Chipotle redefined what a fast-food burrito could be.
Now its sister concept, Pizzeria Locale, is working to change expectations of fast-casual pizza.
Co-owner Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson was in from Boulder, Colo., for a quick visit late last week — he’s focusing on refining service in a new hybrid category he’s calling “fast-fine” dining. Suddenly he realizes he’s running late for a VIP pizza delivery.
“We gotta go!” he says, grabbing his parka, messenger bag and several bags of carry-out pizzas. “Where’s your car?” he calls over his shoulder to me when we reach the parking lot.
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Mackinnon-Patterson is bringing the staff at Stock Hill, an upscale steakhouse that opened earlier this month just off the County Club Plaza, a meal before service kicks into high gear. Mackinnon-Patterson and the Waldo store manager stow the pizzas in my car and continue talking service strategy — with Mackinnon-Patterson coaching the young manager on “deep cultural stuff” — on the drive as the heat from the pizzas fogs up my rearview hatch window.
When we arrive at the restaurant the valets are not yet at their post, so I park the car while Mackinnon-Patterson makes a beeline for Stock Hill’s kitchen. I join them a few minutes later with two bottles of Scarpetta prosecco that were left in my back seat, and Mackinnon-Patterson gifts them to Stock Hill chef Joe West.
Mackinnon-Patterson is an alumnus of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, where he met master sommelier and now business partner Bobby Stuckey. He has competed on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters” and won a James Beard award for Best Chef Southwest.
Mackinnon-Patterson and Stuckey own Scarpetta Wine, a wine company focused on wines from the Friuli region of Italy. They also own Frasca Food & Wine, a fine dining restaurant in Boulder that West worked at in 2015. Mackinnon-Patterson and Stuckey, along with co-owner Chipotle, have opened three Pizzeria Locale stores in the greater Kansas City area, and more in Colorado and Ohio.
We’ve all had bad service at a restaurant — and customers usually expect less than stellar service at a fast-casual concept. But customers are willing to pay a little more for customizable meals with higher-quality ingredients.
“The biggest thing that bums me out 100 percent is an uninspired team,” Mackinnon-Patterson says.
It’s easy to teach dough skills — something most restaurants focus on in training. It’s much harder to “inspire” hospitality: courteous, ambitious, smart and motivated staffers with high energy.
“You have to have a sense of perspective and self-awareness,” Mackinnon-Patterson explains, which is why team members are observed in hiring interviews for their innate sense of hospitality. “If your mom or dad didn’t teach you to hold the door open for someone, we probably can’t teach you that.”
Each store and each employee is expected to score themselves against a series of benchmarks.
Mackinnon-Patterson breaks service down in terms of “four big buckets”: great food (hand-stretched dough, fresh ingredients, etc.), flow (the sequence of service), hospitality (who is your customer? “It’s more than just about refilling her water glass …”) and ambiance (cleanliness, lighting, music, etc.).
“I feel like we’re creating the category ‘fast-fine’ instead of fast casual,” he says. Or, perhaps more accurately, “convenience with fine touches.”
The way to create fast-fine is to “hyper focus” on the guest experience — from the time customers are greeted when they walk into the door to the paper straw slip they pick up from the floor.
“If you connect, it’s a super, super restaurant experience, regardless of the level,” he says.
Jill Wendholt Silva is The Star’s James Beard award-winning food editor. She is also the lead food critic and Chow Town blog curator. Reacher her on Twitter at @kcstarfood or @chowtownkc.