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Pizza roundtable: Tightening community ties

How operators gain support by focusing on local


Mikey Wasnidge, co-owner of Nimrods’ floating pizzeria in Charlottetown Harbour, said giving to multiple non-profits allowed him and his partners found that to connect with many people.

At our Canadian Pizza Virtual Summit in October, three successful pizza operators joined us in a roundtable talk that was all about community. Kelly Black, co-owner of Una Pizza + Wine in Calgary and Saskatoon; Joe Ward, co-owner of Joes Family Pizzeria & Poutinerie, Pembroke, Ont.; and Mikey Wasnidge, co-owner of Nimrods’ Floating Pizza Bar in Charlottetown. 

After just over a decade in business, Joe Ward and and his wife, Natacha, have successfully embedded Joes Family Pizzeria & Poutinerie in its community of Pembroke, Ont., near Ottawa. 

Una Pizza + Wine opened its doors in 2010 and recently launched two new locations and takeaway service in the city as well as a location in Saskatoon. Kelly Black co-owns BMex restaurant group with Jayme MacFayden. 

Mikey Wasnidge and his partners Nigel Haan, Bruce Rooney and Jesse Clasueheide have harnessed the power of social media and effective storytelling, used product discounting to make people feel rewarded and programmed tasteful community events that helped to turn Nimrods’ Floating Pizza Bar in Charlottetown harbour into a vibrant community hub.

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Here are a few excerpts from our conversation.

How important is your local community to your business model?

Kelly: For us, honestly it’s everything. Over the last 11 years since we’ve been open trends have come and gone. Pizza obviously is a good rock, as trends come and go, but what never changes is our neighbours and our locals supporting us and us taking care of them. That’s basically the be all and end all for us: making everyone feel like they belong when they walk through the door looking for customer service from us. 

Joe: It means everything, customers – we wouldn’t be where we are without them. There are 23 restaurants in town that sell pizza so it’s tough sometimes to stand out and some have big budgets for advertising and stuff like that. So our key is to keep it small, keep it local, get in on the ground floor with a lot of different organizations and charities. That’s where we’ve found our niche. 

Mikey: When we first opened up on the water, we weren’t sure how many people would be locals and how many would be tourists. We were in a pretty touristy area. Truth be told, our first year, we had built up this huge local following, but they couldn’t even get seats because there were just so many tourists down there. So we decided to shift our profit model. We started donating to the soup kitchen – one meal for every pizza sold because we thought, OK, we’re in this touristy area, our pizzas are being sold at a bit of a premium, so let’s give some of that back so we can still stay connected. 

Kelly Black, co-owner of Una Pizza + Wine in Calgary and Saskatoon, said making everyone feel like they belong is their “be all and end all.”

Tell us about some of your ideas and activities that bring you closer to  your local customers.

Tell us about some of your ideas and activities that bring you closer to your community.

Mikey: When we first opened in 2019, we started out giving a portion of sales to the local food bank. Over sixteen weeks we had sixteen non-profits that were tied to the sales for each week. It was the same kind of giving we were already doing but it allowed us to connect with so many other people.

Then 2020 and COVID hit and we really needed to lean on those locals. We started programming nightly entertainment and we started communicating again and trying to tap into that local community. That support didn’t waiver. The tourism just dropped. But we actually grew our sales in 2020 by five per cent just from the locals being able to come out and staying later in the evening. We have nightly entertainment four or five nights a week that are all local artists. We pay above any other restaurant or establishment in town. It’s a pretty major investment on our part but it helps us to retain that community love.

Joe: We have Pizza Kits for a Cause where we partner with charities. They sell our pizza kits and we donate back a portion of sales to the charities. We’ve also done the food bank and Christmas hampers where we’re giving free pizza to households that received a hamper. We do Freebie Frenzies where we go out, on a holiday maybe to the local sliding hill, and hand out free pizzas to the kids – this was pre-pandemic – but we’ll go to ice shacks and knock on the door and hand out free pizzas. We’ll go to the hospital maternity ward and feed either the mom or the people waiting for the mom to give birth. Just to get out there and to hopefully capture something a little bit special that people might share on social media. 

Joe Ward, co-owner of Joes Pizzeria in Pembroke, Ont.: “Our key is to keep it small, keep it local, get in on the ground floor with a lot of different organizations and charities. That’s where we’ve found our niche.”

Our social media is pretty much our advertising. We don’t do traditional advertising. We give all of our advertising budget back in the form of gift certificates and product to the community and to charities. It’s so easy right now to gain that word of mouth and be an advocate for yourself. Make sure you’re sharing those posts that people put out talking about you. Make sure people are hashtagging you and push those on to other media channels. Be an advocate for your business and for those charities as well because the better we do, the better they do. 

Kelly: We’ve had a longstanding relationship with a company called Mealshare that helps fight youth hunger. They’re across Canada now. We were one of their first restaurant partners here in Alberta. We’ve donated tens of thousands of dollars over the years. We’ve had partnerships with a multitude of charities in Alberta – organizations like Ronald McDonald House. Through COVID we found there was a refocusing of where charitable donations should go: frontline workers and more COVID-specific issues. We developed this Community Love program where every month we choose a charity and we know that charity in advance. We get their information and their logos. We help raise money for the month online for them. Our customers can donate, we donate. It’s all automated, it’s online as you’re ordering for takeout or delivery. During the first wave it was extremely successful, so we knew we were on to something.

Where do you get your ideas?

Joe: A lot of it is just paying attention to what’s going on around the world, in your neighbourhood and on social media. That’s how I get most of my ideas right now – talking to the customers, talking to charities. We’ve never turned away a charity: we’re actually looking for them.

Mikey: It’s just fun to think about who are your end customers, what are they interested in and what can you do to engage them and make their day more interesting. The ideas flow naturally when you’re putting the people at the forefront.”

Thank you to Gold-Plus sponsor Ardent Mills, Gold sponsor Galbani Professionale/Lactalis Canada Foodservice and Silver sponsor Faema Canada and Euro-Milan Distributing Inc. – for helping us bring you this program tailored to the Canadian pizza industry. We couldn’t do it without you!