Anna and David Di Carlo Interview
(Di Carlo's Pizza)

“Parade” Magazine recently recognized Di Carlo’s Pizza as one of the Best places in the United States for pizza.
That’s not surprising since Di Carlo’s may have been the first place in the United States to serve pizza in the mid 1940’s.
We spoke with Anna Di Carlo and her son David about all things pizza.

Q – So, you were in California recently looking at tomato fields because you’re going to put out your own pizza sauce. When is that going to happen?
David – Hopefully by the beginning of the year (2013).

Q – You’re calling it Di Carlo’s Pizza Sauce?
A – Yeah. It’s actually the original sauce my grandfather used to painstakingly make on site. As you know, when you franchise it, you leave a lot of room for error, so, we’re gonna have it made on a farm.

Q – Have you decided on a farm in California yet?
David – We’re not sure yet. California or Ohio. There’s two farms that are going to make our sauce and compete which one we can pick.

Q – What was behind the decision to put out the pizza sauce?
David – I’m doing it more or less to increase the flavor of my pizza, more like it used to be. That original recipe my grandfather was famous for.

Q – What did it do for business when “Parade” Magazine named Di Carlo’s as one of the best places to enjoy pizza in the United States?
David – It increased a lot of phone calls. A lot of people were interested in franchises. Right now we have a gentleman who’s strongly pursuing Arizona. We might have him up and running by 2013. Another gentleman in Charlotte. A couple gentlemen in Florida. We kind of spread the word that we were franchising. A lot of people when they saw that (article) they called and asked about it. They realized we franchised now and got real interested in that.

Q – How many franchises do you have now?
David – Some are family owned. To be honest with you, we have 18 Di Carlo’s Pizza in the United States.

Q – Your main office is where?
David – Weirton, West Virginia.

Q – And I thought it was Wheeling, West Virginia!
Anna – It was Wheeling. Our office was in the back of one of the pizza shops, but we needed a little bit more privacy, so we still use that office. But, we have much more privacy here. And, it’s closer to home.

Q – You use Air Deck ovens. What’s that? I’ve never heard of that before.
Anna – Originally in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s it was old stack ovens, four ovens stacked on top of one another. When you cooked the pans you had to rotate them and take them out of the first rack and put them in the third rack and back to the second rack. That’s the way it was done. They still manufacture a deck oven but it doesn’t put out the exact amount of heat or it doesn’t come close to those ovens of the 50’s and 60’s. So, we were faced with the fact that we had to look into a different oven for that reason and also because we needed something more simple. You need somebody highly skilled to operate such an oven especially when you’re changing from one level to another level. So, we went ahead and found this air deck. It’s almost like the same concept as a convection where the air circulates evenly and the heat is distributed evenly and it actually has worked pretty well, but, it still requires a skill to operate. It’s still not dummy proof. You can’t have some inexperienced working the oven. You almost need to have intense training with this oven as well, not like the old fashion Pier less Deck. It’s easier to operate than that. What I’m trying to say is, we’re trying to make it simpler yet considering it’s an air type oven.

Q – How do you separate yourself from all of the established pizza chains?
David – You would think we would be worried about the competition in all those kinds of chains, but, we’re so vastly different from all those chains there’s no competition to be honest with you. We’re not like that cookie cutter franchise that you’d see everywhere, every stop you’d drive your car. Our pizza isn’t sold by the pie. It’s sold by the slice. It’s a unique style pizza. I always say there’s a New York Style Pizza, a Chicago Style pizza and there’s a Steubenville (Ohio) style pizza. I really mean that when I say that. It’s just that unique. So, if you like our particular style of pizza and we’re the only ones that make that particular style of pizza at a buck a slice, making it homemade every day, that’s  really no comparison to these chains that are just pushing them through, these pies.

Q – Is it possible that you could develop a frozen pizza that would taste as good as the pizza you’d get in your restaurant?
David – Many people want to do the frozen thing. We have some places that do frozen style pizzas for like baseball fields and little grocery stores, but, at the end of the day if you want to taste Di Carlo’s Pizza you need to go and experience it at a shop. It’s not ever gonna be one of those frozen pizza products, at least not as long as I’m here.
Anna – Our pizza is completely different.
David – I’m sure if we tweaked it and wanted to make it a frozen pie we could, but, it’s not something I want to do. If I have a hundred people that want to open a Di Carlo’s, I’m not really interested in letting all hundred people open a franchise as other franchises would just mass produce their product and pop-up everywhere. I really want to keep the growth at a slow pace, and focus on the quality of the pizza. I really don’t care if we have 200 stores. I would be happy if I only had one in New York. I wouldn’t need eight in New York. I know the city is huge, but, at the end of the day, you’d go to that store in that location.

Q – How do you maintain quality in multiple locations? You can’t be physically present at every restaurant. You have to hope that whoever you employ will follow proper procedure.
David – That’s what I’m currently in the process of trying to dummy proof as you would say. Our sauce is a big deal. You don’t have to make sauce on site for 4 hours but we get the same high quality sauce in a can made for you. Our cheese is a special blend of cheese. It’s not just any kind of cheese. We have a lot of proprietary products you can only buy through our distributor that I have researched and made sure they’re all ready to go once you’ve opened up a store. We’re really trying to test this pizza on a conveyor oven, kind of do a double-bake or a different style there that would really, really help in markets outside of our area.

Q – Would Steubenville, Ohio be the first place in the United States to offer pizza?
David – That’s correct. I always say if my grandfather would have franchised that we would have been a billion dollar co. but, he had many shops. He was very wealthy and very successful and he just cared about the regional growth. He didn’t really care about the franchising. The franchising came down the line now, in the 2000’s.

Q – How did you go from one restaurant to multiple restaurants?
David – There was just so much interest from people in this area that wanted to expand this product. This is such a unique type of pizza. It’s such a cheap product too. It’s very affordable. There’s such a high profit margin on your slices that it’s a great business venture, a great thing to branch out and try. It’s a unique product. It’s something I believe will really take off once we get all our ducks in a row and get everything together. I really think it could be that other type of pizza that everybody would come and see what it’s all about.

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