Some businesses are a lifelong dream, while others just happen. In the case of the Bay Area-based restaurant Square Pie Guys, founders Marc Schechter and Danny Stoller didn’t start out thinking they were going to open a pizza joint. While working at a technology company, Schechter met restaurant industry veteran Stoller through a friend — and the two bonded over a shared love of homemade pizza.
Schechter pioneered a pop-up pizza spot on his own, and eventually, they decided to combine forces. “We looked at how Detroit-style pizza was taking off, and at the same time, Danny was consulting on a project with pizza and seeing how that could be a good business,” Schechter said. “In September of 2018, we decided to partner and turn the pop-up into Square Pie Guys.”
As Millennials themselves, Schechter and Stoller understood the growing consumer demand for off-premise dining, and launched their brick-and-mortar business with delivery in mind.
“People were willing to spend more money to have our food delivered, so we knew going into our launch that we would do delivery through a third party,” Schechter said.
A few weeks after their launch in July 2019 (where they sold out of pies right away), Square Pie Guys partnered with Caviar and saw an immediate uptick in sales, filling 80-90 delivery orders each night. Today, 50% of the Square Pie Guys sales come from DoorDash and Caviar.
Embracing digital real estate
Square Pie Guys’ rapid rise to success is due in part to the way they leverage free and low-cost marketing tools to get the word out and enhance their online presence. In just over a year, @squarepieguys has amassed more than 12,000 followers on Instagram, where they post mouth-watering photos of their signature square slices against scenic Bay Area backdrops.
“Food represents some of the most shared images on social media,” said Schechter. “If you can have really good pictures and an aesthetic that makes people hungry as they’re looking at Instagram, it’s probably going to work.”
It’s not just about the pictures, though—it’s also about engaging your community. “We make it a part of our daily routine to go on Instagram, see who’s commenting, try to respond, try to interact, and try to channel [customer service questions],” Schechter said. They also repost content and memes created by customers to show love to their audience.
Tackling earned media
Stoller also emphasizes the value of organic and earned media coverage. Restaurant owners can hire a PR firm to make introductions to prominent food reporters, or even reach out directly if they are willing to do a little research.
“For any article you want written, you can find journalists’ or editors’ email addresses online and pitch them,” Stoller said. “We created this idea of legitimacy and maturity in our brand by having that press awareness that I think otherwise we wouldn’t have had.”
Media pitching is a great way to build credibility and generate awareness for restaurants with small marketing budgets. While it takes time and effort (and budget if you bring on outside help), it can pay off in spades with word-of-mouth awareness, legitimacy, and appearing on the first page of Google search results. Restaurant owners interested in PR should figure out their unique story, then take the time to research and pitch relevant reporters at local blogs, newspapers and weekly publications.
Through their thoughtful media outreach, the Square Pie Guys founders forged relationships with reporters at prominent publications, which resulted in articles in San Francisco Chronicle, SF Weekly, Eater and many more ahead of their launch.
Focusing on efficiency
Today, Square Pie Guys is navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and continuing to drive sales by being both proactive and creative.
Early on, Schechter and Stoller made safety a priority for their staff and customers. From requiring masks to setting up theater ropes to mark lines to carving out fixed points of entry and exit, Square Pie Guys implemented an array of tactics to minimize health risks. “It's not just about making customers and our team feel safe—it’s making sure they are safe,” Stoller said.
To ensure a successful pivot to fully off-premise operations, the founders made some significant changes to their business. Together, they reviewed sales reports, slimmed down their menu, and re-engineered their entire operation—all helping to increase efficiency for pickup and delivery orders.
Another strategy that is helping Square Pie Guys successfully navigate COVID-19 is Hetchy's Hots—a virtual (i.e., delivery-only) hot chicken sandwich restaurant hosted in their storefront.
“We took this potentially terrible situation and turned it into a really positive opportunity to pivot the business,” explained Stoller. “It was one of our prouder moments.”
Emerging stronger on the other side
Looking ahead at their own business plans, Square Pie Guys hopes to be able to open new locations. They worked with their DoorDash team to query sales data for different demographics and delivery radiuses to help them make informed decisions about their expansion.
In terms of the industry as a whole, the founders predict that restaurants will be more focused on off-premise dining, even after the pandemic. “COVID-19 only accelerated a trend that was already happening,” Schechter said.
Schechter and Stoller hope that the challenges of the pandemic will encourage restaurants across the industry to rethink their strategy and strengthen their operations for the long term, just like they did.
“My hope is that restaurant owners will be able to write better business plans, be more transparent about costs, and be thoughtful about the way we build teams and take care of our staff,” said Stoller.
Ready to capitalize on changing consumer trends? Get started with DoorDash For Merchants today and boost your takeout and delivery sales.
Photo credit: Felicia Kieselhorst (@fotosbyflee)