It makes sense, too, as pizza is where so many current trends intersect: It’s a comfort food that is highly customizable and has always traveled well as a takeout item. It’s not just pizza that is trending—the entire segment has caught fire, with dishes like calzones, wings, and salads offering guests a wide variety of options at even the average pizza place.
As a result, like many pizza places, The Nona Slice House and Purgatory Pizza have not lacked for foot traffic of late. That comes with certain side effects, though, as Culliton has noticed a scourge of hangry visitors at The Nona Slice House in recent months. He lists this as one of his biggest challenges: It’s harder than ever to fully staff his restaurant, and yet, customers have never been more eager to find a rewarding experience outside of the home. Tensions are high, and patience can wear thin. “Of course, this is still the exception rather than the rule,” Culliton says.
“Yeah, the attitudes from some guests have been really strange,” Culliton says. “I just think everybody is stressed. You just have to scratch your head sometimes and wonder why people are treating your staff so poorly. But look, that’s the 1 percent of visitors, if that. Ninety-nine percent of our customers are awesome and very understanding.”
Culliton knows this isn’t unique to his restaurant—it’s been a theme across the country the past year-plus. He also knows he isn’t the only operator who has had trouble attracting employees. He says he’s had occasions where he has run ads for months at a time without getting a response.
“It’s really unlike it’s ever been,” Culliton says, noting that he still has an “awesome core of people,” that he has grown his business around. But as his business grows, he’s had the need for more people, and they’ve been hard to find.
A final challenge he has dealt with will also be familiar to operators across segments: inflation. He notes that his packaging costs have risen by about 200 percent, while the price of something as simple as chicken wings have gone up 400 percent.
Koons echoes many of these same issues, noting that packaging has been hard for him as well. Similar to Culliton, Koons prides himself on building a culture within his organization, but even he admits the responses he gets to job listings are different than they had previously been.
“Frankly, people sat at home for a year and had time to think about how the restaurant environment can be a really gnarly place,” Koons says. “We work tough hours, and there’s a lot of pressure on workers. I think we as restaurant owners have to do a better job of finding ways to create an atmosphere that people want to be a part of.”