I mean true, authentic Neapolitan-style pizza. You get a pass if you’ve been to Naples, or a handful of places here in the U.S. who do it right, but most people haven’t had the pleasure.
It’s not even fair to classify it as pizza. Putting it in the same phylum as Domino’s is like grouping Nobu sashimi with a McDonalds Filet-O-Fish. Worlds apart. Or as Samuel Jackson put it so eloquently in Pulp Fiction, “ain’t the same ballpark, ain’t the same league, ain’t even the same _______ sport.”
You already know this if you’ve ever tasted one. The crust is bubbly and lightly charred, chewy on the outside and thin and soft on the inside, the liquid from the world’s finest San Marzano tomatoes soaking through. The simple construction is fired in an 800 degree woodfired brick oven for somewhere between 120 and 180 seconds, timed perfectly by a trained pizzaioli, using methods set in law by the Italian government to preserve pizza for generations unborn.
Many claim authenticity, but there are only a handful of places in the United States where you can get such a pizza. Punch Pizza in St. Paul, Minnesota is such a place.
I remember when I lived in the Twin Cities from 1996 – 2004, the original Punch location in the Highland Park area of St. Paul was knows as a perfect first date spot – casual, friendly and the best pizza anywhere.
A few years ago, when passing through to shoot a film, Meryl Streep called it the “best pizza” she’s ever had. This from a good Jersey girl who has spent plenty of time in Italy.
Since they opened in 1996, Punch has had lots of buzz and a following of passionate fans. Until recently, however those fans didn’t have a way to connect and communicate. By implementing a cohesive social media campaign, Punch connected their fans and created a thriving tribe.
On Facebook, fans discuss everything from where Punch is opening their next restaurant to their first time (discovering Punch) to how Punch pizza can be part of a healthy diet.
On Twitter, Punch really engages with their customers. A quick scan of their twitter stream shows way more @replies than broadcast tweets, a great measure of engagement. When they do tweet, it’s often pointing fans to…
flickr, where they post coupons for the many promotions they do: free pizza, free beer with the purchase of a pizza, free buffalo mozzarella upgrade. Traditional thinking in the restaurant industry says giving away that much free product would kill the already lean profits. Punch figured out the truth. Ideas that spread, win, and ideas spread a lot faster through interesting promotions that get people talking.
Next year, Punch is opening a store in Stadium Village, near the University of Minnesota campus. A year ahead of time, they are using promotions to give away free pizzas to students with a college ID, effectively seeding their tribe at the University and guaranteeing a huge opening and a thriving location.
[thanks to Eric – updated to reflect that Punch is really a St. Paul establishment, since the initial location is in the Highland Park area of St. Paul – the full list of Punch locations can be found here.]