This New Haven based fast casual pizza concept has built a winning workflow that delivers high quality Neapolitan-inspired pizza in an on-the-go setting. Within 3 minutes, clients receive their customized personal pie, baked at 900ºF in 90 seconds with quality ingredients - an easy, quick turnaround with a result that is both affordable and delicious.
The Achilles Heel of Fast Casual Pizza
Although the fast casual pizza concept is an increasingly popular idea, the success of it depends greatly on the chosen workflow method and tools. When poorly designed, it can confuse customers, create bottlenecks, and/or deliver a subpar or inconsistent product. Many pizzerias have bet on poor designs that led to their demise. To understand what makes for a great or poor design, let's take a look at Red Tömado in New Haven as a case study.
Red Tömado Workflow Overview
Entrepreneur Dominick Mirabile designed the movement of clientele to follow the pizza-making process in an organic and comfortable manner. When guests first step through the door, they are greeted warmly by the employee responsible for pizza saucing. A fresh dough ball is stretched before their eyes in the glass dough room directly adjacent to the counter and passed to the saucing section. The guest is introduced to the concept and asked to choose their sauce from the list on the menu above the counter. Sauces range from vodka sauce, traditional San Marzano tomato sauce, pesto, or bianca (sauceless).
After saucing, the pizza is passed to the right for topping. Guests can choose from a wide range of toppings and cheeses on view from behind the glass counter, including shredded mozzarella, imported Italian bufala mozzarella, vegetables and imported salami and sausages. After topping, the pizza is passed to the right into the hands of the oven operator.
The oven operator slides the pizza onto the floor of the rotating Italian pizza oven. The oven is kept at a constant 900ºF temperature via a single gas burner, with some additional wood for ambiance and flavor. The oven is set at a comfortable rotating speed to bake evenly on all sides of the pizza according to the specific dough hydration and size. As pizzas rotate, the operator scoops the pizzas back out when the proper blistering and cooking occurs on the crust. The pizza is laid directly into a pizza box and handed to the cashier, where the guest may now purchase a drink along with their freshly made pizza. The entire process takes approximately 3 minutes, from entrance to payment.
This is a smooth, consistent process. The margin of human error has been reduced as much as possible in the pizza-making process, and the specialization of jobs allows each employee to become intimately familiar with their location in the line. At the same time, no location on the line is so difficult that an employee could not be trained within a day or two. Let's analyze the tools and steps that make this possible.
At Red Tömado, the dough production is kept within an enclosed glass space, visible to the clients but segregated from the rest of the line. The dough mixing and stretching occurs in this room, visible with the mixing equipment and imported Caputo flour bags. The temperature and humidity levels are maintained within the room, and the temperature is taken before dough mixing sessions to ensure stability. This ensures a consistent dough throughout the year and throughout all chain locations. Although this is not necessary, it is a nice visual touch to reassure customers that they are receiving quality in-house dough, rather than dough from a third party commissary.
An Italian fork mixer is used to mix the dough, which provides a more airy dough typical of high quality Neapolitan pizza. The benefits of this lie mainly in the flavors created within the dough. A fork mixer oxygenates the dough by mechanically folding it over itself in the bowl, rather than stirring or spinning the dough like a traditional American mixer. This reduces heat in the dough mixing process, which allows more complex flavors to develop in the fermentation process. Clients taste the difference and notice that the quality of the crust and dough is significantly more flavorful than in pizzas made with typical American mixing equipment. This step alone creates a more original product with minimal impact on a concept's fiscal bottom line.
The dough stretching process can be a potential bottleneck in a workflow if not properly addressed. At Red Tömado, there is sufficient room for two employees to stretch dough during high volume rush hours. Employees can also stretch dough and then stack them on peels to work ahead of the rush. The dough stretching process is a repetitive motion that can be learned quickly, so it can fortunately be learned by most in a short amount of time. If additional speed is needed, there are small table-top machines such as the automatic pizza dough roller that can roll dough in seconds. A traditional dough press should be avoided since it heats the dough and causes mechanical stress on its structure, deadening its ability to rise in the oven and killing flavor. It's always preferable to use a dough roller, which lightly pushes the dough through a roller, avoiding the sort of force that hurts the dough quality.
Sauces and Toppings
The saucing station is the first step in customer interaction, located immediately adjacent to the dough production station. Clients are greeted by the employee and asked to choose their sauce from a list including home-made tomato sauce, basil pesto, alfredo, vodka sauce and more. Home-made tomato sauce is the base option, with the specialty sauces priced at a $1 charge. San Marzano tomatoes are sourced for sauce, reinforcing the use of quality ingredients.
The pizza is then passed to the cheese and toppings station. Shredded mozzarella is offered as the base option, with specialty cheeses such as fresh Bufala mozzarella, ricotta, gorgonzola, feta and blue cheese priced at a small additional charge. A large list of toppings, broken into "Veggies" and "Proteins" priced at a $1 charge per additional topping is available at the whim of the customer.
This station can be managed by one employee at slow hours, or four to five employees at extremely busy locations during peak hours. It is easy to man, fresh ingredients are displayed and the clientele appreciates their ability to choose among ingredients at their whim.
The topped and stretched pizza is finally passed to the oven operator. What separates Red Tömado from other fast casual pizza concepts is their use of an Italian rotating pizza oven. The Pavesi Twister used at Red Tömado is a traditional brick oven, with the technological advantage of a rotating floor. Pizzas cook precisely how an experienced Italian-trained pizzaiolo armed with a Neapolitan style wood fired oven would cook them. The difference with this style of oven is that pizzas are always consistent and the oven operator does not need prior experience in order to bake pizza. The pizzas are only touched when they go in, and when they come back out - the margin for human error has been reduced to nil. When the oven was installed, Red Tömado set their temperature and rotation speed to match the needs of the dough hydration and pie diameter they cook. This creates a repeatable process that is able to be used across stores and is adapted precisely to the needs of the fast casual chain's dough recipe.
The gas burner maintains the temperature at 900ºF, with logs of wood set in front of the burner to provide a warm and natural setting. At the high heat of the oven and with a single flame, the single location gas burner bakes the pizza exactly how a traditional wood fired oven operates, at 90 seconds. The flame is able to curve around the dome, providing the swirling heat pressure that allows this high-heat style oven to operate. The oven operator is handed pizzas from the toppings station, places them in the oven, and pulls them out as they reach the prescribed blistering and crust. The oven is able to operate in front of customers without the need for the large amount of space which traditional ovens require when using long oven peels. Pizzas are dropped directly into pizza boxes, which the cashier picks up and rings up.
This style oven removes the guesswork or experience needed at this stage, and it is a key point in the fast casual pizza assembly line to get right. Pizzaioli are usually the most expensive employee at a pizzeria, since the skill needed to consistently bake pizzas is a difficult one. Electric ovens, impingers, and deck-style ovens are incapable of providing the high swirling top-heat pressure needed to create the artisan or Neapolitan style personal pizzas. A commercial rotating stone oven that follows the principles of a traditional brick oven is an excellent solution.
The finished pizza(s) are in the hands of the cashier, and the customer is ready to pay. At this point, they can buy a soft drink, beer, wine, or even a gelato. The entire process has taken 180 seconds, from start to finish.