Pizza Nea owner Mike Sherwood is used to his shop being compared to local powerhouse Punch Pizza. “Their original place in Highland Park [in St. Paul] is the landmark for this movement,” he says, happily admitting that’s where he first fell in love with thin Neapolitan-style pizza in the 1990s. In the early 2000s, he started cooking his own at his St. Paul Bagelry. He garnered such good reviews that he opened Pizza Nea and sold the bagel shop. “I didn’t open this with any competition in mind,” he says. “I just wanted to do it the way I wanted to do it.”
In 2002, when Nea opened across from Surdyk’s near downtown Minneapolis, there were no other specialty pizza shops within a mile. Today there are four, including a Punch Pizza down the block.
A couple of years ago Sherwood signed with two delivery services, “based on getting an edge on the competition,” he explains. While delivery might not seem like a new concept for a pizzeria, in today’s growing landscape of wood- and coal-fired specialty pizza restaurants—where cook times are clocked in seconds, not minutes—delivering is akin to reinventing the pizza wheel.
Within months of offering the service, delivery orders accounted for 10 percent of Nea’s sales. This past winter, when subzero temps kept many customers at home, Sherwood says deliveries increased “substantially,” helping delivery sales grow to 15 percent of total sales in the past year.
While Punch has scaled its business by creating fast-casual, quick-serve restaurants (which don’t offer delivery), Nea remains a table-service restaurant with one location. “I think we have a much deeper wine selection,” says Sherwood. “It’s more of a date night.”
Increasingly, Sherwood uses Twitter and Facebook to engage customers. When he asked what his social media followers wanted on a date night, from menu choices to price point, they spoke up. Based on their suggestions, every Wednesday night Nea now offers two pizzas, two glasses of wine or beer, and a dessert to share, all for $30. “It’s fun to get them involved,” says Sherwood, “because then they take ownership and they’re more apt to come in.”