You may have participated in endless debates with friends about the relative merits of thin crust, deep dish, Detroit, or New York-style pizzas. If you’re convinced your point of view is right, learn how to start your own pizzeria. Put yourself in charge, and your friends and family will have to admit that your pizza is as close to perfect as it gets.
Your love of pizza is unrivaled. But have you ever made one from scratch? Before diving into the pizza business, it’s a good idea to gain some experience working in a pizza kitchen. There’s a lot more to making great pizza than choosing some toppings and shoving the dressed dough into an oven. Working in a pizza place will expose you to the myriad challenges of running a successful pizza restaurant. Your initial priority should be learning how to make dough for pizza crust.
Dough making is both an art and a science. You may need special kitchen equipment, like a commercial dough mixer, a dough sheeter, a proofer (a special oven where dough rises), and a dough press or roller. The equipment you purchase will depend on the kind of pizza you plan to make.
You can also consider investing in specialized pizza making courses at a culinary school, to learn the nuances of dough making. Pizza dough can be leavened or unleavened. You must mix dough just right to develop the gluten and regulate the chewiness or airiness of the crust.
In addition to learning how to make different kinds of pizza dough, working in a pizza place exposes you to aspects of the pizza business that have nothing to do with preparing food. You’ll see how critical it is to have a cohesive team of employees. Kitchen staff, delivery drivers, counter service employees, dishwashers, bussers, and wait staff all enter the mix.
Once you’ve had an inside look at a pizza operation, you’ll have a better idea of how much you want to take on. The next step is to decide on your style of pizza.
Decide How To Differentiate Yourself
Assess the competition in the area in which you plan to open a shop. Think about what would make you different from other shops. You’ll need to choose what kind of pizza you’ll offer and how you’ll offer it. The main types of pizza restaurants include:
- Full Service: a sit-down restaurant, usually with a bar. It serves pizza, salads, desserts, wings, and possibly other Italian pasta dishes. This kind of restaurant is a destination, where families will bring their kids and business colleagues go to unwind after work. It requires a bigger investment than other types of pizza places. Location, parking, décor, and ambiance are all critical factors for success.
- Delivery: Customers want pizza delivery, but owners of pizza delivery shops take on considerable risks: insurance costs are high, and to make it work, you’ll have to charge for delivery or build the cost into the price of your pizza. Pizza delivery drivers face accidents and dangers from delivering to unfamiliar neighborhoods.
- Carryout: Carryout operations have lower start-up costs because they require less staff, furniture, and equipment. Urban locations might not need parking, and they will rely on foot traffic. Suburban carryout pizzerias require parking for curbside pickups or in-and-out service.
- Take and Bake: These places need more refrigerators and freezers, and fewer, if any, ovens. You put in the work of creating a fantastic crust and creative toppings, and the customer does the cooking at home.
Some successful shops develop a hybrid model, incorporating dine-in, carryout, and delivery options. Location, competition, and start-up costs will influence your decision.
Location is of the utmost importance for any type of pizzeria. Scout locations that don’t have pizza places nearby. Consider foot traffic and parking. You should select a location in which your pizzeria will stand out.
Master Your Menu
The most important factor in differentiating your pizza joint is the pizza itself. Your pizza must taste better, or offer something that other pizza places don’t provide.
Some pizza places make preparing and cooking thin crust style pizzas into a performance. Tossing hand-kneaded dough in the air, and shoving the pizza into blazing hot ovens with long paddles entertains patrons.
Deep dish and stuffed pizzas take longer to cook. Devotees are usually willing to wait for delivery, or socialize over a pitcher of beer and family-style salads until the pies are ready.
Your dough and toppings combine to create a unique experience for your patrons. Decide which types excite your pizza passions the most. Do you want to present the most authentic Neapolitan thin crust pizza with the freshest toppings? Will you make the unusual, oddly shaped New Haven-style pizza, or provide an immersive taste of Chicago with deep dish pizza?
Write a Business Plan
A well-researched, clearly presented business plan is a prerequisite to getting funding for opening your own pizzeria. The plan will include a competitive analysis, the demographics of the clientele you expect to serve, and an explanation of how your business will differentiate itself. It should also include estimated start-up and operational costs, and a projection of revenue and profits over the next several years. Make sure you take rent, wages, insurance, legal fees, permits, and licensing fees into account.
Set up a Legal Entity
Consult your attorney to determine the best legal structure for your pizzeria. Go over whether a limited liability corporation, partnership, or sole proprietorship would be the right option for you. Managing risk is a major consideration, as different types of entities offer different levels of protection.
Your attorney can also help you obtain an employer identification number for tax purposes, and they can explain the types of insurance you should acquire. Talk with an experienced business insurance broker to get details.
Obtain Required Licenses and Permits
Starting a food service business means complying with state and local health department regulations. You may need to show you completed food safety training, and you must prepare to pass regular health department inspections that will examine your safety and sanitation procedures. Depending on your local and state laws, you may need a business license or permit.
Develop Your Brand Identity
Your customers should be able to describe your pizzeria in one short sentence. “Crunchy cracker crust with fresh, locally sourced toppings,” or “delicious deep dish in a family-friendly setting.” Your brand identity helps customers immediately understand your business and what they should expect from you. Communicate your brand on social media, on your pizza boxes, and through your signage.
Starting your own pizzeria is a labor of love and a major investment. Do your homework, and learn how to make pizza better than any other place around. Develop the financial and human resources management skills necessary to run a small business. Good luck!