Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Success in the Pizzeria Business Requires a Clearly Defined Identity

When you look at the man wearing an apron covered in flour and marinara sauce as he stands behind the pizza counter to take your order, you probably don’t envision that same man taking frequent vacations to Italy or spending his weekends sailing up and down the coast. That’s understandable, but the truth is that there is a lot of money to be made in the pizzeria industry. With relatively low overhead and startup costs that are far from prohibitive, opening a pizzeria in the right location is an opportunity worth considering.

Even if you do not have any previous experience working in a pizzeria, learning the ropes is not terribly difficult. With the right teacher, you can learn how to make dough, toss pizzas and cook them to perfection in a single day. Of course, there are certain subtleties that take more time to learn, but spending a month in a working pizzeria is really all that is necessary to gain an accurate understanding of the basics. It is, however, incredibly important to deeply consider the pizzeria’s identity before entering the industry, as a clearly defined identity is absolutely critical to the success or failure of the pizzeria.

According to Hugo Sebastian Hirsch, the identity of a pizzeria should be based on several different factors. Of those factors, the first to consider is location. Outside of New York, Chicago and New Haven, most regions are without a traditional style of pizza, so a new pizzeria should research the styles of pizza available in the area. In most cases, these pizzerias offer standard fare, focusing on making pizzas that have the broadest possible appeal in order to reach as many customers as possible. If this is the case, Hirsch believes that there is a lucrative opportunity available in opening a restaurant that provides specialty pizza options.

A specialty pizzeria can focus on providing the deep-dish pizza found in Chicago, the thin-crusted slices found in New York, or even the charred Neapolitan “apizza” common to New Haven. While these are viable options that will attract a loyal base of customers, Hirsch recommends a different approach by instead creating a restaurant that treats pizza with a greater deal of reverence. Using fresh, unique ingredients while taking a more gastronomic approach, gourmet pizzerias are able to attract a wide range of customers who are looking for a new way to enjoy something incredibly familiar.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

On the Joys of Making Pizza at Home

As a frequent traveler, I come across many people who believe the pizza originating from their hometown is always best. This goes for some of the more obvious destinations, such as New York, Chicago and Naples, but I have also encountered plenty of others who are willing to vehemently argue the fact that Portland or New Haven or some other surprising location has the best pizza.

Whenever the topic of “Best Pizza Anywhere” comes up, it is almost a certainty that the speaker will eventually mention how difficult it is to find good pizza outside of their home, with some going as far as to bring a box of pizza as their carry-on luggage for their returning flight. For transplants to other cities, this can result in a bit of a melancholic feeling with regard to local pizza, but David R. Gray Jr. believes he has a simple solution.

According to Gray -- and despite the protestations of New Yorkers everywhere -- the quality of the pizza has nothing to do with the local water supply or the specific weather conditions of a particular region. Instead, it has everything to do with style, and any style of pizza can be easily replicated in the home. Gray says the process may be a bit more complicated if the dough is made from scratch, but it is worth learning to really create a regionally accurate pizza.

I believe it is always best to control every aspect of the process, and that includes making the dough. If the dough is bought at a supermarket or a pizzeria, you have no say over whether the baker should use olive oil or sugar in the dough to add flavor, nor will you be able to control the consistency of the crust, since the amount of yeast added at the time of mixing has an influence on how the pizza will bake in the oven.

As for creating the actual pizza, pounding the dough is often where people encounter the greatest difficulty. Gray suggests that first-time pizza makers invest in several pounds of dough (one pound typically makes a single large pizza) on which to practice. After adding enough flour to cover the dough ball, most pizza makers work from the edge of the ball to the center. Once the dough has been pounded out and stretched, adding the sauce, cheese and toppings is all that remains.

By making pizza at home, transplanted New Yorkers will be able to make a traditional thin-crusted pie that is perfect for folding, and Chicagoans can make a deep-dish pie that tastes every bit as good as the pizza they would find at home.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Straddling the Line In the Pizza Debate Between Chicago and New York

In the long-running debate between New York and Chicago, no clear winner has been identified as the owner of the best pizza in the United States. Obviously, Chicagoans favor the thick, deep-dish pizza that comes with tomato sauce atop the cheese, and New Yorkers ridicule anyone who thinks that a pizza that can’t be properly folded is better than the thin-crusted slice that can be found on just about any city street corner.

Outside of New York and Chicago, the debate tends to be a bit more civil since the emotions that typically arise when defending one’s home do not often play a role in a discussion held elsewhere. Whatever side someone falls on is generally accepted as a matter of personal preference rather than geographic allegiance, but pizza lovers nationwide tend to be quite surprised when someone not only has no opinion on which is better, but claims to enjoy both equally.

In the experience of David Kravitz, this is the position that most frequently leads to arguments outside of Chicago and New York, though not necessarily in an unpleasant kind of way. Instead, there is frequently a demand for the uncommitted party to decide one way or another, as if it is unfair to all of those who have staked a position alongside the residents of a city they may have never even visited. For some reason, the idea that a person could happily enjoy both kinds of pizza and have no preference is, at best, difficult to understand, and, at worst, completely unacceptable.

After learning this, I wondered why this was the case and set out to uncover the reason. As a former resident of Chicago, I had always sided with notion that the deep-dish pizza with the flaky crust is best. In order to fully understand the other side of the argument, I avoided Chicago-style pizza for a full year and instead opted for a New York-style thin crust each time I had a craving for pizza. This was difficult, but given the importance of the subject, I was willing to struggle.

At first, I had no problem in continuing to claim Chicago as best, but over time I began to develop an affinity for the folded slice with the thin crust that seemed so increasingly perfect. Eventually I realized that both styles were appealing in wildly different ways, and the only reason anyone has a preference is simple familiarity. Now, I count myself among the rare few that believe both are equally delightful.