Northern New York Newspapers
NNY Business
NNY Living
Sun., Oct. 4
Serving the community of Ogdensburg, New York
Related Stories

Taste meets technology in north country pizza business battle


The emergence of pizza-ordering technology has been widely adopted by big chains, but local shops say business has been fine without it.

National figures show about 1.3 billion fewer orders to independent pizzerias were placed in 2013 compared with 2012, and national chains pulled down nearly 2.5 billion more.

Even with the national chains taking an ever bigger slice of the proverbial pizza pie, local establishments, which lack the marketing budget and buying power of the corporate chains, say business has been strong.

“Our pizza business has grown in the last five years,” said Steven P. Sboro, owner of Art’s Jug, a Watertown mainstay since it opened in 1933. “We hope to continue to grow.”

Paolo Cannella, co-owner of Nonna Dina Pizzeria in Brownville, also said his pizzeria has been growing. Nonna Dina — like many other pizzerias in the area — is family-owned.

In addition to the standard telephone or in-store ordering, many large chains and some regional chains have shifted focus to a Web-based ordering system, allowing customers to customize and order their food quickly via computer or smartphone.

Mr. Cannella said his restaurant has a loyal clientele that is predominantly 50 years or older. This older clientele, he said, has minimized the impact of online ordering and cellphone apps offered by large chain pizzerias. He admitted the phone apps may have “a little bit of impact on business, but not a lot.”

Domino’s Pizza, the second-largest pizza chain in the country, has both an interactive website and a smartphone application allowing customers to customize the pizza and watch the virtual pizza being built on the screen, along with a tracking feature that allows the customer to keep track of the progress of the pie as it’s created.

A Domino’s driver manager, who asked not to be named as he was not speaking on behalf of the company, said that the innovation offered in Web-based ordering has been tremendous.

“It’s increasing every week,” the manager said in reference to the split between online orders and traditional telephone and in-store purchases. He said about 60 percent of purchases come through Web-ordering and the remaining 40 percent come from other means, which is “the highest it’s ever been.”

The manager added that the restaurant, on Route 11 just outside the city, “relies strongly” on the Fort Drum community for a large portion of its business.

“When the soldiers get deployed, we definitely notice a decrease in orders,” he said.

Requests for comment from Pizza Hut and Papa John’s Pizza were not returned.

Figures released by Domino’s Pizza Inc. during a January presentation to investors indicate the number of independent pizzerias dropped by nearly 7 percent from March 2012 to March 2013, while the number of major chain pizzerias — such as Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Papa John’s and Little Caesars, which rank first to fourth respectively in the country in terms of sales, and all have locations in Watertown — has grown by 2.3 percent.

The number of regional pizzeria locations, such as Cam’s Pizzeria and Original Italian Pizza, has dropped by 2.6 percent in the same time frame, according to the report. Neither company returned phone calls for comment.

Local pizzerias cite dedicated customers and a perceived higher-quality product as the two main reasons business has remained strong, even without TV commercials and Web ordering.

“We have a loyal customer base,” said Stefania Blake, owner of Stefano’s Pizzeria & Restaurant in Carthage. “It’s pretty much stayed the same.”

Mrs. Blake said the pizzeria, which opened its original Carthage location in 1985 before adding locations in Pulaski and Mexico, has generally maintained steady business. However, she said, she has noticed that the pizzerias have lost business during major events, such as the Super Bowl, when major chains often offer discounts and specials that she said her family-owned restaurants cannot.

Mr. Sboro said Art’s Jug has faced a similar situation. Though he said the restaurant does offer promotions, they “can’t price the same” as the larger chains.

When asked what keeps the customers coming back, he cited the product itself, which he feels is “far superior” to a chain restaurant pizza.

“We’re putting out a good quality pizza,” Mr. Sboro said. “Dollar for dollar, the independents put out a better quality product.”

This does not mean the restaurant is immune to technological innovation. Michael V. Sboro, the pizza kitchen manager and member of the well-known Sboro restaurateur family, said he believes Art’s Jug eventually will offer online and phone app ordering.

“We might need to do it to say competitive,” he said.

Others, such as Bernardo’s Pizzeria, Watertown, said online ordering is not in its future.

“We have no plans to do that,” said Bernard J. Tufo Jr., who has owned the restaurant for 10 years. “I like to do things old-fashioned.”

He said such a move would be an extra expense to the business, and while business has been solid since he has owned the restaurant, he said he’s aware Bernardo’s cannot compete with the promotional prices offered by the chain pizzerias.

Commenting rules:
  1. Stick to the topic of the article/letter/editorial.
  2. When responding to issues raised by other commenters, do not engage in personal attacks or name-calling.
  3. Comments that include profanity/obscenities or are libelous in nature will be removed without warning.
Violators' commenting privileges may be revoked indefinitely. By commenting you agree to our full Terms of Use.
Syracuse Football Tickets Giveaway
Connect with Us
OGD on FacebookOGD on Twitter