An important poll tells us everything we really need to know about the future of baking – and what consumers really want.
The Harris Poll has found that, for Americans, apple pie reigns supreme (12%), but pizza comes in a close second (10%) and is, by far, the favorite type of pie among men ages 18-34 (25%).
More than 7 in 10 adults (72%) prefer sweet pies over savory pies, and most agree that the best part of pie is the filling (69%), while about 3 in 10 say the best part is the pastry or crust (31%).
The crust rules
Peter Reinhart is all about the crust. Reinhart is widely acknowledged as one of the world's leading authorities on bread. He is the author of ten books on bread, including the James Beard Award- and IACP cookbook award-winning The Bread Baker's Apprentice, and American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza. He appears regularly on television and radio, and he is a full-time instructor at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, NC. He is a culinary and keynote presenter at conferences around the world, and the founder and host of the popular video website PizzaQuest.com.
“There is good pizza, and there is great pizza,” he loves to say. “All of a sudden, we are seeing great artisan pizzas all around the country. Now, I would say 15 to 20% of pizzerias are worth going to. They understand what makes a pizza memorable starts with the dough. The crust is what sets everything up.”
One of the leading innovators of America’s pizza revolution is Chris Bianco. When Bianco started Pizzeria Bianco in the back corner of a Phoenix grocery store in 1988, he had no idea that he would become a driving force in the artisanal pizza movement. All he knew was that his food would reflect the respect and sincere intention that he brings to each of his recipes, as the result of his relationships with farmers, local producers, customers, and staff.
He continues as chef-owner of Pizzeria Bianco, with two locations in Phoenix, Arizona, along with two Pane Bianco restaurants. Bianco’s white-tablecloth restaurant Tratto, also in Phoenix, features handmade pastas and seasonal favorites with mainly local ingredients from artisans and farmers.
Bianco won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest in 2003 —the first pizzaiolo to receive the honor— and helped spawn a generation of independent and artisanal pizzerias, lending his advice, wisdom, and food philosophies to dozens of fellow chefs and restaurateurs.
The next phase
And now we come to the story of Marius Pop and Pop Pizza.
We first met up with Pop as he was getting Nuvrei, which opened in 2004, off the ground and rolling. His bakery became a huge hit. Pop prepared for this monumental opening by training with the best, Francois Payard. The city’s top food critics delivered dazzling reviews.
“His Payard patisserie background is evident; his creations are glorious, old-school paragons of baking excellence. No shortcuts. No wacky combinations. And he uses only superior ingredients — Valrhona chocolate, local fruits in season, premium butter.”
For Pop, 2020 has been a year full of choices. Faced with COVID-19 in one of the nation’s divided cities, Portland, Oregon.
“As business owners, we anticipate having to make choices,” Pop told us in a Bake interview. “But I didn’t think it would be anything at this magnitude. The viability of optimism is weird. We are like a snow globe, and we’re still being shook.”
Fires. Riots. Social upheaval. All became harsh realities in Portland.
“As a small business owner, you know you are going to experience a little pain before it heals,” says Pop, whose parents are Eastern European. “My best defense was to keep my head below water. I knew the pizza concept was giving us a better choice.”
By August, they opened Pop Pizza. They felt there was no strong competition in high-quality pizza delivery.
“We focus on Detroit style,” he elaborates. “I lived in Detroit for a while, and it’s very nostalgic for me.”
He focused on several important details. Delivery, for example, requires a change of focus.
“Once a pizza goes into a box, the quality is starting to be compromised,” he explains. “The texture. The humidity. The environment is not really helping the crust, the skin, and the crispness of the pepperoni. But in America, when we think pizza, we think delivery.”
Choosing Detroit style, he felt, would prove the best option for “minimal effect on creativity.” And there is something about Detroit that you want to root for, Pop says. The spirit. The toughness. The pride.
“I have always viewed myself as an underdog,” he says.
Pop’s business partner, who is Swedish, believes they eventually could open this American concept in Copenhagen, and that it would do very well.
Fast forward to launch day, when the dining room and the café plans went to the back burner, they found themselves to feel fortunate that Detroit-style pizza would deliver well – “born to be delivered.”
The product didn’t look expensive, and the flavor wowed customers like they’d never tasted anything like it before.
“Pizza has gone through a lot – dining in or Domino’s and Pizza Hut – but not a lot in between,” Pop explains. “We felt this is our opportunity to have the best pizza and get it to people through the delivery channel. We do know that delivery is going to be here to stay.”
Now they are making 300 to 400 pizzas a day and delivering to a 10-mile radius. They are dealing with challenges of how to maximize their square footage on site, but all is going well – and better than anticipated.
“We want to take on the West Coast and be a regional player that offers quality pizza – fast,” Pop says, looking ahead. “I consider myself to be like a Bill Gates: really good at operations. My partner is great at sales and marketing. We have a nice pairing of strengths.”
It’s basically the same old game – with new tools. Create awareness of your brand. Build connections.
“The way we get past this is what has worked before is not completely irrelevant,” he says. “Treating people with respect – even in the middle of a pandemic. We are constantly looking at how we make the work and customer experience better. There are a lot of things we can still do. Being happy is important. Fear is not what motivated us to open in the first place.”
As for the pizza, Pop says the goal of their dough was to create something that did not exist in the mainstream. He wanted airy, but not super light. Crunchy on the bottom.
They make a triple cheese, pepperoni, veggie (mushroom confit, red onion, bell pepper, black olives, mozzarella, Wisconsin brick, cheddar, red sauce and basil), sausage, pineapple, kale, and several options of gluten-free pizzas.
“Everything we did from the oils to the blends of cheeses, we spent a lot of time on that,” Pop says. “Our tomato sauce tests were incredible. It took us weeks to test all the sauces. For me, it was an interesting process – to extract as much information as you can and then make a decision.”
They brought in experts to try the different pizza, with many nationalities (Italian, French, German) represented. “It was lengthy,” Pop says, “and painful. There was a curiosity that drove us. That approach was very refreshing and made us feel we had a lot of teamwork.”