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We hope you’re not getting tired of us writing about food. We are a restaurant, after all, so it’s something we talk about amongst ourselves quite a bit (to the dismay of our friends and family, who might be getting the tiniest bit tired of it). I was all ready to write something entirely different for the blog too, but then Ian submitted another great letter for the website, so once again I am passing the blog buck. To be honest, my blog probably would’ve just been me whining about the lack of warm spring weather currently in Wisconsin, so you didn’t miss much. It’s just so cold!
Food is very important to us. This might seem like a strange statement for us to make, but considering the fast food driven culture we live in, I believe it’s important to tell you that we really care about what we serve. While we’ve been spending a lot of time recently explaining our employee practices and our environmental goals, this month I’d like to explain our beliefs on food.
Any discussion about food at Ian’s Pizza has to start with people. Our food doesn’t simply arrive in our kitchens or on your plate by itself. Good food starts with maintaining good relationships with all of the people who help to grow, process, and distribute our raw materials, so those relationships are one of our biggest priorities.
Whenever possible, we strive to purchase our food locally (within a 200 mile radius) and then regionally (within a 500 mile radius). By purchasing our food locally, we are supporting our environment, our health, and our economy. Recently, we were approached by one our distributors to try a new mozzarella cheese for our pizzas. After conducting several taste tests with all of our staff, we honestly could not determine whether our current cheese was better than the sample our distributor gave us. Some of our staff preferred the “new” cheese, some the “old” cheese and many couldn’t even tell the difference. The two differences that were clear were price and production. The “new” cheese was 20 cents cheaper per pound, a significant difference considering we purchase roughly 100,000 pounds of cheese per year. Additionally, the “new” cheese is manufactured in California, while our “old” cheese is produced 45 minutes away in tiny Brownsville, WI. Despite the large price incentive we decided to continue with the “old” cheese. We simply couldn’t find any justification for buying cheese from California.
While the push to incorporate locally sourced foods began in earnest in 2007, we still have a long way to go. We currently make trips twice per week to the farmer’s market and some of our vendors deliver food directly to our kitchens. Currently, 8% of all of our produce is purchased locally (mostly for our salad bar), while 90% of dairy products are from local and regional sources. All of our ham is purchased from a local farm but we still have not discovered a cost-effective source for local poultry or beef. We have always prided ourselves on not relying on freezer for our food, but considering our long winters, we are starting to re-think the idea of freezing local produce when it is season.
Our short term goals include incorporating locally-grown produce into our basic kitchen staples (onion, peppers, garlic, etc.) while our long term vision is to run our own farm, with the dream of growing salad greens all year round in our own greenhouse.
Over the past ten years we have served millions of slices of pizza. I would love to believe every single slice we’ve ever served was perfect. The truth is a different story. The execution of our food, beginning with the preparation of all of our ingredients and extending all the way to the re-heat of your slice, is a constant priority for us. As Ian’s Pizza has grown to multiple locations, creating standards for all of our kitchens has become increasingly important. Starting later this year, Ian’s Pizza will start a company-wide project to standardize the execution of our pizzas. If this sounds a bit like something out of a McDonald’s corporate memo, don’t worry; a cook, who has been expertly trained, will still be making each pizza by hand. As my grandmother, a professional pianist, says, even the best pianos in the world need to be tuned.
As always, we welcome your suggestions and feedback to help us to improve our food. After all, we work for you, and if you’re not happy, we want to know.
Ryan (aka Hats) works at the Ian’s Pizza on State. If you called that Ian’s in late February or early March, you may have spoken with him. Normally a FOH (that’s Front of House for those not in the know) counter staffer, he was one of the tireless voices on the phone during those days when our delivery prep room looked more like a makeshift telethon. He’s a student, a blogger, and an all-around great guy with a great collection of hats (hence the nickname).
He promised to write about his recent trip to France, because we made him feel bad for the rest of us that were not able to go. We didn’t tell him what to write about, just let him know that he was going to be our guest blogger. This is what we got:
I recently planned a trip to Europe. It’s the first time I’ve left the country for more than a few hours and I’m going solo. Right around the same time, Ian posts here about how fabulous Beurre Bordier is (and it is, it really is). So I think, ‘Hey, the bulk of my adventure is going to be spent in Paris. I’ll pick up some butter and earn some brownie points with the supreme overlord.’
Long and short, the trip was fantastic. I had more fun, met more people, and saw more places in two weeks that I could have imagined.
But my last day in Paris is full of stress…too much to do, so little time! My flight doesn’t leave until 8PM, so I figure I’m set. I’ll head over to the airport by 6, and everything’s kosher.
So I’m running around town (it isn’t like running around Madison… Paris is WAY bigger), trying to pick up souvenirs, send postcards, and doing one last sweep of all the places that sell this marvelous butter. (They were all closed; something about Mondays in France… ) Anyway, I’m finally all set to go.
And it’s only – WAIT! WHAT? It’s already 6!? I wanted to be at the airport already. So I cram everything in my bag, leave a quick note and some cash for my gracious hosts, and BOLT. So I’m running down Rue d’Alesia with a giant backpack.
I arrive at the airport, thirty-five minutes to plane departure, and with a very full bladder. Yikes.
There’s a line.
I gotta pee.
I answer nature’s call and I’m the last one to pass through the metal detectors; all is well. I shuffle down, throw my shoes, my coat, my hat back on.
But they’ve held my bag for extra checks. She asks me to open every pouch on my backpack, one by one, stuffs her hand in, and nods. Until, of course, we get to the big pouch. Immediately, she goes for the toiletries. So I pull out the shampoo and make a (hurried) show of tossing it.
‘So we’re done, right? I tossed out my shampoo, we’re good to go. I’m in a hurry! They’re holding the plane for me! What’s that? Oh… uh… butter.’ She opens the package.
“Ah, beurre,” she repeats.
‘Yes, lady, butter. Give it back!’ But she doesn’t. She squeezes a bar between two fingers, consults with her colleague, then sets it aside and tells me, “Sorry, this is disallowed. Only for checked luggage.”
I hadn’t really thought about that. There hadn’t been time to think! Now I really wish I had gotten here on time. So, without time to mourn for the fallen butter, I rush along to reach my plane.
Now we’re waiting. Someone on the flight crew makes an announcement. “We’re waiting for a time to take off. The reason for this is because the traffic in Europe is really congested right now.
What he means to say is, “Hats wanted some butter and was holding up the whole show.”
I wish I had done things differently. Hindsight, they say, is 20/20. But you know what? I’ve had 20/20 vision all my life, and hindsight sees WAY better than me.
Maybe I should have just waited. There was another flight tomorrow that would make it in time for my connection to Chicago. Or maybe I could have told the security lady, “Okay, check my bag for me. I’m going to Zurich,” and dashed off without a word. Or if I was a quicker thinker, maybe I could have told her it was soap. She would have said, “Oh, soap. You have a lot of soap,” and I would respond, “What can I say, I like to be clean.”
Maybe I could run back to the security screening and give them ten Euros to ship it to my hosts’ house, with a note asking them to ship it to me, complete with my address and plenty of money to cover the shipping. Or I could hop off right now and get the butter back from her while we sit here waiting at the gate. I could get someone to check my bag.
And the butter’s there. That’s what’s important.
Well, okay, it’s not like the butter was really that important. It cost maybe fifteen euros for half a dozen bricks of butter, and I had partly expected it to be taken by customs. It’s just a point of pride; I didn’t see this coming. All the events leading up to it could have happened ever so slightly differently and I would be lying on the couch in the Zurich airport with a whole bunch of Beurre Bordier in my bag.
This was March’s letter from Ian, and we thought it was worth re-posting, because not only can he make a mean pizza, he’s a darn good writer…
The ongoing political events here in Madison have been nothing short of historic for the people of Wisconsin and, on a much smaller scale, Ian’s Pizza. Starting on February 16th, Ian’s Pizza was entrusted with delivering pizzas to demonstrators on behalf of people from all 50 states, over 60 countries and Antarctica. Media coverage soon followed with articles mentioning us by name in newspapers all around the world. The following on Ian’s Pizza on State’s Facebook page alone grew from 3,900 to almost 15,000 fans in one week. Given all of the media scrutiny, not surprisingly, many people have asked what Ian’s Pizza stands for.
When I founded Ian’s Pizza 10 years ago, I wanted to create a business that could make a positive difference in the lives of our employees and customers. I wasn’t convinced I could change the world, but within the confines of the four orange walls in our original store I was confident Ian’s could be a force for good. Over the past decade Ian’s Pizza has grown to four stores, yet the values, which were so important to me in beginning, persist throughout our company today.
One of the greatest contributions we can make to our community is to be a good employer. We believe being a good employer means, above all, treating people with dignity. We don’t believe yelling is an effective means of communicating with each other. We cherish greeting our co-workers with a smile and sharing a beer after work. Disagreements are okay, demeaning comments are not.
We realize that you have many choices when you want to go out for pizza. While we work very hard to serve you the best pizza we know possible, what makes Ian’s Pizza unique and what truly is our greatest asset, is the people who work with us. Simply stated, our goal as a business is to continually humanize our work environment and personalize your customer experience.
In addition to treating our staff with dignity, our leaders are also expected to practice Servant Leadership. The practice of Servant Leadership, which was coined by Robert Greenleaf in a book of the same name, simply states that the job of the leader is to serve the organization and not the other way around. I understand Servant Leadership to mean that ultimately, as a leader at Ian’s, it’s my job to help our staff be successful in theirs.
The tangible employee benefits we believe in include the practice of paying good wages, providing generous vacation time (long-time employees receive one month paid vacation each year), and matching employee’s 401K contributions. We also offer 100% employer-paid health insurance to full-time employees. Health insurance is an issue which resonates very strongly with me. My dad was involved in various entrepreneurial activities while I was growing up and for most of my adolescence we only had catastrophic medical insurance. The lack of adequate health insurance was a concern my parents passed on to me. In April of 2002 we began offering 100% company paid health insurance for our staff and have done so ever since.
We are an open book management company. Staff are required to know and report on company financials during staff meetings. Bonuses, based on the company’s profitability, were first paid at our original store on a trimester basis in 2005. Our other stores have paid bonuses on an annual basis, when possible. Although many small businesses might be leery of disclosing their finances, we’ve found that operating in a system of total financial transparency results in better productivity and financial performance.
Lastly, we believe in providing a path to ownership for qualified staff. Initially, I was very cautious and even skeptical about growing the company beyond one store. Ultimately I reached the conclusion that expanding Ian’s would create opportunities for staff to remain working with us and still grow professionally. Today, our Chicago location is owned by a UW history major who worked with us through school, while our stores in Milwaukee and State St. are owned by several long-time employees.
For the sake of brevity I have not described our philosophies on food or customer service. (Please know that we have strong opinions on both subjects!) For now, let me conclude by stating what will come across as obvious to everyone, but during these heated times, might be forgotten by some: Ian’s Pizza is not a political party.
We stand in solidarity with anyone who shares our company’s values, but we don’t believe it’s our job to endorse a specific political entity. Despite the highly polarized political climate we live in, we feel food (especially pizza!) is something that brings us together regardless of political orientation. When you choose to order a pizza with us you are also supporting the practices I outline above.
This years marks our 10 year anniversary and I’d like to thank not only all of those who supported us these past several weeks but also over the past decade.
With love and appreciation,
Over the past couple of weeks, Ian’s Pizza on State has gotten far more business than any Ian’s Pizza has ever gotten (this might not be a newsflash…) and for that we are more grateful than mere words can express.
We’ve been the medium in which thousands of people worldwide (Antarctica! Iran! Holy cow!) have expressed their support & generosity, and we are working pretty much nonstop to ensure that their trust in us is not misplaced. We also are doing our best to live up to the expectations of everyone involved (including our expectations).
We have a set of values that we firmly believe in as a company, and we base our decisions based on those values. We’ve written them in previous meanderings, so we won’t rehash that all again but will hit the high points: We treat our workers well, with 100% paid health care, 401k, a safe & healthy work environment, input as to what happens here, and the ability to choose their path within Ian’s to realize their career dreams (pizza-related or not).
Outside of our business we support the local community by donating hundreds of pizzas and thousands of dollars every year to causes important to local residents: students of all ages, groups of all stripes, fundraisers of all different focus, and a wide variety of organizations have been recipients.
We don’t do this because we “should” or because our accountant tells us we’ll get sweet tax write-offs; we do it because it is our privilege, and our responsibility as corporate citizens (and as grateful human beings).
With this in mind, we have decided to give back in the same way that this all began, and that is through you, our little (okay, not so little…) internet community.
Your job is to please post (or drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org) with suggestions of where you’d like to see a portion of the February 16-February 27 proceeds go, and we will compile those over the next couple of weeks. (At the same time we’ll be crunching numbers here and waiting anxiously to see how much eight tons of flour & cheese costs.)
Once we hear from you, a committee of Ian’s employees will create a poll based on the top suggestions. Then you can then vote to see which final three will get a donation from all of you.
We thought this would be the most, dare we say, democratic way to help give back what you all made possible. So, without further ado, let the suggestions begin!
Oh, and as always, thank you.
We realize that although you may have been ordering our food from all over the world (really, to even type that seems crazy) you might not know much about us besides the fact that we make pizza. So with that in mind, here’s a quick Ian’s Pizza primer for all our new friends.
The first Ian’s Pizza by the Slice was opened by Ian (really, there is an Ian) on October 31, 2001 in Madison, Wisconsin on Frances Street (very near the University of Wisconsin, Madison).
We now are comprised of four restaurants: two in Madison, one in Milwaukee, one in Chicago. Between all four, we employ about 100 people, many of them students.
All of our full-time employees get 100% paid health care, and 401k benefits at the two biggest stores, with match.
The only way we will grow our “franchise” is from within. If you demonstrate the skill and have the drive, you can work toward an ownership path. If you come in with a bucket full of cash, you’re out of luck (although you can buy a lot of pizza, along with some delicious salads and spectacular brownies). Our first spin-off store was the Ian’s Pizza on State, now owned by a former part-time delivery driver UW Art Major.
Our most popular slice is by far the mac n’ cheese, with the BBQ steak & fries a faraway second. Neither sound good? We usually open the restaurant each day with at least 30 slices to choose from, and we also have what we modestly believe is Madison’s best salad made fresh to order (and, oooh, the ranch dressing… it’s house-made and we don’t scrimp on good ingredients).
When we say, “We’re not in the pizza business, we’re in the people business,” we mean it. Not crazy about your slice? Bring it back and try something new, on us. We screw something up? (Uh, yeah, it happens…) We’ll bend over backwards to make you happy. All our employees are empowered to do whatever it takes to make a customer leave happy. And they won’t get yelled at for “giving things away.” It’s not “giving things away,” it’s “loyal customer retention,” and there’s a big difference.
We have a head chef who devises our recipes, and we put careful thought into our weekly and monthly specials, although it might look to the casual observer that we are just playing with our food. Well, we kind of are playing with our food, but doing it mindfully.
We try to buy local food as much as we possibly can, and many of the products we have (forks, knives, cups, salad to-go boxes, etc.) are environmentally-friendly and compostable or biodegradable. We utilize the award-winning Madison Farmer’s Market both summer and winter, and partner with numerous local farmers to keep our produce lookin’ good and tasting great.
Mostly we just love good food, we love having fun, we love serving our regulars and our newbies, and we love what we do. We hope it shows. Thank you so much!
We rarely take sides on any debate unless you want to talk about food — fresh vs. old, delicious vs. yucky, Wisconsin cheese vs. California cheese (whose cows are truly happier?). But other than that, we really just want to serve you the best food we can, using the best possible ingredients, with the best possible customer service.
Now, maybe you’ve heard a little bit about what’s been happening in Madison this past week. Protests, marching, little ol’ Wisconsin on the national news…sounding vaguely familiar?
Yes, we’ve seen tens of thousands of people vigorously exercising their right to freedom of speech, steps from our front door. We’re not going to get too in-depth here (we are just pizza people, after all) but suffice it to say it’s been a rather unusual mid-February downtown.
On Tuesday night/Wednesday morning we took a late-night call from folks still over at the Capital; they were wondering if they could have our end-of-night leftovers. Well, of course — we’re always glad to hand out food at 3:30am! (That is pretty much our reason for existence… well, that and the house-made ranch dressing.)
The next day we got a handful of calls from folks throughout the country, people who had heard about our late-night donation. Then a few more the next day, and next thing, fast forward to 5pm on Saturday when we were so inundated with calls — from over half the states in the Union and from international locales ranging from Canada to Denmark — that our normal business had to essentially be shut down so we could focus on feeding the protestors.
It takes a leap of faith to call a place you’ve never heard of, order a pizza that you’ll never see, and just hope that those people on the other end of the phone do what they say they will. It’s now 9am on Sunday, February 20th, and at last count we had sold over 430 of our signature 20″ mac n’ cheese pizzas to callers worldwide, and have at least 60 still waiting to be made so we could help feed what has turned into a city within a city.
When this is all over, we’ll gather these order tickets, compile a list, post it on our website and Facebook and in-store, and we’ll have a final count of who ordered what and just how many people we helped feed.
In the meantime, just know that we are so honored that you have entrusted us with feeding the people you’re supporting and we’re so grateful for your trust and your business — thank you so much!
This is a guest post from the man himself, Ian. He’s on a mission and he needs your help.
Lately I’ve been thinking (ok, maybe obsessing) about one thing: Butter. To be clear, I haven’t been obsessing about any old plain butter — the butter I’m thinking of is called Beurre Bordier (or if your French isn’t up to par, Bordier butter). I discovered Bordier butter while on an quick trip to Paris a couple of years ago and simply stated, this is the BEST butter I’ve EVER tasted.
I mean no offense to the Wisconsin Dairy Industry or the happy cows of California, but I haven’t tasted a butter on this side of the pond that even comes close. Apparently I’m not the only one in love with Bordier butter. Todd Coleman, the executive editor of Saveur Magazine, also wrote about his own love affair with this butter in the magazine’s online edition. (http://www.saveur.com/article/Kitchen/A-Butter-Quest)
Sadly, Bordier Butter isn’t available in the United States and even in Paris it’s a bit difficult to find. Since another trip to Paris isn’t in the cards for me in the near future, I’d like to appeal to you, our wonderful customers, to help me obtain the butter of the Gods.
Here’s the plan:
If you (or anyone you know) is traveling back from Paris in the next couple of months and would be wiling to bring back 4-5 blocks (3lbs total) of Beurre Bordier, I am willing to pay for the cost of the butter plus throw in a handsome reward.
Well, the first of the year is always a good time to reflect on the past, anticipate the future, and drink slightly too much cheap champagne out of those flimsy plastic saucers.
We have nothing to say about your choice of beverage or its vessel, but we would like to talk a little today about what we saw in 2010 and what we hope to see in 2011.
Of course, most notable for Ian’s in 2010 was the arrival of our Milwaukee restaurant on New Year’s Eve 2009. We’re happy to report that it just celebrated its one-year birthday and is fast becoming a bartime staple in Eastside Milwaukee. You closed Wolski’s and then what did you do? You went to Ian’s…
Chicago made it their goal in 2010 to attend seemingly every Chicagoland summer event armed with stickers. If you went to any music/gay pride/music & gay pride festival this past summer and did not get accosted by a rowdy group of Ian’s employees wielding stickers, you may want to check — you might not have made it to the festival after all, but were just wandering through crowded city streets.
Ian’s Pizza Madison 2010 Eating Contest, bigger and better than ever, went flawlessly, even though gale-force winds threatened to blow the band (The Big Payback) and the Comedy Club on State emcees right off the stage.
The second annual Mustaches for Kids fundraising event at all our Wisconsin restaurants also became a great example of what can be accomplished with unfettered facial hair. In addition to raising some customers’ eyebrows due to a shaggy-looking counter crew — and raising a few pints at our weekly check-ins — we also raised $2,375 for the Wisconsin Make-a-Wish Foundation.
As we look forward to 2011, we’re working to improve not only the food, but the look of all our restaurants.
Ian’s Wrigleyville was closed for a week during the holidays to get a new coat of paint, paneling, and other upgrades, while the original Ian’s on Frances Street in Madison remodeled over the summer and ended up with a shiny new salad station. Ian’s Pizza on State would like to finish remodeling the empty space at 111 State Street, turning it into a cozy little room for music, wine, beer, and meetings (but that will definitely be a year-long project).
As for the food (let’s not forget about the food!) we’re looking forward to a new year of new specials — and some old favorites — and we’re adding a monthly salad special to our regular line-up of delicious offerings. In Wisconsin we’ll also be changing how our specials run — instead of Seasonal Specials that run three for three months at a time, they’ll now get switched up monthly and make an appearance a couple times throughout the year. Our weekly specials will continue on, of course, offering a limited run of some really excellent slices.
As always, we’re open to feedback about what you’d like to see, or not see, how we could improve, or how we already rock your world.
Here’s to the best year ever!
At the risk of sounding saccharin-sweet, which is not something we’re known for, we’d like to thank you, our awesome customers, because we couldn’t do this without you.
(Okay, that’s not entirely true; we could still make pizza and salad and hang around the restaurant until 3am, but not for long because we actually need to bring in money in order to pay rent, buy supplies, drink good beer, etc….)
So thank you for your support, for telling your friends about us, for bringing out-of-town visitors by the restaurant so they can check out our crazy pizza, for choosing to spend your money here on those days you don’t feel like cooking or packing a lunch, or those nights when you just need a little somethin’ to round out your evening.
Have you heard of a Carrotmob? It’s an anti-boycott, basically, whereupon some people organize a group (some would say a MOB) of people to get out and support a local business that is trying to be particularly environmentally-friendly (the carrot vs. the stick — get it?) at a certain time and day.
Well, we think it’s a pretty cool idea, made even more cool because they’re organizing one for Ian’s Pizza on State. Maybe you know a little bit about what we do at Ian’s to try, in our own little way, to help the environment…
• Our drinking cups are made from corn and are compostable.
• Our napkins are from 100% recycled paper.
• Our to-go salad containers are made from sugar cane and are compostable.
• Our to-go utensils are made from cornstarch and are compostable.
• We give people an extra punch on their punch card if re-use a box or bring in their own container.
• We no longer have plastic bottled water for sale, but instead carry water in glass bottles (or, of course, we have tap water available at a water station).
• Our office paper is 100% recycled.
• We try to buy as much local food — vegetables, ham, all our cheese — as we possibly can.
Because they knew of our efforts, the Madison Carrotmob group asked if there was some particular “environmentally-friendly” thing we’d like to focus on that we hadn’t done yet, and as it turns out the answer was “yes.” We’d just gotten a solar energy audit, and found out that we have a perfect spot on the roof to put a solar energy hot water heater. That’s good news, right?
Right, but the bad news is that a solar hot water heater, even after rebates and incentives, costs uncomfortably close to $10,000. That’s a lot of slices at $3.50 per, if you know what we mean.
So that’s what we’re trying to do on Thursday, November 11th from 6pm-bartime… raise enough money to buy a solar hot water heater. We’ve pledged to put 50% of our profits above & beyond a usual Thursday toward this, and the Carrotmob planners have all sorts of fun things happening to help out. We’re even throwing together a special “Carrotmob” slice just for the day — a veggie slice with roast carrots, parsnips, and daikon radish on a dijon cream sauce, all finished with chives.
So stop by if you love carrots, parsnips, and daikon radish; stop by if you love solar hot water heaters; stop by if you want to support Ian’s being just a little more environmentally-friendly; stop by if you just want to see what the heck a carrotmob looks like…
For more information, visit http://madison.carrotmob.org/