by Erica Viola | October 8, 2014 11:58 am
In a city dominated by chain pizzerias and run-of-the-mill catering businesses, The Pizza Pie Guys are on a mission to bring the Omaha area something new, fun and unusually delicious.
Dan Reid, one of the owners and proprietors of The Pizza Pie Guys, began the business equipped with two mobile pizza ovens, two generators and a rented U-Haul; custom-made pancake griddles were added about a year ago. Committed to infusing creativity with community spirit and determined to offer schools and fund-raising events something entertaining and out-of-the-ordinary, The Pizza Pie Guys (also known as The Pancake Guys and The Grill Guys) take pancake breakfasts, pizza and hot dog lunches to a whole new level.
Kids design and build their own pizzas or breakfast on The Pancake Guys’ delicious and exclusive sweet cream pancakes; The Guys take care of all the set-up and clean-up. Unlike local competitors, they come with everything prepared – for example, pizza kits are pre-assembled, the butter is cut, the syrup bottles are filled, and tableware is provided. They ask only for one or two volunteers from the organization – “to have the face of the school up there,” as Dan says.
He is enthusiastic about aiding area schools and expresses admiration for local teachers. For a recent teacher-appreciation day, each teacher at one of the Bennington schools was surprised with a pound of sweet cream pancake batter mix. Of the pancakes, Dan says “It’s something different and something the kids really like…they taste almost like a cupcake. When the smell goes through the room, that’s what people think of – a bakery full of cupcakes.”
So rich and sweet, The Pancake Guys’ pancakes don’t even require butter or syrup. These delicious breakfast treats have gone over so well that The Pancake Guys plan to start selling the batter by the pound at local events. Though they began with pizza, pancakes are a way to “help take care of the area schools,” says Dan. Kids and adults alike love them. With set-up and breakdown included, teachers and parent volunteers have more time to concentrate on the children and the event. Dan himself is at all the Grill and Pancake events and at most of the Pizza events, making sure that everything runs smoothly.
As with many small businesses, “it took a while to get name recognition out,” explains Dan, “so about a year and a half into it, we decided to open up our first location.”
Carrying over the “build-your-own pizza” concept, however, proved to be less successful in a retail location than at school fundraisers. “Unfortunately, that didn’t go as well as we had hoped, and we had to shut that down about eighteen months ago. Now, here, we just concentrate on making really good pizza. We make all of our own dough and we make all of our own sauces, and we use the best meats around.”
The meats are preservative-free; everything is sliced and cooked on-site. Restaurant-wise, “we just traded the make-your-own-pizza idea for creating the best pizza in town ourselves.”
“When we first opened,” Dan says, “we thought it would be take-and-bake, so we have that capability.” However, he estimates that ninety percent of customers choose to eat in the restaurant. With this in mind, they are currently in the process of remodeling the interior of the restaurant to make it a “cozier and more intimate” setting in which to stay and enjoy a comfortable meal. In fact, a couple comes in and is immediately drawn to the menu flashing on a large, flat-screen TV. They ask for recommendations and Dan is honest, cordial and enthusiastic about the menu. Another flat-screen TV is tuned to one of the local channels; Dan, smiling, ask his customers if there is anything particular they’d like to watch. Friendly and accommodating, he offers menu suggestions and asks them if they would like cups for their drinks (sold by the bottle from a large cooler). He engages them in a friendly conversation, answering questions about other pizzas on the menu even though they’ve already placed their orders; going back into the kitchen himself, he has their meals ready in just a few minutes.
Returning to the table, Dan relates his business philosophy. “We want to make really good food that’s easy to get.”
They do deliver, which makes them stand out from the other independent pizzerias in the area. After events and fundraisers, “we get a lot of people saying, ‘we didn’t expect it to be so good!’”
The Guys are a unique business in a rapidly growing area. Unusual pizzas, pancakes and other menu items, as well as the kind of service they provide, both catering and in the restaurant, make them stand apart. Dan himself is completely hands-on, both in the catering/fund-raising aspect and on the restaurant side. “I am here all the time. I have probably made 95% of the dough that people eat.” Dan arrives at nine every morning, prepares the dough for the day, preps all needed ingredients, does the paperwork, payroll, weekly planning and the marketing. If he’s out though, he has complete confidence that everything will go smoothly and that customers will be happy and satisfied. “We have a great staff,” he enthuses.
Dan, who before this had never worked in a restaurant, began this business with a more entrepreneurial spirit; it started out more business-based than food-based. Having worked before in sales, he knew that it was important to make people happy. “There’s so much not-great customer service out there that we really try to go above and beyond to get to know our customers better and have a little fun.”
“We’ll verify that!” pipes up one half of the happily munching couple at the next table.
The Pizza Pie Guys’ menu is an interesting, varied mixture of traditional and very original. Dan’s personal favorite menu item is the green chili enchilada – salsa verde, fresh, succulent rotisserie chicken, cilantro and sour cream. Another popular pie is the Carolina BBQ – mustard barbeque sauce, pulled pork and spicy pickles. “A lot of people think, ‘pickles on pizza?’ But it works, and we’ve had a positive response.”
Different, too, from other local pizza restaurants is the variety of conveniently marked vegetarian items on the menu. Laci’s Special is a stand-out, with its alfredo and barbeque sauce base, topped with cream cheese, mushrooms, black olives and basil, served with a side of sweet and spicy Thai chili sauce. The inspiration for most of the pizzas? Dan’s wife is an excellent cook and Dan takes inspiration from these home-cooked meals. The green chili enchilada pizza, for example, is their signature pizza. “Mexican food transfers well to pizza toppings,” Dan points out. It’s a tasty alternative to the common taco pizza and has had an excellent response.
“We’re always tinkering with the menu,” he smiles. “We’re constantly looking for new ideas.”
While other pizzerias stick with tried-and-true dishes, Dan is always on the lookout for new toppings. He’s currently excited about a planned Cuban sandwich pizza; mustard-based cream sauce topped with ham, pulled pork, pickles and a variety of cheeses. “Sandwiches flow nicely over into pizzas,” and Dan’s pioneering spirit has lead him to create one-of-a-kind pizzas from his own family’s home-grown recipes.
Word-of-mouth is proving to be a valuable marketing asset. Watching Dan interact with the customers that have filtered in, it’s easy to see this business growing on both the catering side and the restaurant side. The Pizza Pie Guys’ compassion and enthusiasm for fund-raising events, as well as their commitment to friendly service and quality food ensure that their growing fan base will set them apart from tired, predictable chain restaurants and less accommodating independent stores in the metro area.
The Pizza Pie, Pancake and Grill Guys are a unique, multifaceted business in a rapidly growing area. Fast, friendly service and made-from-scratch ingredients are combined with sense of community solidarity and fresh, innovative concepts. Dan’s commitment to customer service and quality products make it easy to see why The Pizza Pie Guys’ business is steadily growing while also receiving glowing recommendations from satisfied customers.
The Pizza Pie Guys
5138 N 156th St, Omaha, NE 68116
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