Pizza Operators Rise to the Occasion

Consumers' appetite for pizza is seemingly insatiable. To help meet customer demand, operators continue to increase the quality of the ingredients while embracing special ovens and other technologies that accelerate speed of service.

Case Study: Campo, Reno, Nev.

Campo-Dining-RoomCampo features open kitchens in both the front and back of its restaurant.Fascinated by the strict and stringent guidelines surrounding authentic Italian Neapolitan pizza, Mark Estee wanted to bring the food he loved to downtown Reno, Nev. So in 2011 he opened Campo, a concept based on Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN), a legal entity that gives designation to pizzerias meeting the strict requirements of traditional Neapolitan pizza making.

"Campo is a straightforward concept based on VPN pizza and our take on Italian food," says Estee, the restaurant's owner and chef. This was a formula for success, with the 3,900-square-foot restaurant producing $3 million in revenue its first year. "I love the fact that pizza has a ton of nuances, and everyone makes it a little differently."

The restaurant's accolades caught the attention of Chicago's renowned Levy Restaurant Group in 2012, which invested in and runs a second Campo location in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. "Levy runs the foodservice operations for Mammoth Mountain and reached out to me with a management and licensing agreement," Estee says. "I own the name and concept and serve as managing partner of the second location."

Estee also owns six other restaurants through the newly created Reno Local Food Group. The concepts include Chez Louie, a French-inspired eatery in the Nevada Museum of Art, and Burger Me, a burger joint and food truck business with locations in Reno and Truckee, Calif. In addition, he serves as managing partner of Heritage Restaurant & Bar, a farm-to-table concept in Reno's Whitney Peak Hotel.

Opening seven restaurants in three years required Estee to economize his operations by creating a provisions business next door to Campo's Reno location in December 2014. "This is a separate food manufacturing operation that not only supplies meat, pastries, bread and pasta to our restaurants but also does business with about a dozen other eateries in the area," says Estee. Reno Provisions also includes a catering service and space as well as a retail market.

Estee's love of pizza was fostered when he worked in pizzerias as a teen. He went from playing high school and college football to enrolling in Rhode Island's Johnson & Wales University to obtain a culinary degree. Prior to Campo, after stints working for a large hotel chain, a private country club and a number of restaurants, Estee opened Moody's in 2002, which he eventually sold. He then created Burger Me in 2004. This extensive background has influenced Campo's menu. "At Campo, pizza is obviously a huge part of what we do, but we also offer pasta and entrees," he says.

The menu centers on ingredients obtained from local farmers and ranchers. Campo's interior celebrates this with photos and stories on its walls that educate customers about the foods' origins. The culture of the restaurant extends to the servers, who are all well educated about the local fare.

Attention to detail extends to the pizza, which Estee admits is not for everyone. "I like VPN because it follows a tried and true formula, but with pizza you can't be everything to everybody," he says. "This is more of a diet version, since it doesn't have a ton of toppings."

For this reason, Campo pays special attention to the dough, which takes two and a half days to process. Campo's high-yeast dough is made from imported Italian flour, and staff closely monitor the hydration throughout production. Campo ferments the dough twice without refrigeration, once in a full batch and a second time as balls in a box.

"By fermenting the dough at room temperature, it heightens both the quality and flavor," says Estee. "I've experimented with three- and four-day-old dough, and the flavors that come out are amazing."

The menu includes 14 pizza varieties. Bestsellers include the V.P.N. Margherita, with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil; the Bee Sting, which includes salami, serranos, mozzarella, red onions, basil and honey; and the Campo, topped with tomato, mozzarella, sausage, salami and pancetta. Campo offers pastas including spaghetti, rigatoni, risotto, gnocchi, bucatini and campanelle, as well as risotto. Ingredients vary, depending on the season.

"We deal with 32 farmers and ranchers on a daily basis," says Estee. "It's a more expensive way of doing business, but we feel it's the fresh ingredients that drive customers to our restaurants."

The sustainable philosophy extends to Campo's decor, which is built around reusing, recycling and repurposing materials. This includes ceiling tiles, light fixtures and wood. The Reno site offers seating for 112 inside and 160 on the patio.

Campo-serving-lineCampo’s focus on sustainability extends to its decor, which incorporates reused, recycled and restored design elements.The restaurant features open kitchens both at the front and the back of the space. In the 350-square-foot space up front, staff prepare pizza, salad, appetizers, dessert and coffee. Equipment here includes a wood-fired oven, Italian pasta machine, sous vide system, dough mixer, induction burners and walk-in refrigeration. The second 700-square-foot kitchen includes a fryer, a French top with a convection oven underneath, 24-inch plancha, charbroiler for preparing meat and fish and a pair of 6-burner stoves.

"Our equipment is pretty classic, although we do have an anti-griddle and a smoker," says Estee. "But because we're artisanal, we don't utilize these units as much."

Moving forward, the focus will remain on consistency, yet there will be constant format tweaks to improve menu offerings. "We're also contemplating adding more Campos as we analyze our business structure," says Estee.

 Snapshot of the U.S. Pizza Segment

  • Pizza segment revenue, which is estimated at $39.3 billion in 2015, is projected to grow to $43.4 billion by 2020.
  • Annual growth of this segment between 2010 and 2015 was 0.2 percent and is projected to increase 2 percent between 2015 and 2020.
  • Currently, 53 percent of the pizza business is take-out or delivery, 33 percent is dine-in and 14 percent is catering.
  • Over the next five years, the number of industry establishments is projected to increase at an average rate of 1.6 percent per year, growing to 80,083 restaurants by 2020.
  • Although there are a few major players, the majority of this industry is composed of independent pizza parlors and pizza delivery stores.
  • The pizza restaurant industry primarily serves those between 25 and 44 years of age.
  • According to market research firm Mintel, pizza chains currently experiencing the greatest growth are those targeting consumers from higher income brackets.
  • Large chains report that 40 percent of sales are derived from web orders.
  • Today, pizzerias are offering a greater array of flatbreads as well as whole-wheat and gluten-free crusts.

Source: IBISWorld Inc.'s Pizza Restaurants in the U.S., March 2015

Related Articles