David Miller probably didn't think his humble Peproni Roll was all that exciting when he put it on the menu at DoubleDave's Pizzaworks in 1984. All it took to make it was dough, cheese and pepperoni.
Almost 20 years later, that exercise in cross-utilization is the best-selling appetizer on DD's menu, and a money-maker for the 40-unit chain. It just goes to show what can happen when an operator views some common ingredients in a new light.
"There's no question it has created a unique niche for us," said Chuck Thorp, chief executive officer at the Austin, Texas-based chain. Making the rolls is simple, but labor intense, he added. "I don't want to brag too much about them though, because others will want to have it."
Think about it: dough, cheese and pepperoni. What about substituting sausage, Canadian bacon, marinated chicken or vegetables in the same item? Got a lamb topping for your pizza? What's the chance you could roll it up with feta and onions and make a Greek pizza roll?
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Chung's Gourmet Foods, a Houston-based Chinese foods manufacturer, has seen the possibilities of cross-utilization to broaden its appetizer line. Using the same elements required to produce its handmade egg rolls, the company is developing a 3.5-inch-long pizza roll.
"The only real difference from our egg roll is we're using sausage, pepperoni, cheese and pizza sauce inside a wrapper that's been fried," said Michele Ybarra, Chung's product formulator. "We're always looking at products that utilize our core competencies and also provide a snack opportunity."
There really isn't a limit to what a clever operator can do with the ingredients on hand, said Liz Hertz of Burke Corp.
"Appetizers are a big opportunity to increase sales profitability because so many ingredients operators could use are already in place," said Hertz, marketing manager for the Nevada, Iowa, toppings manufacturer.
Though unconventional, Hertz suggested operators who have a taco pizza on the menu consider serving nachos for appetizers. Why not? The spiced meat and garnishes are already in-house. An Italian restaurant she once visited in Des Moines served Italian nachos.
"They used pita bread cut into triangles and they layered them with an Alfredo sauce, sausage and mozzarella cheese. It was delicious!"
The trick to making an appetizer using familiar ingredients is to ensure it doesn't look like pizza, Hertz said. Otherwise it appears as more of the same old stuff.
Consider cutting pizza dough into triangles and rolling them tightly for baby crescent rolls. Cut the dough into larger squares for mini-strombolis. (In both cases, seal the ends to resist leakage of the stuffing.) Got a fryer in the house? Consider cooking thinly sheeted dough-based appetizers in hot oil, just like egg rolls and won tons.
Consider jazzing up your breadsticks by adding diced pepperoni, bacon or sausage to the dough. Think of how many pizza companies have profited by adding cinnamon and icing to strips of pizza dough.
Lastly, Hertz said, the quality and production of any pizza-like appetizer or side item can be improved when fully cooked toppings are used.
"They ensure customers get a safe product, and it also can speed up cook times," she said. "It's just another way of simplifying the whole process."