A Lesson in Leadership from Legendary New York Style Pizza

“Leadership is a choice, it is not a rank” -Simon Sinek

On my recent trek to New York City I was on the prowl for the quintessential New York street slice.  I was looking to find the best of the best, and figured there is no better place to explore than the heart of the big apple, Manhattan.  After searching online and taking the advice of friends I found the authentic slice I was looking for at Joe’s Pizza on Carmine.

Joe’s Pizza has been around for 40 years and is referred to as a “Greenwich Village institution”.  New York Magazine hails Joe’s Pizza as “the best of New York” and by the line out the door you can tell many other people agree.  The place is frequented by a wide array of celebrities from Bill Murray to Leonardo DiCaprio, and there is proof from a collage of photos on the wall.  From my understanding it’s about as classic New York pizza as you can get and it seems to set the standard for the classic New York slice joint.

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Joe’s Pizza is on another level. 

Joe’s Pizza isn’t the prettiest place, it’s actually really small, it’s simple, but it executes. There are no frills or gimmicks that generate the constant line out the door, it’s just great pizza churned out on white paper plates for cash.

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The menu is as barebones as it gets; cheese slice, pepperoni slice, fresh mozzarella slice and Sicilian slice. That’s it, four options.  The pizza is the same way; composed of simple high quality ingredients that have been prepared the same way for decades.  The crust is very thin yet chewy and can barely hold the cheese; thus the classic New York fold is necessary. The sauce is vibrant and not over loaded with spices.  The pizza and menu are basic, but the quality is exceptional.

“Pizza is made from your heart” says the third generation owner Sal Pozzuoli in a video on Gold Belly where you can have their pizza delivered to you nationwide (a great Christmas gift).  He speaks alongside his Grandfather who opened the infamous pizza joint and they discuss the values that have made them a leader in the competitive New York pizza scene.

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Smooth operators. 

After four days of pizza eating in Manhattan, the mecca for pizza, it’s clear Joe’s is the the top dog.  Not only is their pizza fantastic, but I was fascinated by how they ran the tiny shop.

During my visit the place was a madhouse with a line winding out the door onto the sidewalk.  As I approached the counter I observed an older fellow I imagined was a manager or owner smoothly running the show.  He calmly did about five things at once.  He coached employees stretching dough balls, tended the oven, delegated counting the till, all while keeping a warm demeanor as he welcomed and took orders from a huge rush of customers.

We can all take a lesson from Joe’s Pizza.   

In between blissful memories of New York slices the size of my head I’ve contemplated several practices that comprise a solid leader.

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Working on my fold
  • Lead by example:  The manager at Joe’s was on the front line during the busy rush with his team. He set an example with his organization, hustle and pleasant customer service.
  • Motivate:  Everyone should be inspired to keep the pizzas flowing and the customers smiling.  Employees need an understanding of the big picture in any work environment in order to excel.
  • Delegate:  A single person can’t run a whole pizza shop during a busy rush.  A leader has to rely on a team to get the job done and know when to pass the pizza cutter.
  • Build trust: Others have to respect and trust you if your going to get any slices out the door.  The easiest way to build trust is to communicate and be transparent.  John C Maxwell leadership expert says “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care”.
  • Be decisive:  How many pizza’s do we need in the oven for this dinner rush?  How many dough balls do we need for tomorrow? A leader has to make decisions and see them through.

What pizza taught me:

We can all think of ourselves as leaders and apply basic leadership principles to any area of our lives.  There’s no better place to start learning than from the best of the best.  Thank you Joe’s Pizza for a delicious lesson.

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What I’m eating: Joe’s Pizza on Carmine, Greenwich Village NY, cheese slice and pepperoni slice.

What I’m reading: Advanced Selling Strategies Brian Tracy