John Daisy's pizzeria is too busy. It's a problem he created when he enlarged Fatty's Pizzeria, his Breckenridge, Colo., restaurant. Daisy knew he needed more capacity than his three deck ovens could provide to feed the mobs of skiers frequenting Fatty's in the high season.

"There was no way we could have (enlarged) this place without doing something about the ovens," said Daisy.

Daisy and others like him know that adding capacity isn't as simple as bringing more deck ovens into the operation. They need ovens that will help them work faster and will fit into a limited amount of floor space. Those ovens also have to cook as well as deck units and at an affordable cost.

Such operators are ready for an oven upgrade, said Richard Dunfield, a sales representative for San Antonio-based Roto-Flex Ovens.

"When a guy is starting to get backed up on busy nights, say an hour to an hour-and-a-half delivery times, then he's a pretty good candidate," said Dunfield. "He's got customers saying to themselves, 'Do I want to wait that long?' "

Roto-Flex ovens feature multiple, circular stone decks spaced vertically on a rotating center axle. Daisy found it produced a crust with the hearth-baked taste he desired, and cooked his pizzas with the speed and ease typically credited to conveyor ovens.

Jim Ferrell, co-owner of Fat Jimmy's Pizza in Louisville, Ky., stayed with a deck oven when he installed a gas-fired Wood Stone oven in his third restaurant. The performance difference between the deck ovens in his two other operations and the Wood Stone unit, he said, is vast.

"The heat is so intense that the pizzas cook a lot faster," said Ferrell, adding that his one Wood Stone unit more than replaced two deck ovens. "Depending on the toppings, the cook time has gone from 10-15 minutes in our older ovens, to five to seven minutes in the Wood Stone."

As with a traditional deck oven, the pizza maker working the Wood Stone unit must be skilled and attentive, Ferrell said. But in the opinion of Gary Rupp, vice president of sales and marketing for Everett, Wash.-based Lang Manufacturing, that's what makes great pizzas.

"Our ovens require some know-how, but it's hard to beat what you get from them," said Rupp, referring to Lang's electric deck ovens. The units can be stacked three high, and all use what Rupp called an "air curtain" at the door to retard heat loss. "If a guy wants a traditional pizza, this is the right oven for that."

What's it worth to you?

Much as Dunfield said he'd like to sell an oven to every operator who thinks he needs a bigger, faster, better unit, he admits that's not always necessary.

"If you're looking to keep overall costs down, I'd probably start with a deck oven or two," he said. "If you're battling a poor labor pool, you might consider a conveyor. If you're doing a white tablecloth restaurant, I might go with a Wood Stone because it adds that ambiance. But if I'm looking to cook a bunch of pizzas without having to rotate them a bunch of times, I'm definitely going with a Roto-Flex."

Most manufacturers suggest operators visit their test kitchen when they get serious about a particular brand and model.

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