How We Can Stimulate the Economy: One Slice at a Time
All the brand new whiz-gizmo start-ups on the Web, all the fat ticket and functionally pointless sports cars, and all the Chef WhassnameontheFoodChannel cooking sets can't compete with one thing when it comes to economic stimulation. Pizza. Giants like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Starbucks will fail when the economy goes really sour. Your local Julio's Pizza, Gamboni's Pizzaria, Tucci's, and whatever the local pizza oven is in your neighborhood will be there. Why? Because these businesses have always been there and they don't fail. Sure, they may not be “too big to fail” like some of the corporate merchandising giants, but they aren't merging, up-sizing, downsizing, marginalizing, or whatever with abandon either. There are well over 76,000 pizza restaurants in America today. That, my friends, is second only to the National Guard in national defense. The heavier the population of people to eat their slices, the more pizza places there will be. Big states like California boast thousands of restaurants while smaller population states like North Dakota have a couple of hundred. Still, they're there and they are spinning, saucing, topping and baking. Good pizza doesn't lend itself well to franchising. Most great pizza restaurants are stand alone or at most have two or three iterations in the same town. This is because good pizza requires dedication and hands-on benevolence from someone who knows and loves the pie. Since that someone can't be in multiple locations at once, that someone's constant pizza perfection can't be absolute in more than one place. So chains often fail or become less than great. Ad to that the intense regional loyalty to specific types of pizza. This is especially true in the Northeast and Midwest. Some like it thin, crispy, and topped with zestfulness in a simplistic, but well mannered way. Others prefer heavy, dough-rich, topping-laden deep dishes with a lot of flavor mixtures. Still others will argue the merits of the style of the thing: it's all about how it looks and feels, baby. Finally, some prefer sophisticated appearances and tastes, topping their thin crusts with things no Italian would ever consider palatable. No matter what the style of pizza, though, two things unite the great ones: hand crafting and great ingredients. National restaurant chains who attempt to make the same food taste exactly the same whether you're in New York City or Los Angeles, in Seattle or Miami; those chains use frozen, shipped, questionably-sourced ingredients compared to the nit-picky, know-your-supplier types who run the corner pizzeria. From the very beginning, they're mixing dough with ingredients they know, understand, and have sourced themselves. Tony, the guy that runs the water filtration plant and Bob from the next town over with the flour mill might even be sitting in the restaurant right now, as pizza is made. Nothing is put into that pizza that the chef can't pronounce himself. No chemical names are included at all. The equipment might be fifty years old, the owner of the restaurant might be 80, and the recipe might be two centuries in the making, but the ingredients are nothing but fresh and understood. The other commonality in this restaurant? Names and faces. Most will know the owner by first name and that owner (who is usually working the restaurant in person) will know the customers by name as well. Most understand one another and interact as neighbors. Even a city of five million will have a neighborhood restaurant with a dozen or so families from the immediate surrounds who all see and know each other and all greet each other by name. Hometown, even when you're uptown. All of this means employment, economic exchanges, and it means that somewhere in the area of 60% of the total money taken in by the pizza parlor will likely stay in the city or town it's located in. Versus less than 40% of the national chain's individual store income. All of this becomes Economics 101 when you see that. Jobs, local suppliers, local owners, and local money exchanging hands equals better localized and simpler economies. No matter your school of economics, you agree that localized economies thrive much faster and better than geographically diverse ones do. So spin those crusts and bake on, little pizzeria. You will be what saves our economy.