During the Pizza Leadership Virtual Summit, Blaze Pizza CEO Mandy Shaw addressed the rise in technology and current staffing challenges.
The pizzaverse is changing, and Mandy Shaw, CEO of Blaze Pizza addressed those changes during the Pizza Leadership Virtual Summit July 27 hosted by Pizza Marketplace and sponsored by Restaurant365.
During the keynote, Shaw spoke about several challenges facing pizzerias across the country today.
“We’ve got inflation at 9%, a possible recession within the next two years and staffing issues and unionization happening in the restaurant industry,” Shaw said. “Think we should pack it up and go home? Absolutely not. The optimism that I have about this industry, and also our segment of the industry, remains as strong as it ever has been.”
Pizza away from home is a $48 billion concept that helps the U.S. economy. It’s one of Americans’ favorite foods. With the advent of third-party delivery, pizza has more competition than ever. It used to just be pizza and Chinese food that could be delivered, but now a multitude of cuisines can arrive hot and fresh at customers’ doors.
“You just have to be thoughtful of what your go-to market is and what your brand or unit or number of small units is actually about and maintain a steady beat of what that feels like,” Shaw added.
Technology like robots and automated pizza delivery vehicles are a sexy concept that will come in the future, Shaw said, to change the way the human workforce interacts with restaurants, but DoorDash just discontinued its salad robot. Other pizzerias and companies have tried to bring technology to the forefront of the industry, “but they just haven’t figured out how to do it,” Shaw said.
At Blaze Pizza, a build-your-own artisanal pizza concept, choice is paramount. Guests have six crusts from which to choose and more than 35 toppings. There’s a dedicated pizzaiolo who stands in front of the 600-degree oven manning the pizzas as they cook in 180 seconds. That has to be a trained job because depending on the way the pizza is built, it’s “very much a learned and appreciated part of the Blaze atmosphere that we’re not going to move away from,” Shaw said. “We have no intention of replacing everybody with a robot because our brand … is more about the artisanal, build-your own and what that pizza tastes like when it comes out of the flaming hot — I should call it ‘blazing’ hot — oven.”
There are plenty of software providers available who are providing technology to help small- to mid-size brands thrive, such as using integrated tablets or ways to interact with third-party delivery companies using their proprietary POS system.
“I would offer for you not to chase technology for technology’s sake,” Shaw cautioned.
The restaurant industry is still experiencing staffing issues, needing to fill positions with competent workers. Over the next five to seven years, Shaw said it’s projected that the industry is going to lose more than 1.5 to 2 million young workers between the ages of 16 and 24. That’s a lot of manpower, and Blaze even has to worry about staffing in international markets.
“When you think about innovation, it doesn’t necessarily have to be sexy tech, it can also be manual and approach and just innovating the way you think about your business,” Shaw said. “You can give somebody a raise, and it will make them feel better for a short period of time.”
If you educate that worker about how much money they’re actually making, such as including tipping, it’s difficult for youth to actually understand that they’re making more than working at Amazon or in a retail environment. Some of workers’ displeasure is financial, but other issues are more esoteric.
Blaze did research last year to study what’s at the core of its operations and found that hiring non-traditional employees such as those with tattoos or funky hair colors works as long as they have a smile on their face and can make a great pizza. Not excluding a category of workers opens up a whole new outlet for staffing, with Blaze’s “Free to be You” platform as the next evolution of concept, including playing music the employees want to wear and choosing comfortable uniforms for a hot pizza kitchen.
To listen to more of Mandy Shaw’s thoughts on the pizza industry, click here.