah, it's It's been word of mouth and like a little bit of social media, so and they're they're just sending you emails every week. So you'll you'll send an email, blast out toe 50 people and say, Here's the menu. Email me back. You get phone calls and all that kind of stuff. No phone calls or anything, but it's basically Here's the menu in an email every Wednesday, I put it out Wednesday afternoon and then before the menu, you know, I'll put in the body of the email kind of like a newsletter, you know, like what I got on the menu. Um, thanks for returning your containers, which is huge, you know, thanking them for the orders or, you know, meets getting really scarce and expensive. So this week I focus more on seafood and some veggie options, you know, just just kind of stuff like that. And then they'll pretty much just reply to that email with an order. Or if somebody sees it on social media, the email, you know, Philly Hot s at Gmail and then, you know, with their order, stuff like that. So that sounds like there's a lot of moving parts and a lot of manual work, like you're going through a bunch of emails and trying to, like, copy and paste orders and deal with different ways that people might put those orders in. Um, is it like a big rush right around Wednesday Thursday? Or does it trickle in all week? And when do you sort of cut things off? So that's another challenge that I'm having of deciding when to cut it off, because menu goes out Wednesday. I want people to be in have the orders in by Saturday for Monday delivery, but Saturday's big prep day for me because I wouldn't physically wouldn't be able to do it, um, Sunday Monday. I just wouldn't get it done with the amount of orders that I have. So I have to prep some stuff Saturday. So it's been kind of frustrating a prepping stuff and then getting, ah, Ton mawr of one thing and you're like, shit, I gotta just make that all over again kind of deal. But at the same time, I don't wanna make the cut off Friday because when people are sitting down to write like a grocery list for the week, they're usually doing it on like Saturday. You know, they're not doing it midweek, so I want to give the people that do that they're they're meal planning for the next week. On Saturday, you know, an opportunity to be like, All right, well, we could get three meals from Philly hot, so I don't need to get that much of the grocery store, you know, kind of feel like I don't wanna I don't wanna force people's hand into like I'll be, like, rushing to get an order into me. You know, I want to cater to them. As you know, I'll take the hit and it'll be a pain in the ass for May rather than it be a pain in the ass for them is my philosophy. Well, one of the big differences in the challenges is that you've got to get this stuff to them. They they aren't coming to your restaurant. You're not going to their event. You've gotta figure out how toe get all of this stuff out the door once a week in order to fill all those things. But you have to order ahead and get all the materials together, right? So that's a that's That's tricky. That's a big difference from those other business models It is. I mean, it's it's very similar to catering. Um, you know, like just doing catering gigs where I have the advantage of having so much experience with that where you do just All right, we're gonna buy all this today. We're gonna fabricate it today. The difference is pre, you know, packaging all an individual meals as opposed to packaging into, you know, big catering trays to be, you know, shipped off somewhere. That's been the biggest challenge. Um, you know, figuring Alright. How much meat are we going to give each person you know how much rice we're going to give each person? How much better we gonna give each person? So what I'm hearing are a couple of challenges that you're facing right now. For one, it's kind of reducing that friction peace. Try and get the customers what they want when they want it right on. Then another aspect here is kind of measuring what you need to get because, like you said earlier, you know, sometimes the order three, then they'll order 10, and you don't know why. So kind of like measuring that peace would probably be really helpful. And then the third piece, once you kind of have those two pieces down and understanding where thes roadblocks air coming from, then the third piece would be growing that audience. So it's more than just friends and family and its people within your ideal neighborhood zip codes, right? Is that Is that some what? Correct. Er, Am I missing something? No, that's pretty much dead on. Okay, so the other I hear a couple of other things to which is like, I think you want to grow, but you don't. But you want to keep the food quality high. You wanna be able to experiment with things that may or may not work? And how do you do that without pissing off a bunch of people? And then how do you nudge people to order more frequently or a little bit more? Because you're spending a lot of time behind the wheel when you could be in the kitchen, sort of experimenting, which is what you love, right? Um, one of the things that I thought about doing is you know, I have, ah, have a ton of repeat customers and loyal customers. So one of the ways that I'm thinking about getting new dishes out there is to just offer it to them, you know, on, like, a trial basis. We kind of make them feel a little special that they're getting free food or, you know, they're, you know, in a test group. And, you know, it might, you know, beef up brand loyalty for them at the same time, you know, talking about us to friends and family or, you know, other people. There's just a ton of complexity and getting stuff to their door, right? Yeah, a ton of complexity and you're taking payments electronically or how How are you doing all of that? So it initially started this. I wanted it to be a completely contact list situation simply because of shelter in place. You know, obviously everybody knows what's going on right now in the world. But obviously a lot of the older people you know they're gonna pay with cash or check, which is fine. That's great. You could give me a cash, your check, but yeah, predominantly. Right now, it's a Venmo. Paypal, um, type situation. But I've actually forced some older people to learn how to use PayPal events, which is actually pretty cool. You're educating people educate. I'm an educator. You know, I was gonna bring up a point because as I was listening to you, talking about trying to predict, Like, what are people gonna be ordering? What do they need And then kind of that stuff coming at the last minute and then also the fact they have loyal repeat customers. I'm starting to hear the potential for you to have a bit of a subscription model, much like some of the organic farms that I've seen in this area where people could commit and get a good deal because they're loyal. And so maybe it's a little, you know, a better price for people who say, You know what? Every week I'm gonna order or whatever you got five of those. I love your food. I trust you. You know, you'll send me the newsletter, so I know what I'm getting. But I'm gonna be a subscribe customer and one of your loyal customers. And that way, you've got some predictability in both what you need to prepare and the volume as well as revenue, which is kind of nice. Have you ever considered something like that? I've talked about it a little bit. Um, actually with trip, Um, I've definitely considered it. I don't know if I'm there yet. I think I'm a little I don't think I have the base yet to do it, but maybe I dio you know, I don't know. I mean, it's definitely something that I could offer and see. I can I mean, because ah, lot of the people that are my customers, I actually know them like, you know, to an extent, enough to the point where you know, I can ask them questions, and they would give me honest feedback, which is nice right now. So that's definitely something that I should reach out to. Some loyal people be like, Hey, would you be interested in a subscription, you know, service for X? But I would need to figure out how to make the money work. Well, the tricky part that I hear is that there's a lot of manual labor and stuff that has nothing to do with the food like you're you're having to create content. You're having Thio sort of organize that stuff, send out sort of instruction sheets or make videos that that's all a lot of labor on a weekly basis and also because you're only doing this once a week. It doesn't sound like it would be very easy to do this twice a week. So if you have a bad week of orders, that's a really bad week, and I'm waiting for that. Haven't had it yet, but, you know, because every time I put out a menu, it's Is this what people feel like eating this week? You know, like, Is that a bit? Is that a good menu? Is that a bad menu and that you know That's just an internal struggle that I have. And the way I try to do it is you know, I think one of the mission statements for Philly Hot says, You know, you eat what I would eat, you know, like, what would I have for dinner? What would I make my family? That's delicious things wholesome. And that's how I kind of plan my menus. And you know, so far it's been successful where, you know, a people have ordered a lot of everything or, you know, there hasn't there hasn't been too many like complete duds. You know, where I've gotten, like, one order of that nobody wanted. But I'm sure will happen eventually. But in the you know, the six weeks that I've been doing this so far it has. It hasn't happened yet, and then 11 last thing, because I think like Anna, Larry and I are detecting some themes on some buckets, and the good news is that the problems you're facing are the exact same problems companies like eBay and Amazon face, and just at a smaller scale. And there's ways Thio address that. But you're a professionally trained chef. You think about this like a business when you're developing a new recipe or an offering, How much are you considering what we would call the unit Economics. Like your margin over cost of materials and labor. Like how much? How much of that? Figures into what? What recipe? You might put out there a lot, Um, just being, ah, restaurant owner. Ah, Few times. Now, you know the margins and the money is the most important thing. But as far as labor goes, it's on Lee me right now, and my wife helps me deliver. So I have a little bit of leeway to make my food cost a little higher and offer, you know, the good cut of meat, I guess. But right now, but when it becomes something that I can't do by myself and I take on Mork costs, that's gonna be another challenge to make it that good. You know, you know, with maybe a lesser cut kind of thing, if that makes any sense, Yeah, and then just even in terms of, like, how you target your price point, because that's the other thing. Like, people are gonna think differently about what they're ordering based on like how much a serving costs they might pay, You know, 30 bucks for it in a restaurant, that same dish that reheats well, e, I don't think you could get away with charging 30 bucks a head for that. So how does that? How does that affect your margin and how? How high and low you can go on quality. Yes. So I try to keep my meals in between 12 and $14 each. And with that, I can I can make it good for that. You know, let's just put it that way. Just because of my background. Because I have so much experience and food, you know that I can make you something very, very tasty for not that much money, you know, and get away with it. Like I don't need to cover up lack of talent with expensive ingredients, you know, is basically what I'm trying to say. Well, I I can vouch for the fact, Like, I mean, I've grew up eating your food, you know, we've been we've known each other for a very long time, but the but the the piece of that is, um the quality and what they're getting sort of is without a doubt like your food is delicious. I think it's about where we can help is how do you grow this in a smart way that maps to your goals? And I think that's the themes that we can kind of go over real quick because I think there's, like, five buckets here. Yeah, it's kind of the piece of, like connecting the dots and understanding sort of the math and the data behind it, so that you can focus on being the creative, doing fantastic recipes and not so much and like knowing the numbers behind it without stressing out Because there's nothing worse than im imagine getting, you know, let's say 50 orders and then you're like, Oh, crap like, how am I going to make margin on this? Right? So why don't we get that margin piece or that numbers piece out of the way first, so that when you do get the 50 orders you're you're worried about actually delivering the 50 orders and not whether you're gonna break even on or not? You know, you know, if we're thinking about because I'm sure Larry Larry is our introvert on the crew and he just listens. Really? Well, eso I'm sure he's detected a few of these buckets. Like the big one that I heard was really about clarity on vision and where you wanna go and there's tools for that that we can help with. Yeah, I mean, I think that's the big thing is that you always wanna have a bit of, ah, guiding mission of where you want to take this. And it sounds like you have some ideas for that. You've been thinking about it, but taking some time to think about where do I intentionally want to take this? And then what does that mean for me both professionally, personally? Because you talked about lifestyle and and having more freedom, which I think is wonderful because we're all It's very similar. We're all very entrepreneurial. And so then looking for those opportunities to say, How do I scale this business in the right way so that it stays true to my vision and it continues to be, you know, it's profitable that can be delivered, the quality I want, but not kill me personally. So I'm not working crazy hours, and you're figuring out how do you scale this and not have that restaurant effect. You know, I have my brother owned a restaurant. I have had a lot of friends work in restaurants, so I know what you're talking about. Where it's you scale that you bring these people on, they can't trust them and that, and it's like, Okay, this isn't so great either. So trying to figure out how to do that, and sometimes one of the things that we haven't talked about much yet is through partnerships. So are there are really good partnerships. And we talked with this flywheel effect that, as you add the right types of partners, you actually generate MAWR income and more revenue with kind of this this network effect without having to do a ton of extra work yourself and it elevates your product to so your complementary to each other. And so that's an opportunity to think about is who are some likely people that I could partner with. We co market each other. Their product is a great compliment to my product, and now we both are growing and becoming more valuable. So you're talking about partnerships with, like a meat company or something, or or it could be. It could be a partnership with a supplier, but it could also be a partnership with another service that provides something that's complementary. Trip and I have talked about this once before. You know, alcohol is a big thing that when you're in a restaurant, it adds quite a bit of, you know, to the final kind of receipt. That's harder now. Eso there are people like that desert kind of providers. You name it. There's all kinds of things that, as you start to think about it, would be a compliment and not a threat to your business. Yeah, exactly. I mean, for example, there's tons. I'm sure there's tons of breweries in your in your back, the woods who are hurting for extra customers. If you could maybe partner with, um and say, Hey, I'm gonna make this menu and I'm gonna recommend your beer. Can we do some sort of, uh, split or whatever where you you can use my customers for the beer business and I can in your customers can use some of my food, You know what I mean? So it can. It can be a split in that way. Um, of course, the legalities of selling alcohol remotely. I'm not too sure what the laws would require. But if they already have the licenses in place to just ship a couple of years over so and so's house, that can be an excellent opportunity for you to pallet the whole thing together. Let me because I think like, if you're thinking about this Tom like, how do you create a win win? So it could be something Where Pennsylvania has weird liquor and beer laws, it's very restrictive, like where you could buy it. I don't know what the current regulations are around delivery, but if you have somebody going to a beer store or you're recommending pairings, right, those stores also have walk ins like, Could you take food for Pick Up that you don't have to fulfill in delivery where you put it in the beer store with a suggested pairing, and they pick up from the beer store right because they are doing curbside. So it's something where it allows you to simplify your logistics but also create a flywheel for the beer store where it's a win win. So there's a lot of opportunities there, but I think like the biggest partnership. You're missing out immediately, and the one that is your biggest opportunity is your first partner should be your data. Your your You may not think you're generating a lot of data. It's just really hidden and siloed and kind of dumb data because it's not terribly actionable. It's all over the place. So how do you make the data work for you? And that's something that we can work with Anna's like like the data maven like she's very good at crunching that stuff. We can kind of help set you up with some tools there, so I think like there's the vision, there's the identifying sort of identifying alliances and discovering flywheel opportunities. There's making the data work for you. And then I think there's another part, and this is more Larry and I come more from the consumer behavior cognition. Part is, how do you get insights that air going to nudge those order sizes up? How do you get insights that air gonna inform what your social strategy is on and reducing what we call friction, which is things that are hard, harder than they need to be? And if you made them simpler. Great products and services solve a problem. They either reduce pain or they increase pleasure. Right? You you've got a little bit of both. It's a pain to shop right now. It's a pain to cook. It's pleasurable toe. Have a great meal with your family. But how do you reduce the friction to get those needs met? Because then people will buy from you all day long. Do you guys have more to add to that or, you know, like, let's get down Thio brass tacks on ways. Where would we start with Tom? Yeah, yeah, let's start with that. Um, in terms of the data piece, I would suggest taking a look at your most loyal customers. You said you kind of have. Ah, a rough idea of who they are. Are they in a spreadsheet right now? Are they in your email marketing toe? How how are you kind of measuring or tracking that, um I mean, I have their email, and I just in my mind, I know who orders every week, you know, and who doesn't kind of thing, because it's not that many people. Right now. It's enough to just keep in my mind, that's not a good way to do it. It's the way I'm doing it right now. The piece that I was thinking about follows from what Anna was saying, which is when I was at eBay particular. We should talk about the life cycle of a customer and what is the lowest friction way? The easiest way to get somebody to engage with eBay for the first time. So it's low risk. They're willing to try it. They're like, Yeah, you know, I'll do this auction for a DVD. It's 10 bucks. So what if it doesn't work out? Okay, But we had a vision for saying, Well, I want that person at some point to move up and to buy something more expensive to them by an appliance and then ultimately, we've had people do this. When I was a debate by a car is like holy cow. They went from a DVD to a blender, tow a car. So the value for eBay and that customer tremendous. And we're always thinking at every step of the customer life cycle, it's like, how do we get them past that next level of trust? Reduce the friction and get them to be a longer term, loyal customer that's adding tremendous value. And I think that's something you've got. These customers who are loyal on the easiest customer to get is the one you already had. So, you know, getting the subscription business and then also some kind of a loyalty program. So it's like, Hey, if you refer more people to me as an ambassador for my business, I'll give you 20% off your order next week. Er, I'll give you a free order in a couple weeks. But not only that. Like I think also sharing a little bit of your story because you are a family man. You are the basically, you and your wife are the people behind this business. Sometimes people need kind of that connection piece because they're overwhelmed in there.
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