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Blog buzz puts pizza on local map

ggFord1106+03This 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.

And now?

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?

$0.

21 comments Add your comment

Drew

November 24th, 2009
3:23 pm

Good for him. It shows that if you make a quality product, the people will find it. Do I have to quote ‘Field of Dreams’ here?

Sean P.

November 24th, 2009
3:24 pm

This is a great example of how influential (I guess you can say powerful) blogs have become. Anticos pretty much turned into a pizza mecca overnight and I still remember reading Bliss’ post when it first came out.

Yelp or Urbanspoon I find are double-edged. There are some really great and helpful reviews out there but a lot of times it’s filled with pointless, inflammatory and/or irrelevant comments.

uberVU - social comments

November 24th, 2009
4:25 pm

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by bestpearl: Blog buzz puts pizza on local map http://bit.ly/60iRyU…

Hungry Gringo

November 24th, 2009
4:37 pm

I used to walk past this place every day going to class at Georgia Tech, and I never once ate there. I can’t believe something so nice opened up in this location. You can literally see where people have been mugged and shot from the parking lot, and the pizza restaurant on the opposite corner of the street is notorious for over-serving underaged Tech students (they will literally bring a pail to your table to vomit in).

…and yet here Antico is in all it’s authentic, wood-fired glory. Only in Atlanta. God, I love this city, but it’s so hard to explain to outsiders.

Love it!

November 24th, 2009
4:40 pm

Thanks!

And BTW…was driving home and noticed that Havana Restarant is OPEN…in the Crossroads Shopping center at BuHi & Clairmont! Whoo hoo!

John Kessler

November 24th, 2009
4:46 pm

“God, I love this city, but it’s so hard to explain to outsiders.” Ditto…
Love it! You gonna go and give us a report?

moddyd

November 24th, 2009
4:47 pm

did you grill them about where they got their ingredients?

JSC

November 24th, 2009
4:50 pm

Yelp delivered me to Antico’s door. I bought into all the Yelper’s post.I found Antico enjoyable and I’ve visited twice since. Lately, I’ve noticed the lover affair seems to waining to a degree at this particular site.

Once, I would go to restaurant on chance. No longer. Before I visit restaurant, I look online to see what others are saying about the quality and service.

Bad reviews steer me away. Good reviews pull me in the door.

TwitterDude

November 24th, 2009
4:51 pm

There are also some very influential local people on twitter that Atlantans listen to and one positive tweet can mean new business or turn a small event into a HUGE one. In twitterworld, they are known as @atlantabeer, @atlcheap, @sweetwaterbrew, @jessicashops, @restaurantsatl, @jeffdauler, @whynatte and @atlbeermaster. Together, they have over 25,000 Atlantans following them and there are MANY other twitter folks in Atlanta with lots of followers too. If you’re a restaurant not on twitter then you’re losing free money.

Matt

November 24th, 2009
9:59 pm

Just came back from another fine pizza experience at Antico and as I write this the left overs from my San Gennaro are calling to me from the fridge, but I shall resist!! (It’s tomorrow’s dinner as well). I love Antico!! (Swoons and passes out on keyboard)

trusoul

November 24th, 2009
11:22 pm

If nothing else, it’s nice to know that there is decent pizza in this city…now if we can only do something about the night life…the conservatives have dulled the personality out of the City, Ive resorted to steering my friends away from this sleeper…maybe (yawn!) Ill try a slice…

Needabailout, too!

November 24th, 2009
11:54 pm

I was lured to the humble establishment after reading JK’s review last week. I ordered two large (only one size), to go because there was no seats at the table. I hurried to my car, and quickly began to devour my first piece. Great pizza should always be consumed fresh from the oven. Then I began to drive, while still stuffing my face with the next, hard-to-manage-with-one-hand slice. Don’t try this technique. Remain parked in your car. Extradordinary pizza, worthy of all the early press and more, and still delicious three days later. I’m looking forward to the next location (When??), and I hope it’s located in the Decatur area.

David C

November 24th, 2009
11:54 pm

Trusoul you must be high

trusoul

November 25th, 2009
12:36 am

@ David..Oh yeah why’s that? Because Im far from impressed…I find the food in Atlanta unimaginative, primitive and nauseating for the most part…pretty much everything looks like and smells like the Chattahoochie…If you’re looking for World Class food you have to get out of Kennesaw…try cities like Montreal, Toronto, New York, LA, Chicago…get out of the bush deliverance and expand your inbred mind…

Growler

November 25th, 2009
12:47 am

Okay we went a week ago Saturday, early (5pm-ish) and there was no one there when we arrived. 10 seconds later another car zoomed up.. a guy ordered take out and we ordered the Margarita and decided to sit at the communal table. We got the pizza within minutes, and minutes later a family and two guys sat down around the big table. By the time we left (5:30ish) the place was packed. The atmosphere was terrific (I am guessing that table fills up pronto during real dinner hour.)

Now, here’s my observation: the pizza was very good. But best in Atlanta? Best in the nation? All 3 parties at the community table ordered the Margarita, and ALL 3 had that soggy middle! Ours was the least soggy, but it was noticeable. The guys’ next to us was so soggy, they were dumping the parmesan cheese provided at the table onto the pie, to soak up the sauce.

Look, this is NOT to say it wasn’t delicious… but it’s interesting how that “soggy” issue is all you heard about Varasano’s when it opened, but for Antico, not a peep in your food critic’s rave review, or in this particular blog. If the owners are reading, I hope they fix it. The pizza is VERY good, but that needs to be addressed. And be realistic.It’s not the best ever, and — to me — not noticeably different in quality or in taste than Varasano’s. It IS noticeably more expensive, but I guess that’s countered by free parking (if you can find it) and not really having to tip a lot. Deserts are fabulous, too.

Like any sensation, it will remain popular. But the hysteria will die down when people realize it’s one of several excellent pizza places to go eat in town, and not the only one.

dannyd

November 25th, 2009
1:15 am

Y’all SUCK….my wife and I don’t get downtown often, thanks to hectic work schedules out in the burbs, but we decided that we’d spend last Saturday night downtown. The plan? Get there about 3, eat Pizza there, then adjourn to a hotel, then out for the night,

We pulled in the parking lot around 4pm, and they were already closed. Yep, apparently already out of dough. So we ended up just driving to another pizza joint I know up around Tower Place. Good, but not as good as what we’d been expecting.

Oh well, dinner later at Front Page News was good-I’ve always liked the gumbo there, and the band (Nelson Browstone) is great!
And no, fellow suburbanites, we didn’t get shot, stabbed, or mugged. In fact, everyone was pleasant (this is for the folks too scared to venture inside 285).

John Kessler

November 25th, 2009
8:28 am

Sorry you missed the pizza dannyd, but glad you had a good night in town.
Growler: i know what you mean…everyone complained bitterly about the sogginess of Varasano’s, but give Antico a pass. Again, this is a pretty typical Neapolitan-in-Naples kind of crust.
trusoul: Happy to have you pushing the conversation, but can we keep the name calling out of it? Please? In honor of tomorrow’s slaughtered turkeys?

Ola Ayeni

November 25th, 2009
3:17 pm

This shows again the power of social media which is simply word of mouth on steroids. Imagine what would have happened and how long it would have taken of someone did not blog or written out out it on a social site. It would have taken a long time for this pizza joint to see the light of day. While some operators are losing their hair on what to do. Some smart ones are embracing newer technologies.

Way to go…..

Ola. Ayeni
Mobile Dialog
http://www.m-dialog.com

Needabailout, too!

November 25th, 2009
5:55 pm

Ola.Ayeni, can I take you out to a fabulous, new, before-they-were-famous pizza joint that will disolve all your previous concepts of how good pizza could be?

Carrie Neal Walden

November 27th, 2009
3:17 pm

To trusoul- John said it best, but I would also add that Kennesaw isn’t Atlanta. Just a thought when making judgments on our city and surrounding area’s dining scenes.

papaya

November 30th, 2009
11:21 am

Eating in the parking lot at the Antico location is probably a carry-over from the Jacqbo Bakery days. Back 10 years or so in my GATech days, we students were often found tailgating with our Jacqbo styro box sandwiches and cookie in the front and back parking lots. I remember once they were out of cookies that came with the sandwich and while we were happily munching our sandwiches in the back parking lot, someone from the bakery ran out and delivered the newest batch of cookies for us. Eventually, Jacqbo too, got tables.