Amici's East Coast Pizzaria Celebrates 20th Anniversary
December 11, 2007
Again Ranked Top U.S. Independent Pizza Chain
San Mateo,California --- Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria (amicis.com) celebrates its 20th anniversary in December again ranked as the No. 1 independent pizza chain in the U.S.
The Bay Area’s most recognizable pizza has never veered from the concept established in December of 1987: serve an authentic East Coast style pizza in an upscale, efficiently run restaurant, combined with a carefully managed growth plan to maintain the quality of the food and service. Years before the term became a marketing buzzword of the new millennium, its founder delineated a textbook case of “building a brand”, representing one of Northern California’s most successful low-tech business stories of the past two decades.
Based in San Mateo, Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria is slated to open its 10th Bay Area restaurant in Danville in March of 2008 and recently received the highest praise among patrons in a survey conducted by the San Francisco Chronicle.
“We developed this concept with the intention of ‘building a brand’ within the community of transplanted East Coasters,” said Amici’s President and co-founder Peter Cooperstein. “The signature item was a thin crust pizza cooked in 700-degree open flame ovens. In our early years we featured few variations and declined to even offer a ‘combo’ pizza.”
The popular eatery’s blueprint was developed by Cooperstein, a Boston,MA native spiced with a bachelor’s degree in economics from Cornell University , an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management and an insatiable craving for a fine New York-style pizza.
The early stages of the computer industry revolution drew Cooperstein to the Silicon Valley in 1981, but a market shift re-focused his efforts on providing East Coast refugees with a product they missed.
After researching successful pizza establishments in Boston and New York City he returned to his new home, and armed with the MIT diploma, commenced a career in the pizza industry….as a dishwasher.
For the next 18 months Cooperstein apprenticed through the industry with turns as a waiter, bus boy, deliveryman, prep cook and pizza cook. His first waiter job was at the original Village Pizzeria on Steiner St. in
San Francisco, which was managed at the time by New York native Mike Forter. The two became business partners and 20 years and nine openings later, Cooperstein and Forter remain good friends and partners in one of the Bay Area’s most successful food enterprises.
“At the beginning of our relationship I didn’t understand Peter’s drive and focus,” Forter remembered. “It wasn’t until much later that I came to fully appreciate his unorthodox approach to doing business and why it has been so instrumental to our success. Besides an incredible work ethic -- once we opened he worked 14 hours a day seven days a week -- he demonstrated an ability to identify and solve problems and a great capacity to anticipate and interpret the motives and likely actions of others and to make decisions based on those perceptions.”
After two potential San Francisco locations derailed, Amici’s debuted at 69 Third Avenue in San Mateo on December 29, 1987.
“After years of preparation, we were finally ready to open,” Cooperstein remembered. “About 20 minutes before opening, never before then, this incredible anxiety encompassed me like a shroud, ‘What if no one comes in?’ That was the longest 20 minutes of my life.”
Amici’s/San Mateo was at capacity from the outset and has maintained that popularity ever since.
The initial San Mateo menu’s mainstay was a New York style cheese and tomato sauce pie that remains the fashionable eatery’s big hitter 20 years later. Specialty pizzas in 1987 included, a Fried Eggplant pizza (Boston style), a Manhattan Red Clam pizza, a New Haven style White Clam pizza and the Philly pizza (Italian sausage, green peppers and onions). Amici’s also offered a popular antipasto salad and three pasta dishes.
Over two decades and eight more locations the original recipes have never varied and remain among its most popular, though Amici’s has expanded its menus with additional toppings, salads and pastas.
The restaurant has also continued many of its original vendor relationships as well, including using the same high quality Wisconsin whole-milk mozzarella cheese that topped the first pie served in San Mateo.
Amici’s finally reached San Francisco in 1991 with an opening on Union St. (moved to Lombard St. in September of 2006); followed by
San Rafael (‘95), Redwood Shores (‘98), Mountain View (2000), Dublin (‘03), King Street in San Francisco across from AT&T Park (‘04) , downtown San Jose (‘06) and Vacaville in the Nut Tree Village (’07).
The company’s development has been chronicled throughout the industry. Pizza Today Magazine, a trade publication which closely monitors business across the country, recently ranked Amici’s as the number one independent chain in America for the fifth time of the past six years.
“We do a really good job at the three components of pizza service,” Cooperstein recently told Pizza Today. “We do a big dine-in, but delivery is half of our sales, and we also do a lot of carryout. If you look at successful large operations, they usually aren’t able to put all three together. At Domino’s there’s no dine-in. At California Pizza Kitchen there’s no delivery. We’re able to do all three well.”
While Cooperstein’s initial business plan has adjusted with societal changes in taste and economy, the initial foundation of creating a blend of simplicity and sophistication remains unaltered.
Amici’s has managed – with a great design and construction team – to create a dynamic but intimate dining environment in its restaurants.
“We try to improve the design every time we develop the layout for a new restaurant,” Forter explained. “We want to make each place better than the previous one for the customers and for the workflow of the staff. But it’s challenging to integrate the take-out, delivery, and dine-in aspects of the business in a way that’s easy for the staff to work and not intrusive for the customers. When it works, the combination of the busy, managed chaos visible in the open kitchen, the modern but warm architecture, and the friendly and efficient service all come together to make the dining experience at Amici’s unique.”
A significant component of Amici’s steady growth has been delivery.
From the early morning deliveries to employees of the financial markets in downtown San Francisco, to the night owls of the high-tech businesses of Silicon Valley, and a multitude of Bay Area residences in between, Amici’s provides a level of quality and convenience that others cannot.
Again Amici’s remains distinct; its restaurants dispatch deliveries one order at a time direct from kitchen to customer; deliveries are prompt and the food is always fresh.
With deliveries approximating nearly half of the operation’s total revenue, the continuing rise in fuel costs remain a pressing concern.
“It’s not just the issue of our drivers,” Cooperstein admitted. “It affects our suppliers, as well. This isn’t an issue that will go away. We don’t anticipate the cost of gas to go down. It has become a serious part of the cost equation.
When asked about their success, Cooperstein and Forter are quick to recognize the invaluable contributions of their employees in the Amici’s story.
“Some our best systems and innovations have been developed by dishwashers, servers and drivers who have contributed their hard work and ideas to our company. Our staffs are the face of the restaurant,” Cooperstein reflected. “We’ve been very fortunate to hire and retain quality individuals. We have tried to develop good relations with our employees because we know that we cannot be successful and treat our customers well unless we take care of our staff. And we think we have succeeded because some of our people have been with us for 10 or more – up to 19!! – years, and are now managing our restaurants.”
And how has an MIT education served to enhance the delivery of fresh pizza to the Bay Area?
“When I was working in the kitchen at a San Francisco pizzeria we got a phone call just a few minutes after closing one night,” Cooperstein remembered. ”The caller was aware that we had just closed but was hoping we could still make a delivery. He was less than five minutes away so I got his order in the oven, baked the pie, got it in the car and raced to his door thinking he’d really be impressed. I rang his doorbell within 15 minutes of receiving his call. He refused the order. He claimed that to get it to him that fast we must have sent a leftover pizza that we were just pawning off on him. You don’t get that experience in a classroom.”
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