Ask Big Dave: Adding pizza to the menu

Q: I have a restaurant in Wilmington, NC, and want to add pizza to the menu. I am clueless to the pizza industry other than I love good NY pizza! Can you give me a list of equipment I need with brand names included? And should I buy pre- made dough or have the pizza chef make it him- self? The seating capacity is 295.

P.S. My kitchen has plenty of room for equipment and I have natural gas — and the water here is horrible!

Thanks,
Lisa Skoff

A: Your question is close to my heart. I’ve opened seven Big Dave’s Pizzas and dozens for clients. You are on the right track. You’ll be facing a bunch of big decisions and lots of small business decisions regarding opening a new place. Over the years, I have written about the subject extensively as well as presented seminars at International Pizza Expo in Vegas. First things first:

  1. Determine the type and style of pizza you want to offer. What style of pizza will you be competing against?
  2. Each style and type of pizza will determine the oven type. NY-style pizzas are typically baked in a deck rather than a conveyor oven. Deck ovens are fueled mostly with gas burners. Wood, coal and hybrid ovens are getting to be the rage lately. If you decide to bake using wood or coal you will have some staffing considerations. The extra effort is worth it. Your pie will be unique to all others and will create a buzz in your town.
  3. I’m a huge proponent of making your own pizza dough. Once you get some hands-on training you’ll lose the fear of the unknown and gain confidence in hand making truly superior dough. I’d recommend either purchasing purified spring water for your dough or budgeting in a high-tech reverse osmosis water filtration system for your entire place. Most of the industry’s masters have gone this route. A few years ago I was engaged to open a chain of pizzerias in Dubai. I had never experienced water so hard and salty. I decided that purchasing imported drinking water would be cost and system effective for consistent dough.

Your curiosity is very wide spread. Next March I will be presented a very popular seminar at Inter- national Pizza Expo titled, “So You Want to Open a Pizzeria?” It’s a three- to four-hour workshop held the day before Expo officially opens. If you can wait that long, it will be worth your while. No question will go unanswered. And for the next few days you can kick equipment tires and sample ingredients like no place on earth. The seminars are very informative. I would love to meet you and introduce you to my industry.

Big Dave Ostrander owned a highly successful independent pizzeria before becoming a consultant, speaker and internationally sought-after trainer. He is a monthly contributor to Pizza Today.