I’ve visited several old-school pizzeria’s around the midwest that put their pizzas in paper bags for carry-out. No sturdy box to protect the precious cargo, just a flimsy paper bag and a cardboard base. Though this seems odd and impractical, I imagine if a place has been practicing this for decades they’re putting a pretty darn good pie in that bag.
An established pizzeria like that can pack a big ol’ punch of nostalgia into their pizzas, and recently that’s exactly what I have been looking for. “Hole-in-the-wall” pizzerias have always intrigued me. I admire their pizza and ambiance, but I also can’t help but wonder how they got to where they are? How does the “hole in the wall” earn their “hole” and keep customers coming back?
A cult classic.
So, Tess and I strayed off the beaten path to find some good old fashioned hometown pizza and arrived in Neenah, Wisconsin. I took the advice of a co-worker and tried Cranky Pat’s Pizzeria. After my colleague described this place as having a “cult-like following” I had to look it up.
After perusing Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews I’ve come to learn that Cranky Pat’s Pizzeria has been a Fox Valley staple since 1955. If you scroll the online reviews you can see that people take this place very seriously. Loyal locals throughout Oshkosh, Appleton and Green Bay sing the gospel of their greasy thin-crust hometown hero. I figured Cranky Pat’s was a great place to observe the characteristics that lead to small-town pizzeria success.
A taste of Titletown.
The pizza is ultra thin. It may have been the thinnest pizza I’ve ever had. It’s cut in squares and covered with a glistening layer of greasy melty cheese. It’s definitely a nice portrayal of my favorite midwestern style tavern-cut. They make their own sausage in house too; it’s served in medium-sized hand pinched chunks.
On the side we tried the “Cranky Sticks” which were basically a small thin pizza, without sauce and basted with garlic butter. The “Cranky Sticks” are cut in strips and served with sauces for dipping.
It was fitting we enjoyed our dinner at Cranky Pat’s during a preseason Green Bay Packer game on a Thursday night. Even for a preseason game the bar was packed and a live DJ read raffle tickets and played pump-up songs during commercials. Though the level of devotion these folks share for Cranky Pat’s might pale in comparison to that of the almighty Green and Gold, they do seem pretty committed to their cracker thin-crust pizza.
Cranky Pat’s gave me the same nostalgic sensation as my favorite Gus’ Pizza back in Whitewater, Wisconsin. In both of these pizzerias you get the sense that they have been around the block and they know what they are doing. While so many new restaurants fail, these places stand the test of time. It’s said that only 10% of new businesses survive three years. So, what makes our old-school favorites stick?
The 10,000 hour rule.
The 10,000 hour rule says that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” is needed to become the master of a craft. I figure I’ve been alive for around 11,000 days and I’ve eaten pizza probably somewhere around 2,000 times. According to the 10,000 hour rule I’ve got a long way to go before I become a true pizza eating pro.
Cranky Pat’s has been around since 1955 that means they have hand-crafted homemade sausage, cut pizza into squares and put it all in a bag for 62 years. The owner and employees have spent thousands of hours honing their craft. Places like Cranky Pat’s and Gus’s Pizza (est. 1962) have put in well over 10,000 hours of making pizza and you can tell in their product.
10,000 pizzas devoted.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s New York Times best seller Outliers he says “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.” He gives the example of The Beatles hitting their 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” by playing 8-hour sets, seven days a week in Hamburg, Germany years before their mass success in America. He also discusses how Bill Gates hit his 10,000 early on with unique exposure to computers and coding as a teenager. That experience allowed him years of extra practice and a huge advantage in the emerging computer business in the 1970’s.
The takeaway from these success stories is that you’ve got to put in the time to be great at something. Practice and dedication are what enable people and businesses to achieve the highest level of accomplishment. Years of commitment to honing a craft is a big piece of what allows establishments like Cranky Pat’s and Gus’s Pizza to create lasting legacies.
What pizza taught me:
By devoting our time and committing ourselves to a skill, we can master it. A quality pizza consistently served over 62 years is bound to become a “hole in the wall” cult classic, even if it’s served in a bag.
What I’m eating: Cranky Pat’s Pizzeria; cheese pizza, sausage and pepperoni pizza, “Cranky Sticks” with ranch and marinara.
What I’m reading: Outliers -Malcolm Gladwell