Carmel Pizza Company Stays Creative in the Midst of Struggle
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“Ingenious” is the word that would best describe my impression of Amanda Orloff, owner of Carmel Pizza Company; a well-regarded food truck down in Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s clear from talking with her that she’s innovative and willing to adapt to the circumstances brought on by the pandemic. Amanda knows after eventually reopening, they’ll have half-capacity seating in their outdoor dining area. Her response? Rebranding the Carmel Pizza experience as the perfect takeaway dinner for a picnic. When she noticed locals starting to come around to the Wharf, she commissioned a chalk artist to draw fun, unique advertisements on the walkway; pointing people to her food truck. Now, locals are discovering her food truck for the first time ever.
Given her background in marketing, Amanda knows the value of changing her business model: “This is the time to push your creativity – to think outside of the box and get more people in the door,” Amanda said to me. She backed up a little, explaining that, “just like everyone else, the first few weeks we were experiencing shock. My brain was overloaded with worry. But I knew I couldn’t just sit back and wait for the government. I had to dig deep for new ways.”
Carmel Pizza Company was partially born from a life-changing experience Amanda had when she studied food and wine in Italy during a college semester abroad. Everything clicked when she was there: she knew that she wasn’t cut out for Corporate America, her original intended path. She describes how she needed something more tangible and hands-on. She needed something she could put her passion behind. Thus, in 2012 Amanda and her business partner A.J. Sanchez, had a trailer built in San Francisco. Six months later, they opened Carmel Pizza Company. Both saw this business as an experiment; they weren’t really sure if things would pan out. They weren’t even expecting to be open all of these years later.
The food truck started off on a good pace and the two slowly built up their business.
“But we still haven’t hit our true potential. We’re in the corner of the Wharf and people don’t want to go to the Wharf,” Amanda said. They got some local press for their pizzas and were featured in the Michelin guide in 2016 and 2017, which gave them a boost of confidence. But ultimately, what seems to give Amanda the most satisfaction is customer feedback. The more casual, accessible environment of the food truck allows people to walk straight up to the window and tell Amanda and A.J. how much they enjoyed their pizza. Amanda works hard for that feedback; she’s not casual about her pizza making. She partners with farmers; getting organic, local ingredients from the farmer’s markets or farmers she knows personally (she loves the connections she’s made with them). She sees this sourcing as a two-fold benefit: she’s supporting farmers in the area and she’s giving her customers the best possible quality of pizza. To her, a great pizza begins with great ingredients. Amanda’s even listed the type of flour, tomatoes, mozzarella, and wood in her wood fired ovens on her website, just so she can be transparent for her customers. She mostly adheres to the globally recognized standard of Napoli-style pizza making (Vera Pizza Napoletana) and describes her method as a slightly Americanized version.
During COVID-19, Amanda has had to furlough all of her employees. Currently, it’s just her running the food truck. She did note, with excitement in her voice, that she’s having her staff come back to help out for Memorial Day weekend. She hopes to keep them on for some time after the weekend has ended. Amanda’s experiencing sort of a mixed impact from the pandemic. Carmel Pizza Company is in a very touristy area, so without the tourists around, the business has taken a huge hit. On the other hand however, more locals are discovering the food truck than ever, since they’re walking around more and actually visiting the Wharf. Amanda’s managed to secure a PPP loan to help her business stay afloat, and she’s just trying to work with the circumstances.
What gave me the biggest clue into Ms. Orloff’s outlook on business and life, was her answer to my signature question. It’s clear that she has a “we” versus “me” mentality, which I have tremendous respect for. Amanda would most like to tell the San Francisco community that they should give Fisherman’s Wharf a chance.
“The Wharf isn’t a bad place. There’s a lot of great businesses. We shouldn’t be shunned.” She went on to say how, “People should have variety in their cuisine and that it’s good to try out different places and spread the wealth – especially in a time like this.” I’d encourage all of the adventure-seeking pizza lovers out there to visit Carmel Pizza Company, take their pizza to a nearby park, and spread a blanket down. Something tells me it’ll be the perfect picnic.
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