Sal’s Pizza: A Marketing Lesson in Timelessness

Do you have a go-to eating spot when you go back to visit family and friends where you grew up?

I make the pilgrimage to Sal’s Pizza at least once whenever I go home. My West Coast low-carb diet? Forget about it. These carbs are worth it. A slice of regular and a slice of Sicilian is my go-to order.

Every time I go – and I manage anywhere from two to ten Sal’s visits a year – I try to rein in my expectations. Could it really be as great as I remember? I adjust my attitude to avoid the inevitable let down.

Except there is no let down. Sal’s never fails to deliver. (No pun intended. Sal’s is pick-up or eat in only. No delivery.)

When we moved to Mamaroneck, NY when I was just starting the 9th grade, one question that tears at the hearts of most 14-year-old boys was quickly settled. The best pizza within miles? Sal’s on Mamaroneck Avenue. There was no competition then or now.

It was cheap and it was good. Really good. New York City pizza – the legendary John’s in Greenwich Village or any of the places called “Ray’s” – was thought to be better by some, but that was just snobbery. Comparing it to John’s, a different style, was apples and oranges, and Ray’s certainly wasn’t any better

Sal’s was a long walk from my house but always worth it in any kind of weather. I also had many friends living nearby, always a good excuse for a slice.

Rye Neck High school alumni with Sal a few years back. From left to right Paul Berner, me, Sal and the legendary Joey Gironda.

Now I drive over in my parents’ car, hoping to run into high school friends, but that rarely happens. Though once I ran into my classmate “Scoop” at the Chase ATM down the street. Sal’s doesn’t take cash.

It’s not just the pizza, it’s that unique, Mamaroneck attitude and sense of humor. Last week, one of the surly-on-the-outside, softie-on-the-inside countermen stared down a teenage boy when he came to pick up his order, hot from the oven. “How do I know that’s yours? Where’s your receipt? No receipt? Who took your order?”

I’ve been going there for decades and never got a receipt. This poor kid was flustered, a deer in the headlights, wondering whether he was going to get his lunch or not. Not a clue that the counter guy was putting him on. Upon ordering, I demanded a receipt from the same guy, who couldn’t stop laughing.

Then there was the time a few years ago on a sweltering August day when the line, as it often does, snaked out the front door on to the street. One of the guys kept yelling, “Please keep the door shut. I can’t afford to air condition all of Mamaroneck Avenue.”

I’m someone who embraces change. The marketing landscape, and the ins and outs of my own business, are barely recognizable from when I started or even five years ago. Adapt or die. But as marketers, we need to understand what’s timeless as well.  Sal’s may have internet now, and they’ve expanded their footprint since my high school days. But the core offering of great pizza and faux abuse hasn’t changed a bit. They sure know their own brand. And they know when not to change.

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