Flatbread sales heat up — are they right for you?
In my region, Northern Illinois, Flatbread pizzas are becoming popular. This is a trend that is worth investigating for every pizzeria owner. Some have perfected it already, but I think many of us are missing out on this remarkably versatile menu item. Most operations already carry all the ingredients to make a great flatbread, so why not?
A flatbread can be used in so many ways. It can be an appetizer before a customer’s pasta dinner, a quick lunch or a dinner for that five-year-old who doesn’t want to share. The sky is the limit.
Flatbread by definition is a very thin and flat, leavened or not, almost cracker-thin bread. Historically, it has been associated as a side most often served with soup, salads and cheeses. Flatbread pizzas, as we are learning, can be much more. Flatbread pizzas are popping up in all sorts of restaurants –– high end, fast food and at your competition.
My wife, Stacy, started me on this quest. I was stubborn and did not want to break from tradition, but she convinced me to give it a try. The convincing probably had a lot to do with Stacy telling me how much she liked flatbreads, and if she can’t get them at our restaurant she would have to get them somewhere else. Funny as it may sound, she was very convincing.
Our decision to experiment started by trying other flatbreads in our region. We tried at least 10 flatbread pizzas from everyplace that we could think of. We were finding a very similar pattern — you can get the same flatbread from several different places because they were using the same frozen product from the same distributor. There was not much taste and we thought we could create something better.
Enter my brother, Eric Weavel, who has been our kitchen manager for more than 17 years. Eric has this knack for experimenting things into perfection. So Eric and I worked on recipes for a flatbread dough. We did a lot of internet research into what a flatbread is and why would you serve a flatbread pizza. We started making several different recipes, with my wife Stacy as the taste tester. We probably struck out with her a dozen times.
Eventually, we came to an easy solution: we have great dough, so why don’t we use our dough — with modifications — as the way of creating a great flatbread. We used our own dough and brought it to our flatbread pizza expert and my wife absolutely loved it.
We take our dough and sheet it through a dough roller on the lowest setting. Then we use a dough docker and roll out the dough to push as much air out of it as possible. Then we cut it into a rectangle. We use a sprinkle of oregano and Romano cheese to give it a different taste. The most important modification is that we freeze our flatbread for at least 24 hours. This will slow down the yeast process and keep the cracker-thin texture.
We make our flatbreads to order using whatever toppings people want. I recommend offering flatbreads with one or two toppings each because it is a very thin crust. I use extra virgin olive oil around the edges to help keep the crispiness of the crust. We sauce the flatbread pizzas with our pizza sauce. It is cooked at 500 F for about five minutes.
We introduced our Flatbread Pizzas at the beginning of the summer. It took a while for them to catch on. But we have had some fantastic results from it. It was our intent to introduce them as an appetizer, but we are finding that people are enjoying them as a small meal also. It has also become a lunchtime favorite because of the quick cook time. I believe that the flatbread pizzas will continue to be a trend — a trend that could add extra dollars to any average bill.
So far, our best selling flatbread pizzas are a mushroom and green olive, and a spinach and garlic. My food cost for most of our flatbread pizza is just under 25 percent. We are currently charging $4.50 per flatbread, which makes it very attractive to parents with kids who want their own pizza. On a solid week we sell about 20 flatbread pizzas. With a low food cost and delicious taste we would love to sell a lot more.
When marketing flatbreads to customers, you may need to educate customers on what a flatbread pizza happens to be. In my area, most customers had never heard of flatbread pizza. We used social media and posted pictures of our flatbreads on it. We received a lot of questions as to what it was. We also are using certain Friday nights to give out free samples. People love free samples, and from those free samples word of mouth marketing is generated.
Brian’s Flatbread Pizza Recipe
1 small dough ball
2 ounces Mozzarella Cheese
½ teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon Romano cheese
½ teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons pizza sauce
Construct the flatbread as you would a normal pizza and then bake until golden brown and ready to serve.
Brian Weavel owns Anna’s Pizza & Pasta in Winnebago, Illinois. He won Pizza Today’s contest to serve as guest editor for the September 2014 issue.