April 19, 2021

Innovating during the pandemic: Perfecting the pizza play

LaCrosta Woodfire Pizzeria Italiana trained its front-of-house staff to handle the carryout business.

Nick Saviano III, owner of The Pizza Factory of Barrington, Ill., has been in the pizza business for 44 years. Dino Taccogna, La Crosta Woodfire Pizzeria Italiana, Chicago, is newer to the scene, just celebrating his five-year anniversary. Both are passionate about Chicago’s pizza tradition.

The pandemic hit the restaurant industry hard. How did La Crosta and The Pizza Factory respond?
Saviano: The first two weeks were very challenging. We shut down our lunch business and used the extra time to focus on our menu. We started prepping earlier in the day so we would be ready for our dinner service. Thankfully, the downturn in business didn’t last very long. We got very busy and hired more delivery drivers. We implemented free contactless delivery and expanded our delivery zone.

Taccogna: We were lucky that our core menu and business was already set up for pickup and delivery. When we had to reduce dining room capacity, we got creative and opened our large storefront windows to bring the outside in with increased air flow.

We also dressed up our outdoor patio so that customers felt comfortable dining outside with us. We shifted front-of-house staff duties to take carryout orders and we implemented a contactless pickup system in our dining room.

What’s been the biggest change to the menu?
Saviano: We used this as an opportunity to reset to our menu. We took a hard look at our menu and what people wanted. We cut the items that didn’t sell as well. Normally we would have taken a long time to make these decisions, but the pandemic forced us to change quickly.

The pandemic gave us the opportunity to try new things and see what people liked. We dropped some of our fast-food items—hot dogs and polish sausage—and started offering housemade appetizers, soups and Italian beef.

Of course, Chicago-style thin crust is still our hero. People order a lot of pasta and wings, too. Wings have been so popular that we decided to bottle our 20 sauces for retail and sell them through our restaurant. The new menu helped us save money, reduce labor, reduce waste, and focus on our core pizza and other hero items.

Pizza Factory of Barrington saw wing sales soar and started bottling its signature wing sauces for retail as a result.

Taccogna: Consistency was our goal. We were fortunate in that we didn’t have to make any menu changes. We’ve been able to purchase the same quality ingredients from our trusted suppliers throughout the pandemic, and our customers appreciate the continuity of the menu. Our most popular pizzas are the Margarita, Due Carne, and Chili Burrata & Prosciutto. We offer half-price bottles of wine on Wednesdays, and customers love that.

What are you most looking forward to?
Saviano: Our new menu and retail hot sauces have really been a positive change for our business. The pandemic forced us to open up to new opportunities.

Taccogna: Even if it’s not at full capacity, we can’t wait to open our dining room again. I am happy that we’ve been able to keep our employees working; on-premises dining will help.