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For our 25th Anniversary- we are publishing our history! We'll try to update this weekly!
Eureka Pizza is celebrating our 25th Anniversary THIS YEAR! Thanks so much for your patronage and support.
I never thought we would be celebrating 25 years in business!
It's because of our customers and our team... THANKS!!
Eureka Pizza started when I was just 26 years old. I walked in to the old King Pizza that was on Leverett Ave in Fayetteville in December 1991.
I tried to sell them an ad in my student coupon book (The Razorbucks Coupon Book) The manager said that they were shutting the business down. I was shocked, King Pizza had been a serious player in the Fayetteville Pizza scene.
I encouraged the manager not to give up and keep on going. After a few minutes of my pep talk he said "Why don't you buy King Pizza?"
After a bit of self talk and encouragement I decided that I should! I thought of all the good reason another pizzas place was needed.
I thought about what I could do to serve my future customers. What did they want? What do they need? The answer was simple- delicious pizza, friendly service and everyday low prices. We work to achieve these goals everyday.
I am grateful that we have a committed team that is passionate about pizza!
Back to my story!
I approached the owner (still a friend!) and he said he owed $40,000 on the business. I was pretty poor and a used pizza place was not worth much in 1992 (or even today!)
We settled on $8,500.00. It's easy to negotiate when your funds are limited! I did what many aspiring entrepreneurs do for capital... I needed somebody who loved me... and I asked my parents for a loan. Dad ended up co-signing a loan at the Bank of Fayetteville for $5,000.00
I was able to scrounge up the extra cash. (somehow... I was motivated!)
I have always kept the personal check I wrote for the cashiers check (the bank must have charged me a $3 check fee).
The History of Eureka Pizza! (Continued!)
25 Years ago, this year, I stumbled into the pizza business!
I had a great opportunity, and a big idea (at least for me). I was 26 years old, deep in debt and the proud owner of some used pizza equipment and the renter of carryout and delivery pizzeria near the biggest university in Arkansas (back then there were about 14,000 students... Now there are over 27,000 students!
Interesting factoid- according to the University of Arkansas, in the fall of 2016 52% of all students were female and 48% male!
I had a big "to do list"
1. I needed a name
2. A logo
3. Most importantly I needed to know how to make pizza!
1. I started brainstorming on names for my new business, after late few nights (maybe after a beer or 2) Eureka Pizza seemed like a great name- I liked the rhythm of the name, the alliteration.
2. The logo- was easier- I happened to turn on my TV and saw the ending credits for the old CBS TV show "Northern Exposure", the type style on the credits involved underlining the vowels- that's why we underline the lower case "e" in Eureka. I hired a sign painter, Eric Snodgrass (still talented, still in business... Snodgrass Signs in Fayetteville) He put the triangles in both of the letter A's.
For $500 Eric designed our logo and painted a 16 foot by 4 foot wooden sign... he threw in the logo for free. We still use the logo. (We picked a warm orange and a teal blue for our colors- a friend and U of A Art Student help select the colors- our research seemed to indicate that those 2 colors might stimulate hunger! (Hey, we needed every advantage we could get!)
3. The pizza part was hard! I had purchased an old Hobart 60 quart dough mixer with my King Pizza gear. Making pizza dough was tough... I assumed that flour was flour, after all it was a commodity! Pizza dough needs yeast- a living organism that needs warmth and food to thrive. In return it provides leavening and the complex flavors that distinguish a tasty pizza crust.
I was clueless! Luckily I liked to read, and I had inherited a pile of pizza magazine... Pizza Today! Lot's of a great info and small ad in the back for the American Institute of Baking! Tom Lehman, their longtime resident pizza dough expert kindly took me under his wing and patiently taught me the art of baking. Flour is not flour! Different wheat and different milling techniques create flour for different uses. Cakes are often best with very low protein flour. Cake flour creates a tender bite. Pizza is often best with more body- Tom guided me to a bread flour- with more protein for a greater punch.
Making pizza dough has been the hardest part. Proofing of pizza dough is a function of time and temperature. Keeping pizza dough consistent is a challenge for us.
We have learned to be very strict in our dough procedure. Keep water the right temperature and training our staff carefully is the key.
Our Cheese Story
I have written about our pizza dough and sauce.
Now is the time for our CHEESE!
After I got the keys to King Pizza- I discovered the walk in cooler was an old built in plywood cooler that was insulated with vermiculite, a mineral that is often associated with gardening. Vermiculite is a a bit like coarse top soil. If we slammed the door to our walk in cooler too hard, vermiculite would work thru the seams of the cooler and make a mess. (It was a happy day when we demolished that cooler and put a modern one sheathed in metal.)
We also inherited a floor safe hidden in the cooler (a clever idea for sure). We always kept our cash cool.
In the cooler a few groceries were left behind by the King Pizza crew, including several cases of cheese. I knew a 30 lb. case of cheese was valuable so I kept it sealed and ready for action.
I spent my days cleaning and making small repairs etc. to the kitchen and lobby. At night I would do "pizza research"... eating lots of pizza. After working with my consultant at the American Institute of Baking (Tom Lehman) I was soon ready to make my pizza. I got a sorority from the University of Arkansas to help do some taste testing. I was very proud of my pizza. They weren't. They were a hesitant to tell me the cheese was awful! Turns out my old case of cheese was too old! I learned a lesson to always be very careful with ingredients.
We started with a unique cheese- old timers may remember it was 80% Mozzarella, 10% Provolone and 10% Cheddar. The cheddar was colored a little orange (like most cheddars are). The bits of orange looked a little strange to some of my early customers. Within a year I quietly switched to 100% straight Mozzarella.
We have used basically the same cheese for 25 years from the same maker. We have always used 100% real cheese. In the 90's when dairy prices spiked imitation cheese was discussed by suppliers. We have never considered using fake cheese.
Our pizza is our business and using quality ingredients seems to be the best insurance policy a business owner can have. I also believe in consistency. Customers expect the same pizza. We don't make changes very often and never just to save a little money.
Thanks to our customers we buy a lot of cheese- around 10,000 lbs per week. Did you know that it takes about 10 pounds of milk (about 5 quarts) to make 1 pound of cheese?
I love mozzarella cheese on a pizza- It's too bland for me on a burger. On a pizza it is a great canvas to highlight the zesty tomato sauce and the fresh baked crust.
If you normally don't eat plain cheese pizzas- try one next time. A plain cheese pizza really is the essence of pizza- it's almost naked! No toppings to hide the basic flavor.
Next week we'll talk pizza sauce!
Our Pizza Sauce!
Soon after my purchase of King Pizza in 1992, I started intensive pizza research. I knew I had to learn the business. Pizza research means that you sample a lot of pizzas. I still do it. Usually I will drive to town and have as many pizzas as I can (I pace myself!) and I look for new ideas. It's as fun and filling as it sounds.
It seemed to me at the time and I think it is still true that smaller independent pizza places have better pizza sauce. The chains' sauce always seem to lack flavor.
I made the decision that as a start up I needed a great sauce and crust. (We talked about our dough last week).
After much research I uncovered the BIG SECRET to pizza sauce.
U.S.A. grown tomatoes usually ripen in mid summer and into fall. Tomato companies must clean, peel and can these tomatoes fast... often working 3 shifts a day, a busy time in the Central Valley of California. Most tomatoes are destined to be turned into tomato paste (Like the small, tall cans you see at your supermarket)
To concentrate the crushed tomatoes into paste, it takes lots of heat. Heat is the enemy of tomato flavor. Most commercial tomato products (and pizza sauce) are made with tomato paste.
For the convenience of the tomato company- giant "totes" of previously made tomato paste, will be "re-manufactured" into different products (like ketchup, pizza sauce, tomato soup). Water and spices will be added. This means that the final product is heated to high temperatures TWICE! So most of the delicate natural tomato flavors are long gone.
From DAY ONE I decided to use only "packed in season", "fresh packed" tomatoes in our pizza sauce. Our tomatoes are cooked under low heat to preserve the tomato's natural flavor.
In addition our canner goes the extra step and does not use CITRIC ACID in our tomatoes (Citric acid is a sour tasting preservative that speeds up the canning process)
So we use GREAT TOMATOES! AND we make our pizza sauce daily in our local kitchens.
The herbs and spices we use are simple- basil, oregano, garlic, cayenne pepper, a little sugar and salt plus we mix in real Parmesan cheese.
I know our sauce is better than our competitors. Our sauce has better tomato flavor and better overall flavor. Compare our sauce to Domino's, Pizza Hut, Little Caesars etc.
"You can't make good wine from bad grapes!"
Our Big Buy 1 Get 2 FREE Break!
Eureka Pizza finally opened in March 1992, we had a location and a product.
We opened during Spring Break of 1992 and business was SLOW. When U of A students and Fayetteville families returned business was still slow. We opened everyday at 4 pm. I spent my days door hanging neighborhoods in the general area of the Leverett Ave Eureka Pizza with pizza coupons. When the phone rang with a pizza order- I would say a silent prayer of thanks.
The odds were not good for our survival. I had additional questions about pizza dough and Tom Lehman of the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas would take my calls and give me advice. One day he mentioned that he was holding a "Pizza Production Seminar" in April. He said he though I really ought to come. I at first resisted but after several days of slow sales and dough struggles I decided it was a worthwhile trip.
I reserved a spot at the seminar. It was $800- which was a lot of money at the time. I figured it would be cheap if I could learn how to make a better pizza. I reserved a room at the Ramada Inn in downtown Manhattan (The little apple!)
I drove my 1988 silver Ford Tempo to Kansas and checked in at the opening cocktail reception. The seminar was going to be 5 days so I figured I better make some new friends. One of the first people I introduced myself to was Ed Cooke, from Temple Texas.
Ed had a successful pizza business- his store was fast Eddy's Pizza. The Home of Buy 1, Get 2 Free.
That week I learned an important lesson that reinforced information that I had read in Sam Walton's book, Made in America. Always learn from other people!
Rolf drives to Texas!
At the seminar in April 1992 I met Ed Cooke, who owned "Fast Eddy's Pizza" in Temple, TX. We had a lot in common, we were both at the seminar to improve our pizza. We spent a week learning primarily about pizza dough. We also had classes on sauce, toppings etc. In was able to come back and make a much better pizza with my knew knowledge.
I wanted to learn about Ed's business. I could tell he was successful. Fast Eddy's was the "Home of Buy 1 Get 2 Free" (carryout) and "Buy 1 Get 1 Free" (Delivery).
Ed invited me to Temple to see his restaurant. I jumped at the offer. I drove to Temple (south of Dallas) and I was instantly impressed with Fast Eddy's. It was BUSY! The pizza was great too.
I knew right then that I would bring "Buy 1 Get 2 Free" to Arkansas. The beauty of the concept was that it encouraged Carryout. Delivery was and is expensive for a pizza restaurant. I love saving people money without cutting pizza quality!
I knew that my store was unattractive and that with new customers coming in I needed it to be prettier!
I was also was not making any money, yet my body still wanted to be fed 3 times a day and my landlord (for the shop and my cramped apartment near Fayetteville High School) wanted to be paid (on a monthly basis)
What was I to do- would I be out of business soon or could I figure out a way to deliver the high quality pizza and the value I knew people wanted??
or Visa stepped in to Save the Day!
I anticipated that "Buy 1, Get 2 Free" would be disruptive to the Northwest Arkansas pizza market and would be hit with customers. This concept would increase our carryout business significantly and my store was ugly! King Pizza had "deferred maintenance" for many years and my limited funds meant that I had not changed much about the store other than new paint and a few minor improvements. Imagine a $8,500 pizza store that needed work!!
Rolling out "Buy 1, Get 2 Free" was actually using an old tactic, one that Sam Walton employed frequently.... S & D. (Swipe and deploy) There are very few new ideas in the world. So if you can swipe (really simply borrow) a good idea and use it in your business....smart. Mr. Sam saw a big discount store (K-Mart) and decided he would copy the idea, while adding his own touches. Walmart is still working out pretty good.
My immediate problem was a common one. I was losing a little money each week and I was running out of money! My wish list of improvements was basic. I wanted a new lobby floor and a new counter top. Plus King Pizza had built a big wall in the middle of the lobby to comply with USDA wholesale regulations. I had no desire to sell pizzas wholesale so down came that pesky wall!
While I fretted about my lack of cash, 2 lucky (or Divine?) events occurred. Event number 1: As part of my pizza shop purchase I had a Acme Dough Roller that I was not using. I had decided that the timeless "hand tossed" method produced a superior pie. Hand tossing plays a big role in the superior quality of our homemade every day, yeast-raised pizza crust. Jim's Razorback Pizza and Little Caesars did and still do use a mechanical dough roller. I advertised my dough roller in the Star Shopper paper and I was pleasantly surprised when Jim of Jim's Razorback Pizza called me and agreed to buy my roller for $1,200! That was a huge amount of money to me and help keep me alive. Event #2: I had a Visa credit card that had a $3,000 credit limit that I was maxed out on and I was barely able to make the minimum monthly payment. I received my bill around the time of my remodeling cash need and it showed that I had just made a $1,500 payment and I therefore had $1,500 in available credit! I knew I had made no such payment. I also knew that Visa would figure this mistake out pretty quickly. I decided to race down to the Bank of Fayetteville and get a $1,500 Visa cash advance. It worked!! I deposited the Jim's check and the cash from Visa into my commercial checking account and I started shopping! I bought "peel & stick" vinyl floor tiles and I spent hours during the day installing them. I did a ton of minor repairs in the lobby and kitchen. We opened at 4 pm in those days so that left my days available to paint and remodel and walk the neighborhoods of Fayetteville putting door hangers with coupons on door knobs! I loved to doorhang... exercise, fresh air and advertising all combined! I still drive thru neighborhoods in Fayetteville and remember the layout and houses from those days spend walking the sidewalks!
I had done it! Our store was now less ugly and ready for the big influx of badly needed new customers!
How could I tell the community about my new business model?
More next week!
The History of Eureka Pizza! (Continued!)
So this was it. I decided that changing our business model to "Buy 1, Get 2 Free" was our big opportunity to make Eureka Pizza work. Thanks to accidental and creative financing we were able to "doll up" Eureka Pizza in advance of all our new customers.
Our lobby now featured a snazzy new "peel and stick" vinyl tile floor. (it was actually pretty awful!)
We also installed 2 new pizza ovens (in addition to the 4 Blodgett natural gas deck pizza ovens.) We could now cook 36 large pizzas at the same time. Our new ovens were "Lang Air Door Ovens". These were electric. The electricians used copper wire the size of my finger to connect these "new to us" ovens to our breaker box. These ovens used so much electricity we would run outside and look at the electric meter when the ovens were turned on. WOW- our meter spun fast! Thankfully we rarely had to use these ovens. Turns out cooking a mere 24 pizzas at once is a lot of pizzas!
My early Apple Macintosh skills came in handy to make up a new set of ads proclaiming that Eureka Pizza was now home of "Buy 1, Get 2 Free" I had a Mac Plus a (a 9" screen... black and white) with 1 full megabyte of RAM and a gargantuan 70 megabyte Rodime external hard drive and an HP ink jet printer. (Who could afford a laser printer in those days?) That hard drive was a sure conversation starter (who needs 70 megs? Yes people were SHOCKED). I think I used Mac Draw back then to typeset ads.
I got the printer of my coupon book (the Razorbuck$) to print new flyers and door hangers announcing our new pricing. Thankfully I had credit at this printing shop.
We spent a lot of time distributing our new printed material. We closed down for a day while we distributed our new ads. I went up and down and all around the U of A campus and made sure our flyers were in every dorm. Back in those days, Fraternity Rush was held before school started in early August. We got so many pizza orders during Rush week that we were driving up Cleveland Hill in a Chevy pickup truck loaded with steaming hot pizzas. We were met by the freshman rushees and and we would get their money and they would get their pizzas! At one point a Domino's Pizza driver came in with a single pizza!
It was an awesome feeling to see how many more pizzas we were selling compared to them!
I knew that I had not won the was.... but the first battle turned out well for us! It was obvious that if we could maintain the high quality of our pizza that we were on to something BIG.
Next... the dog catches the car!
The History of Eureka Pizza! (Continued!)
DRUG FREE PIZZA OVEN!!
August and September of 1992, of our first year in business was a crazy time for us.
We were busier than we ever felt possible.
We had to make a lot of dough in our kitchen (Most of the big pizza chains make their dough in a central dough factory).
We knew fresh pizza dough tastes better and we went from making a few pizzas a day to suddenly making hundreds a day. Our pizza dough requires a "proofing" or rising time of 48-72 hours to develop the flavor we are looking for. Our dough rises slowly in our walk in cooler so we had to buy more racks, covers and sheet pans to store our pizza dough balls on.
We experienced severe operational challenges. We had 6 deck pizza ovens that each could cook 6 large (14") at the same time.
The problem was that if you filled the ovens all at once, it would mean that all of the pizzas would be baked at the same time- try taking those pizzas out of the oven.
Being an "Oven Tender" on deck pizza ovens takes a lot of skill.... skills that we were learning. A deck oven needs a lot of supervision. Pizzas tend to cook faster and therefore tend to burn near the walls of the oven. It was important to use the "pizza peel" to rotate pizzas so they would cook evenly.
I decided we needed to invest in a conveyor pizza oven- so that we could cook pizzas faster and not need a skilled oven tender.
I shopped exhaustively and I soon settled on a used Middleby Marshall oven. I located one in Texas so I rented a truck and made the drive to Amarillo. I actually stayed at the Big Texan (you know the place- Home of the Free 72 oz steak dinner....if eaten in 1 hour.)
In addition to the oven I bought a few odds and ends, including a couple of old 7/11 safes.
I loaded up the truck and returned to Fayetteville. This was before I-49. I had to drive up the old US 71 Between Fort Smith and Fayetteville.
Near Drake Field I was pulled over by the Fayetteville Police. The area near the old airport was a notorious speed trap back then and I was always cautious about my speed around there. The officers were nice and asked for permission to search my truck. I said sure thing, a German Shepard appeared out of seemingly nowhere and she used her nose to search for drugs.
The 2 old safes attracted the interest of the dog and the police. I had the combinations but I had no idea how to open these safes. Luckily the dog lost interest and soon enough I was sent on my way.
I think even to this day Eureka Pizza has the only Fayetteville Police certified drug free pizza oven and safe(s).
More next week!
The History of Eureka Pizza! (Continued!)
Death by Promotion!
Eureka Pizza heads North to Springdale!
Things were going well for us in Fayetteville. All was well until I discovered an ex team member was heading to Springdale to open "Triple Deal Pizza", pretty much a clone of Eureka Pizza!
I had a bit of a temper in those days and I was mad when I heard the news! I may have broken a glass object or 2.
The best thing about our economic system in America is that we must compete for our customers! I decided the only thing I could do was to pull up my big boy pants and head to Springdale. I needed a location fast! I found a vacant spot (1,500 square feet) in a strip center across from the then Sam's Club on South Thompson. I rented from Sam Mathias. Sam at that time drove a Buick sedan with a bag phone and a phone book on the front seat. The trunk was filled with shoe boxes from his shoe store.
I started shopping for equipment and personally put down a blue epoxy floor (never again! I still have bad dreams about the foul odor that was created during installation.
We decided that a big grand opening would be good. We decided to give away a free pizza if you brought in a can of food for the local food bank. We decided to heavily promote this offer.
Whoops. Wow. We got creamed!!!
The good people of Springdale responded like crazy!!
Our situation was made worse since we did not spend enough time training our new crew. It seemed like we had people working that were not certain what shape a pizza should be (round!).
We collected so many canned goods we had no place to put them! We had cartons of cans stuck all over the place. Corn on the counter and green beans and chili on our pizza ovens!
I was worried that we had shot ourselves in the foot. People waited far too long for their pizza and our pizzas were sloppy.
I have always been grateful that the people of Springdale (and Arkansas) who have always been patient and forgiving. And for always giving us a second and third and fourth chance!
Arkansas has provided me and close to 200 team members a terrific life and career and for that we are eternally thankful for people giving a local company a chance.
I always try to shop locally first out of appreciation.
That little store cost $17,500 to open. Which was almost double what the first store in Fayetteville cost. Today it would be hard to open a carryout/delivery pizzeria for under $200,000!
More next week!
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