June 1, 2014 |

Any way you slice it

By Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman

Papalino's Pizza, slices

Pizza-by-the-slice operations share secrets behind their success


Sin City is a 24-hour town, so staying open until 2 a.m. is important to Pop Up Pizza located inside the Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. It also enables the pizzeria to serve customers who only want a slice or two as opposed to an entire pizza. While late-night hours definitely encourage slice sales, operators tote a variety of “must-haves” for a successful pizza-by-the-slice operation.

“There is a lot of work that goes into a good pizza-by-the-slice operation,” says Lee Hunzinger, head pizzamaker at Zoli’s NY Pizza Tavern, Dallas, Texas, who lists hot sopressata and the Grandma, a square pan-pizza, as top-selling slices. “Consistent quality pizza and an informative, high-spirited, ‘counter guy/gal’ to help customers understand options, pizza descriptions and pricing are the most important factors.”

Being organized, cutting even slices and packaging to-go-slice orders neatly helps. Marketing strategies such as specials and coupons entice customers to order slices, too.

Zoli’s lunch special, which includes a pizza slice, house or Caesar salad, garlic knots and drink for $10 helps drum up pizza sales. Pop Up Pizza’s frequent slice card motivates customers to buy nine slices, after which the tenth slice is free. At Hapas Pizza, located inside the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel, Honolulu, Hawaii, the Pizza Pau Hana special for customers aged 21 and older means buying a local beer and getting a free slice of the pizza of the day.

“A good pizza-by-the slice operation provides guests with a low-risk opportunity to try new items and toppings that they wouldn’t normally eat,” says Darren Demaya, Hapas Pizza’s executive sous chef.

If you worry that your operation can’t handle slices, consider Cornerstone Artisanal Pizza & Craft Beer’s solution. Located in the beach and vacation community of Ogunquit, Maine, Cornerstone’s volume of dinner customers made it impossible for the oven to keep up with the added demand for slices. After the dinner rush died down, however, owner Michael Cavaretta found people enjoyed a quick snack before heading home from the beach.

He introduced a limited late-night menu (cheese, sausage or Calabrese). It runs between 11 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. during the summer when the demand for slices is strong enough that Cavaretta can guarantee slices are served fresh and hot.

“We keep it simple and find that customers are happy with our selection of grab-and-go slices,” he says. “We hope that by putting the same attention to quality in our slices we do win ourselves customers for the full dining experience.”

Operators can limit their pizza slice menus to, say, cheese or pepperoni, or showcase a variety of toppings. However, this may mean baking new pizzas when diners request a slice that isn’t available.

No problem, says Demaya. “It is difficult to control quality and consistency if cooking by the slice,” he says.

Pop Up Pizza also bakes a fresh pizza, upon request. “Depending on how busy it is, the brand new pie will have half of the requested ingredients on one side and other popular toppings on the other side,” says Amy E. S. Maier, Pop Up Pizza’s publicist.

Hunzinger relies on a “plain pie” that’s ready for customization. Although he cautions, “when you re-heat a plain slice with toppings added, it’s not the same quality as when all of the ingredients cook together.”

Instead of placing raw ingredients on individual slices he roasts or sautés most toppings prior to use, which helps with re-heating. He also avoids heat lamps since it makes pizzas soggy and recommends keeping slices fresh, hot or at room temperature before re-heating.

“Ovens for re-heating slices should be set at a lower temperature than an oven cooking the pizza, as to not burn the crust,” Hunzinger continues. “Slices must be handled properly. Insert them into the oven with the crust facing out. This makes removal easier and more efficient.”

Consistent quality, ease and efficiency equals slice success.

Grandma Pie

Recipe Courtesy of Zoli’s NY Pizza Tavern, Dallas, Texas

Yield: 9 slices
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 24-ounce dough ball
1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes (San Marzano style)
1 28-ounce can California plum tomatoes
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pinch, dried oregano
4 basil leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon salt
10-12 ounces mozzarella, shredded
Parmigiano Reggiano, grated, as needed

Using a 16-inch x 16-inch x 1-inch Sicilian pizza pan, oil bottom and sides. Stretch dough into pan, try to reach sides.

Cover with plastic wrap and let proof in a warm area for 1-2 hours. Dough should begin spreading to corners.

Preheat oven to 550 F.

Combine tomatoes in a bowl. Crush each tomato individually, by hand.

Add remaining ingredients (except for cheese) and mix to a chunky consistency.

Pull dough to pan’s edges.

Cover with cheeses.

Using a big spoon, drop tomato sauce “dollops” across crust –– don’t cover entire crust with sauce.

Bake pizza in oven’s middle rack for 5-7 minutes.

Rotate pizza 180 degrees. Bake 5 more minutes or until cheese is bubbly and browned on top. Pizza bottom should be golden brown and crispy.

Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky. She covers food, business and lifestyle trends.