2011 June: PRESSED FOR TIME?

Labor costs typically account for 20 to 30 percent of restaurant sales. With the right tools and equipment, operators can increase productivity, lighten workloads for busy employees and decrease the cost of labor. Today, the supply of ergonomically friendly, easy-to-use equipment is abundant…but the price tag can cause sticker shock. What products offer labor-saving benefits and efficiencies that make the investment worthwhile? Pizza Today tapped a few operators who shared their positive experiences.

Although not new in the bakery world, the pizza industry is just starting to appreciate the value of semi-automatic dough divider/rounders. Ray Peloquin, president of Dave’s Pizza in Virginia, Minnesota, discovered the labor-saving value last November. Dave’s is a take-out operation, selling 400 frozen pizzas and 200 fresh pizzas daily. Up until November, his chief pizza maker (his daughter, who retired earlier this year) sized and cut the dough for frozen pizzas by hand. Once Peloquin purchased a divider/rounder, production sped up significantly.

Each batch for Dave’s frozen pizza consists of an almost 20-pound dough ball. The pizza maker cuts the ball into thirds, making three six-pound dough balls, then places those in the machine. Within 15 seconds, the machine divides those three balls into 18 uniform balls. Once raised at room temperature, kitchen staff runs each ball through a sheeter, flattening them, then cutting them into 10-inch pizza rounds. They par cook the dough to firm them up, add ingredients and toppings, then freeze them. The machine costs approximately $11,000, but Peloquin estimates a labor-cost saving of $50 a week (five hours X $10 hourly wage). “In four years, it’ll pay for itself,” he says. “There’s no maintenance either, which is great. And apart from the savings, I’m providing my staff with equipment that will make their jobs easier, with less physical stress, like carpal tunnel.”

Although Peloquin says the equipment saves a tremendous amount of labor, improves efficiencies and provides consistent pizzas, he doesn’t use the machine for the fresh pizzas at Dave’s. “We do those by hand because we only make two or three at a time,” he says.

Darren Lister, co-owner of Hideaway Pizza, a 10-unit chain in Oklahoma, has used a divider/rounder since the concept launched in 1993. “When you’re working with dough and training employees on how to work with dough, this machine takes the guess work out of the equation and gives you consistency every time,” he says. Lister reports a 50 percent reduction in production time. “We can probably do six batches in an hour with the machine,” he says. “By hand, we only do three an hour.” Pizza by the slice makes up 40 percent of sales at Pizza Vito in Gainsville, Florida. Indeed, the New York style pizzeria offers 16 varieties by the slice. “So, consistency of size is very important to us,” says owner Kevin Ross, who opened Pizza Vito eight months ago. “We need each slice to be exactly the same size.”

He relies on a dough press, which he purchased for approximately $9,500. The pizza press can make up to 400 pizzas in one hour, ranging from 12 inches to 20 inches. Ross uses three different slots for the three different sizes: 12-, 14- and 18-inch pies. “Our pizza man can make five giants in one minute, so we realize a huge savings in labor,” he says. The machine is not hand or air driven, but is a mechanical press. Because the press is mechanical, it doesn’t care how cold the dough is. The plates are heated, so when the pizza dough is stretched out, it sears the gluten on the outside of the shell, taking a lot of the stickiness away and helping the dough retain its shape. It features beveling to create thicker edges around the crust.

But what about losing the ability to boast “hand tossed?” “There’s always going to be a percentage of customers who care about that, but I think, as a whole, if you’re delivering a pizza that tastes really good, that doesn’t matter so much,” says Ross. “People know they’re getting a fresh product that is consistently good.” u

Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.

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