In the Kitchen
Pizza on fire: Protect your saucy secrets
By Tom Stankiewicz
By Tom Stankiewicz
There is at least one secret in the pizza business that every owner guards with their life. It has the power to make pizzas with the exact same toppings taste completely different from one another. It could even be the main reason your customers are loyal to your pizzeria, rather than the competition across the street. If you haven’t guessed by now, that secret is your pizza sauce.
There is at least one secret in the pizza business that every owner
guards with their life. It has the power to make pizzas with the exact
same toppings taste completely different from one another. It could
even be the main reason your customers are loyal to your pizzeria,
rather than the competition across the street. If you haven’t guessed
by now, that secret is your pizza sauce.
I have never found two sauces that taste the same. I suspect most of us
use similar, if not the same ingredients. The secret is hidden in the
proportions we add to the tomato sauce and the tomatoes themselves. In
my pizzeria, I use 12 spices and two different kinds of crushed
Many people wonder how you come up with a great recipe for a pizza
sauce. The quest for perfection will be more difficult for someone who
has decided to open an independent pizza store. It will involve a long
process of trying various combinations of spices and tomatoes. Some
people continually improve their recipe for years. They find creative
ways to get feedback from their customers that, in turn, lead them to
make small changes that satisfy the greatest number of people. I have
heard of one owner who noticed that a lot of his customers were over
40. He decided to ask them via a quick survey what specific ingredient
they were avoiding in food and why. Most clients cited health reasons
for their choices. The owner was then able to compile a list that he
used as his guide to improve his pizza sauce, as well as the toppings
he was offering. This was a brilliant idea that turned into a huge
After investing so much time and effort into developing the perfect
pizza sauce, keeping the secret to that success is a must. I bought my
pizza sauce recipe along with the business, which opened in the 1960s.
I was tempted to make some small tweaks but in the end, I decided to
leave it exactly as it has been for the past 50 years. Why fix
something if it isn’t broken? Those who bought their businesses the
same way I did will recall that our investments are protected by a
legal contract that prohibits the seller from disclosing the recipe to
The next challenge is to make sure that only those who need to know how
to make your pizza sauce are in on the secret. In my business, there is
only one other person who knows the ingredients and proportions to mix
with the crushed tomatoes. She is a family member who is associated
with the pizza business and understands how vital the secrecy of this
information is. For most independents, the secret is shared with either
family or trusted friends who work for the business in some capacity.
If you need to let an employee know, make sure it is someone you can
truly trust and depend on. This should be someone who has worked for
you for a long time, not a new hire from a month ago. It’s also a good
idea to have that employee sign some sort of an agreement that would
prevent him from disclosing this recipe to anyone else.
Obviously, the best way to ensure secrecy is to tell no one, but this
has the potential to be a problem if the sauce runs out and you’re
away. There are ways of making sure that the sauce can still be
prepared in your absence. You would simply have to make sure that the
spices are mixed together ahead of time. At my pizzeria, I have special
containers that I prepare every day with the mixture of spices needed
for my pizza sauce. I fill these containers before any employees
arrive. I’ve found it to be very convenient, especially during busy
times when we may need to prepare a bucket of pizza sauce quickly.
Anyone can pick up the pre-made container and get the sauce ready in
less than two minutes.
It is also important to consider what information needs to be disclosed
to customers. I’m sure you’ve noticed that many prepackaged foods have
labels that list everything that was used to prepare them. As of right
now, we are not required to provide this information for our products,
but how do you handle a customer who wants to know exactly what you put
in your pizza sauce due to allergy concerns? A simple way to tackle
this situation is to ask which specific ingredient triggers that
customer’s allergies. Then your answer can be a simple, “no, we don’t
use it,” or “yes, we do use it.” This allows you to address your
customers’ concerns without having to disclose your whole ingredient
Remember that the pizza sauce is a very unique feature of any pizza
pie. Have fun improving your recipe, but if you have one that your
customers have loved for many years, let it be, and closely guard the
secret to your success.
Tom Stankiewicz has been in the pizza business for more than 15 years.
He has been the proprietor of Bondi’s Pizza in London, Ont., since 2000
and is president of the Canadian Pizza Team.