Big Pizza can charge less, putting pressure on local restaurants

January 07. 2017 7:38PM
In the kitchen at Portland Pie Co. on Elm Street in Manchester on Tuesday, Brian Hartford of Nashua, assistant general manager, pinch hits in the kitchen. (Allegra Boverman/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER - Pizza lovers can argue over thick vs. thin crust or whether mushrooms should ever touch a pizza.

Days before National Pizza Week kicks off today, local pizza shop owners differed over whether national chains offering cheap pizza deals are hurting their business.

Jimmy Hartwyk, owner of Skinny's Pizzeria, says a Domino's Pizza within a block of his West Side business brings him more customers.

"They help me," Hartwyk said last week.

"People will pass my store and they never heard of me," he said. "Next time, they may give Skinny's a try."

Hartwyk said he can't compete on price, but "people like to support small businesses and appreciate" that 90 percent of his food is made from scratch.

Grubhub, a mobile app for people to order from local restaurant, also "brought me a lot of new business," he said.

Across town, Grand Slam Pizza, on South Mammoth Road, is seeing national pizza chains hurting its profit.

"Of course, it's hard to compete with the big chains," said owner Tom Katsiantonis, who also is Ward 8 alderman. "They always buy products cheaper. Our food costs are higher. These days, even our payroll is getting higher and more expensive because we're having a hard time finding help.

"The bottom line is we can't find help, and we can't increase our prices because of the big chains," he said, noting business is about the same as a year ago.

"We'll be making less profit," said Katsiantonis, who also owns Tommy K's restaurant on Brown Avenue.

Priscilla Lane-Rondeau, owner of 900 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria, with locations in Manchester and Epping, offers upscale pizza and doesn't worry about the national pizza chains.

"What's the beauty about 900 Degrees is we have a niche, and if you're looking for a wood-fired pizza, you're going to come to 900 Degrees," she said.

Her restaurant does some business deliveries within a mile of its Manchester location but doesn't take orders via online or mobile app.

"We're so busy that we would rather talk with the person and let them know what the wait is," she said. About 10 percent are to-go orders.

Sales year to date were up 2 percent in Manchester and 3 percent in Epping compared to a year earlier.

Owner Tom Milliard says Pizza Express, a family-owned business with two Manchester locations, saw sales up about 30 percent in the past year.

"We're very well known in the community," he said.

Within the next two weeks, he said he plans to introduce online ordering after many customers asked for the service.

Kassha St. Jean, owner of Pappy's Pizza on Elm Street, said "I never even think of" the national pizza chains.

"We've been here so long we don't have to compete," she said, adding business is about the same as a year ago.

"I don't do any online ordering," St. Jean said. "We don't even deliver."

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