So You Want To Start A Pizza Shop...

Open a Pizza Shop

While the thought of a pizza parlor may elicit feelings of nostalgia, the reality is that most people who crave a good pie often don't want to be limited to eating it in a restaurant. When thinking about how to open a pizza shop, there are many options for bringing your famous recipe to the masses.

It seems that even small towns can support a number of pizza joints, so location may not be as key as your concept. Sure, you'll want a place with adequate parking and heavy traffic, but if your food is better than that served by an eatery down the street, most customers will make the effort to return. So, once you've settled on location, you can focus on all the ways you can make your venture a successful one.

Dine-In, Carry-Out, Delivery, Take 'n Bake?

Delivery: Arguably, the riskiest type of pizza business to own is one that offers delivery, either exclusively or in conjunction with other services. You'll have to consider the costs of insurance, the likelihood of prank orders, and the safety of your drivers when you think of offering this service—even if your customer base demands it. You'll have to see if your customers will pay the increased cost associated with offering delivery.

Carry-Out: Carry-out pizza made up 45 percent of all pizzas sold in the United States in 2014. [1] Probably the least expensive option in terms of equipment, labor, and space, a carry-out joint could be a low-cost option for someone just starting out. You won't need waitstaff or furniture. You'll also need less tableware and fewer janitorial supplies. While this type of business won't provide you with as much face-to-face interaction as a dine-in pizzeria, you should be able to tackle high volumes easily.

Take 'n Bake: The take 'n bake stores take minimal needs to the next level by eliminating the need for ovens and the equipment it takes to keep pizzas warm until the pie ends up in the customer's hands. You may need more refrigeration capability, and refrigerated display cases can help increase impulse buys.

Dine-In: Atmosphere is everything in the restaurant business, and a dine-in pizzeria is no exception. From furniture to lighting and music, if you go this route, you need to be prepared to go all-in to make your restaurant a viable one.

Franchise or Independent?


There are benefits and drawbacks to both independent ownership and franchising. A franchise pizzeria provides instant brand recognition and a committed customer base. On the flip side, your dreams of entrepreneurship and creativity may be tempered. You may not be able to offer all the items you've dreamed of serving if your franchise won't allow substitutions.

There is another side to the benefit of a dedicated fan base a franchise may bring: it comes with set expectations. If you don't have the ability to live up to those standards, you could be worse off than if you started with an original brand. The last thing you want to hear a customer say is, "I love Joe Bob pizza, but the one down on So-and-So Street is no good!" You want to make sure that your ingredients, quality, and most importantly your staff, can live up to the standards that have made your franchise so popular.

Franchises can be expensive when starting up, but the revenue generated from an established brand may outweigh those costs in the long run. Opening a franchise allows you to capitalize on the brand's name, and royalties help cover the franchisor's costs associated with advertising and the like. These fees will also most likely cover training, site selection, and outfitting, and help with the initial launch of your business. The following table reviews the most popular chains and their initial costs:

Papa John's Pizza $25,000 5% $150,000 $113,800-525,100
Domino's $25,000 5.5% $250,000 $119,950-461,700
Pizza Hut $25,000 6% $700,000 $295,000-422,000
Little Ceasars Pizza $20,000 6% $150,000 $221,000-654,000

Independent Enterprise

There are roughly 60,000 pizzerias in the United States today. Of those, 40 percent are independent, so you needn't feel that your independent store will be overpowered by the major chains. Specialty toppings and trend-specific ingredients mean there's nowhere to go but up with a well-conceived pie that stands out in the crowd. So go ahead and grab a slice of that action.

Once you decide to start a pizzeria, you'll then need to decide whether you'll franchise or go it alone. Once that's done, then it will be time to begin choosing the right equipment for the job. The two most critical needs will be the oven and the dough mixer.

Pizzeria Equipment

Choosing an Oven

The first pizzas were baked in wood-fired masonry ovens, and that is still the way most purists would have them all be made. However, with time constraints and high volumes, alternatives have arisen. When the industry began utilizing deck ovens, pizzerias began using low-moisture mozzarella cheese because the cheese breaks down before the crust gets baked. All of the pizza oven options have benefits and drawbacks, so you'll need to choose an oven based on your individual volume and menu options. They may be wood-, electric-, or gas-heated, or employ a combination.

  • Brick Ovens: Full size, all-brick ovens have been around, essentially, since antiquity and many pizza purists believe they impart the most authentic pie flavor and texture. They tend to be large ovens and not every kitchen has the room for one. These ovens can cook between 10 and 12 pies at a time, a feat that is very handy in high-volume pizzerias. They tend to be very attractive and can make a great focal point for the front of the house. In a brick pizza oven, the temperature gets much hotter and the heat radiates more effectively; thus, the mozzarella remains intact because it doesn't have time to break down.
  • Convection Oven: One solution to the size problem is the convection oven. The circulation of the air allows pizzas to cook fairly rapidly; however, the capacity of these ovens is limited to one or two pies. The convection oven would probably be best suited for low-volume restaurants. The use of a pizza stone will help direct the heat to the right place and create a similar crust to the kind that can be achieved in a brick oven. There are countertop versions that would be ideal for snack bars and concessions stands. There are also units that can be stacked to give up to twelve levels of baking. One drawback to convection ovens is that they can require long recovery times, the time it takes an oven to get back up to temperature when products are added or the oven door is opened. They may also not offer the same crispy vegetables or the perfect soft, chewy crust that an authentic brick oven provides. Convection ovens with pizza stones can mimic the original, but they take the most time to do so.
  • Deck Oven: Deck ovens are very popular in many pizzerias. The ones that are brick-lined and have stone bottoms offer very similar results to that of a brick oven. They are available in compact, countertop models and stackable units that can be up to six decks high. Each deck can accommodate between four and six pizzas at once. Deck ovens with stone bottoms and brick liners have come close to replicating the traditional Sicilian pie.
  • Conveyor Oven: Conveyor ovens have made a niche for themselves in high-volume chain restaurants because they can help increase production, particularly with unskilled workers. These ovens are essentially hands-free once you place the prepared pizza on the feeder. The constant available heat within the oven and the adjustable speed of the belt create an oven that can bake pies nearly as quickly as you can make them. While the biggest drawback to conveyor ovens is their large size, they can be stacked up to three conveyors high for even greater output while taking up less space in your kitchen. Another consideration is that you can't bake different types of pizza, like Chicago-style deep dish and New York-style thin crust, at the same time.
  • Impinger Oven: The impinger oven is suitable for pizzerias because the hot bursts of air that disrupt the cold halo that surrounds food has been found to speed up the cooking time by as much as 30 percent. This saves on production costs and will keep customers satisfied because they won't have to wait so long to get their pizza. Often, impingement is coupled with a conveyor, so the cooking is hands-free, quick, and even. These ovens may be countertop or floor models with one or two levels. They can usually be stacked, allowing you to add more ovens without taking up more floor space.

The Dough Mixer

Your crust will be the thing that makes or breaks your pizza recipe and, in turn, your restaurant. Some chains furnish dough, but if you're making your own, you'll need a dough mixer that has the appropriate power to stand up to demand. Dough (or spiral) mixers are specially designed to mix, knead, and stretch dense dough constantly and consistently. A planetary mixer will not be able to handle the demands of dense dough, so save yourself a lot of headache by getting the right tool to start with. These mixers come in capacities ranging from 15 to more than 300 pounds.

Other Equipment

While the following is by no means an exhaustive list, you will need these items, no matter how large or small, simple or extensive your service will be:

Flesh Out Your Menu

Many customers will expect to be able to order more than just a pie when you start a pizzeria. By expanding your menu to include pasta dishes, sandwiches, soups, salads, appetizers, and desserts, you can entice more customers and fatten your bottom line. In order to do this, however, you'll need to invest in some additional equipment:

  • Pasta dishes: Dishes like eggplant or chicken parmesan, manicotti, and fettuccini alfredo are must-haves if you're going to deviate but stay in the Italian vein. These dishes can be added by simply incorporating a pasta cooker into your line. You may need to add some specialty dishes to serve them in, and you may want a cheesemelter, if finishing them in your existing oven isn't convenient.
  • Sandwiches and salads: Because you'll already have many of the primary ingredients and equipment needed for both of these on hand, offering them is a no-brainer. You may need to round out your inventory with buns and fresh produce that you normally wouldn't see on a pizza, like lettuce. If your establishment is a full-blown pizzeria, you may choose to offer a self-serve salad bar. In this case, you'll need a cold food bar, crocks to hold your fresh ingredients, and the utensils to serve them properly.
  • Appetizers: Wings, cheese sticks, and breaded vegetables are popular additions to any pizzeria menu. A deep fryer is the best way to achieve appetizers that are as flavorful and popular as the pies themselves.
  • Desserts: If you're going upscale, you may want to consider a dessert cart for displaying your selection of Italian cream cake, cheesecake, tiramisu, and cannoli.
  • Beverages: Offering beverages such as tea and soft drinks can provide a nice profit. Soft drink distributors will generally provide drink machines, but for other beverages, you'll need drink dispensers, ice machines, and cup dispensers are an investment that will see positive returns quickly.

Pizza and Beer?

One of the more famous food pairings is beer and pizza, and adding beer service to your pizzeria is a simple matter of an ABC license and the right bar equipment. You can offer famous and local specialty brands or you can brew your own. Once you've decided the potable you'll serve, make sure you have the equipment to keep it cold and flowing. Such equipment includes kegerators, bottle coolers, and beer systems.

The Business Side of Things

About 40 percent of pizza sales occur online [2] , so you'll want to make sure you have computers and networking capabilities to keep up with that demand. You'll need to include business management supplies on your shopping list.

Licensing and Permits

Before you open your doors, you'll need a number of licenses and permits that will vary depending on your state and locality. You can expect a health inspection, a business license, and a food vendor's permit to be part of that. You'll also need a federal employer identification number (EIN) so you can pay in taxes on your employees. You'll also need to file with the state for unemployment insurance and sales tax. To discover what rules, regulations, licenses, and permits are required in your area, or if you have general questions about how to start a pizza shop, consult the Small Business Administration website.

[1] "Pizza Industry Analysis 2015-Cost and Trends." Retrieved 06 May 2015.

[2]Lee, Amy. "Before Amazon, There was Pizza Hut's PizzaNet." Retrieved 13 May 2015.