A great review from a food critic is typically a blessing for the pizzeria owner whose business soars following the report. But such good press went nearly for naught when Sid's Pizza in Alpharetta, Ga., got a nod of praise from a local paper. As business boomed after the story, owner Stan Kurnett's oven struggled to match the pace of customer demand.
"The oven we had was breaking down constantly, and we knew we needed to take the plunge and get something better," Kurnett said. "We wanted to do as many pizzas a day as Domino's and Papa John's, so we knew we didn't want a deck oven. But we still wanted the bake you get from that."
Kurnett replaced his old oven with a Roto-Flex, an oven whose four stone decks rotate on a center spindle for even baking. The immediate impact it had on throughput and production astonished him, and as his business has grown, the oven has met demand every step of the way.
"The fact that it has two separate doors is one of the best parts of the design," Kurnett said. "One guy loads the oven and another guy pulls the pizzas out and cuts them. That makes the kitchen more efficient because no one has to walk in front of another."
Charlie Digristina faced the same number of challenges Kurnett did, and he knew an oven upgrade was necessary. But while a hearth-baked crust was essential to his pizzas, adding more deck ovens wasn't an option because of space constraints in his pizzeria.
"We knew we couldn't have made the change from decks to a Roto-Flex if our quality was going to change," said Digristina, whose 5-unit Charlie's Pizza Plus is located in Utica, N.Y. "But I think it increased the quality because we get so much more of an even bake all the way through, and we still get the hearth bake."
Let sales make the decision
Roto-Flex representative Richard Dunfield said the decision to buy one of his company's ovens isn't easy for operators concerned about the price. But price shouldn't be the deciding factor, he said, if and when business warrants a higher-capacity unit.
"When we say that a Roto-Flex costs $25,000 to $35,000, some say, 'I can't afford, that,'" Dunfield said. "But I tell them that if their business is growing, they can't avoid it because they're turning business away if they can't keep up. And we see that happening all the time."
While adding more deck ovens might be an option for some pizzerias, it's not for most because of the floor space required. Digristina said his Roto-Flex consumes just a bit more space than a single deck oven, but provides far greater capacity.
"It has the same capacity as four deck ovens but doesn't take up nearly the space," he said. "Also, you need someone very experienced to handle a deck oven in a high-volume place like ours. But since a Roto-Flex rotates the pies by itself, it's a hundred times easier to operate."