Keeping their eyes on the pies

pizza

The opening of a new pizzeria in Oswego has made competition between the other nine pizzerias even tougher, forcing some to lower prices in an effort to keep customers.

Newly opened Fuel Pizza, located on W Bridge St. where Enzo’s Pizza was located, has become the newest contender in a crowded pizza market. Dave Wahrendorf, owner, is a 2007 graduate of Oswego State and says he understands the challenges of entering the pizza business during these times.

"It’s a flooded market right now and we knew it would be tough," Wahrendorf said.
Wahrendorf’s parents used to operate a diner in the building Fuel Pizza now occupies, and his father still owns the space.

Wahrendorf plans to keep prices as low as possible, but is hoping that the quality of his product will set it apart. Wahrendorf’s grandmother is Italian and had many of the traditional recipes that will be used for the food at Fuel Pizza.

Larry Miller, owner of Cam’s Pizza, is optimistic about the abundance of pizza available.
"More competition makes everybody step up their game which means a better product for the customer," Miller said.

Enzo’s co-owner Scott Smith said he is isn’t expecting the culinary competition to cool down anytime soon. Smith, who just recently acquired the restaurant, said that Enzo’s has already been holding their own for nine years now and is "comfortable with the competition."

"If college students have money to spend, then it doesn’t really matter how many pizza places there are," Smith said. "Long-term there is probably always going to be seven or eight pizza shops in Oswego."

With more businesses in the area selling pizza, each individual pizzeria stands to get a smaller piece of the pie. There are seven pizzerias on the West Side alone and multiple others on the East Side. Thomas Usherwood, owner of Pizza Pub, has been in business for 47 years and has seen this kind of an atmosphere before.

"Competition breeds lower prices, which is good for the consumer, but bad for the owner," Usherwood said.

According to Miller, undercutting competition never really works and ends up hurting all of the businesses. He doesn’t want a price war, but admits that he might step up advertising a bit.

"Staying focused on the core values of making quality pizza is the way to go," Miller said.

"I’m just hoping there is enough room for everyone," Wahrendorf said.

Increased competition among pizzerias is not a new thing on the national level. Dominos and Pizza Hut have started an aggressive marketing campaign that has featured the unveiling of multiple products branching off their trademark pizza products, including pasta, wings, and sandwiches. Tom Matweecha, manager of the Oswego Domino’s, hopes these products will give the establishment an edge over the local competition.

"With our introduction of our new products, it should help us compete," Matweecha said.

With so many pizzerias in a city of less than 20,000, owners agree that attracting college students is key. Students have become the biggest and most consistent consumers of pizza in the area.

"We cater to college students and we like to take care of them," Wahrendorf said. "Late night we’ll sell a lot of slices to them."

Numerous pizza owners are interested in getting on Oswego State’s Plus Plan, both as a source of business and as a benefit for students.

"Our biggest concern is not getting on the Plus Plan," Usherwood said "Students really should have a choice of pizza."

"We’d love to get on the Plus Plan especially as a new business," Wahrendorf said.

Miller believes that all of the businesses can sustain a feasible customer base if they know how.

"The pizza business isn’t easy, but the college makes it a big market here," Miller said.

Usherwood, meanwhile, said that Pizza Pub isn’t worried about the increased competition. He says he plans on being in the pizza business for at least 50 years, regardless of how many competitors there are. And even though he has been in business for almost five decades, he still delivers the occasional pizza to the college.

"We have a great following with the college students and I just love the pizza business," Usherwood said.

So far, the city’s West Side pizzerias have been able to co-exist, but with the addition of Fuel and another pizzeria slated to open near the Port City Café, rumblings of whether all establishments will be able to endure in such a small area have already begun.

"We could have too many (pizzerias)," he said. "The best ones will survive."

Miller has a similar sentiment about the future of his business. He hasn’t raised prices in two years despite the rough economy. Even with the addition of more competition, Miller said Cam’s is ready to dig their heels in and fight for their share of the business.

"We’ve been on this corner for 26 years," Miller said "We’ve seen places come and go, but we’re still here."

"Theres plenty of pie to go around," Enzo’s Smith said. "We’re not worried."