Choosing the Perfect Equipment for Your Next Pizzeria

Your oven, pizza station, divider, rounder and mixer are key to running your pizzeria, so do your homework before you buy.

  • Your pizzeria’s equipment should be sturdy enough to last for years while suitable to your unique company and customer profile.
  • The pizza station is where you’ll spend the majority of your time, so you want it to be just as you like it.

By Billy Manzo Jr.

Over the past year or so, we have talked in this column about all kinds of things that are crucial to your business, from proper bathroom maintenance to location to marketing. This month, we’re going to focus on something more basic to the pizzeria owner: the machinery that makes your pizzeria a pizzeria and separates it from other restaurants.

The equipment you choose not only has to weather the day-to-day stresses of your business, but it also must cater to your unique company and customer profile. When I invest in a piece of equipment, I keep five things in mind:

  • 1. Usage: How am I going to use this thing? What do I expect of it? What kind of pizza do I want it to make?
  • 2. Volume: How many pizzas do I expect to make each day? Will it be up to the job?
  • 3. Electrical requirements: What is my business capable of handling in terms of electricity? You don’t want to buy the Ferrari of mixers if you don’t have the juice to handle a Ferrari.
  • 4. Space requirements: What’s the size of my restaurant? What can I reasonably fit in the space?
  • 5. Service: How quickly can someone get here when needed?

With these questions in mind, here are four main pieces of equipment that are vital for pizza restaurants:

 

The Pizza Oven

Ah, the queen of the pizzeria! There are generally three types of ovens available to us: gas, electric and wood-burning. But before we step into any commercial appliance warehouse or browse products online, we must first determine what kind of pizza we’re going to make, because that will help us decide what oven to choose.

Gas ovens are popular, but they don’t go over 550°F. That could be a deal breaker if you offer many styles of pizza. Wood’s cool, but can you get enough of it regularly to sustain your business? (Backyard wood won’t cut it.) Electric ovens are the most versatile, mostly because they can get very hot. With electric, you can do Chicago, Neapolitan, Detroit—any style of pizza. With the other two, you’re pigeonholed. Electric is convenient and safer and provides a cleaner burn. Plus, there’s the matter of cost. When I switched from gas to electric, I saved an average of more than $400 a month!

 

The Pizza Station

This is where you’re going to spend the majority of your time, so you want it to be just as you like it—with durable cutting boards and countertops where you can assemble pizzas and sandwiches, as well as refrigerated compartments for storing ingredients. My advice: If you’re going to do hand-stretched dough, you should take advantage of the items that come with either a soapstone, granite or marble countertop—they’re tough and stain-resistant, and if you place a hot pan on them, they won’t scorch. Some of the best pizza stations come out of Italy and are very efficient, allowing you to hold the refrigerated dough in the underneath cabinetry. This way, you don’t have to keep your dough in the basement and whack your head on the ceiling while running up and down the stairs—you guys in New York, Providence and Boston know what I’m talking about.

Related: How beer and wine sales could save your pizzeria in 2023

And here’s a pizza station hack: You know that flour utterly annihilates the condenser. You go through a condenser every three years with the buildup of flour! I came up with a little trick years ago that changed my life. Go to Home Depot or an AC/heating company and pick up one of those blue and white (or green and white, depending on the thickness) filters—you know, the kind you used to see in old AC window units as a kid. I buy a roll of that stuff and keep it in the basement of my restaurant. I cut a little piece the size of the condenser—10” by 10” or 8” by 8”—and put it in the front of the condenser. When it gets full of flour, I throw it away and cut another little tiny piece. Works like a charm.

Courtesy AM Manufacturing

Dividers and rounders: For serious pizza volume, a dough divider and rounder can optimize the process of making a dough ball and save a lot of time and labor costs. There are some really good ones out there, so choose one that meets your needs. If you’re not sure your volume warrants a major investment in a divider and rounder, consider the countertop-size and manual models.

The dough mixer: This is the piece of equipment I get most excited about. Mixers are special pieces of equipment, different from standard mixers because they’re heavy-duty and must be able to handle dense product. Many of you use a Hobart mixer and, depending on your electrical capabilities, you probably use a three-phase so you have enough juice to run the ball. A little science: The rotation of the mixer—the dough hook against the bowl—creates friction, meaning the temperature of your dough will go up. Hobarts work the gluten web twice as much, twice as fast, and more aggressively than, say, Italian mixers, which handle the dough more sensitively, pulling it away from the bowl. I’m partial to Italian spiral or double-arm mixers, and probably the best I’ve ever used is a Sottoriva. Their mixers are unbelievable: They weigh two to two-and-a-half times more than most mixers I’ve seen. But whatever brand you select, it’s important to get a heavy, cast-iron-based mixer so it can handle the torque when you’re mixing 60, 80 or 100 pounds of flour. No nuts or belts should get loose. No ribbon should have to be changed. You want to get 30 to 40 years out of your mixer—in fact, you want to put that mixer in your will. That’s how long it should last. No joke.

Your oven, pizza station, divider and rounder, and mixer are what make you you. They’re key to running your business, so do your homework before you buy. And check, double-check and triple-check the service plan! Make sure there is an authorized service person within one hour of your business, because when your mixer breaks on Friday night, you want somebody there within 12 to 24 hours so you’re not mixing 50 pounds of flour by hand!  

Billy Manzo Jr. is a veteran restaurant operator and the owner/chef of Federal Hill Pizza in Warren, Rhode Island.