Equipment choices are key to an efficient kitchen
Your kitchen is your money-making zone. It needs to be highly efficient and functional for you to be profitable.
No kitchen is the same and deciding not only the best equipment but the most appropriate equipment for your intended outcome and footprint is paramount to your success. Your equipment is probably the first thing you thought about when you started thinking about what it would take to open a shop.
I’m sure you were surprised by how hard certain items were to get and felt the letdown of realizing a piece of equipment wouldn’t fit or wasn’t what you thought it would be. Making smart decisions early on helps avoid the financial peril of choosing the wrong tools for the job.
The most apparent and most considerable item is your oven. You might have a perfect oven in mind, but you need to consider some things before purchasing. Most importantly, will this oven crank out enough pizzas for you to hit your numbers? Better question. What’s your ideal catering order? Can this oven pull that off? I often see people who want to buy a small oven because that’s all they can afford or because they want to do a real niche style of pizza. The problem occurs when this oven can only do 12 pizzas an hour, and when the rush is over, you’ve barely made enough money to pay utilities, let alone rent.
Some ovens cannot sustain a full restaurant, let alone a catering order. People in this predicament would need to get multiple of that pizza oven, but then their kitchen might not have enough space. They haven’t thought out the repercussions of their choices. So choose an oven that can pump out enough product for you to pay your bills, or better yet, thrive, or it won’t matter how big your walk-in is, how robust your beer list is, how centrally located you are. You will fail. The next thing to consider is the learning curve. Is your oven super hard to use? Any oven can be learned and used effectively, but if you don’t know how to use it, and you’re planning on hiring a bunch of high school kids with little to no experience, then the top-of-the-line Italian import might not be the best idea.
It’s possible to learn it, develop your skills, become great and teach others. However, if you’re looking to buy an artisanal oven and hand it off to someone to say, “Figure it out,” that is a highly naive move. Along with the oven, think maintenance. You have to maintain it and take care of it. Different ovens require different levels of maintenance. Are you prepared to take that workload of more complicated to-clean ovens? Some ovens have windows that need to be cleaned often. Some have tons of tiny little parts where something goes wrong; everything will fall apart.
I suggest you have a heart to heart with yourself and answer: Do you want a Ferrari or a tank? The next big decision is variability. Are you looking to do one exact style of pizza, or pan, Napoletana, classic American? If you only have space for one oven, you need to get an oven with variable ability. Electrics are very good at this. Electrics have bottom and top heat with decks that can vary in style.
Before choosing wood, coal, gas or electric, be in the know. I highly advise working in a pizzeria that uses the style you are looking to purchase first.
There’s the classic American-style hook mixer with different parts you’ve seen in many American pizzerias. And that is a perfectly viable option. Before jumping in on them, check out the planetary mixers. Planetary mixers don’t rip the gluten net as much because the hook spins one way while the bowl spins the other. I’m a big fan of these styles of mixers because they’re highly efficient, and they create an excellent end product.
A vertical chopping mixer or VCM is a fantastic tool to have in your kitchen. Just not for pizza making. A vertical chopping mixer cuts at your pizza dough and destroys your gluten net. But if you’re using a pizza press or a dough with little to no air, it’s a viable option. It’s just not going to be the most culinary astute choice.
I have vertical chopping mixers to make all my salad dressings and cut our blocks of cheese. It’s an invaluable piece of equipment in our kitchen. And I highly advise getting one if you plan to make a lot of items from scratch.
A great slicer has a solid motor and a company with a good reputation. The classic stand-up Italian slicers are simply the best for slicing thin prosciutto and meats, but the American ones, especially those with automatic handles, work great for high capacity. Bear in mind slicers are a real dangerous piece of equipment, and no one under 18 should be using them or anyone without proper training.
And depending on the OSHA laws of your state, you might need to put a sticker on your equipment items that say this item must only be operated by 18 and over.
Additionally, protect your mixer when it’s not in use. Make sure the blades are not in a position where they could cut someone. It is not worth the hospital bill over laziness.
Stovetop Griddle and Oven Combo
You’re going to need a stovetop, more likely than not. You can get a basic stovetop that heats up some water to cook off some pasta, and you’re set. Maybe a grill top if you’re making breakfast or sandwich items. Potentially it has an oven under it so you can cook meatballs or bread at a separate temperature than your pizza oven.
This is all in the puzzle matching of your kitchen. Knowing your menu first, and what you want to cross utilize can help you limit the number of equipment items you have.
A good fryer is worth its weight in crispy gold because it can do heavy capacity and not lose temp will keep your kitchen running more efficiently with lower ticket times, which is highly valuable.
If you have many fried items, don’t underestimate the need for two fryers. Even better, the double fryers that can clean into each other will help clean up at the night’s end go more smoothly. And yes, you need to clean in your fryer oil at night, or else you’re a dirty, dirty pirate restaurant.
I have learned my lesson that ice machines are a massive pain in the butt. They break when you need them most, and they’re hard to maintain. I have switched to using a rental program on these where if the ice ever doesn’t create, it’s on them to replace the ice for me, or they will reimburse me, which incentivizes them to service my ice machine once and sometimes multiple times a month. Big fan of the rental ice machine because it costs about as much as the lease would. As for what ice machine you choose, you want the biggest capacity you can fit in your kitchen that makes the most ice the fastest. Don’t mess around; you don’t want to half-ass the amount of ice you’ll need.
The same thing goes for a dish machine. You do not want your dish machine going down. It is a massive bottleneck, and a bunch of 18-year-olds learning how to use a three-compartment sink when they’re used to a dish machine it’s not something you want to teach on the fly.
I advise you should buy new. I would never buy a used prep table. When it comes to what prep table is suitable for you, know exactly how much space you want and what amount of shelves and bells and whistles you need. And then don’t go cheap because there’s nothing more expensive in the world than cheap refrigeration and cheap lawyers. You always end up paying more in the end.
Your walk-in is a little more straightforward. It just needs a great compressor. You could save money if you have it built in a way where you don’t have the floor on it because that’s unnecessary. A tall walk-in takes more electricity to operate. But short walk-ins have fewer shelves. And I’ve learned that I like a tall walk-in to get a few extra shelves to have more prep staying in location; also, really good shelves that could be taken out and cleaned. The plastic ones I find are preferable to the metal ones that are locked in place forever.
You might need or want a pasta extruder, hot pizza box cabinet, secondary convection oven, or any number of other equipment items. The ones listed above will get you off the ground just fine until you decide to add the bells and whistles.
No matter what you decide for equipment, do not take the decision lightly. I highly advise going to Pizza Expo to see the items in person. Break out your measuring tape to know for a fact how it will fit in your restaurant. Also, will it need a hood and or fit under the one you have?
Talk to the manufacturer who created it and lives with that product every day, shake their hand, know their name, know who services and maintains this item in your area. Talk to other operators using that same oven and know what you’re getting yourself into.
It’s fascinating to me the number of people who don’t go to Pizza Expo and are surprised at what they don’t know. In 20 minutes of talking to an equipment rep, you could save yourself upwards of $50,000 over the next few years in screw-ups, wrong purchases and lost profit. Attending a trade show, namely Pizza Expo, is the most straightforward ROI in our industry.
So cross utilize, think ahead, do your research from the manufacturer and people using the product, and know why you do what you do for when you do it to make the most successful pizza restaurant possible. And if you’re already in the game, evaluate everything you have because there’s probably something better. There always is.