On that day in September 2006, the point of sale installation at Sally O’Neal’s Pizza Hotline did not go as planned.
First, the SpeedLine installer was involved in a car accident and had to be replaced at the last minute; there was no Internet connection, which delayed setup for credit card processing; and the new cash drawers did not fit in the safe.
While owner Pat O’Neal could have brushed off these events as mere inconveniences, they took place under the shadow of a more ominous ordeal: His wife and business partner, Sally, was fighting an ongoing battle with cancer.
The O’Neals remained positive despite the odds: “I saw a window in Sally’s illness and I said, ‘let’s get this POS installed,’” Pat recalls. “She was very much in favor of getting it done.” Although weakened by chemotherapy, Sally remained a driving force in the business.
Pat and Sally were replacing an outdated POS that had seen better days with a brand new 5-station system from SpeedLine. Despite the initial hiccups, they were impressed with their new POS.
“We loved the system from the beginning,” Pat says. “Right away, we noticed that order entry was faster and more accurate. And the integrated credit card processing was exactly what we needed.” With up to 60 per cent of Sally’s transactions involving credit cards, integrated processing was a critical boon that their previous POS did to provide.
Pat and Sally approached POS shopping with as much care and attention to detail as they invested in every other aspect of their business. “We had selected three other systems as potential replacements for our POS,” Pat says. “Sally and I spent a night in restaurants that had the systems we were looking at. We actually went through the balancing, watched transactions, talked to the servers, and the cooks, and the phone people. And we asked lots of questions.”
“You’d be surprised how many systems don’t work” Pat points out. “We found out when we went to visit users. Some of the people we visited called me years later to tell me they ended up throwing their systems out.”
But Pat and Sally were thorough: “Buying a POS is a big decision,” Pat notes. “If you sell pizza and do delivery, it’s important to have a system that’s pizza-specific. And beware of beta tests and final tests and features that are supposedly coming soon. If it’s not there already and you need it, just don’t buy it!”
“For us, talking to users proved very helpful,” he adds. “We were very pleased with what we found about SpeedLine when he went through the whole process. We saw that SpeedLine did everything we needed it to do: it’s fast and it has good math, embedded credit card processing, customer order recall, and extensive history.”
Support Tips the Balance
“But the number one deciding factor for us was the support,” Pat adds. “The support for our previous POS was poor. When we visited SpeedLine users, they were all happy with support.”
"After the initial investment, you see a return much quicker than with a cheaper system. Support price is fair and technicians are excellent."
“We love SpeedLine support,” Pat adds. “It’s never failed us. It’s always there, and we always talk to somebody who knows what they are talking about. If we have a problem they quickly correct it. We’ve been very, very happy.”
Pat remains confident in his POS choice: “After the initial investment, you see a return much quicker than with a cheaper system,” he says. “Support price is fair and technicians are excellent. And the system works!”
A Legacy That Lives On
Sadly, while Pat and Sally were shopping and making plans, hopes for Sally’s full recovery dimmed. Shortly after the installation, her stamina began to flag, and good days became fewer. “When the cancer came back for the second time, they couldn’t get it under control,” Pat says.
As her illness progressed, Sally spent less and less time in the restaurant. She passed away at home on May 3, 2007, after a valiant struggle with lung cancer. But the passion and devotion Sally had invested in the restaurant left a profound impact. Her legacy was very much alive as Pat carried on their life’s work.
The couple had founded Sally O’Neal’s Pizza Hotline together in 1985. “The restaurant has always been a family business,” says Pat. “Our five children have all worked here at some time during our 25 years. In fact, my daughter Kathleen still takes care of our advertising.”
The O’Neals had learned the ropes from Pat’s sister and brother-in-law, George and Mary-Ellen Heinze, who were running a Pizza Hotline in Maryland. Equipped with recipes for dough, pizza sauce, and cheese, Pat and Sally took the concept to Florida, where it soon evolved to meet the tastes of a more affluent clientele.
“We took the basic product down the gourmet path,” Pat says. “Sally developed recipes for a series of signature pizzas, pastas, and salads that were inspired by leading edge industry trends in California and Europe.”
Today, Sally’s award-winning recipes continue to provide diners with the same superior taste. “We buy fresh baker’s yeast for our dough,” Pat notes with pride. “That’s a rarity in the industry. These days, most people use dry yeast. And we use 12 per cent high gluten flour, which provides a sweet crust with an exceptional cooking life. We make 500 to 600 lbs of dough fresh daily.”
Add to that 50 plus toppings, some of them hand-picked at the farmer’s market, a blend of freshly ground cheeses—2000 lbs processed weekly in the kitchen’s 80-quart grinder—and handmade pizza sauce, flavored with a careful selection of herbs and spices, and you have the workings of a culinary delight.
"Our basic philosophy is that we want to serve what we would make in own kitchen and eat ourselves," Pat says.
Lots and Lots of Pizza
With that much care put into each pie, Sally O’Neal’s Pizza is definitely a hot gourmet spot for pizza connoisseurs. The kitchen produces more than 4,500 pies a month, which represents around 71 per cent of sales.With that much care put into each pie, Sally O’Neal’s Pizza is definitely a hot gourmet spot for pizza connoisseurs.
“Our restaurant is kind of unique,” Pat says. “Our business is split fairly evenly between dine in, pick up, and delivery. We have six or seven drivers on our busy nights. We also have a packed dining room, and up to 20 or 30 people waiting in line to pick up their pizzas.”
Speed is critical to juggle all these orders: “I was surprised and pleased when I found out that SpeedLine is 25 per cent faster than our previous system,” Pat says. SpeedLine helps keep orders rolling on those hectic nights.
“You may wonder how in the world would anybody sit down and eat in such a busy environment,” Pat asks. “But people love it because there’s a lot going on. Its fun! And it’s a pretty restaurant to sit in too.”
The Right Spot for a Gourmet Brand
Sally O’Neal’s Pizza moved to its current location ten years ago. The restaurant now occupies a spacious stand-alone building with ample parking, and a patio that is cooled by fans and a misting system, which is especially welcome on those hot, southern days. “We have an attractive 68-seat dining room, and a beautiful teak and cherry bar,” Pat says. “Sally designed the layout and I built it myself.”
Besides gourmet cooking, interior decorating was Sally’s other passion: She had a degree from the New York School from Interior Design. “She picked out the antiques and we added yachting pictures and photos of the old town,” adds Pat, who is a boating enthusiast in his spare time. “It’s perfect for family dining.”
From décor to recipes, Pat always keeps quality in focus, but still manages to run a tight ship: He uses only the freshest ingredients, but keeps food costs below 30 per cent, and labor costs around 22 per cent. “With the tough economy, we’ve cut back on labor significantly,” Pat explains. “We use SpeedLine’s sales forecasting to make sure we cut labor when we don’t have sales, because cutting labor when you’re busy usually costs you sales.”
We’ve been fortunate to have a core of employees who do a terrific job,” he adds. “Some have been with us for six or seven years, and a few for twelve to fifteen. We want to keep scheduling them strategically.”
SpeedLine’s ability to track every transaction in detail is also crucial for Pat’s high volume operation. “The ability I have to go back and recall every single detail of a transaction from the time we started with SpeedLine is incredible,” he says. “I can go from a report to a transaction, and check line by line every single action that occurred on a ticket.”
In fact, SpeedLine's complete ticket history was key in detecting theft at Sally's. When a server alerted Pat to some suspicious transactions, he investigated. “SpeedLine provided complete time-stamped documentation so I was able to go into my camera system and document on film that theft had indeed occurred,” he explains. “The beauty of that is that SpeedLine caught every bit of it over the eight-month period it took place.”
Growing with the Times
After 25 productive years at the helm of a successful business, Pat could rest on his laurels. Instead he keeps up with the times, looking for the next trend.
“We’re changing the whole way we’re advertising,” he says. “We use to rely on newspapers. But in the last few years, the local newspapers and magazines have gone from 40 pages to six or seven. They’re getting rid of their writers and losing their advertising. There has been a significant change in the way people view and gather information.”
“We have a Web site already,” he says. “We’re looking into Twitter, Google, and Facebook to carry some of our local advertising. And we would also like to add an online ordering menu integrated with SpeedLine to drive traffic.”
Pat is also looking into taking advantage of the loyalty program feature in SpeedLine 6.1. “There’s strong evidence that today, customers are very concerned with cost and value,” he says. “We currently don’t offer coupons or specials, and we haven’t for 20 some odd years, but we’re seriously considering adding a rewards program.”
"I'm bringing back Sally's brownies. People liked them so much that we would get catering orders for 250 brownies."
Moreover, Pat has a whole line-up of new selections he’s planning to include on his menu. “After a lot of testing with executive chefs, I have just developed a foccaccia bread with our dough. I’ve also brought in some sandwich presses and we’ve made hoagie loaves that have come out great. And I’m looking at introducing six or seven sandwiches.”
Alongside the new and exciting, he’s featuring the tried and true: “I’m bringing back Sally’s brownies,” he beams. “People liked them so much that we would get catering orders for 250 brownies. That’s a lot of brownies and they were not cheap. Sally used to make them at home. Otherwise employees would eat them. We were always sold out.”
In addition, Pat is working on sourcing a whole new line of gourmet ice creams. He also wants to market his lasagnas wholesale to supermarkets under Sally’s label. “I have a factory here that will make them for me,” he says. “I’m not interested in making the food myself, but I want to franchise the recipes.”
That’s a lot on the go for one man who could choose to retire: “If Sally was here, she would be jerking my chain,” Pat chuckles. “She’d say, ‘As usual you’re overextended!’”