Building a Pizzeria: Slinging Pies, Living the Dream, and Running a Small Business


[Photograph: Caleb Schiff]

"Keep your eye on the prize." - Paulie Gee

Well, I must again thank Paulie for his advice because I kept my vision focused, and with much support, Pizzicletta officially opened its doors on July 5th. I've turned the dream into reality and it's progressing very well: the rhythm of dough rising occurs everyday (except Monday); I'm learning the intricacies of my oven; the house is packed most nights and my financial predictions, as well as the response from my customers, have far exceeded my expectations. Finally, my body is adapting to the long hours and hard work. It's been a crazy month and a half! I know I have many loyal followers here on Slice, and I've been wanting to get you an update. Today (Monday, the 15th) is my day off so here it goes.


Making pizza on a commercial scale is much different than the backyard pizza party. My peel took a beating.

I could go on forever about the daily routine, missteps, and achievements, but I'm now a small business owner, which, as many of you could attest to, means my spare time is pretty much nonexistent. So, I had to focus on a few topics:

Keeping it Simple4>

As expected, running a successful pizzeria is not just about making some dough and slinging pies. The lists of things to do as a small business owner is long, but as I mentioned in previous posts, I set out with an ethos of simplicity. I believed that by doing so I would be able to successfully manage a small business, keep if fun, make the focus on the food, and keep my overhead low. From a lifestyle point of view, I hoped it would help me enjoy (and retain) my life outside the pizzeria. I'm happy to report that this model is, for the most part, working very well. In fact, if there is one piece of advice I'd give to an aspiring restaurant owner it would be: Keep it simple. I've been doing about 95% of the prep and cooking and all of the hiring, bookkeeping, ordering, wood-chopping, and fire-extinguishing. I'm busy from 11 until 5 doing these tasks and then, at 5 PM, all that work is done and I get to make pizza. It's turning into my favorite time of the day.


Besides myself, my Hobart and the oven are the work horses of Pizzicletta.

Working Hard and Developing a Rhythm

Making this very drastic career change required me to reflect a bit more on how I got here. Yes, it all started with a bike ride through Italy, but there were some other key moments that I have been recalling. Throughout my life I've always been a hard worker, whether that work was for a job, school, or running. I like to end my days feeling like I made some accomplishments and, well, rather exhausted. I'm not sure where all this comes from, but I assume its got a similar source as the OCD tendencies that I display in my dough making, my desire to run up and down the Grand Canyon, or to travel all of Italy by bike. But three years ago, when I was still in a research position at NAU, I was sitting at my desk and had this very memorable feeling: I no longer want to work hard at this job. It was the first time I'd felt so in my life. It was scary, frustrating, and a real turning point.


Did I mention I have sparkling water on tap, and it's free?

Flash forward to today: I've been working 13-14 hour days for the last 3 months, during which there has never been a dull moment. My commitment to working as hard as necessary to make this place a success is stronger than ever, and it feels great. However, I do realize that this schedule is not sustainable for a long-term business. Burnout happens. My body reminds me every night when I lay in my bed with each of the tendons in my calf and forearm throbbing. So, I am slowly training my staff to do more of the prep: making the fennel sausage; using the slicer and the Hobart; and rolling out dough. It's mostly simple stuff, but knowing that I can depend on a second set of hands to do so will allow me to sleep in a little more and arrive a bit later each day. I've yet to hand the peel over to any staff member. Call me selfish, but it's what I love to do most and it helps ensure quality. I know I will eventually pass the peel, but not until I have full confidence in my staff.

Quality Over Quantity

If you've been following along on Twitter or Facebook than you've caught some of the posts that I have often been running out of dough, especially on weekend nights. Many comments from the posts advise me to "make more dough" and I've had some folks say that maybe I'm pulling some "marketing scheme." So, since I have the pedestal to talk from, I wanted to expand on this topic, especially because it gets to the roots of my love for pizza and Pizzicletta. I make a limited amount of dough because the quality of each pizza is as, or more, important then the quantity that I am selling. Increasing the amount of dough I make does not simply require me to double the flour, water, salt, and yeast. It takes more than that. Good dough takes time and oversight. One comment my staff and customers hear me say often is that, "I own the business and pay the rent, but the dough is the boss."


I run a special pizza every night. This one was speck, egg, wood-roasted onion, mozzarella, and sea salt.

Making good neapolitan pizza dough does requires a lot of oversight and attention to detail. For example, my space is not air conditioned so I'm constantly changing the length of time the dough is in its cold-ferment stage based on the ambient air temperature to ensure that the dough is at peak fermentation when I'm ready to bake. This is a tight-rope-balancing act and I'll admit that sometimes I get it wrong, and I'm baking dough that is under-ripe and could have used more time. Other times, I rip pies when forming the disks because the dough is over-ripe. These changes, amongst others, create subtleties in the final pizza that the perfectionist in me picks up on instantly. I'm in this to make great pizza, not to be a millionaire. So, I believe it's best for me, and true to my goal of making the best pizza possible, to place quality first, rather than trying to make a little more money on higher quantity.

Well, its back to quickbooks and ordering for me. I'll do my best to get a follow-up post in the next few months. In the meantime, happy pizza-eating to all you Slice'rs!