Pizza represents more than just a food product. Recent history reveals that pizza fosters a feeling of togetherness, along with great joy, ingenuity, and creative expression. Tom Santos, field sales rep at General Mills Foodservice, points out the pizza effect: “The pandemic has really demonstrated the power of pizza. When people couldn’t go out, they could still count on getting pizza delivered or getting pizza for takeout. From its portability to the ease and accessibility of getting it, pizza is probably more popular than ever.”

Santos has more than two decades of experience as a bakery owner plus more than 20 years of sales field experience at General Mills, giving him a unique perspective to help solve customer’s challenges with flour and dough. And Chef Tim Trainor is a member of the Chefs of the Mills—specialized culinary professionals at General Mills Foodservice who immerse themselves in the industries they serve—offering training, ideas and inspiration to help operations succeed.

“The pandemic hasn’t impacted the pizza category as much as other types of restaurants because pizzerias already had a good model in place,” Trainor shares. “Whether it was takeout or delivery, pizza is so convenient and accessible to so many, and consumers know what to expect from their favorite pizza place. Pizza restaurants were able to keep up with demand and meet expectations for consistency, taste, and convenience throughout the last 18 months. Chains elevated their game by completing the experience by feeding the family and making it about the total meal offering through dessert, sides, and beverages. All of this has helped fuel even greater demand for pizza!”

Great pizza comes in many forms. But there is a unifying factor to this product, overall.

Paul Bright, senior innovation manager for AB Mauri North America, points out that to make a great pizza, it is quite simple: consistency.

“Once pizza makers determine the formulation and process to produce their version of a great pie, the next step is to ensure that the process is followed the same way every time,” Bright says. “Any changes to ingredients – like flour – or to process times and temperatures can increase the chances of inconsistently baked pizzas on a week in and week out basis.”

So, the question looms: For pizza makers, what steps are the foundation of making great pizza?

Consistency in process is the key. Dough is a living product, at least until 140 degrees when the yeast dies during the baking process. Time and temperature standards must be in place and adhered to when mixing, processing, and storing dough for later use. Fermentation equals flavor and shortcuts taken during the processing will simply produce substandard pizza crusts,” points out Dave Krishock, bakery technical support manager for Grain Craft.

Pandemic recovery

Nick Saviano III, owner of The Pizza Factory of Barrington, Ill., has been in the pizza business for 44 years. Dino Taccogna, La Crosta Woodfire Pizzeria Italiana, Chicago, is newer to the scene, just celebrating his five-year anniversary. Both are passionate about Chicago’s pizza tradition.

The pandemic hit the restaurant industry hard. How did La Crosta and The Pizza Factory respond?
“The first two weeks were very challenging,” Saviano explains. “We shut down our lunch business and used the extra time to focus on our menu. We started prepping earlier in the day so we would be ready for our dinner service. Thankfully, the downturn in business didn’t last very long. We got very busy and hired more delivery drivers. We implemented free contactless delivery and expanded our delivery zone.”

For Taccogna, he says they were positioned at a fortunate place. “We were lucky that our core menu and business was already set up for pickup and delivery. When we had to reduce dining room capacity, we got creative and opened our large storefront windows to bring the outside in with increased air flow.”

What has been the biggest change to the menu?
“We used this as an opportunity to reset to our menu,” Saviano says. “We took a hard look at our menu and what people wanted. We cut the items that didn’t sell as well. Normally we would have taken a long time to make these decisions, but the pandemic forced us to change quickly. The pandemic gave us the opportunity to try new things and see what people liked. We dropped some of our fast-food items—hot dogs and polish sausage—and started offering housemade appetizers, soups and Italian beef.”

Of course, Chicago-style thin crust is still the hero. The new menu helped them save money, reduce labor, reduce waste, and focus on the core pizza and other hero items.

For Taccogna, consistency was the goal.

“We were fortunate in that we didn’t have to make any menu changes. We’ve been able to purchase the same quality ingredients from our trusted suppliers throughout the pandemic, and our customers appreciate the continuity of the menu. Our most popular pizzas are the Margarita, Due Carne, and Chili Burrata & Prosciutto,” he says.

Fruit flavor inspirations

The summer months are bringing creative inspiration to the pizza menus of America’s favorite places. Your Pie, a fast-growing, fast-casual pizza franchise, announced its latest Craft Series menu selection, which features fresh peaches on several of its summertime entrees.

Your Pie’s new Summer Peach Craft Series menu is headlined by a limited time offer of the award-winning Peach & Prosciutto Pie. The pizza features ricotta, prosciutto, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, fresh peaches and a honey-balsamic glaze.  It was originally created by Your Pie founder Drew French as a tribute to the brand’s Italian influences and Georgia roots.

French earned a spot on the United States Pizza Team with the signature pie in 2016 and competed at the 2016 World Pizza Championship in Parma, Italy. The pie was named one of America’s Most Innovative Menu Items in 2017.

The Craft Series has been a seasonal feature of the Your Pie menu since the brand’s inception in 2008. The Summer Peach Craft Series offerings launches on Tuesday, June 1. It will be available for a limited time only at Your Pie restaurants across the country through the peach season harvest ending in early August.

Peach & Prosciutto Pie - This hand-tossed 10-inch pizza features a base of olive oil and ricotta topped with prosciutto and a blend of mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. Fresh peaches are added before being baked in Your Pie’s signature brick oven.  A pinch of fresh basil and house-made honey balsamic glaze is then drizzled over the pizza. The Peach Prosciutto Pizza ranges from $8.99 to $10.99.

Peaches and Cream Sticks – The dessert entrée is a dough base topped with ricotta, peach slices, pecans, and served with a topping of vanilla gelato.  Peaches and Cream Sticks ranges from $1.99 to $4.99.

“The Peach & Prosciutto Pie is a staple of our summer menu and one of our customers’ favorite and most anticipated pizzas of the year,” said Lisa Dimson, chief marketing officer of Your Pie. “We have also added several other delicious offerings featuring peaches, which gives these items a sweet summertime flavor.”

Growth potential

Todd Hale, who is principal, Todd Hale, LLC, urges pizza shop owners and baking leaders to focus on in-store and ecommerce strategies, and invest in digital and traditional marketing platforms. He also emphasized the need to be aware of inflationary pressures that could impact sales.

The industry should build on strategies that support home-based consumption, he added.

“How are you investing to keep at-home demand high?” he asked.

Of note, Jeremy White, content director and editor-in-chief for Pizza Today, Pizza Expo, and the Artisan Bakery Expo, points out that consumers are moving to app-based ordering.

“They want to push a couple of buttons and then have their food arrive. The old ways of doing business are dying,” he says.

What about convenience – how is this influencing how pizza is made, and the types of pizzas that are most popular?

“Pizza is one of the most convenient foods on the planet. It’s readily available, relatively inexpensive and travels well,” White says. “That’s why it has always been and will forever remain the ultimate group food!”

The serious pizza maker looks to control as many of those variables as possible by watching water temperature, dough temps during mixing, etc., he adds.

“Americans are really expanding their palates, which is a beautiful thing,” White explains. “High-end cured meats, such as spicy soppressata and speck, have been trending for many years now and continue to have growing appeal. An opened pizza dough is literally a blank canvas, and today’s pizza makers are experimenting like never before.”

Job training

The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation and restaurant company MOD Super Fast Pizza Holdings LLC, parent of the fast-casual MOD Pizza chain, recently partnered to create job opportunities and skills training for young adults to help them start careers that can change their life paths.

The initiative, called the HOPES Program—Hospitality Opportunities for People (Re)Entering Society—allows businesses, state restaurant associations and community-based organizations, to work together to create successful career paths for justice-involved young adults ages 18 to 24 who are re-entering society.

The Foundation and MOD Pizza are launching the partnership this month at the chain’s Chicago locations with plans to roll it out nationally later this year.

“MOD Pizza has set the standard for how restaurants can meaningfully and successfully work with justice-involved youth,” says Susan Crystal-Mansour, the Foundation’s vice president of program impact. “We are honored to have MOD as the inaugural partner in our life-changing HOPES program. We believe this partnership can be the gold standard for the rest of the industry. It will allow us to create pathways to long-term success for dedicated employees often overlooked by society.”

“Over the years, we’ve seen first-hand the incredible opportunity that exists for companies to make an impact by providing jobs for individuals with barriers to employment,” says Ally Svenson, MOD Pizza’s co-founder and chief purpose officer. “Through this collaboration, we can provide critical resources to help squad members on their journeys to stability and economic mobility. We’re grateful to the Foundation for choosing MOD as its first national restaurant partner.”

With its holistic approach, the HOPES program seeks to reduce recidivism by helping participants focus on securing supportive job placement and creating opportunities for career advancement.

MOD currently employs more than 8,300 employees and offers industry-leading benefits, mentorship and training opportunities, plus access to the “Bridge Fund,” which provides financial support for squad members in need. To date, the company has distributed more than $1.5 million in grants to help employees in crisis.

Cause marketing

The Venetian Resort and Grand Canal Shoppes joined Three Square Food Bank in the fight against hunger during the 14th installment of Las Vegas Restaurant Week, June 7-18. 

The event marked an opportunity to sample the resort’s award-winning restaurant collection from celebrity chefs including Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, David Chang’s Majordōmo Meat & Fish, Lorena Garcia’s CHICA, newcomers BRERA osteria and estiatorio Milos by Costas Spiliadis, Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano, Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico Steakhouse, and the first all-Vegan restaurant on the Strip, Truth and Tonic.

As part of the program, participating restaurants will feature prix fixe menus at a special price, a great way to try the resort’s award-winning restaurants. This year, some participating restaurants will also offer take-out options and other specialty menus.

Truth & Tonic, the first fully vegan restaurant on the Las Vegas Strip, took part in Restaurant Week, featuring GOOD PLANeT Foods in all of its noteworthy breakfast and lunch menus. Now in its 14th year, Las Vegas Restaurant Week gives restaurants in the community the opportunity to give back through the culinary arts.

GOOD PLANeT, a leader within the plant-based cheese category, and known for superior melt, taste and texture, is a natural fit for Truth & Tonic’s striking plant-based menu.

Truth & Tonic is the first of its kind on the Las Vegas strip, offering fully plant-based options with maximum flavor, so guests can indulge guilt-free. With a prominent place on Truth & Tonic’s Restaurant Week menu, diners will have a unique opportunity to experience GOOD PLANeT on an acclaimed, nutrient-dense menu. Among the strides the brand has made on its upward trajectory, the brand’s growing inclusion in foodservice demonstrates the overall growth GOOD PLANeT Foods is currently experiencing, alongside the rapid growth of the plant-based industry.

“My motivation to use a plant-based cheese at Truth & Tonic Wellness Cafe is to create a vegan menu that is irresistible to all diners. To do that, I needed to surround myself with great, delicious ingredients that people are familiar with, yet still can exceed their expectations,” shared Pete Ghione, executive chef at Truth & Tonic. “Compared to the many other brands of cheese I’ve tried, GOOD PLANeT is the one that I found tastes the most like traditional cheese made with dairy. Both hot and cold, the textures are creamy and amazing. I’m always looking forward to expanding my menus as the GOOD PLANeT portfolio of deliciousness continues to expand.”

Flavor inspirations

What happens when authentic flavors meet Pizza Royalty? Round Table's new Limited Time Only Street Taco Pizza! With bold flavors like charred corn, zesty chorizo, tomatoes, crema, crisp tortilla strips, green onions, Round Table's three-cheese blend, salsa roja sauce, and fresh lime wedges for added zest, it is a pizza like no other. Pair it with a refreshing Pacifico® Beer for a perfect pizza fiesta. Available now for dine-in, carryout and delivery.  

Round Table Pizza has more than 410 restaurants across the United States.

"Our new Street Taco Pizza features everything Round Table is known for – our homemade dough, proprietary three cheese blend, generous hand cut toppings and unparalleled quality all with a fun twist," said Annica Conrad, chief marketing officer for Global Franchise Group, the parent company of Round Table Pizza. "Our culinary innovation team worked hard to blend authentic Latin American flavors with our famous pizza and they delivered. This is the best Limited Time Specialty Pizza in Round Table's great history – a statement almost as bold as our Street Taco Pizza!"

Pizza Night

Sun Street Breads in Minneapolis features an innovation promotional event that offers a template for how leading retail bakeries can promote and deliver great pizza.

Every Thursday night the popular bakery fires up the ovens and serve up delicious hand-tossed pizza baked at insanely hot temps.

“We have been extremely busy on Pizza Night, so we recommend people place your order during the day if possible,” explains Solveig Tofte, owner of Sun Street Breads. “You can order by phone, or in-person. We also offer curbside delivery.”

Information hub

Pizza Quest is a site dedicated to the exploration of artisanship in all forms, but especially through the literal and metaphorical image of pizza, explains Peter Reinhart, baking instructor at Johnson & Wales University.

“As we share our own quest for the perfect pizza we invite all of you to join us and share your journeys too,” he says. “We have discovered that you never know what engaging roads and side paths will reveal themselves on this quest, but we do know that there are many kindred spirits out there, passionate artisans, doing all sorts of amazing things. These are the stories we want to discover, and we invite you to jump on the proverbial bus and join us on this, our never-ending pizza quest.”

Reinhart is the author of ten books on bread baking and pizza, including Brother Juniper’s Bread Book and the modern classic The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, which was named cookbook of the year in 2002 by both the James Beard Foundation and the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

In a recent podcast, Reinhart featured Will Grant, who began his career at ripe old age of eight, working the kitchen in his family’s restaurant, That’s A Some Pizza, on Bainbridge Island, Washington. By 10, he was apprenticing under several different chefs and, into his late teens, he had helped to open 5 restaurants.

As a young man, he decided to strike out on his own, leaving the family business for the east coast to gain experience running kitchens at major chains, like Red Robin, Bertucci’s, and learning alongside some of the world’s best chefs, like Wolfgang Puck.

He eventually returned to his Pacific Northwest roots and That’s A Some Pizza, but this time as owner and head chef. Wanting to make the most of the restaurant’s 120-year-old sourdough starter, he attended the International School of Pizza in San Francisco, training alongside his idol, Tony Gemignani.