Building a Pizzeria: Closing in on Opening up
Wow. What just happened to the last month? It must have be buried in the endless pile of checklists I've made. Building this pizzeria has been a complete whirlwind since June 1, and even as I type this post, my notepad is sitting next to my laptop, yearning for my attention. My apologies to all the Slicer's that have been following along and patiently waiting for my next post, but I should let you know this is very likely my last post before opening day, which is scheduled for... drum roll please, July 5th.
And thanks to all the reader's who have sent me emails, driven through Flagstaff, stopped by the space, or stopped in diablo burgerto say hi. Sorry I was unable to serve you up a pizza as I had initially intended (June 1st was my initial target date), but as they say, Rome wasn't built in a day, and I doubt Naples was either. Sure, I would have liked to expedite everything, but I certainly don't want to risk opening prematurely.
There are so many elements that had to come together to make this dream a reality, and getting to opening day has been like putting a puzzle together upside-down; all the pieces have to fit, but despite your best efforts and planning, the fit isn't always right. For example, scheduling the painting with the refrigeration arrival, or the oven arrival with the fork-lift rental. When these things didn't match, I had to search for a different puzzle piece by repainting, begging a neighbor to loan me a fork-lift, and asking for garage space from the local brewery to store my oven. I owe many of my friends and neighbors pizza, to say the least.
But the puzzle is finally coming together and I'm nearly ready to flip it over and reveal Pizzicletta. Three months ago, the space was a thrift shop, but its completely transformed. The oven is through the window, cured, and I've cranked out many dozens of pies. The marble slab is set. The table is constructed. My Neapolitan plates are shining. I even have my pizza boxes stamped. People now walk in expecting to be seated, rather than stepping over a pile of sawdust into the space. "July 5th," I state to all the inquisitive guests whose mouths I see watering after hearing about my menu, the oven, and Neapolitan pizza in general.Oh, and back to that oven-through-the-window comment. The installation was probably the most anxiety-inducing event that took place this past month. My Ferrara oven weighs nearly 5,000 pounds. To install it, we had to remove a window and use a fork-lift with a 40-ft boom extended over the sidewalk, through the window, across my dining room, over my bar, and onto its carriage—nothing but net! My opening and the design of the space hinged on this oven, and my insurance didn't cover it for damages outside of the space. Finally, the whole installation had to happen before 6:15 AM to ensure we didn't interfere with city bus traffic. So, we had a heavy oven, a narrow window of time, and 40 feet of air-travel before my oven could find its home. I didn't sleep a wink the night before.
But my contractor and his crew nailed it. The installation was flawless and left me in tears of happiness, relief, and disbelief. All I could think was, "This is happening."
I reveled in the oven installation for as long as I could and I still get a rush of excitement every time I run my hand over the tile (perhaps this is why I am still single?). However, there was so much more work to be done and little time to rest. I had to keep my eye on the prize (as Paulie Gee advised). So back on task, I've been completely occupied doing my hiring, setting up accounts with my distributors, learning QuickBooks, selecting my wine list, pricing my menu, programming my cash register, painting, staining, hosting visiting family, and... sleeping less. When I got frustrated, I got to thinking that I just want to make some pizza. I needed to make pizza.
Not long after the curing, I made my first pies in the oven. They were great. Not my best, but not far off. The Ferrara oven was performing beautifully. I can't tell you how wonderful it was to invite friends in to see the space and have some pizza. It wasn't to hard to find eager taste-testers.
And finally, tonight, June 30th, I'll be having my soft-opening. My friends and lenders will be here. My staff will be here. The oven will be at 900 F. I'll need this night so my staff can have a dry run. I need as much practice as possible to hone in my pizzaiolo skills on the new oven. For many of my guests, it will be their first opportunity to see the space. I've managed to squeeze every square inch out of this small corner storefront and it looks amazing. I'm terribly excited and I'll admit I have a few butterflies in my stomach.
As any big leap in one's life demands, I've been reflecting on how I arrived at this point. I won't go and get all sappy on you, but it of course begs many questions and evokes many memories in my mind: What was the spark? Where did I have that first true pizza? Who's helped me along the way? What would I be doing if I never made that first inspirational trip to Italy? These are all good questions, some I can answer, some will always remain unknown. But at the end of reflecting, I am faced with my reality. Pizzicletta will soon be open and here are the things I do know: I like to make people happy; I like to share what I am passionate about; I like to work hard. And as most of you, I love pizza. I'm ready to see this business be a success, but the proof is in the pie, and I hope I get the opportunity for you to be the judge.