Q: We are planning to open our first store soon and we want to do something that will help to set us apart from the local competition.
A: There are a number of things that you can do to set yourself apart from the other pizzerias in your area, here are a few of them:
While the traditional pizza might be round, try a different shape. Square and rectangular are some commonly seen shapes, but one that you don’t see all that often is what I call the “free” shape. This is where the pizza shape is irregular, looking more like it was made by a novice. It reminds me of the time when I worked in a bakery and we made what we called our “homemade” cookies. They were, in reality, our regular cookies but we continually adjusted the weight of the cookies as they were being cut and deposited, resulting in a package with all different sizes of cookies. We also sold them by the pound to make them different in the eyes of the consumer. They were a great success, so just changing the shape of your pizza can make it stand out/apart from the others.
Another approach is to appeal to the concept of healthy eating. Think of offering pizzas made with whole-wheat flour, or a portion of the flour as whole-wheat rather than the traditional all-white flour. Remember, not all whole-wheat flour is brown. There is also whole white-wheat flour, which has a more tan or creamy color than what we normally think of whole-wheat flour as being, and the flavor is different, too. It’s not as bitter, but rather much more mellow tasting than the normal whole-wheat flours made from hard red wheat varieties, so it has a much wider appeal, especially to children. This is the flour that is being used to replace white flour in many of our school lunch programs.
If you opt to go this direction, think about offering a reduced-cholesterol pizza using a cheese blend made from 50 percent of your regular mozzarella cheese and 50 percent of a cholesterol free cheese analog, combined with a poultry meat topping and some veggies for toppings. This isn’t a bad pizza by anyone’s standards.
One of my personal favorites for a different pizza presentation revolves around thin-crust pizzas, which seem to be getting ever more popular. We take a thin crust pizza skin and very lightly brush it with olive oil and then add fresh chopped, sliced or pressed garlic, followed by several leaves of fresh green basil randomly placed over the dough skin. This is then followed by slices of fresh tomato or well-drained tomato filets (no sauce as we know it, please). Then dress the dough skin to the order and top with torn pieces of mozzarella cheese (no shredded or diced). I like to follow this by a sprinkling of shredded Parmesan and Romano cheese before sending it off to the oven. The use of torn cheese pieces rather than shredded or diced gives this pizza a whole different outward appearance, and the use of fresh tomato or tomato filets along with the fresh, green leaf basil gives the pizza a different flavor than you will find at any of the box pizzerias.
While many operators have experimented with adding herbs, cheese or ground pepperoni to the dough to make a uniquely flavored crust, these have only been marginally successful on the whole. It seems that they can be used to produce a uniquely flavored crust for use as a special offering, but acceptance appears to soon wane as the customers look for other flavor options. More recently, we have seen cheese-filled crusts, where the edge of the pizza is formed with a cheese filling, but even these have only been marginally successful.
I’ve seen a lot of interest in developing pizzas based on different types of seafood toppings which can be big sellers for those taking the time to develop a good, economically priced seafood pizza. The easiest way to make a good seafood pizza is to start with a thin-crust pizza skin. Apply a light application of Alfredo sauce followed by a sprinkling of dried dill weed and a few pieces of sliced or diced garlic. Add pieces of shrimp and raw fish. Any firm flesh fish works well. For a 12-inch pizza you will need to use about four ounces of mixed seafood and then add a few slices of red onion and some sliced fresh tomato. Finish with a very light application (about three ounces) of shredded mozzarella cheese and 1 ounce of shredded Parmesan cheese, and bake the same as your regular thin crust pizzas. This makes for a reasonably priced, flavorful seafood pizza that will stand apart from that of most competition.
To help in keeping your menu fresh and exciting, I like to recommend that you have a weekly special pizza that is just a little different from other mainstream pizzas. This will give you something to flag your customers with, and hopefully give your customers something to talk about, keeping your pizzeria in their immediate plans for their next pizza dining experience. u
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.