- As you hit the road with your movable pizza feast, these expert tips will position you for success over the (literal) long haul.
- Your oven will be the most important piece of equipment, but don’t underestimate the importance of a kitchen display system (KDS) and credit card processing technology.
By Tracy Morin
They may not shimmer with the same brand-new novelty as they did in the late ’00s, but mobile units are still popular today as a way to start a foodservice business on a smaller budget. “I’ve been working as a consultant for a few pizza restaurants in the Philadelphia area,” reports Stefano Velia, owner of the blog Pala Pizza, “and the majority of new clients are surprisingly going the mobile route.”
Of course, mobile operations offer a unique set of challenges. But if you’re looking to create your own version of the movable feast, some basics will help you get started off right—and help position you for success over the (literal) long haul.
The most basic piece of equipment for a mobile pizzeria is, of course, the oven. “The amazing thing now is that mobile pizzerias are no longer confined to a food truck with a single wood-fired oven in the back,” Velia says. “With the increase in portable pizza ovens, a few of my clients are packing up multiple ovens and then setting up in an outdoor space. This enables a lot more pizzas to be made, and in a shorter time—addressing what is often one of the biggest constraints of mobile pizzerias.”
Velia currently owns 13 portable pizza ovens that he has used to test and review for his blog, then to help train his clients. He’s a fan of the Gozney and Ooni brands in this category, but you may choose to go with a more traditional mobile setup. Regardless, since this will be your No. 1 piece of equipment, take your time to research and, if possible, try out the oven for yourself before taking the plunge.
Aside from the oven, you’ll need a few basic kitchen components to pull off a fabulous mobile menu. Mark Moeller, national restaurant consultant and owner of The Recipe of Success in Westport, Connecticut, recommends that owners obtain refrigeration, including a pizza prep table; a hand sink and three-compartment sink area; a hood; and a generator. “Access to a commercial kitchen for the preparation of dough and all ingredients that are needed for the day’s menu are also required,” he adds.
Velia, for example, likes to have a prep table with plenty of flour on hand and ample room to stretch and prep dough, plus a separate table for toppings. “You absolutely need organized toppings in order to be efficient, so you will want a few topping/condiment stations, depending on how intricate your menu is,” he says. “And don’t forget your tools: an oven brush to clean the stone between bakes, multiple pizza peels—I recommend having one for each oven, plus two additional spares—and plenty of fuel, either propane or wood, depending on your pizza oven.”
“With the increase in portable pizza ovens, a few of my clients are packing up multiple ovens and then setting up in an outdoor space. This enables a lot more pizzas to be made, and in a shorter time.”
— Stefano Velia, Pala Pizza
Intangibles and Extras
Mobile units may require extra permits and licensing, in addition to those applicable to all foodservice businesses. Moeller points out that mobile owners will need to tackle documentation including a business license, food permit, sales and use, Employer Identification Number (EIN), and employee health certification such as ServSafe. “Then you’ll need a website, social media accounts and a marketing plan or strategy,” Moeller adds. “The ability to process online orders would also be helpful, while signage and menus (including menu boards) will facilitate the ordering process and increase speed of service.”
In addition, Velia notes that extra supplies should include plenty of pizza boxes, napkins, utensils and a few drink choices for customers. “Also, payment can be the biggest hurdle for people new to operating a mobile business,” he says. “My clients typically require a lot of training in the POS area.”
Finally, Bob Vergidis, chief visionary officer for pointofsale.cloud in Cincinnati, notes that owners often overlook getting a kitchen display system (KDS). “Operators think of mobile kitchens as not needing the same level of sophistication when it comes to food production, but in a mobile kitchen, that’s even more important, since space is limited,” he notes. “A KDS can prioritize orders and synchronize the food making process, so food comes out hot and on time. It also allows for the mobile pizzeria to keep things organized and maintain flow and communication between the staff.”
Payment and Tech
As Velia alludes to, payment processing is an obvious must for any business, but the nature of mobile makes things a little different. “A point of sale with credit card processing is vital,” Moeller stresses. “You also need WiFi or access to cellular service to process credit cards and connect with social media-generated posts and questions.”
Vergidis believes that technology is another easily forgotten facet among mobile owners, but it should remain at the forefront. “In today’s business environment, technology can mean the difference between an OK day and a great day,” he says. “Frequently, operators don’t think about dedicated Internet connectivity. There are other options, such as using your phone as an ad-hoc hot spot, but a dedicated mobile connection makes things so much easier. The internet is the lifeblood of any restaurant, especially a mobile one.”
After all, the internet at your mobile operation will be used for online ordering, third-party delivery services and for processing payments. Vergidis notes that, with 5G now available in most cities, it’s also affordable, with many plans at less than $100 a month and featuring very fast speeds that allow mobile pizzerias to set up shop anywhere.
“A 5G wireless router is a must-have; it can create an instant network that links all of your devices together,” Vergidis says. “Tablets make great lightweight terminals and can be used to process orders, track inventory and communicate with customers—and the battery life in most of them will easily last for a whole day. Finally, mobile contactless payment devices that connect over WiFi bring convenience to customers and make processing orders faster, which can allow for more throughput during peak revenue periods.” When you’re working on the go, tech is definitely your friend—use it wisely!
Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor and the editor of PizzaVegan.com.