Panning for pizzeria profits

April 21, 2008
Employees at an Oklahoma Pizza Hut discovered just how important pizza pans are to an operation. When the workers opened the store earlier this month, they discovered that every pan had disappeared.
While they scrambled to borrow pans from other area Pizza Hut restaurants, police visited a local scrap metal shop where they discovered the missing dishes. As it turned out, an employee of the restaurant had stolen the pans and sold them for $17.
While the incident serves to demonstrate how important pans are to an operation, they just don't get any respect, said John Crow, president of Spokane, Wash.-based pan maker Lloyd Industries.
"I've been doing this since 1989 and we've had probably 300 to 400 of what we call ‘pan emergencies,' when someone is three or four days from opening the restaurant and they realize the have no pans," Crow said. "To me, that's incredible. They have to get permits months before they start building, order an oven and other equipment, but they forget about the pans."
Eventually, Crow figured out why that happens. Pans are considered "smallwares," he said, and as such aren't top-of-mind for operators.
"Smallwares can be considered anything from napkin holders to cups and saucers," Crow said. "What I say is that our competition makes smallwares, but we make precision-engineered baking platforms."
Different styles abound
Although operators don't spend much time thinking about pans, the type of pans they use can have a significant impact on both the pizza and the bottom line, Crow said. There are as many different types of pans as there are types of pizzas.
Such things as perforations, pan coatings, the material the pan is made of and the thickness of the metal can effect the baking time, crust quality and the durability of the pan itself, Crow said.  
"Relatively speaking, the more airflow you get to the crust the better, but too much airflow causes problems, too," he said. "The optimum situation is to get the toppings and the crust to be done at the same time."
On the other hand, solid-bottom, unperforated pans are best for moist dough and for pizzas requiring oil in the pan to achieve a fried-crust characteristic.
The amount of metal between the pizza and the heat source also can have a major impact on how long it takes to fully cook a pizza. A thick pan means less heat is reaching the pizza, so a longer-baking pizza requires a thinner and/or a more porous pan.
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Aluminum is by far the most common material used to make pans. Other pan materials include steel and specialized metal alloys.
Pans can be various shapes, including round, square or rectangular, and can be tailored to exact dimensions and shapes. The sides of the pan may be straight or angled, may have various types of rims or no rim at all.
"Of all the things in the restaurant, this is the final thing that touches a pizza," Crow said.
"If the pan isn't done right the pizza won't be done right."
Price versus quality
Brett Corrieri, corporate chef at Mafioza's, a 320-seat pizzeria and Italian restaurant in Nashville doesn't believe in skimping on cost when it comes to buying pizza pans, he said.
"You have to pony up and pay for the ones that are a bit heavier and a bit more expensive," he said. "Durability is a major issue. You end up paying one way or another."
In fact, that's a point Crow frequently finds himself making with operators, he said.
"You're selling a pizza for $19.95, why wouldn't you be willing to pay $19.95 for a pan that would make your pizza better," he said. "It's the difference between something that is the lowest price and something that works the best and makes your product better."
And when it comes to cost, Crow reserves a special disdain for pizza screens.
"There is no good reason other than cost to use a screen," he said. "They bend easily, they build up carbon, they're hard to clean and they only last six to eight months. Our pans last forever."

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