Pizza E&S: Pizza Production with a Purpose

From conveyor ovens to peels, a variety of pizza equipment and supplies help create one of America's most popular meals.

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With 58 units in greater Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, in addition to northern Kentucky and southeast Indiana, LaRosa's Pizzeria has positioned its units as neighborhood restaurants.

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This is particularly evident to families with young children, a demographic to which the chain caters. “Children can visit Luigi's Closet, an area attached to the hostess stand that is filled with toys that they can play with while they're here,” says Brian Cundiff, the chain's executive director of growth and development.

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Founded by Buddy LaRosa back in 1954, LaRosa's locations feature table service, only with a booth format. “The booth seating environment is part of the core dining experience for our customers,” says Nick LaRosa, new store opening team manager and divisional general manager for the chain. Booths can seat 12-to-18 customers.

This somewhat unique format extends to the back of the house, where efficiency improvements were recently made to the restaurants' kitchens to meet customer demand. “We do twice the amount of business than other casual restaurants of this type, because we also offer pizza delivery,” Cundiff explains. “Our kitchens' u-shaped setup maximizes efficiency and allows us to put between five-and-eight team members on the production line.”

This line begins at the single-door reach-in cooler, which holds proofed dough. Next to this stands a 9-cubic-foot sliding-top chest that contains frozen dough. When making a thin-crust pizza, staff place frozen dough on an anodized aluminum baking disk. For thick-crust pies, staff place proofed dough on 21/2-inch-high anodized pans.

An adjacent 9-foot table features refrigeration both on the rail and underneath for many of LaRosa's 20 pizza ingredients. “Because there is not enough room on the rail to accommodate all of the toppings, most of these units are made of up three doors and two drawers, where lesser-used ingredients are kept,” Cundiff says.

At this table, team members use stand-alone spoodles to measure out the sauce. A 2-ounce spoodle is used for both small- and medium-sized pizzas, which require one and two spoonfuls, respectively. Sauce for large pies is measured out with a 6-ounce spoodle. While some stores use the spoodle for spreading the sauce, others employ a pie-shaped spatula for this task. The make side of the table also is equipped with a digital scale for portioning cheese. For training purposes and as a reminder for the kitchen staff, nearby portion charts visually depict the product coverage on different-sized pizzas for a variety of ingredients.

Production centers around the four-belt conveyor oven, which is simply two ovens stacked one on top of the other. The 32-inch-wide conveyor belts provide a 62-inch cooking zone for maximum efficiency. An L-shaped table sits at the oven's exit point and is used for cutting, plating and boxing pizzas. This area also plays host to pizza peels, wheel cutters and disks for aluminum serving trays. “Our cut table area is unique, since we have to accommodate space for pizza delivery boxes, as well as dining room plates,” says Cundiff.

After using a peel to remove the pizza from the pan or disk, staff either box the pie or place it on a serving tray and cut for dining room service. Pizzas headed for the dining room are put under a nearby heat lamp before being served, while a second heat lamp keeps pies warm before delivery.

In operation since March of 2004, Everett, Wash.-based Garlic Jim's has already sold 44 franchises in Washington, Oregon and Arizona, with other locations in the works for San Diego and Orange County, Calif. And the fast-growing franchise anticipates opening another 10 stores by the end of 2005, according to President Dwayne Northrop.

Its slogan, “Gourmet Right Away,” captures the essence of this unique concept. “We researched the market and discovered that pick-up and delivery is 65% of the pizza segment. We wanted to see how we could bridge the gap in the industry by creating an upscale pizza that could be delivered as quickly as the national brands,” Northrop says.

He describes Garlic Jim's 1,200-square-foot stores as having “a Starbucks'-style lobby with a Domino's-style kitchen.” Although the stores have no seating, some outlets feature stand-up counters in the lobby where customers can eat.

After reaching development agreements for this turnkey operation, Garlic Jim's assists its franchisees every step of the way, from finding the location and negotiating the lease to acquiring and operating equipment. In addition to providing all of the necessary equipment and supplies, Garlic Jim's regional commissaries house both the sauce and pizza ingredients and produce the dough.

Much of Garlic Jim's success centers around its kitchen design. “We have an efficient in-store flow, getting pizzas in the oven in less than two minutes, out in less than 10 and delivered to customers in 20 minutes,” Northrop says.

After arriving at the locations, dough is immediately stored in 8-foot by 12-foot walk-in refrigerators. When production begins, thin-crust dough is pre-sheeted with dough sheeters in racks, while dough for thick-crust pizza is hand-tossed and prepared on an 8- to 10-foot-long custom-designed slap table. “This was built into the store design and is constructed of industrial Corian material, because it is easier to work on with the dough than stainless steel,” Northrop explains.

A built-in front counter, featuring a point-of-sale system, which helps with inventory control, wraps around and turns into a slap table. This sits next to an ingredients table, where dough is sauced and sent to the make line for topping from a choice of more than 30 ingredients. Because, according to Northrop, “Cheese is like gold and is always weighed,” staff use a digital scale with a tare feature to portion this topping. In addition, a portion chart provides weights for ingredients such as olives and counts for larger toppings like pepperoni.

At the end of the make line sits the conveyor oven. Franchisees can choose from three different models, which range in cook time from five-to-six minutes. After the pizza is removed from the oven with a peel, it is put in boxes and then cut with a 6-inch pizza cutter blade.

Near the oven, a custom-made 8-foot by 6-foot stainless-steel cut table with an overshelf serves as the kitchen's focal point and is where store managers spend most of their time. The other side of this table features a printer that produces labels detailing the contents for the pizza boxes. Staff stack these boxes in order on the overshelf in preparation for the pizzas coming out of the oven.

A custom-built three-shelf heat rack by the cut table features a heated bag system. “This induction system is cut out under the third shelf, where pizza bags containing heat disks are dropped into the cradle,” Northrop says. After 30 seconds, the disks are heated to keep the pizzas in the bag above 160 °F. for up to 30 minutes.

Key E&S for Pizza Production

Conveyor oven Pizza press Reach-in refrigerator Freezer Stainless-steel cut table Slap table Refrigerated base with drawers and/or doors Pizza peel Pizza cutter Digital scale Pizza pans Aluminum serving trays Heat lamp Spoodle Pie-shaped spatula Anodized aluminum baking disk Dough docker Dough sheeter Sausage depositor

Although dough trays are cleaned at the commissary using an industrial conveyor washer, staff wash pizza cutters, peels and vegetable bins on-site using a three-compartment sink.

Who could have predicted that the shattering of Mary and Vincent Grittani's tavern window by a baseball from a neighborhood game would be the start of a Chicago institution? But that's exactly how Woodridge, Ill.-based Home Run Inn got its name back in 1923.

But it wasn't until 1942 that Mary Grittani formed a partnership with her son-in-law Nick Perrino and developed the recipe for today's well-known Home Run Inn Pizza. Over the years, the family began producing frozen pizzas, while opening new restaurants and carry-out locations. Today, Home Run Inn has five Chicagoland locations that offer a full menu, including appetizers, sandwiches, pastas, salads, dessert and, of course, pizza. “Pizza probably accounts for 60% or more of the sales in our bigger restaurants,” says Dan Costello, the company's director of restaurant operations.

Home Run Inn's newest location on South Archer Avenue in Chicago opened in May of 2004. The kitchen totals 2,500-square-feet, with the pizza production area comprising about 800-square-feet of this space.

In terms of the back of the house, the pizza areas in all five locations are identically laid out in a straight-line format, Costello says, although oven capacity varies. “We formerly used rotating deck ovens, but moved away from these because product variability relied too much on the operator's technique and talent. So, about 10 years ago, we switched to conveyor ovens. We like this baking technique because it works well for our products,” he explains.

Production begins when dough balls are removed from the kitchen's single-door reach-in refrigerator. Dough then heads to a 30-inch-high bakers rack, where newly incorporated hot pizza presses help create uniform pizza shells using a combination of pressure, time and temperature. “Traditionally, people used sheeters to compress the dough with pressure. But with this new piece of equipment, we can use less pressure because there is heat involved. With less pressure, the dough doesn't get as damaged and we get better proofing and rise in the dough, which creates a better cell structure and texture.

After being pressed, the pizza dough is then placed on a disk, where a dough docker with pegs is used to punch holes in the crust. “This prevents steam from causing the dough to blow up during baking,” explains Costello.

Dough is then placed on a rack for 15-to-20 minutes to proof. Staff then top the dough on a 5-foot-long, 30-inch-deep stainless-steel cutting table, which has cutting boards on top. Some locations utilize a sausage depositor, a machine that uses compressed air and a blade to cut and drop sausage onto the pizza. At a second identical table that is connected to the first in an “L” shape, cheese is weighed with a scale that features an electric eye.

The conveyor ovens, which feature a 70-foot-long cooking chamber and 32-inch-wide by 106-inch-long conveyor belt, then bake the pizzas before they are carted off to the dining room for serving.

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