For close to 40 years my family has enjoyed a ‘go-to’ pizzeria in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. With a multitude of choices within walking or delivery distance, this place was a standout. Somehow, just a little tastier than the competition. Even after we’ve flown the family coop – when visiting the old neighborhood and in need of a pizza, we know who to call.

For years we knew it would be worth the wait —  and delivery could take over an hour — no matter what estimate was given over the phone.

Unlike a Chinese take-out that tells you ’15 Minutes’ and magically arrives in 10 by bicycle, Napoli Pizza typically said 30 minutes and showed up somewhere closer to 90. Not for the faint of heart, exceptionally hungry or like my mother for many years – the insulin dependant, who must time their medication ahead of a meal.

Nonetheless, Napoli it was. We made it work

Sometimes, the wait for a delivery stretched so far beyond acceptable we’d wonder if we’d been forgotten – even call for an update. Of course on those extreme occasions, the bell would typically ring while we were on the phone.

While delivery service speed was lacking for most of my family’s uncommonly loyal patronage, the pizzeria’s product was so good we tolerated the delays

In an environment of infinite choices, the weak don’t usually survive. If someone were new in the neighborhood, and looking for a go-to pizzeria shop for deliveries, they’d quickly move on to a different shop after the first 90-minute wait.

Now, for most of our decades-long relationship the same face was behind the box when it arrived at the door. We’d also see him behind the counter when my brother or I walked in for a few slices – along with other familiar faces from over the many years.

A few years back we noticed new faces. ‘Perhaps our mustachioed pizza man had retired,’ we pondered aloud at an informal family gathering – but a more impactful change registered probably around the same time.

The estimate for delivery might be 30 minutes and the pizza would show up – in around 30 minutes. We figured Napoli had simply upped its game.  Perhaps some of the new talent behind the counter had fixed the place’s only real problem.

Earlier this year I found myself in the old neighborhood and hungry for a slice – and then another slice. While I waited for that perfect crisp to be applied, and realizing I recognized nobody behind the counter, I asked “Is this place under new ownership?”

Lo and behold! Napoli had been sold!

“When,” I asked.

“About three years ago,” said the fellow behind the counter after a quick consult with a coworker.

That was roughly consistent with the change we noticed in delivery service.

So what’s this all got to do with the price of sauce in Sicily?

Too often, when a business is struggling the owners consider a management change hoping for better results. “Under New Management” signs invite those who have been burned to give the venture a second or third chance. Reading between the lines, these signs say “We’re fixing the problems,” or “We got rid of the team that let our standards slip.’

Of course, when owners are swapping out managers there’s always a chance they need to look inward at their own leadership.

Those “Under New Management” signs are often followed too closely by new ones reading “For Sale.”

In the case of my pizza shop, the quality was always there. If there was an announcement of a change at the top, we missed it.

Perhaps this was a perfect sale. An established business, with an excellent product simply changed hands. The customers subsequently received a little more (delivery speed) for their money. The new owners found a true turnkey opportunity and improved on it – possibly without even knowing they were doing so.

Small business owners considering new management should ask themselves what they hope to achieve – other than simply ‘increased profitability.’

Are the recipes there?

Are the right standards in place and simply in need of enforcement? (I’m sure, in spite of their track record; Napoli intended to deliver in about a half hour)

Is the product line in demand, or could it use a refresh more urgently than the management?

Is the business keeping up with the times? Online? Offering an app?

Prospective owners considering the purchase of an existing business need to know if they’re truly considering a ‘turnkey concern,’ or buying a laboratory where they’ll need to reinvent the wheel.

A recent story in The New York Times about the Bartunek hardware store is a good example. An anachronistic store run on cash and clipboards, I doubt whether anyone could step in and takeover, should the family ever decide to get out of the business. That shop, it seems, offers a certain magic with a team possessing possibly un-duplicate-able instinct and knack for meeting their customers’ needs.

I think the pizzeria offers an ideal model. It was almost perfect before anything changed. And then, it was in at least one way – even better.

Thanks for reading. You can also read Jonathan Ment Photography, and follow a few random thoughts on twitter.

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