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No child left out on pizza day

Adding ingenuity and compassion into school programs


March 4, 2008
By Cam Wood

Topics

Mario Sinopoli wonders why parents often get caught up on price over quality when it comes to school pizza programs.

 pizza-day
Mario Sinopoli, left, and brother Joe, have invested their 22 years of experience in serving schools into a program to make sure every child can have a slice of pizza on pizza day. 

Mario Sinopoli wonders why parents often get caught up on price over quality when it comes to school pizza programs.

The veteran restaurateur has designed a program in Maple, more famously known as the home of Paramount Canada’s Wonderland amusement park, which has not only opened doors, but also opened some eyes.

“Kids are connoisseurs,” he says. And while their focus is on quality, parents groups and school advisory committees want to see the bottom line.

“Why do you settle for price over quality? You have to ask yourself ‘Is this a good choice for the kids?’”
With so much focus on getting the junk out of the school system, it seems almost contradictory to accept the lowest price on a program that will bring lunch to the children once a week.

“At the end of the day, you have to look at their health.”

Mario, along with brother Joe, designed a program that builds on the family’s 22-year history of serving schools. Offering more than just the standard “school pizza,” the program expands on the fresh aspect of the food with sandwich and pasta options.

“Kids demands are different now than they were 10 years ago,” he said of their evolving tastes.

“And we do a lot of promotions (with the schools) to offset the increase in the cost,” he says. Of course, being in the sports hotbed of Toronto has helped the program grow with Maple Leafs and Raptors tickets, giveaways and promotional items.

But what really produces the “wow factor” is the delivery service.

Mario built a delivery cart that fits into the restaurant’s delivery vans. Holding 15 party-size pizzas, the cart resembles a giant hot-bag on wheels.

“How many times have you seen someone pull up outside the school with a trunk full of pizza boxes, or at worst, wrapped in blankets to keep them hot?”

The design allows the delivery person from Sinopolis to go directly from vehicle to classroom.

“And when the steam comes out, the parents love it,” Mario says proudly. “They know this pizza is hot and it’s fresh.”

Sinopoli’s is famous for their vela sandwiches; so much so, says Joe, that customers come in from New York, North Carolina and Quebec to stock up. It was the sandwich that helped build the menu to today’s expansive selection – including 21 different pastas for “when you’re in the mood for Italian food.”

“When you see a customer coming from a long distance away, it’s a nice feeling,” says Mario.

And while the sandwich continues to be a top seller, Mario adds that panzerottis have also become a leading seller. He chalks up to how they prepare them, and the crust. “We use a special dough. The crust is beautiful … it doesn’t sag.”

CATERING
The brothers have also seen an increase in their catering business. “No one is cooking at home anymore,” says Joe. “The days, like when our parents would invite people over and cook, are gone. Today’s lifestyle doesn’t allow for it. People have parties in their homes now and have the caterer come in.”

Together, the Sinopolis see a big market to tap into. The demographics of the region suit the idea quite well – busy professionals who still want the appeal of community and neighbourhood.

And they want quality – especially if they are entertaining. The consumer really understands food quality and products these days, says Joe. That means as restaurateurs and caterers, the focus must be on maintaining the highest level of quality and freshness.

“We’re always looking for new ideas,” Mario says of their approach to food service. “We like to get the feedback, and look to see if it merits changes and adjustments.”

Of course it was this kind of feedback that he said came back full circle to the school program. With an increase in food allergies, the Sinopolis worked to ensure that every kid has the chance to get a slice on pizza day.

“A really interesting area is lactose-free pizza,” Mario says. “One of our schools is asking for it, so we’re using a lactose-free Swiss cheese.”

Mario says this is something the schools will benefit from when dealing with a family-run business over a franchise with a business plan in a binder.

“When shopping around the school said no one else would offer it. But why should that kid be left out? We have to look at these allergies and we can’t just put them aside and discount that child.”

The result? “The kids are happy with it. To them pizza is pizza. They still get to have their slice in their hand.”•