Small by Choice, Whether Clients Like It or Not
Neat profile of Great Lake, a small Chicago pizza shop that is very opinionated. The couple that runs it wanted to start a business that reflected their values: a neighborhood shop that purchases top-quality ingredients directly from farmers, makes every pizza by hand and serves great food at affordable prices. No substitutions allowed either. “When we put options together, they’re put together for a reason. We have such an edited menu, and it’s shocking how much people still want to manipulate it,” says co-owner Lydia Esparza. [thx MG]
Steve Wrighton 20 Jan 10
Holy Cow! It’s like 37signals opened a pizza joint. Fried Pizza?
Chris Cuillaon 20 Jan 10
For me the money quote is: “The customer really isn’t always right. We believe we have the expertise to bring the best product. We don’t randomly put these ingredients together. We spend the time to test these and try them.”
EHon 20 Jan 10
shades of paul rand.
Jeremy at MicroExperienceon 20 Jan 10
Living in Chicago, I see a lot of restaurants who faced the choice of staying really small, versus trying out some growth. Yolk is a great example. They’ve been turning out great breakfast food at reasonable prices for several years. From what I recall, they only had one location for the first 3 years, and then in 2009, they opened a second restaurant. By the end of this year, they’ll have 4 in total. I’ve been to both of the current locations and the quality is consistent, so I think they’ll do fine with a couple more. Like the Great Lake restaurant profiled in the article, Yolk tends to have really long wait times during peak hours, and I’m sure that pisses some people off. In fact, I think every great restaurant is going to be polarizing in some way or another. You can’t achieve that sort of excellence without making decisions that some people will disagree with.
Matt Lackeyon 20 Jan 10
Thanks for posting this. Good read. We had local place here in San Diego go through a similar exposure boost and now it is impossible to ever get a seat. It’s so bad we never go there anymore, but you have to respect their values.
EHon 20 Jan 10
“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”—Yogi Berra
Jeff Bowmanon 21 Jan 10
There’s a pizza place here in Berkeley that has that type of system, the Cheeseboard Pizza Cooperative. Every day they serve exactly one type of pizza, pre-announced and pre-prepared, using fresh gourmet ingredients. No substitutions, no side dishes—your only choice is whether you want a half pizza ($10) or a whole pizza ($20). But you show up and get piping hot gourmet pizza in 10 minutes, or 2 minutes if there’s no line.
Best part? It’s a co-op, so all the employees enjoy the fruits of their labor.
joejoejoeon 21 Jan 10
I respect the approach of the owners of Great Lake but there are limits to this kind of mismatch of demand and supply beyond luxury items. People will tolerate long waits to get a table for a desirable meal or a long wait for a custom made thingamabob but the same inability to get an everyday product/service when requested will result in bad word of mouth. In most businesses sporadic availability of your core product/service doesn’t signal you are exclusive, it signals you are unreliable.
joejoejoeon 21 Jan 10
Note: I know the pizza at Great Lake is moderately priced and they want to have the pizza “accessible to a broad range of people”. They would dispute my label of ‘luxury good’ but their ethic defines accessible by price alone and doesn’t consider the additional time and effort a customer spends in getting their pizza and assumes that there are no substitutes for Great Lake pizza and in that way this pizzeria is very much delivering a luxury good.
Diggeron 21 Jan 10
What a load of crap. The arrogance is mind blowing. There’s a lot of it going around here at 37s. It’s a dangerous path for humanity. You still have to listen to customers. It’s Ok if one or two “luxury goods” folk do things their own way – but when it catches on there will be trouble.
Jesus A. Domingoon 21 Jan 10
Just read through the yelp reviews and it seems that they really know how to make their pizza, but they’re close to clueless when it comes to how to accommodate customers with at least some basic courtesy.
Jason Milleron 21 Jan 10
I’d say it’s smart to avoid expanding so fast that you loose the core value (great pizza made a certain way). But it seems silly to me to not expand at all when the demand is clearly there. From reading the article the owner indicates at least some expansion is possible, yet he wants to keep his hands in the dough. Those don’t seem mutually exclusive to me, as an outsider.
The comment that “Great service for us is the quality of food we bring to the table” seems way off. That’s the product, not the service. People are paying for the service too, or at least think they are.
Benjyon 21 Jan 10
I’ve been meaning to get in and try Great Lake for a while now… I’d heard it was good, and then GQ or Esquire named it best pizza in America. Even I’m dubious of such an honor, but it’s still got to be some damn good pizza in any case.
Laurel Fanon 21 Jan 10
Letting the customer do whatever they want is another opinionated choice.
One of my favorite pizza places: http://www.yelp.com/biz/miguels-pizza-and-rock-climbing-shop-slade
Not because the pizza is the best gourmet pizza in the world, but mostly because of the relaxed attitude. Place full? Your group of 9 can sit in the parking lot or in the grass in the back. Picky about your pizza toppings? Here’s a checklist, you have 20 choices of toppings, get in line, fill it in, hand it to us. Don’t eat gluten? Order a salad with the same 20 choices. No cheese? it’s cool. There’s a campground in the back that has the similar no-rules attitude.
This is actually a very opinionated and conscious choice—it takes a lot of community building to not let things get out of hand, to not have fights when you can have alcohol in the campground, not set the place on fire even though people have bonfires. It’s also something that works well because of a variety of factors including where it is and the people who go there (they’re choosing their customers just like the soup-nazi-type places do). You definitely couldn’t have a place exactly like this in downtown Chicago.
Hari Rajagopalon 21 Jan 10
Hmmm… What’s wrong with asking for and providing substitutions?
Joe Sakon 21 Jan 10
On why they won’t expand and open franchises—
Ms. Esparza: It would change our values. That is the American way — to expand without really thinking.
Steve Daleon 23 Jan 10
As a European who recently moved to Chicago, the consternation caused to some by Great Lake’s refusal to ‘play the game’ and develop their business into a multi-million dollar franchise certainly seems to be a cultural issue.
I order regularly from Great Lake and based on my experience, the accusations of arrogance and poor customer service ring hollow, but then I don’t mind waiting for something truly exceptional and not having endless options from which to choose. But like I said, I’m from Europe…
This discussion is closed.