Note from Peter: Don't forget to scroll down the home page for Part One of this new series from our friend John Arena, owner of the hugely popular Metro Pizza in Las Vegas. We've been getting some great response to this. Thanks John!!)
There are many components to opening and sustaining a successful pizzeria, but for now let’s focus on essential pizza making skills. So here is lesson number one:
From now on, every time you make a pizza, or any element of a pizza make it as fast as you can. It doesn’t matter if you are making one pizza for your family or 100 pies for a lunch crowd on a tight schedule. Work fast. You cannot make a living in the pizza business if you are slow. Speed is both a skill and a habit.
--Dividing and rounding dough balls? Do it at top speed.
--Extending dough? Work fast. You need the practice.
--How fast is fast enough? Of course that’s a matter of opinion, but for starters, 2 people should be able to divide and round an 80 pound batch of dough in the time it takes to mix a second batch so there is no idle time in production. The most crucial task in your pizzeria is dough management-making dough, fermenting dough and using it at exactly the right time regardless of ever changing conditions.
--When it comes to making pizzas, you should be able to fill your ovens before the first pizza is ready to come out. So, if you are making large pizzas in a standard 2 deck gas oven you have to extend (stretch), top, and insert 8 pizzas in the oven in about 9 minutes, while taking the time to rotate the pies if necessary. In a wood burning oven the same rules apply. You must be able to fill the oven and move pies around to get the desired bake, take them out without burning or dropping anything or having any down time where the oven is empty. Now cut and plate the pies and keep moving.
--Sorry, but if you intend to be a pro there will be no more painstaking placement of every single mushroom. Yes, your pies have to look beautiful but the next hungry guest is waiting. Now here is the hard part- Once you can fill the ovens…do it again. OK, now do it again… and now again. Keep doing it for at least 3 hours without a break or slow down, because that is how long the average dinner rush will last. Speed is important but it is useless without endurance.
--Now, let’s not forget that all of these top speed pizzas must also resemble each other. Even if you are making artisan pies your guests are going to expect that there is a basic defining look and consistency to your pizzas. So like it or not, pizza making is repetitive work. What you do right now is what you are going to do again in 60 seconds and what you do today is going to have to be done again tomorrow.
--You are going to find that there is a rhythm and spirit to each part of your day. Throw away your clock -- and your calendar-- because from now on you are living on pizza time. You’re a football fan? So are your customers. From now on you will be using your DVR. You like to spend holidays with your family? Give them a job, so you can build the business together.
Is this starting to sound daunting? Be fearless, because here is the great part. You are going to take flour, water, and yeast and, using your own hands and some fire, create the world’s greatest communal food. You are going to join the ranks of a time honored profession and your pizzeria will become a vital part of your community.
In the next installment we will explore the common pitfalls of creating a pizzeria and teach you how to avoid them.