June 26, 2013 |

Dough equipment delivers heightened efficiencies in the kitchen

By Daniel P. Smith

Dough equipment delivers heightened efficiencies in the kitchen

Photo by Rick Daugherty

Darren Lister has his eyes on growth. Already with 12 Hideaway Pizza locations spread about Oklahoma, Lister and his partners are looking to build two new units each year, eventually expanding beyond their Oklahoma homeland into neighboring states.

That can be a costly venture, especially as each Hideaway location produces its own dough and subsequently, requires its own dough mixer, divider rounder and roller.

“That gets over the $25,000-plus outlay would frighten many operators, Lister doesn’t think twice. Having the dough equipment in each kitchen he says, saves time, reduces labor, ensures a consistent product, and makes for a cleaner more efficient kitchen able to handle the more than 400 pizzas Hideaway unets serve daily.

“Our shops are high-volume and we need to operate with speed and consistency. That’s why we make the up-front investment,”Lister says. “We’re 100 percent certain these pieces pay for themselves over and over.”

mandatory piece of equipment if the restaurant makes its dough in house. “How else are you going to make dough by scratch?” asks Dan Raio, presiden of DoughXpress, a Kansas based supplier of kitchen equipment. “Handmade isn’t a logical option because dough is diffivult to mix properly and too labor intensive.”

Mixers, which run in the range of $8,000 to $25,000, produce a number of key benefits.

Most notably, pizzerias can formulate dough to their own specifications. This not only creates a proprietary product distinctive from competitors, but also allows the pizzeria to deliver a consistent product to customers.

Mixers also help kitchen staff quickly produce dough at times when sales exceed expectations, while making the product fresh also minimizes the use of refrigerator and freezer space. Finally, there’s the financial advantage. Since operators are buying raw ingredients, the cost of dough production comes in under the cost of purchasing ready-made product. Meanwhile, the mixer’s durability makes for a safe long-term investment. “Mixers are like Mack trucks –– they just don’t wear out,” Lister says.

While some operators prefer the spiral mixer, often labeled the best dough mixing option, others prefer the versatility of planetary and vertical cutter mixers, which can mix dough, produce sauces or grate cheese. With the bulk dough in hand, many pizzeria operators then turn to a divider and rounder –– or, increasingly, the divider-rounder combo machine –– to create the necessary serving size. With the divider-rounder from Wisconsin-based Dutchess Bakers’ Machinery Company, for instance, kitchen staff can input a larger, pre-weighed piece of dough –– say, nine pounds –– into the machine. In about 20 seconds, the machine presses the dough to a uniform thickness and cuts it into nine equal pieces before an oscillating motion creates nine perfectly shaped, one-pound dough balls. Rather than handrolling nine dough balls, a feat that could take even the most skilled pizza artisan months to master and still minutes to do with proficiency in the kitchen, the divider-rounder combo takes less than a half minute. “Best of all, this machine shows up for work every day,” Dutchess Bakers’ national sales manager Tony Marino jokes. Raio says the combination rounder-divider is becoming the norm in the pizzeria space for two reasons: its space-saving size — Lister says his unit fits neatly into a three foot-by-three foot corner space — and its price tag. While a rounder alone might hover in the $8,000-10,000 range, the dual-purpose combination machine runs about $12,000. “People see the divider-rounder as an expense, but it’s well worth the cost because of the labor savings it generates,” Raio says, pointing to the robust market for used divider-rounders as proof of their appeal.

As with the mixer, Lister says training is seamless. “On our divider-rounder, you’re only flipping two levers,” he says. With dough balls in hand, some operators will then turn to rollers or presses to create a toppings-ready pizza. Rollers, which run about $7,000, run dough through rollers at a preset thickness. In most cases, two passes produce an even dough layer, provided the dough is not cold or stiff. In contrast, pizza presses, a modern innovation that has become one of the fastest-growing pieces of equipment in pizzeria kitchens, require only one step. A dough ball is placed in the center of a platen and pressed for 8-10 seconds to a preset thickness. Raio calls a press the closest thing to hand-tossed pizza and simple to operate. “There’s no flour involved. Just oil, dough ball and press,” he says. With the use of a divider-rounder and roller or press, Marino says one nine-pound dough ball can become an in-the-oven pizza within three minutes –– provided a kitchen worker can dress the pie quickly with sauce and ingredients. “You’re talking about tremendous efficiencies here, not to mention cost savings and the ability to handle greater volume,” Marino says.

A quick buyer’s guide for dough equipment
Purchasing dough equipment can be a daunting task for many operators, given the costs and minimal experience many have in such purchasing decisions. Some quick tips from the pros:

  • With mixers, bigger isn’t always better.
    “The size of the mixer really depends on your needs and how many batches of dough you want to do a day,” says Dan Raio, president of DoughXpress.
  • Look for equipment that carries a parts and labor warranty of at least one year.
    “If there are bugs in the machine, it will show up within a year’s time,” says Dutchess Bakers’ National Sales Manager Tony Marino.
  • Before making the purchase, check that the equipment meets NSF and UL standards as well as those of the health department.
  • Given their durability, mixers can be purchased used, a potentially wise play by operators so long as they check with the manufacturer on the availability of parts and customer support.
  • While the financial outlay may be substantial, consider the big-picture benefits of cost and labor savings as well as product consistency. “This is a long-term purchase you may not ever need to upgrade,” Marino says.

Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.