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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Guide to hiring: 5 myths about immigration reform

Finding the right employees is a trying task.  Today it’s more burdensome than ever as employers have become targets in the battle against illegal immigration.  Swat team-style raids and paperwork audits conducted by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) have laid heavy fines on restaurants around the country, forcing some to close.  Today restaurants who are found to be employing illegals can expect to pay $250-$2,000 for each unauthorized worker.  If the employer has had a previous violation, that number jumps to $2,000 - $5,000 dollars per worker.  If it seems the employers hired undocumented workers deliberately, they may also face criminal charges.  Both the dwindling number of eligible workers in the labor force and the high fees associated with paperwork errors pose difficulties to business.

Deciphering who is legal and who's not gets tricky, particularly with those who came to the U.S. as children and were raised in the country.  Some of the businesses who incur fines may not even be aware their employees are not legal to work if the employee has presented authentic-looking but fraudulent working documents.  As of 2012 the Pew Research Center found that roughly 1 in 5 workers in the U.S. who prepare/serve food were born outside of American borders.  

Amid the recent controversy and confusion surrounding immigration legislation, I set out to clarify some of the most important things for restaurant owners to know.  I interviewed immigration attorney Amy Lighter in Livermore, California as well as 2 high-up employers in multi-unit pizza chains who preferred to remain incognito.  One of our interviewees comes from a west coast pizza chain while the other is based in the southeast. 

Myth 1: Obama’s executive orders on immigration open American borders to anyone who wants to work and reside in the U.S. including those who have just arrived. 

There are two important executive orders to know about, DACA and DAPA.  Both require that immigrants have been in the country continuously for a minimum of 5 years.

The Deferred Action executive order President Obama made in 2012 called DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) only applies to immigrants who:

  • Have lived in the U.S. continuously since 2007
  • Were under 16 when they arrived
  • Were under 31 when Obama made his announcement in 2012
  • Have graduated, gotten a GED or have been honorably discharged from the military, or are still in school
  • Have no records of felonies, significant misdemeanors, or 3 misdemeanors

In November 2014, Obama announced an expansion to DACA which increased deferred action from 2 to 3 years and took off the age cap of 31 to include people of any age who have lived in the U.S. continuously since January 1, 2010 (and who arrived before their 16th birthday.) 

In November 2014 Obama also announced an executive order called DAPA (Deferred Action for Parental Accountability) which extends consideration for deferred action to parents of U.S. citizens or permanent lawful residents who were born before the announcement was made November 20, 2014.  Parents must have lived continuously in the U.S. since January 1, 2010 and have no felonies or significant misdemeanors to apply for deferred action and work authorization.

In essence, the executive orders delay deportation of a particular group of immigrants who have already laid down roots, finished school or served in the military and not committed any crimes. 

Myth 2: Undocumented immigrants who meet DACA and DAPA requirements are automatically granted the right to stay in the U.S.

Those who qualify for DACA or DAPA must file for consideration for deferred action along with paying a $465 application fee, presenting all relevant documents, and allowing the government to take their biometrics (fingerprints and photo).  Those who are approved are not given residency per se, but a 2 year promise to not be deported.  After 2 years they must again prove that they have no criminal records, that they have completed school (if they were still in school), and that they have not resided in any other countries during that 2 year period.  While applying for deferred action immigrants can also apply for work authorization.  

The expansion to DACA which will remove the age cap and extend deferred action time from 2 to 3 years will begin February 19.

Those who qualify for DAPA will not be able to apply for deferred action until May 2015 under the current schedule.

Gaining work authorization may take a while for the application to process.  According to the west coast pizza chain trainer who was interviewed, one of her friends applied for DACA the day it opened for applications.  “Two years later she received work authorization, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been managing a restaurant all these years."  

See an informative video on requirements and application procedures for DACA here.

Myth 3: Checking the wrong box on an I-9 is no big deal if done in good faith 

Misfilling out an I-9 form, even in good faith, can not only cost your business a heavy fine, it can be the nail in the coffin for your employee’s future right to work in the U.S. In a Texan newspaper article, business owner Mike Wier wasn't employing a single undocumented worker but because he lacked the proper paperwork, he was fined over $13,000!  Wier asserts in the piece, “they [immigration] are not looking for illegals. they're looking for clerical errors. it’s a money grab."

The pizzeria trainer I interviewed from the southeast has said that his chain has never been audited, but I-9 forms are taken very seriously.  "Every quarter there is an internal audit to make sure there are no errors," he says.  Errors in the paperwork may cost employers between $100-$1,000 each.  That's a lot of cash for mischecking a box. 

Attorney Amy Lighter is frustrated with the immigration laws which heavily punish paperwork errors.  She says even if someone else fills out paperwork for an undocumented worker in a false way, the worker will bare the burden for committing fraud which may forfeit their chance to ever gain legal work authorization.  Ever. 

Employers must carefully fill out I-9 forms for ALL employees and keep them in order in the event of an audit.  I-9 forms (download a PDF here) are filled out by the employer and employee and instructs employers on how to identify fraudulent documents. See an aricle from the National Restaurant Association (NRA) on ways to avoid common errors here.

Myth 4: E-verify can be used to prescreen employees 

E-verify is an online database of government records which allows employers to verify that the person they have chosen to hire is in possession of authentic working documents.  It is more robust than the social security database because some workers may have a valid social security number without authorization to work.  The new e-verify system explicitly states that you may not use it for prescreening.  There must be a job offer in place.  

The southeast trainer who was interviewed represents a brand that mandates e-verify.  He says, “sometimes workers are being trained already and working together in a really strong team when we get the news back from e-verify that they are not authorized to work.  Then we’re back to square one and have to hire again.  It’s challenging.” 

Not all states mandate the e-verification process.  Some states, like California, even have laws which forbid e-verification from being mandated.  This may be due to the sheer high proportion of undocumented workers in the area.  Attorney Lighter pointed out in a recent study, there were some 80,000 undocumented immigrants living within a 20 mile radius of Livermore, a city which has 85,000 living within its city limits. 

So while some states are forcing all employers to use e-verify, other states are telling employers that they don’t have to.  The employer I interviewed on the west coast doesn't use e-verify but she affirms that they are very strict about paperwork.  Comprehensive immigration reform, supported by the NRA, would mandate e-verification at the federal level for all states. 

See a full powerpoint on all you ever wanted to know on the e-verify system put together by U.S. Customs and Immigration Services here.

Myth 5: Undocumented workers take American jobs and don’t pay taxes

Cracking down on undocumented workers has reduced the work force available to restaurants.  The NRA supports immigration reform in part to cope with the growing demand for foodservice jobs which will be too great for U.S. Citizens alone to meet.

Over the next decade, the restaurant industry is expected to add 1.8 million positions, a 14 percent increase in the industry's workforce. But the native-born U.S. workforce is expected to grow by just 10 percent over this time, and the percentage of 16- to 24-year-olds entering the workforce—an important source of restaurant employees—isn’t expected to grow at all. Without meaningful immigration reform, many restaurants and other businesses will be unable to keep up with the growing demand for their goods and services. Overall economic growth will slow and fewer jobs will be created. (

The pizzeria trainer interviewed in the southeast expressed his frustration saying that since his company has enforced using the e-verify system the past couple years, he has to constantly turn down workers who would otherwise be a great fit.  “Typically you don't find the kind of work ethic in American citizens.  Undocumented workers have more to work for, usually a family to support, they learn quickly and get the job done.  U.S. born workers don’t have as much responsibility, they are usually in it for beer money or extra cash.”

The west coast pizzeria trainer echoed our southeasterner's findings.  She finds that not only is the work ethic vastly stronger in immigrants but it’s hard to even find American citizens who want to work in a pizzeria for more than a year.  “Out of our 2 dozen locations we have probably 10 American born citizens per year apply to work with us.  They always start out super enthusiastic because making pizza is fun, they think it’s the coolest job.  But inevitably after about 6 months they realize what hard work it is and ask to deliver to avoid cleaning.  They don’t stay long whereas people who are supporting families will stay with us a good 10 years.  So who would you rather hire?  Someone who will be with you 6 months or 10 years?”

What we find in restaurants today is that hiring illegals is not as dubious as it once was.  It’s much less cash under the table and much more forged/falsified documents.  "Because most undocumented workers will have a social security number either made up or stolen, they pay into a social security system each pay period like everyone else which the IRS happily accepts.  The difference is that those with false social security numbers will never be able to withdraw from social security or receive any of the various benefits like medicare which require a valid social security number," says immigration attorney Amy Lighter.   

So where are we now?

Today the immigration raids have settled down and more and more undocumented immigrants who qualify for deferred action are cautiously coming out of the shadows.  Comprehensive immigration reform was passed in the Senate July 2013 but is still awaiting to be voted on in the House.  The issue has been constantly tabled by Speaker of the House John Boehner, even after acquiring a Republican majority.  Lighter says that Boehner prefers a piecemeal approach to resolving immigration issues which is why he won’t bring comprehensive reform to a vote, in effect angering immigrants from the highly-skilled sector who feel left out of reform. 

Ironically, as a vote on comprehensive reform is delayed ad infinitum, the House DID vote to defund DACA which will now bounce to the Senate (who has already approved comprehensive immigration reform and passed it on to the House). 

The NRA says they support the comprehensive immigration bill the Senate passed in July 2013, and encourages the House to move forward with similar reforms. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Steve Green: "Chinese pizza is exceptional" + stunning images from Shanghai

Women hold up half the sky and *all* the pizza dough.

PMQ Publisher Steve Green and
PMQ China's Publisher Yvonne Liu

There's Steve to the right.
PMQ Publisher Steve Green is back from Shanghai and more zealous than ever about the rise of pizza in the East, both in Russia and China

His trip to Shanghai this past November ran parallel to his venture to Moscow in September where he judged the first Russian Pizza Championships and met with PMQ Russia's publisher Vladimir Davydov.

This time he was meeting with PMQ China's publisher Yvonne Liu and judging the Chinese Pizza Championships.

This is the 9th year that PMQ China has sponsored the Shanghai Pizza Pavilion and the Chinese Pizza Championships at the FHC Food and Hospitality Show.  This year the Championships was the biggest they've ever had with 30 competitors, about double the amount that's ever competed.  And China's economy, like their enthusiasm for pizza, is going strong and steady.

Steve lives for helping businesses grow around the world and was happy to have some company from American and European companies while visiting China.

"The most exciting thing this year was there were some new sponsors who had just been with us in Russia," says Steve, such as PizzaMaster from Sweden and GI Metal from Italy.  American brands like Lloyd pans and XLT ovens joined the pavilion too and were really pleased with the success of the show.

The FHC Food and Hospitality show is the biggest domestic show in China, boasting 5 giant halls filled with exhibitors.  The Pizza Pavilion had exhibitors mostly from China, but also South Korea, the Middle East, Italy, Russian, U.S., and Mongolia.

Steve's child-like wonder engaged him both inside the convention center and out. This year he was amazed at how "exceptional" the competition pies were, a big change from nearly a decade ago when pizza was still new to the Chinese market.  Ingredients that used to be foreign are becoming more common, though China still relies on imports.  Today 95% of the cheese consumed in China is imported.

At the Pizza Pavilion there was plenty of pizza spinning along with an impressive  pizza demonstration.  A 6 foot pizza was made from two 3 foot wide halves.  The giant halfmoon shaped pans were made by Lloyd pans and they were fed, one at a time, through an XLT conveyor oven.

After both halves were done the pizza was carefully reassembled, one side only slightly warmer than the other.  I'd like to see the delivery box (and vehicle) they put this in.

Chinese Pizza Championship Pies 

Chinese pizza, like Russian pizza, has been much more influenced by American-style pizza than Italian-style pizza.  The influx of Pizza Hut in China and Papa John's in Russia developed a culture for pizzas which are big enough to share, with a more robust crust, complex sauce flavor, and an infinite array of any toppings you could dream of.

Some of the competition pizzas resembled American chain pizza.

Some of the pizzas were all China.  This one (above) is called the "Pork Trotter Aspic Jiangsu Style Pizza!"  This was one of Steve's favorite pizzas in the competition.  It's topped with sweet and sour sauce, pork jelly, onion, eryngii mushroom, lettuce and tomato.  This pizza makes use of the chef's regional specialty Pork Trotter Aspic Jiangsu style pork which according to him, "looks like jelly pork."

Here are some snapshots of some of the exceptional pizzas presented at the Chinese Pizza Championships:

To see more pictures from the competition and the FHC Food and Hospitality show in Shanghai visit PMQ's Facebook album entitled FHC China 2014

Life outside the convention center 

After 3 intense show days with 5 show halls and 2 days of trying pizza from 30 different competitors, Steve enjoyed a relaxed day in Shanghai with PMQ China's publisher Yvonne and PMQ Australia's Steve Millar.

They saw breathtaking views.

They shoved through (literally) breathtaking crowds. 

They saw people selling crab legs right on the street!

They saw a man cheat at fishing.
This man was using his birds as a fishing pole.  When one of the birds dove for a fish, the man quickly grabbed it out of his beak before the bird could swallow it.

 They ate squishy rice that had been battered with a wooden sledge hammer.

That goo looks more tempting covered in powder.

They passed on the chilis

... and the sesame squares

...and the live scorpions on a stick 

and made it just to time, for a foot-changing experience at a flesh-nibbling fish spa.

Next November will mark the 10th year for PMQ China's at the FHC food show in Shanghai.  Steve plans on going back, as he has every year to help pizza businesses around the world find each other and (probably) go back to that fish spa.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

In Japan, Neapolitan boom makes Pizza Hut adorably desperate

Pizza from Seirinkan, the pizzeria known as
being the first Neapolitan-style pizzeria in
Japan is a country of culinary intrigue and (occasionally) horror for Westerners.  Horse meat flavored ice cream, eel soda and grilled potato kit kats are just a few of the unexpected snack foods one can find in Japan (Huffington Post). But parallel to Japan's hunger for bizarre cuisine, runs a deep respect and adherence to long cultural traditions.

Enter Neapolitan pizza.

Making artisan pizza, loyal to the one from Naples is booming in Japan.  Like other European traditions such as whiskey making or flamenco dancing, Japan has embraced the tradition of pizza making with precision and diligence to recreate an identical experience in Japan to what you would find in Italy.  Pizza Da Isa in Tokyo even keeps its restaurant uncomfortably warm to recreate the real dining experience of being in Naples (The Wall Street Journal).

Honda "Soy Soy" Yutaro
spinning pizza in Turin

I spoke with Honda "Soy Soy" Yutaro about pizza in Japan.  He is a young Japanese pizza spinner who is dedicating his university studies to the life of Italian Immigrants and by extension, pizza.  His studies in Italy introduced him to a world of pizzaiolos and pizza spinners who taught him how to make and spin dough.  Soy Soy says he's eaten by now hundreds of Italian pizzas and that the Neapolitan pizzas in Japan are spot on.

In fact, Japan's pizza is so authentic, it is one of only 3 countries to have it's own VPN delegation outside of Italy (the others are the U.S. and Canada).  VPN stands for Vera Pizza Napoletana (Genuine Neapolitan Pizza), the association which certifies pizzerias for making Neapolitan pizza which holds up to the official STG authenticity rules. 

Also from Seirinkan which means Hollywood
in English.  Photos by Honda Yuataro
Japan has 53 VPN certified pizzerias, making it the country with the 3rd most certified pizzerias after Italy and the USA.  Vice president of the Japanese VPN delegation, Yoichi Watanabe, told the Wall Street Journal that Neapolitan pizza became so popular in Japan because it's composed of ingredients that are foreign to Japan.  "We didn't used to eat tomatoes, cheese or olive oil," Mr. Watanabe said. "Since this is totally foreign to us, we studied it diligently."

The Wall Street Journal picks out these 4 Tokyo-based pizzerias as some of the more popular ones: Seirinkan, Frey's Famous Pizzeria, Pizzeria e trattoria da ISA, and Savoy. 

Seirinkan is the one credited as being the first Neapolitan pizzeria in Japan.  The owner, Susumu Kakinuma, began with Neapolitan pizzas in the mid 90s which have since become more and more popular. 

Chain pizza pulling out the crazy stops
While Neapolitan pizzerias attract a sophisticated crowd, chain pizzerias like Domino's and Pizza Hut use plenty of shock value to keep their mainstream customers interested.  Shortly after Domino's entered Japan in the 80s, they realized the need to keep their menu rotating with frequently new, more extreme toppings.  This model went directly against the American model of consistency for a chain restaurant (Japan Eats).

Today at a Domino's in Japan you can buy a pizza with unusual toppings such as camembert cheese, asparagus, mayonnaise or even a pizza with a layer of meat sauce sandwiched between two layers of dough in the base if you're feeling "saucy."

CEO of McDonald's Japan is quoted saying it is the job of restaurants in Japan to "astonish" the customers to keep their business (3 bizarre marketing tactics from Japan). Pizza Hut's latest marketing campaign is a perfect example of how to "astonish."  Pizza Hut made an extensive (4 minute!) commercial of cats dressed up as Pizza Hut employees doing nothing really but being cats. 

Real taste costs real dough, but...
One of the biggest problems Japan faces however is the price of ingredients.  Authentic Neapolitan pizzas are expensive.  Even chain and fast-food pizza can cost a lot.  A large specialty pizza at Dominos will cost you the equivalent of $30 U.S. dollars.

Amid expensive prices and a passion for pizza, the fast casual has come to Japan.  A chain called Sempre Pizza specializes in simple, low-cost Neapolitan wood-fired pizzas.  The chain is similar to Sbarro's new concept Cucinova, which delivers a high quality product quickly and affordably to its customers.  Soy Soy says the pizzas are not bad, especially for the price which can be as low as $4 per pizza.  

These quick service restaurants may be giving artisan Neapolitan places a run for their money. In any case, Japan's enthusiasm for the food continues to grow in several directions accommodating gourmet pizza purists, the easily amused and low-budget diners.  

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Russian pizza rush spawns PMQ Russia

This past September the debut issue of PMQ Russia hit the printers and reached about 4,000 pizza owners and operators in 8 countries that operate in the Russian language.  The first issue milestone is the fruit of a year long collaboration between PMQ Publisher Steve Green and former Papa John's and Domino's franchisee in Russia Vladimir Davydov.

The first issue was released just in time to be distributed at the PIR Expo (PIR is the abbreviation for Russian Hospitality Week in Russian).  Green attended the Expo where he judged 3 pizza competitions: Classic, Italian and a Dessert category sponsored by Nutella. The Winner of the Classic competition won a spot on the Russian Pizza team and will be sponsored by PMQ Russia to compete in Italy at the World Pizza Championships in Parma.  

When asked about how it felt to see the business side of Russia during this time when Russia is under economic sanctions, Green replied that “it’s not about the arms race, it’s about the disarms race and pizza is disarming. Nobody hates pizza and when they taste great pizza it's because there's a competitive market.”

Beyond pizza competitions, PMQ Russia hosted demos on how to make pizza as well as dough spinning performances by staff from Dodo’s pizza.  Green says the new magazine and demos were extremely well received at the show and that Russian people are hungry for pizza knowledge.  His analysis coincides with the 2013 Pizza Power Report which found that Eastern Europe is the fastest growing pizza market in the world.  

What’s Russian Pizza Like? 
"No one understands it,” says Vladimir Davydov, Publishing Director of PMQ Russia, referring to where Russian pizza got its influence.  Russian pizza is much more like American chain pizza, particularly Papa John’s, than it is like Italian pizza.  It's common for people to begin work at Papa John's and then after acquiring experience and seeing how the business works, they leave to open their own pizza shop.  There are many small independent pizza shops, the vast majority mimicking a Papa John’s type pizza crust. 

Russian pizza may borrow from American traditions but they have their own unique qualities too such as very strict hygiene and transparency rules.  Russian pizza chain Dodo’s Pizza is the first pizza place to live stream their kitchen online during opening hours so that you can see exactly how your pizza is being handled in the kitchen.  

Another quirk of Russian pizza is that it is often paired with sushi.  “You could compare it to wings in America,” says Green. “It’s not a food you would normally think to go together but it turns out they are both very deliverable foods and actually really good together.  This is something American pizzerias might consider for a delivery concept.”

Origins of PMQ Russia 
Vladimir Davydov was the first one to bring the Papa John’s brand to Russia.  Davydov opened the first store in Moscow and served as Papa John’s access point into the Russian market.  On several occasions he met with John Schnatter and it was at the Papa John’s headquarters in the U.S. that he first became acquainted with PMQ Pizza Magazine. 

Davydov became inspired to become a source of statistical and practical information for the Russian pizza industry.  He invited Steve Green and his wife Linda to snow-covered Moscow in January discover Russia’s rapidly growing pizza market, which is the fastest developing restaurant sector in Russia.  Steve and Linda were warmly welcomed and taken along to visit several pizza shops, American and Russian brands alike. 

Until PMQ Russia, there was no authority industry numbers or news.  Davydov now has 10 or 12 representatives in the different regions of Russia to identify numbers and figures on the pizzerias and suppliers in the region.  Davydov intends to bring the same resources to his Russian speaking readers that PMQ brings to its English speaking readers.  A Russian website, Think Tank, newsletter, videos are all in the works to accompany the magazine. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Wildly successful Pink Flamingo uses this ONE low-cost marketing tactic

Pink Flamingo Pizza in Paris shines in the summer as they make picnickers their target audience by giving out hot pink balloons that make customers easier to find during delivery.

In Parisian summer, staying in your shoebox-sized studio during waves of warm weather is unbearable.  In most places air conditioning is not really an option, unless you're a pricey brasserie or a place catering to tourists.  Although tourism increases in the summer months, Paris' local population takes a definitive dive with some neighborhoods becoming complete ghost towns.  In mid-August even finding a doctor can be a trying task.

For so many locals, the solution to battling the heat is to sit in the open air, having picnics along the water.  The tradition of river lazing is so popular in summer, the city of Paris sets up a faux beach along the Seine in the heart of downtown for the hottest weeks of the year.  But anytime the weather is good you'll find packs of crowds along small bodies of water, drinking wine, eating rich soft cheese, smoking hand rolled cigarettes and doing general French things.

Where most restaurants see their customers fleeing, the Pink Flamingo found their niche.  Located two blocks from the St. Martin Canal, a popular picnic spot, this pizzeria specializes in canal-side pizza delivery.  Customers go to the store, order a pizza, pay, get a pink balloon which will help the delivery person locate them on the canal, find a spot on the water and kick back and wait! Watch the video to see how it works in action.

The pizza in the video is the Poulidor and it's just one of many signature pizzas on the menu.  Other pizzas come topped with such innovative toppings like green curried coconut milk, paella, pineapple chutney.

Perhaps AS exciting as the pizza is getting a hot pink balloon right after placing your order.  It's an immediate reward that Pavlov would be proud of.  I pay money and I get a balloon!  My inner child comes alive and I'm happy to carry around the balloon the rest of the evening which is appropriately branded with their flamingo logo.

The hot pink balloons aren't the only thing flashy about the Pink Flamingo.  Their interior decor screams vintage, punk and rebellion.  Plastic flamingos, colored lights and vintage objects decorate the stores.  They truly live up to their slogan, "pas come les autres" or "not like any other."

I sat down with co-owner Jamie Young, a native of Boston who came to France 15 years ago with his French wife and business partner Marie Ravel.  Young invited me to meet him at his recently opened American gastropub called Floyd's.  A stuffed bear head hung on the wall as we talked about his first business venture Pink Flamingo, now 6 stores strong in 3 different countries: France, Spain and the Netherlands.

Young began his career in pizza making with he was just 18 years old and like riding a bike, he kept his skills with him when he moved to France and began working in a kitchen which served pizza in a full scale restaurant.  "About 10 years ago, the quality of pizza in Paris was really low.  There was maybe 1 or 2 places for a decent pizza and that was it."

While his focus wasn't initially geared toward pizza, Young discovered that pizza was entirely versatile and became the subject of his culinary experiments. At the end of the day in the restaurant, he began gathering the leftovers from the plat du jour or daily special and putting it on the next day's pizza.  Pizzas with nontraditional ingredients like cuban pork and boeuf bourguignon became a reality.

In Paris, where food has its strict rituals and boundaries, this kind of pizza had never been seen before.  Parisians were horrified and intrigued at having their favorite meals sold on a pizza.  Soon Young was having customers asking about the daily special so that they could come back the next day and have it on a pizza.  Before long Young realized that within Paris' food dictatorship, there was a market for something fresh and innovative, something rock n' roll, which they named Pink Flamingo.

Top 5 challenges from the start

Young and his wife were plagued with challenges the first two years they were open.  Keeping faith in their brand, they witnessed a growing following and have since been approached by a few dozen people wanting to open a franchise.  Below are some of their biggest obstacles they faced.

Challenge 1: No money for advertising
It's a familiar problem for pizzerias.  There is very little money for advertising so what do you put it into?  10 years ago social media wasn't developed yet and mainstream advertising in radio or TV

would be impossible in the competitive Parisian market with so many restaurants.  Their biggest campaign was printing stickers and using guerrilla marketing to spread them around Paris.  They also delivered menus in mailboxes.  Perhaps most importantly, their logo was visible on all of the hot pink balloons that picnickers would take to the canal.  I personally kept my balloon long after we left the canal.

Challenge 2: What do non-Italians know about pizza? 
Even today French people will often equate a very good pizza with a very Italian pizza. The idea in their minds is frequently that pizza has always been and always must be a traditional food from Italy. Young was forced to face harsh skepticism from the French which stereotype American food as being greasy, fried and completely unhealthy.  With this store he was able to show that fresh and organic ingredients were important to his brand. Any criticism toward his food quality were always resolved after the customer actually tried the pizza.

Challenge 3: Pizza was not held in high esteem 
Pink Flamingo offers a gourmet pizza experience which was completely new for the people of Paris.  Young explained that when he told people he had opened a pizzeria the response was not enthusiastic.  He was frequently met with a sighing, "what else is new type attitude."  This problem was also resolved by insisting that people TRY the pizza.

Challenge 4: Picnicking wasn't really popular yet
The area of Canal Saint Martin is packed full of eager picnickers today during the summer months but when Pink Flamingo opened it's humble doors in 2005 people did not have the habit of idling by the water with food and drinks.  Young and Ravel chose their location near the canal with the idea of delivering canal-side from the start but it took some pressuring customers at the beginning to get things moving.  Young states that they would force the balloon into their hand and tell them "TRUST ME, go sit on the canal. Just GO!"  Customers seemed unsure, but would hesitantly head over to wait for their pizza.  In time you could see several balloons waving along the canal, a testament to their popularity.

Challenge 5: Never compromise
Pink Flamingo prides itself on selling unique pizzas and ONLY selling unique pizzas.  When customers would request classic toppings like merguez sausage or mushrooms, employees had to be trained to never apologize.  Especially as stores were opened in more locations and other countries, franchisees had suggestions for how to tweak the recipes to appeal to their neighborhood or country.  Young and Ravel stuck to their guns and continue to remind franchisees that their recipes are not up for changes.  Young maintains the philosophy that if he could get Parisians to like his pizza, anyone can be converted.

Future for the Flamingo 

Young notes that although the figurative Parisian nut has been cracked into enjoying far out pizza, by far his most enthusiastic customers are British and Americans who are much more open to trying pizza which is "unlike any other."  Many Brits and Americans discover Pink Flamingo through the Lonely Planet guidebook which lists Pink Flamingo as one of their restaurant picks in Paris.

Young says him and his wife are considering opening their next store on the American West coast since it's so popular with the American crowd.  Also, after 15 years in rainy Paris, a little California sunshine wouldn't hurt.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

France's best cuisine makes for world's weirdest pizza

Honestly I don't know why I'm surprised anymore when I find unusual pizza toppings.  From the moment I saw french fries on pizza IN Italy in a store run by native Italians I surrendered all my pizza expectations.  Ok so it's not the pizza apocalypse, but novel pizza toppings are still a shocker. every. single. time.

In the South East of France in the Drôme region, it's commonplace to use tiny raviolis as a pizza topping.  The mini raviolis called ravioles are a way of life and come in sheets of pockets filled with heavy cream and cheese.  They only take one minute to boil and with their tiny size they can be easily thrown into any dish.

Here are a couple pictures of the ravioles, shown in hand for scale.

I made it down to the South of France with a friend from Paris who was headed to Valence to visit her parents.  When Julie heard I would be alone all weekend with my husband in Germany, she kindly invited me to tag along.  Julie and her dad took me hiking through the Alps to discover the wild nature that you just can't get in the meticulous gardens of Paris.

After the hike, we stopped by a local pizzeria to try the majestic pizza raviole (featured in the first picture).  You'll notice most of the ravioles are kept under the cheese, presumably to keep from drying out.  Ravioles are also used in gratin dishes covered under cheese to protect the delicate dough.  For good measure we got another regional specialty, la pizza montagnarde or mountain pizza.  This pizza was based on ingredients typical of the Alps: potatoes, bacon, ham, swiss cheese, cream and a few olives to finish it off.  In the picture below we have just come back from the hike and I am really happy to be back on flat land, next to a pizzeria. 

 The pizzeria that we visited called la Grand Mere in Valence had a long list of pizza varieties separated into red and white pizzas like many casual pizzerias in France do.  Unfortunately we could not try them all.  Next trip to the South I am getting the pizza with a mustard cream base, as soon as I work up the stomach for it.

Speaking of stomach, I tried some of that too though my own stomach was not too happy about it.  On the way back to Paris we stopped off in Lyon, a city known for the best cuisine in all of France.  I had always heard Lyonnaise cuisine was top notch, so you may imagine the horror as an American discovering that nearly all their specialities consist of consuming large amounts of organ meat.  I ordered the gras double, cow stomach marinated in white wine for ten days before being sliced and sautéed with a whole lot of onion.  This is one local specialty I could do without on top of a pizza.  

What we see in France in pizza is what we see, heck, anywhere in the world - a reclamation of pizza using non-traditional toppings to adapt to what interests the customer.  In France, cream is ever present on the menu and so it's no surprise that many pizzas begin with a cream base.  Even American chains in France like Domino's and Pizza Hut offer about half of their pizzas with crème fraîche in place of pizza sauce.  Pizza raviole offers consumers the ultimate high calorie experience, consisting of nothing but dough, pasta, cream and cheese.