Lessons from Lessins

You must admire the single-minded devotion to quality of Nick Lessins and Lydia Esparza, owners of a sizzlingly popular new pizza place in Chicago, named the best pizza joint in the USA by GQ magazine. But they just may be getting a bit too much attention lately to suit their incredibly focused approach to building a business their way.

I thought his responses, in an interview this week in the New York Times, were interesting for what they said to anyone who owns, or works with, an independent creative business, and what they said about one’s responsibility to clients, and a client’s responsibility to their providers, in a service business of any kind.

Successful service businesses get that way by providing just 2 things, great product quality and great service.

But it is the intersection of those two things that we struggle with at times. It seems Nick has chosen the extreme of providing exceptional product at the expense of service. Some get into difficulty by providing the opposite.

If you are a designer that works with consumer product companies, as I do, you serve at least 4 masters, (not counting your bank and Uncle Sam), the consumer, the retailer, your client (usually the marketer of a product), and you. It is evident that Nick has chosen to reverse that order and put himself, and his pizza first on the list.

Here are some of the decisions he made before opening the shop,
– I will make all of the mozzarella by hand
– I will make all of the pizza dough by hand
– I will make every one of the pizzas served
– We will only be open 4 days a week
– The space will be modest with only 14 seats
– The prices will be fair, not exorbitant
– We will not take reservations
– We will use only the finest locally grown and sourced ingredients
– The menu will change and be very limited
– We will not make substitutions or special orders on any pizza
– There will be no takeout and we will not deliver

Now look at that list and identify the things that are product oriented and the things that are service oriented. And notice that the menu shown at left has only 3 pizzas and 1 salad on it!

Issues related to product quality
Fresh Mozzarella, pizza dough made on premises, finest ingredients, hand made by me

Issues related to service
4 days a week, 14 seats, fair price, no reservations, very limited menu, no special orders, no delivery

He talks openly about almost ignoring the service nature of his business before the opening of the restaurant,

“I knew this was sort of a wild card — the public service component. We focused on the logistics and details of production, quality, execution and all the boring details of renting space, utilities, construction, permits and all this kind of stuff. But public service was definitely an unknown thing.”

It is obvious that their unabashed focus on product quality has served them well so far. It will be interesting to see if what appears to be a complete lack of concern about service will impact their business. As Nick says,

“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.”

So, you may be thinking, what’s wrong with giving a customer extra pepperoni if that’s what they want?

Many would answer nothing, and that is certainly the model of service over quality. Earlier this week I wrote about the emerging technology of instant access to consumer shopping patterns and the impact on change velocity that this timely access to information may have on package design.

Going forward the question for all of us, as designers, retailers, marketers, and even consumers, will be – what do we do with the knowledge that consumers are buying a lot more double pepperoni pizza and less roasted vegetable pizza than last month.

Nick might say “I made them, they are both great – don’t change a thing”.

A service oriented person might say “lets add a bunch of pepperoni to the roasted vegetable”.

For different brands, with different promises, maybe either answer can be the right answer. For most of us, and the marketers we serve, the real challenge will be trying to figure out where on the product – service continuum we should place our brand. And how we respond, or if you are Nick whether you care to respond, to consumer preference.


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
This entry was posted in Design Criticism, Design Practice, Food, Retail Technology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Lessons from Lessins

  1. Dennis says:

    Love this initiative. Reminds me a lot to the dream I have of opening up my very small pizza place 🙂
    I understand they want to keep thing easy by focusing on only a couple of products. But I would consider small changes to the menu a form of personal service to the customer, which for me is central in these kind of restaurants.

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