Over the last few years, it seems like everyone from chefs, to home hobbyists, to food writers have gotten into the pizza-making game. We're seeing higher quality independent shops opening up in many regions that were once dominated by Domino's and Pizza Hut. But if you want to get into the act, read up -- the challenges of opening a pizzeria are different than those of other restaurants. Here at Serious Eats and Slice, we know a thing or two about pizza. We talked to a few of our favorite pizzaioli about the challenges specific to running a succesful pizzeria.
1. Know what kind of pizza you're making.
There are many different styles of pizzas out there. Which one are you going to make? Research (read: taste) as widely as possible. "My sons and I went on pizza tours," said Paul Giannone, a longtime pizza hobbyist who opened his eponymous pizzeria, Paulie Gee's, in Brooklyn in 2010. "We'd go to different cites just to try good pizza."
Pizza dough is a complicated creature and it's important to learn as much as you can before you determine whether a pizzeria is in your future. "I'm absoluely completely self taught," says Giannone. "But a lot of the New York pizzaioli were very generous in sharing their knowledge with me. I learned some tricks from Angelo [Womack] at Roberta's; Mathieu [Palombino] from Motorino, and Mark [Iacono] from Lucali." But from there, it's up to you to refine your craft. "I played around a lot with the dough," says Giannone, noting that it took him years of tinkering in his own kitchen to nail the perfect recipe before even considering opening a restaurant.
2. Know the oven you need for your pizza.
More than any other type of food, the oven is crucial in proper pizza-making. Whether you're making puffy-edged Neapolitan pies, thin-crusted New York-style pizza, or deep-dish Chicago, it's essential to match your oven to the needs of your pizza. Do you need gas, coal, electric or wood fired? Is your space rated for the type of ventilation you'll need?
Some pizzaioli source volcanic brick from Mount Vesuvius, flying over oven-builders from Naples to structure them. Paulie, on the other hand, decided against it, instead doing the legwork himself. Whatever route you choose, it's critical to consider what kind of oven will produce the type of pizza you want.
3. Know the space you need for your oven.
The easiest way to open a pizzera? Find yourself an existing pizzeria with the proper oven already installed. But if that's not in the cards, be ready to alter the space substantially. Mathieu Palombino of New York's Motorino opened his first restaurant in what had previously been a copy shop, and had to do significant work before installing his 8,000-lb oven. "We actually had a metal structure installed from the basement floor, straight up through the basement ceiling, then filled in with concrete -- it looks like the oven's resting on the floor, but it's actually supported by that concrete structure." You can't set a few tons of stone just anywhere.
4. Know your ingredients.
Given its simplicity, a pizza can only be as good as the quality of its ingredients. Flour, water, salt, yeast, tomatoes and mozzarella -- it's essential that each is of the highest quality. Are you sourcing "00" flour from Italy or have you found a good domestic source? The mozzarella -- is it domestic or imported? Or maybe you're making your own? If you're topping your pizzas with sausage or sopressata, where are you getting those from? Consider every piece of your pie, and, of course, how much it will cost to keep that ingredient coming in the door.
5. Know your staff.
"Every pizza made at Motorino comes back to my vision of how a pizza should be made," Palombino told us. "It's my method, from start to finish." But Palombino now operates two pizzerias, each open long hours, so he can't make every pizza himself; indeed, all but the most obsessive pizzaioli eventally hand the paddle over to someone else -- even if just for a few pizzas a night.
How do you ensure this consistency? "I'm teaching all the time," says Palombino. He hired staff from all sorts of occupations -- construction workers, line cooks, front-of-house people -- because he insisted on starting them from scratch. "They had to throw out everything they know. This was a new chapter. A new day."