This risks serious overkill, but here’s my story that ran in today’s print edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about how social media turned a certain pizza parlor into a major sensation. Promise, promise, promise I’m onto new pizza adventures henceforth.
It was not quite two months ago when Giovanni di Palma opened Antico Pizza Napoletana on the ragged edge of the Home Park neighborhood and saw a curious thing happen.
Three young women ordered a pie from the small to-go counter, and since there was no seating inside, they spread a blanket in the pizzeria’s grungy parking lot, lit candles and opened a bottle of wine.
“Is this even safe?” he wondered. “I never anticipated young girls having picnics. There are a lot of dicey characters out there.”
Within the first week, word of di Palma’s game-changing Neapolitan pizza had spread to influential local food writer Jennifer Zyman, who wasted no time in staking her claim to the year’s best discovery on her blog, Blissful Glutton.
The first Friday night after Zyman posted, a counter worker ran into the kitchen to tell di Palma to come see what was happening outside. “It was turning into something like Woodstock!” he recalls, still astonished at the memory. “It looked like people were coming for a rock concert.”
Atlanta had descended.
The Antico Pizza story shows just how quickly — how viral, in fact — news about restaurants can spread through social media and customer review sites such as Yelp.com, and make sensations spring forth overnight.
The most famous example, perhaps, was the original Kogi BBQ truck in Los Angeles, which sent word of its whereabouts to customers through Twitter. Fans would rush at first Tweet and line up for hours or more to sample the Korean-Mexican fusion of barbecued meats stuffed into tortillas. Now there are four trucks.
Di Palma, for his part, made no attempt at marketing, viral or otherwise. He hung a shingle on the side of his building and set up shop with the intention of preparing semi-cooked pizzas to package for the gourmet mail-order market. The carry-out business, he insists, was intended as a sideline.
But after that first blog post, others followed, rapid fire, on Yelp.com, where posters were unrelenting in their five-star praise, declaring Antico the best pizzeria in the country, if not the world.
Two weeks in, di Palma decided to turn his dough-prep table into a communal dining table. A local photographer happened to be in the restaurant that day with his camera, and so di Palma offered a free pizza if he’d take pictures of the table and help get them circulating on the Internet.
“We put out the press release with the picture of the table at 3:45 that day, ” di Palma says. “By 4:30, the table was full.” Di Palma had set it with peppers, cheese and garlic for customers to pass.
The community of food obsessives not only had a pizza to rave about, it now had an instant party.
“I had to learn to make smart decisions in 20 minutes, ” di Palma says, laughing.
By the end of the first month, he had set up a table in the kitchen, which upped the insider ante even further. Here you were, right in the action with the pizza cooks, watching every order go out. Di Palma helped lubricate the setting with tastes of wine, though it didn’t take long for a BYO crowd to move in. Before long, di Palma was holding the kitchen table with $50 deposits, and it became the hottest reservation in town.
New York-based pizza expert (and Serious Eats blog impresario) Ed Levine was in Atlanta before the month was out, and declared the pizza a true example of the classic Neapolitan style, with its well-blistered, stretchy and chewy-crisp crust.
Antico Pizza Napoletana has received rave reviews from every media outlet in town, and that kitchen stadium seating has become the hottest table. For pizza.
And the amount of money di Palma has spent on marketing?