Pizza operators are finding that buying custom-made frozen doughs is an attractive option to making their own.

According to Tom Lehman, director of bakery assistance at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kan., frozen dough provides new operations a means to start quickly and experienced operators a highly consistent product. It also minimizes capital investment by eliminating the need for expensive dough prep equipment.

"In this industry we've got a lot of what I affectionately call 'newbies' coming in," Lehmann said. "They sense a lot of what goes into making scratch dough is black magic and voodoo, and they think there's got to be a better way. So they choose frozen dough because all the work is taken out of it."

Vic Cassano Jr., chairman and CEO of 30-unit Cassano's Pizza King in Dayton, Ohio, views such operators as more sensible than scared.

"We'd been making dough for 50 years for ourselves, so we had the equipment and the expertise to do it for others," said Cassano, whose company makes custom frozen dough for other operators. "We decided to convert that into a profit center, and it's worked out well."

Cassano isn't certain the growth of his manufacturing business proves frozen dough use is increasing overall. But Jim Storner, national sales manager at Nation Pizza Products in Schaumburg, Ill., believes the pendulum is swinging away from fresh dough.

"There will always be room for fresh dough, but with the labor shortage and all the consistency problems, people are moving over," said Storner. The quality of frozen and parbaked dough products has come a long way in the last five years, and that such cold, hard evidence is winning many converts to frozen dough.

Although fresh dough proponents may argue that--despite its improvement -- frozen dough is still inferior to fresh, few can argue that frozen dough is operationally simpler. Having only to thaw, proof and bake also increases batch-to-batch uniformity.

"There's no question you gain the consistency with frozen dough," said Sean Brauser, owner of Romeo's Pizza in Medina, Ohio. His dough is manufactured by Dough-Go's in Cleveland, Ohio. "We've been fighting some bubbling problems with our fresh dough right now, but the frozen browns up really nicely every time."

Bill Weekley, technical service manager for LeSaffre Yeast Corp., agreed that most anyone can handle frozen dough, but he warned it isn't foolproof. If the dough isn't handled properly in the store, Weekley said, many of the same inconsistencies found in fresh dough will reappear.

"It's still susceptible to temperature changes, like any dough, so it has to be proofed correctly or you're going to have problems," he said. "You can't just abuse it."

What about the flavor?

When asked whether he preferred fresh or frozen dough, Weekley said "there's no question that the flavor profile of frozen isn't up to fresh." But Brauser and Cassano say they can't tell the difference between their fresh and frozen products.

Lehmann said there's no denying the improvements in the performance and flavor of frozen pizza doughs; however, he said he watched the industry go through the fresh-to-frozen shift before, and believes many of the very operators entering the business using frozen dough will someday give fresh a chance.

"Once their business is established and viable, I think we'll see some of these folks move into scratch," Lehmann said. "My guess is that in the next two or three years, we'll see that start to happen again."

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