For many visitors to bowling centers, there is nothing better than piping hot pizza to satiate hunger. However, few, if any guests are willing to settle for a mediocre slice or pie, which is why smart bowling center operators go the extra mile to ensure that they offer as perfect a pizza as possible.
Pizza generates 70 percent to 75 percent of food revenues at Marshall Bowl in Marshall, Minn., which welcomes some 6,000 to 10,000 bowlers annually. Owner Bruce Shover previously operated another bowling center with a full pizza restaurant component and a manager who had once overseen a Pizza Hut franchise. However, the employee did not follow him to the new facility, so when Shover opened his current location, he wasn’t certain he was up to the challenge of serving fresh pizza. Instead, he started with a frozen product, and was only able to sell about three pies per week.
Rather than giving up, the operator decided to scrap the frozen program in favor of serving made-to-order pizza prepared using a par-baked crust. The latter is necessary because the center’s kitchen is not large enough to accommodate the equipment needed to produce dough from scratch.
As it turned out, the transition was easy, and pizza sales average 50 to 60 per week. “The only real problem we had was portion control; employees weren’t exactly how much cheese, sauce, and toppings they were supposed to add,” Shover said. “We’d have one person virtually covering a pizza with pepperoni slices and another, putting on half that amount.” A chart that contains this information now hangs on a wall in the kitchen, eliminating any inconsistencies.
While utilizing consistent amounts of ingredients definitely contributes to the caliber of Marshall Bowl’s pizza, a bit of innovation helps, too. Not long ago, Shover had some extra cooked pork that had been left over after an end-of-season banquet held at the facility. He spread some barbeque sauce on a pizza crust and topped it with the pork, calling his creation “Barbecue Pork Pizza.” Customers went wild for it, with many later returning to the facility just to order a pie rather than to bowl as well as to eat.
Moreover, Shover is highly selective when shopping for ingredients; finding the best options, he said, can require significant legwork, but always proves worthwhile. “We have a buffet every Friday night, and we feature pizza there,” Shover stated. “The par-baked crust we have really holds up under all the ingredients, which is what we needed, but we looked at eight kinds before we found one that would.”
Like Marshall Bowl, PINZ Kalamazoo, in Kalamazoo, Mich., sells 50 to 60 pizzas weekly. The center, whose guest count stands at about 8,000 people per month, has featured pizza on its menu since its inception because, noted General Manager Matt McLellan, “pizza and bowling are a natural fit” in customers’ minds. McLellan, who also serves as COO of the investment company that owns PINZ Kalamazoo, added that the center differentiates itself from chain pizza restaurants and “pizza mills” by hand-assembling pizzas to order and offering the widest possible variety of toppings; some 26 options range from pepperoni, sausage and other cured meats to jalapeno peppers, pickled banana peppers and artichoke hearts. Ingredients used to prepare other available dishes (e.g., fresh tomatoes and onions) can also be incorporated. The 16-inch pizzas account for 25 to 30 percent of the center’s total food sales and sell for $12 apiece, plus $1 for each additional topping.
“When people see the price for the first time and tell us they can get two pizzas for $9.99 at the local Little Caesar’s or wherever, we tell them that that is not the same pizza they would get here,” said McLellan, who also serves as COO of the investment company that owns PINZ Kalamazoo. “It almost always works.”
He added that for PINZ Kalamazoo, the secret to continuously turning out top-notch pizza lies partially in a self-rising frozen crust that is “fairly pricey, but high-quality and” yields “reliable results.” The crust starts to rise as soon as it is removed from the freezer and fully cooks in eight minutes.
Also contributing to pizza perfection is an aerosol butter spray, which is applied around the edge of the crust after the pies emerge from the oven. The spray comes in several flavors, including garlic.
McLellan admitted that despite very positive results, PINZ Kalamazoo has faced a few small challenges with its pizza program. Initially, there were complaints from customers about the sauce; a majority of guests thought it too sweet. A substitute was found, and now McLellan and his colleagues increase the odds of finding the best ingredients for PINZ Kalamazoo’s pizza by tasting every possibility multiple times and trying to remember that just because an ingredient suits their personal tastes, it will not necessarily please the majority of customers.
Meanwhile, at Oak Mountain Lanes, in Pelham, Ala., training has been the key to maintaining the caliber of the pizza that has been on the dining menu for the past 10 years. About 800 to 900 bowlers visit the center each week; on Sundays, many come for a “Family Special” package that includes one hour of bowling, soft drinks and a 14-inch pizza prepared from a recipe developed by the family of Owner Tom Barberini; $63 buys the deal for up to six people. Pizza is also a favorite among organizers of large corporate parties held at the center, and all birthday party packages cover pizza as well.
“No matter who orders it, we want our pizza looking and tasting the same,” stated Robert Fox, who handles sales and marketing for the facility. Accordingly, management conducts hands-on employee training pertaining to everything from appropriate ingredient quantities and how to assemble pizza ingredients on par-baked crusts, to baking times and the importance of presenting product to customers right out of the oven.
Fox said the pizza, which was introduced in response to customer requests, receives myriad compliments from guests. Oak Mountain Lanes experienced no real problems in rolling out a pizza offering, other than the fact that finding an acceptable sauce was a complicated process. “We shopped around quite a bit, but weren’t happy with anything we found,” Fox explained. “Eventually we decided to go with our own recipe, which has some ‘secret ingredients’ in it.”
His top tip for finding the right ingredients: Opt for fresh wherever and whenever possible. “Fresh spices, for example, make all the difference in the world,” he said.
In Ellicottville, N.Y., Tim and Bonnie Garey and their family operate Tim and Bonnie’s Pizzeria and Bowling Alley, which opened this past November. The couple already owned a pizzeria in nearby Springville, so the decision to offer pizza at the bowling alley was a “natural,” according to their daughter, Tiffany Garey.
“Pizza and bowling just go together,” more so, for some reason, than burgers and bowling or the like, she asserted.
Pizza accounts for nearly all of the operation’s food revenues, and the family attributes its quality not just to using scratch ingredients (including the dough for the crust), but also to the fact that it is prepared according to a recipe that has been in the family for more than 35 years. The secret to perfect pizza, Garey noted, is in the cheese, which must be very fresh as well as abundant. Tim and Bonnie’s large pizza is topped with almost an entire pound of cheese. –
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