Food Is Love
Situated on vibrant South Congress Avenue in Austin, Texas there is a three-building “pizza compound” known as Home Slice Pizza. A Dine-in building, Take-out/Commissary, and a home converted into offices comprise the operation that pounds out over 8.5 Million dollars worth of New York Style Pizza, Subs, Salads, and Garlic Knots each year. This tremendous volume easily makes this pizzeria one of the busiest in the country.
Seeing a need for authentic New York Style Pizza in Austin; Home Slice was established in 2005 by Jen & Joseph Strickland, Terri Hannifin, and 33 private investors with the mission to “Create an Austin Institution, based on the original, unfailing goodness of authentic New York Style Pizza” – with no compromises.
When asked what made their pizza different from others, Jeff Mettler, Special Projects Manager, responded that “Home Slice Pizza is bona fide and legit. It is made with care and compassion and with the knowledge and responsibility of health and vitality. We do not cut corners; we do not cheat. We respect the craft and respect the craftsmen. We walk the path by those before us and meet the responsibility of making the world better for those who will follow us. All of this is to say simply, “food is made with Love. And Love is everything.”
The owner, Jen Strickland who has been dubbed the “Queen of Pies,” learned how to make New York Style Pizza from a mentor named Angelo in Flemington, NJ. Angelo allowed her and her husband Joseph to spend two weeks with him doing an internship of sorts; learning old-school methods from a real East Coast pizzaiolo. Having a solid business plan, building financial projections, establishing an unwavering commitment to quality, and having a demographic starved for authentic pizza led to virtually instant success for Home Slice Pizza. In an industry that sees a failure rate as high as 60%, Home Slice became profitable within six months and surpassed their sales projections.
The original Home Slice location, formally a vintage furniture store, very quickly became too small for the rapidly growing pizzeria. During peak hours they would suspend the sale of slices to keep up with patrons who were dining in. “We had to stop serving slices from 6-9pm while people were in the restaurant eating dinner. Otherwise, their pizza would take 40 minutes, which people expect to be fast. We couldn’t serve slices, and our name was Home Slice Pizza – we wanted to be a slice place” explains Owner Jen Strickland.
By chance, the building next door came up for lease and was quickly transformed into their take-out location aptly named “More Home Slice.” The massive 4,200 square foot building also became their commissary for both sites.
Home Slice’s operation is unimaginably busy and chaotic, yet at the same time it runs like a well-oiled machine – from the outside looking in, that is. A mini army of employees is needed to keep this pizza machine turning out slices day and night, over 140 to be exact. Just like any restaurant, the struggle to find quality employees is easily the biggest issue facing the pizzeria. To make the task even more difficult is their standard of finding “people with true love and passion in their heart.” The booming restaurant scene in Austin has compounded the problem even more.
Uniquely, Jen Strickland and the owners of Home Slice have taken a different approach to employee management than most others would dare. They follow an upside down pyramid with the owners and executives on the bottom, with each layer supporting the layer above. This method of putting employees first translates to employees putting customers first, which all in all developed a beloved hierarchy. “People make the business. It’s not even your product. It doesn’t matter how good your product is if you don’t have good employees who are dedicated to you, who trust you, and feel like they are growing” explains Jen.
Systems play a crucial role in keeping things in order. With an employee handbook in place, written policies, portion control for critical items, recipes, procedures, checklists, order guides, product prep sheets, and lots of reminders that have a feeling of “playful irreverence” – one of the core values of Home Slice – it becomes easy to see how they manage their staff and chaos so well.
It seems the success Home Slice Pizza has found all boils down to people. As the Queen of Pies puts it, “You have to like people. You can’t not like people. It’s the people industry.”
Home Slice Pizza is currently in the process of opening a new location across the city as part of their long-term goal of “expanding at a comfortable pace that brings delight to as many guests as possible, creating opportunities for growth for our team members while never compromising quality or our mission of keeping institution status.”
- Pizzeria Name: Home Slice Pizza
- Address: 1415 South Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78745
- Phone: 512-444-PIES
- Website: homeslicepizza.com
- Year Established: 2005
- Owners: Jen & Joseph Strickland, Terri Hannifin
- Square Footage: Original Location: 2,000, Take Out & Commissary: 4,200, Offices: Not specified
- Number of Employees: 140+
- Annual Sales: $8,500,000+
- Seats: 10 Bar, 78 Inside, 48 Outside
- Labor Cost: Much higher than industry standards
- Food Cost: Much lower than industry standards
- Sales Mix: Pizza – 60%/Beer & Wine – 20%/Everything else – 20%
- Breakdown of Sales: Dine-in 50%/Carryout 50%/Delivery only through 3rd parties
- Menu: Pizza, subs, salads, calzones, garlic knots, and desserts. Find their menus here – http://homeslicepizza.com/menus.php
- Marketing Budget: $0 paid advertising. Marketing is done through charitable giving instead
- Locations: One Pizza Compound and another location in the works
- POS: Revention
- Ovens: Marsal 660 Double Stack/Marsal 1060 Double Stack/Rotoflex
- Mixer: Hobart 220 Spiral / Hobart 60 Quart Planetary (backup)
- Pizza Prep Tables: Hoshizaki / True
- Walk-In Coolers: 10’x10′, 10’x15′, 15’x30′
- The Dough: Simple NY Style made with High Gluten Flour, a long three-day cold ferment, a long mix time of 15 minutes, and a low 52% hydration level. However – “Home Slice Pizza makes dough the exact way that considers the truth that the variable of change is constant. This is to say that dough is a living entity.”
- Dough Method: Hand stretched, handspun with every dough spending time in the air, made on a wooden peel and baked directly on the stone.
- Best Seller: Pepperoni Pizza – “it is the standard.”
- Unique Menu Items: Direct quote from the team at Home Slice – “The Sicilian Pizza served at Home Slice Pizza is unlike any Sicilian I have ever had. The recipe and process for it is different than any I have ever encountered. It took over two years for it to be developed and it is very, very possibly my favorite piece of food incepted [sic] inside of these kitchens because it was the end result of a team of people working together, challenging each other, forever holding the standard of excellence as the lowest bar. This Sicilian Pizza expresses that and expresses that without a word. “
- Biggest Regret: No regrets
- Biggest Challenge: Accepting anything less than perfection
- Keys to Success: High standards, impeccable training, everything starting from the heart, accountability, constant improvements, being straight up real, knowing our limitations and pushing them a little.
- Advice to Others Considering Getting Into the Business: First of all it is hard work, it’s hard to make consistent pizza, it’s hard to train your workers – you need to come up with systems.