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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Salvatore's: "12 or 13" new stores by 2011?

A bit belatedly, I ran across an article in the Rochester Business Journal profiling Salvatore “Soccer Sam” Fantauzzo, the man behind the Salvatore’s Old Fashioned Pizzeria chain. Like most success stories, it’s interesting reading, chronicling Salvatore’s remarkable rise from a single pizzeria on East Main Street in 1978, when Fantauzzo was fresh out of high school, to eight stores by 2005, and twenty locations today. The article (which can be viewed on the RBJ website - free registration required) also explains some of what lies behind the success of Salvatore’s, such as staying ahead of the competition on some trends (according to Fantauzzo, his was the first local pizzeria to offer chicken wings, for example), and maintaining consistency among multiple locations.
What really caught my eye, though, was Fantauzzo’s stated goal of opening “12 or 13” new stores over the coming year. He particularly wants 32 Salvatore's locations for the 32 years Salvatore's has been in business.
I like to give credit where credit’s due, and Fantauzzo certainly deserves credit for the undeniable success of Salvatore’s, not to mention for his involvement in the local community. Still, I can’t say that I look forward to a Salvatore’s opening in my town. It’s nothing against Salvatore’s in particular, mind you. No, I’m not too crazy about their pizza, but that’s not the issue. I don’t really care to see any pizza chain blanketing the area.
Mostly, I’m afraid that it will cut into the business of stand-alone, independent pizza shops. Worst-case scenario, let’s say you've got a hometown pizzeria, a mom 'n' pop place that’s been there for as long as you can remember. Maybe they've been struggling a bit in recent years, but they're getting by. A chain opens up just down the street, and with its economies of scale, it's able to undersell the mom 'n' pop place. That ends up being the straw that breaks their back, and mom 'n' pop go out of business. In effect, your indigenous pizza place has been replaced by a chain, and the pizza you grew up with is no more.
And again, it’s not about whether the chain makes good pizza. That’s a matter of personal taste. It’s about - to borrow a much overused term - diversity. I love the pizza at the Pizza Stop downtown, but I wouldn’t want to see 30 Pizza Stops all over this area. I like the idea that I can go to 160 different pizzerias around here and try 160 different pizzas, each of which is unique to that particular pizzeria.
A chain, on the other hand, is fundamentally based on the concept of uniformity: that the pizza (or hamburger, or whatever the product is) that you get at one location will be virtually indistinguishable from what you would get at any other location within that chain. Not all chains achieve that ideal, but the successful ones generally do, and whether they achieve it or not, it’s what they strive for.
But there is a more optimistic scenario, too. In the RBJ story, Fantauzzo is quoted as saying that Salvatore’s, which offers a full menu, is “not competing with just pizza chains. We're competing with the sub chains, the taco chains, [and] the burger chains” as well. And maybe that’s the point - that Salvatore’s competes more against other chains than against independent pizza shops.
I hope that’s true, and that customers who enjoy the pizza from their local independent pizzerias will continue to patronize them, regardless of how many chains move into the neighborhood. (Of course, if the local joint turns out poor pizza, that’s a different story. I’m not saying you should patronize them just because they’re independent. But if they’re good, they deserve support.)
Again, this isn’t really about Salvatore’s in particular, except that it happens to be growing at a seemingly exponential rate right now. I wish them continued success; I just hope it comes at the expense of the even bigger chains, and not at that of the little guys.
In the end, maybe the story of Salvatore’s itself should offer some encouragement. Fantauzzo notes that in the early 1980s, “there were rumors that these national chains were going to come to town, and I was nervous.” Salvatore’s obviously weathered that storm quite well. Here’s hoping that the independent pizzerias of today can do so too.

6 comments:

  1. I don't know where to leave a comment, but I just wanted to say that I am so happy to find your blog! We struggle with pizza in Rochester - why the heck don't we have any REAL New York style pizza here? Anyway, thanks so much for these reviews - we'll try some of your grade A picks. (By the way - you might want to review pizza at Proiettis here in Webster. It's pretty good, but different.)

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  2. Please do check out the "A" places - I consider Pizza Stop and Joe's to be the real deal as far as NY pizza goes. And funny you should mention Proietti's - I had one last night, first time. I may be away from the blog for the next week or so but after that I'll try to get a review up quickly.

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  3. I also want to say that I love your blog and for the most part agree with your ratings. I'm from Buffalo and really do not understand how the pizza here can be so different! Buffalo pizza is unique (Mister Pizza in particular) but I do also enjoy New York style pizza. And I'm always amazed that people here in Rochester love their chains. I would never ever think about ordering a Salvatore's pizza. Pizza Stop is my absolute favorite and when I'm not in the city it's difficult to find a place to get a pie. Thank you for your blog and you should try Mister Pizza sometime (if you haven't already!).

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  4. Thanks - I've had some pizza in Buffalo but Mister Pizza doesn't ring a bell. The one name I remember from Buffalo is Bocce, but it's been so long since I had it I don't remember if I liked it.
    Have you tried New York Pizza on Allen St. or Manhattan's on Elmwood? They sound good.
    I didn't realize that chains are less predominant in Buffalo. I hope it stays that way.

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  5. We love the Pizza at Salvatores in East Rochester. Service is always with a smile and love those wings!
    Keep up the good job Guys!

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  6. I have not tried the places mentioned in Buffalo for when I do get there I have to get Mister Pizza or Just Pizza. I would love to know what makes it so different (the cheese tastes different and their crust has indents in it). Thanks for your blog!
    Carolyn

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