“I think I can I think I can”…

“Life has no limitations, except the ones you make” – Les Brown

“Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours” -Richard Bach

“Mind is consciousness which has put on limitations.  You are originally unlimited and perfect.  Later you take on limitations and become the mind.”  -Ramana Maharshi

Limits, like fear, is often an illusion” -Michael Jordan

We live in a world where Hollywood and overall culture teaches us consistently that there are no such thing as limits.  Think about the books that we’ve read as children.  Between movies of the average person or even the hero breaking through fears, overcoming all odds, to defeat the situation or bad guy, to the quotes we see above, to even the books we read as a child such as “The Little Engine That Could”… the life lesson has constantly been that the limits we have in life are only those we impose upon ourselves.  It’s a great lesson in learning to apply your best efforts, but in many ways, the lesson does a disservice to good process based decision making.  And the more that I think about it, the more I believe that it’s this mindset that is the downfall of many small businesses…

We recently had an opportunity to bring our trailer and our pizzas to the gay pride parade in Chicago to serve up under another restaurant’s name.  While the arrangements in terms of payment weren’t clear (we make, sell to the restaurant to resell, or we would just sell them direct and the restaurant would take a portion of the profits for us renting their space), and we weren’t sure about the paperwork/policies we needed in place to execute on such a thing (public health approvals?), there was one part of the request that stuck out like a sore thumb to me…. The restaurant wanted a minimum order of 500 pizzas.

I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that the first thing that came to mind was what the net profit margin would be.  An order of 500 pizzas is huge, and even if they were the basic traditional pizzas (which we currently charge $7 a piece), we would be in a great position to really generate some excellent cash flow for Za Pi.  Hell, we’d be nearly break even within our first year!  But as the realist in me began to really take a look at this idea… all the screw started to come loose.

In our current process to ensure great quality pizza, our team isn’t comfortable with more than two pi’s in the oven at once.  In theory, we could get up to three in there, but we haven’t practiced it enough for any of our forninos (oven tender) to be comfortable with it.  When the oven is churning at optimal temps, we can get a pie done in 90 seconds.  So for the current math, 500 pi’s, 2 at a time, 90 seconds per set, 6.25 hours of continuous pizza making.  Doable.

Now we take in the reality that since the oven isn’t continuous gas, and the fire needs to be re-stoked and the oven given time to gain back some heat after a certain numbers of pi’s.  For sake of ease of calculation, let’s say 15 minutes to reabsorb some good heat into the oven walls every 1 hr.  We’ve now added about 1.5 hours (rounded down).  7.75 hours.  Still potentially doable.

Now we also need to keep in mind the oven takes two hours to heat up before we begin… it needs time to absorb all that heat into the walls, floors, etc. so that it can stabilize and hit an optimal temp.  9.75 hours.  Still reasonable, just a long work day.

Let’s add the 1 hr commute into the city and back.  11.75 hours.  Sure, why not.

Now, prepping all the ingredients and doughs… at current, we can get 100 doughs ready in about 2 hours, along with ingredients.  While there are some economies of scale, we’ve pretty much maxed it (use the full size of the mixing basin) and with our pi’s, there is always a portion of balling each dough ball by hand, which is the rate limiting step for our process typically.  So just for prep time alone, we’re talking about 10 hours of work to get the dough/ingredients ready. Again, not horrible, but these hours are getting tougher…

Now I’m a stats/benchmarking kind of guy (which is why I work in the field I currently do) so I’ve been making sure that we record all sorts of stats around our customer’s orders, time in/time out, pizzas per hour, etc.  Some may say all this information is excessive, but I see this information as ways to continuously improve.  In our 500 pizza scenario, it also provides a basis of reality.  The reality of the situation is that at our best pace at any market yet, we’ve put out is 25 pi’s per hour.  (We’re far from a perfect system yet, the oven needs re-stoking to heat back up, etc.)  If we’re performing at our benchmarked optimum based on past performance, we would have to work 20 hours in order to churn out 500 pi’s.  20 hours, in one day, to churn our 500 pizzas.  If it isn’t obvious yet, we were not ready to do this.

And then I started thinking about other things… while we have great pi’s, they really aren’t nearly as good after they’ve gotten colder… Neapolitan pizza is best within those first 10-15 minutes post oven, and tends to lose it’s great airiness/light crisp and start’s becoming slightly “chewey” with time and cooling.  Which means unless we had a continuous line of folks coming up to eat, our reputation would be tarnished because they’d be eating “less than optimal” pi’s.  How would we lug 500 doughs to the city?  How would we prep all those ingredients?  Where would we store all the ingredients for use?  How much new equipment would we have to buy just to execute on this one-time order? Does the parade even last 20 hours?  Etc…

But just as importantly, I sat down with my partners to brainstorm outside the box… could we hire a team to help with prep?  Could we find another woodfired oven pizza crew to split the profits with to help churn pi’s?  Could we “heat” a bunch of a shells in advance, and then top to order and do a final reheat for 30 seconds after an order is put in?  How long would it take to make 500 shells?

Ultimately, all the brainstorming ideas led to less margins or more time invested, which really pointed to the fact that in our current condition, killing ourselves to fulfill an order like this would just be impossible…

As much as the capitalist side of me wanted to take advantage of this big order, it made us realize that we’re not at a point where we can take on a 500 pizza order.  One of the key lessons in catering is that you need to know what size party your capable of catering for, and this helped us examine, explore, and better understand our limitations.

What could have happened if we took on the job?  Bad reputation with folks who tried our pizza due to quality… long wait times due to backlog… severely reduced margins because we couldn’t serve pi’s up fast enough… or we could’ve successfully completed 500 pi’s by pure luck and chance, even though all the evidence pointed otherwise.

A couple hours of pondering and discussion over this 500 pizza order did not go wasted however.  We were able to identify our weak points, think about what we would need in place to really pursue an order this big,and toy with ideas that could eventually help us move towards fulfilling larger scale orders.  Perhaps Albert Einsten said it best…

“Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.” -Albert Einsten

It takes a clear, methodological thought process to understand what your limits are, and how to address them, before you can surpass your previously identified barriers to success.  Don’t get me wrong, we’re in the world of small business, so it’s always important to dream big.  We’ve got a dream to someday open up a restaurant that can serve 200+ great quality pi’s per day!  But understand that dreaming isn’t enough… you have to find the path and the tools to get there.

Readers, what do you think?  Have I gone too far and broken down the process to much and fallen into the trap of “paralysis by analysis”?  

And finally, speaking of overcoming limitations and self improvement, I’ve been learning to use some pretty basic photo software to help jazz up some of our pictures…

Jun 29th 2013

Double sauce margherita on the left, Kaner Buffalo Chicken on top, and a Pesto Chicken with Sun-Dried Tomatoes on the bottom.  Not bad for toying around with photo software I have no idea how to use yet, right?  Trust me, I realize my weakness here and plan to work with some folks who actually know what they’re doing to get better…


Passion’s Place in Business, plus a Jalapeno, Chorizo, and Queso Fresco pi!

There is a joy in starting your own small business, as anyone that’s done so can attest to.  You likely have the type of personality where you like to be in charge, have a want/need to create something of value, and enjoy the challenges and busyness that come with.  (It sounds a little narcissistic, right?)  The romantic view of  pouring your passion into something that you love or truly believe has created many small businesses out there, and feeds the idea that anyone who’s truly passionate about something can make their dream come true and be successful.

But what if you don’t have that passion? If not, then it becomes more of a chore, and the rewards must be far higher to receive the level of satisfaction for to help drive your focus on the venture.  Without the passion, the drive is far harder to muster within yourself to push forward with business!

As we get closer to our first market, everything in my own schedule get’s busier.  While I”m lucky enough to have the opportunity to work from home up to two days a week (thus saving me 3 hours each day I work from home), my time after work is now filled with check lists of what’s in place, what’s not, training volunteers, contacting folks, and just aligning everything to ensure our target date of our market open on June 1st is ready.  Is it tough schedule wise?  There is far less “relaxation” time, far less time to enjoy TV, or date nights, or going out to movies as now I essentially have two jobs at the same time now.  Am I enjoying it?  Absolutely… the idea that we’ll be selling pizzas at the market in under a mere two weeks fills me with all sorts of emotions .. excitement leading off, angst that we don’t have all our equipment yet and agreements in place yet, nervousness that anything that could go wrong WILL go wrong, etc.

But it helps to look at what’s gone right so far:  We’ve had a successful kickstarter translating into family, friends, and strangers that believe in our vision.  We’ve practiced, and practiced, and practiced some more to get a technique down with opening the pie (which I”m trying to teach to my partners and volunteers for when I’m not at the market) along with a recipe that we believe people will love, the county health department has given us the okay to proceed (which was far less painful of a process than I thought, perhaps because I had done my research on food safety pretty in depth), etc.

It’s the little goal achievement that help continue to drive me forward and push me to focus on the next task.  Goal achievement, as well as the fun I have shopping for equipment for our business.  Nothing like more toys and tools to play with, like the arrival of our oven paddles, equipment, etc.


I guess what I’m saying is, if you don’t have a passion for the business you’re considering getting into, you’re probably better off just NOT going into the business… It will show.  Who here watches Shark Tank?  It’s a great show where people with business ideas are able to pitch it to five “shark” investors to see if they’re willing to partner with them from a money and business standpoint to help make the proposer’s business take off.  A recent episode of Shark Tank (which I’ve begun watching in the mornings on my DVR while I make the dough), one the sharks rejected partnering with a proposal because through the whole pitch, the two owners never conveyed their love for their project, but focused solely on the infrastructure and potential income generation they believed would be great.  (It was a pretty weak infrastructure to be honest, and very untested).  It’s easy to tell when someone isn’t passionate about their job or business… it doesn’t mean you can’t necessarily be good at it without the passion, but you’re definitely a lot less likely to make the sacrifices and put in the extra time to make it great.  It comes out in your body language as you do “tasks” associated, in the way you talk about your business, in your excitement or there lack of when you execute.  And I firmly believe that your customer/audience can feel it, see it, and will be turned off by it.

At a recent market I went to, you could tell who was truly excited about their business, believed in their product, and wanted to engage you by telling you more and more.  And you could also tell who was burnt out, no longer wanted to be there at the market, and was ready to toss it all in, but probably kept at it just to make a bit of extra cash or hope that somehow, they’d get lucky and hit it big with someone wanting to place a big order with them.  And in the same fashion, it was easy to see which tents were filled with people ready to interact, talk, and learn more while other tents were just empty of customers, with the vendor standing there looking like they were ready to go home.

As the new tagline of one of my favorite companies, Baking Steel, says:  “Start Doing Things You Love”

It’s such a simple belief and thought that just doesn’t seem to translate in nearly enough people.  On a semi-related note, I feel like I should get another Baking Steel just for that quote!  Perhaps when I’ve made some profit from our business first though… =)

Now while I believe you need passion to drive the business, passion should not get in the way of making good business decisions for your business either.  All too many stories have been told of the passion and frenzy of a business owner not making good decisions for the business, and going down with the sinking ship because they were too passionate/obstinate to see things any other way.  There’s a place for that passion, and there’s a place for good decision making processes to ensure you’re taking your business the right way.  More on this in a future post…

Finally, I’d like to leave you with a new pi that we’ve been toying with that our taste testers (see family and friends) seems to have latched onto:


Oh yes… that’s jalapenos…. and chorizo… and queso fresco!  And it was delicious… While I personally think it needs some more tang (cholula maybe?)  this particular pie has been requested multiple times after we made it during one of test sessions.  Look for this to become one of our rotating specials.

Setting up an LLC in Illinois… and Tandoori Chicken Pie tests.

One of the biggest challenges that you learn early on is that in order to venture into your own business, there’s a lot of paperwork to fill out.  If you’re flush with money already, you always have the option of hiring someone to figure out all the paperwork, and just sign off on where you signature needs to be.  For the rest of us just starting out with our first business and not wanting to be wasteful with our funding, you’ll have to learn just what paperwork needs to be filled out.  While there’s something enjoyable about the success of being able to complete the work, there tends to be hours of frustration trying to figure out which form you need, where it needs to go, etc.  This post will help you get started with the LLC work you’ll need to be familiar with in starting your journey of opening your own business.

Why set up a business?  Because it offers you a level of protection.  While the option to set up as a sole proprietorship is tempting, especially with the low cost and low amount of paperwork, by doing so, you have not separated your personal assets from your business assets.  Sounds simple, but it has high repercussions when you run into trouble, namely if you’re sued or go bankrupt or default on loans, this which are somewhat uncontrollable in the business climate.  By setting up an LLC or S-Corp, you basically have added a layer to your personal assets so that others cannot get at them as easily.  It’s still possible, unfortunately, but it’s definitely more difficult.  And from the horror stories I’ve heard about from small business owners, you want to set up as much protection for your personal assets as possible… You never know what may happen and who may want to sue, so do yourself a favor and do the paperwork.

First and foremost, you’ll want to figure out whether you want to be an LLC or S-corp.  While there are many modifications of this (LLC partnership, S-Corp, C-Corp, etc.), these two are the most commonly used for start ups.  I won’t go into the details here, but Mashables has a fairly decent explanation of consideration here.  After a week of reviewing with lawyers, accountants, and with each other, we decided that an LLC made the most sense for us right now.  From here, it’s time to begin setting up the business… now’s a good time to note that every state has slightly different rules/policies/costs associated with opening your own business, so I”ll be focusing on the Illinois LLC process from here on out.  If you’re looking for info around another state, Google is your best friend and your worst enemy at the same time, as usual.  Just make sure you look up multiple links and articles so that you get a full picture in whatever state you’re in.

Step 1:  Pick a name!  The first rule is that the name of your new business must have “limited liability company” or “LLC” or “L.L.C” in it.  Also, the name of your LLC needs to already not be taken.  Check this website to do a corporation/LLC name search around name ideas, and see what companies may sound similar to what you have in mind as well.  If you find a name you like, you can reserve the name for up to 30 days for $300.  This cost can be completely avoided if you don’t need to reserve the name, and just go to the next step and file incorporation papers.

Step 2:  File Articles of Incorporation!  This is where you fill in the information of the names of the business, who are the owners/managers, name of the LLC (note, you’ll be rejected if you didn’t check the existence of the name as suggested in the first step!)  The form you need is form LLC 5.5 at the time I’m writing this.  Since we didn’t hire anyone to do paperwork for us, the registering agent is you, as well as the owner.  Perhaps the only part that’s not completely clear in terms of what you should fill in is the free text field for “purpose of the LLC”.  You could definitely write the purpose of your company along the lines of “to serve great food in Chicago” or “to raise money for 3rd world countries” etc.  In actuality, the standard language is: “The purpose for which the company is organized is for the transaction of any and all lawful business for which limited liability companies may be organized.”  You may add a little specificity if you’d like but don’t really want to get so specific that you’ll lock yourself out from doing certain business either.  You’ll also need to state if you’re filing for a series LLC or not.  A series LLC basically allows you to form multiple LLCs that have separate assets protected in separate areas.  For instance, if you open three restaurants and set them up as a series LLC, a customer who is bent on suing can only go after the one restaurant they were at, and not all three.  The pain is that you’ll have to keep separate assets for each restaurant as well (revenue, expenses, payroll, etc.) but think of it as minimizing your risk by diversifying.  Each part of your LLC is insulated and protected from the other portions.

Articles of incorporation cost $500 to file via paper (which can take a LONG time) or $600 via online (24 hour approval stated, 2 hr turn around was my experience).  It’s $750 for a series with $50 for each additional series LLC, and prolly $100 more for the online convenience.  You can file on line here.

And you’re done!  Mostly anyways… at this point, you just have to wait for the response from Illinois to appoint your LLC.  A key thing to remember is that as an LLC, you need to file a annual report each year ($250) which is due on the first day of the month your LLC was formed.  I haven’t done it yet, but next year, I’ll be visiting this page to better understand what needs to be done.    If you’re late, it’s a $300 penalty to file (unsure if that’s in addition to the $250 or not).  If you don’t file, they can shut down your LLC.

Congratulations on your LLC!  It’s the first step of many that we’ll go through in order to get your business up and running in Illinois.  Next time, we’ll talk about how to set up your FEIN and notify the state that you’re planning to business.  (Yes, I know, confusing… one would think the LLC would’ve done that!)

Before we go, a new test pie that I worked on just this morning based on some suggestions of Za Pi fans:

Tandoori Chicken Pie Test

Tandoori Chicken Pie Test

On the whole pie: Tandoori chicken (soaked overnight in yogurt/masala seasoning, cooked in oven briefly), sliced red onions, and diced orange peppers

On left side of pie: Mango chutney base
On right side of pie: Tandoori paste base
On top of pie: Fresh mozz
On bottom of pie: Cubed paneer (to test for melting and flavor)

Overall impressions – Mango chutney base is sweet and tasty! Tandoori paste is overly salty, I may have added too much. I made a cilantro yogurt to finish on top of the tandoori paste side, and it definitely helps. Mozz melds the food together well, while the paneer doesn’t even begin to melt at 550 degree oven under broiler. Will have to test on a WFO at 900+ degrees to see if it melts any better.

What do YOU think Za Pi fans? Any thoughts on what would be great on an Indian based pie? Looking to hear your thoughts!

Partnership – Is it for you? And Chinese Sausage Pie…

Even though this blog’s primary focus is making great pies, part of the blog is also focused on the challenges of starting your own business in the Chicagoland market.  So today, I’d like talk a bit on the idea of business partnerships.

The idea of pursuing your own dream is not only exciting, but can also be a scary thing.  Not only is there the monetary aspect of investment, but also the idea you’ll be fully responsible for the success or failure of your dream in many ways.  While your gung-ho entrepreneur may never admit to the fear aspect, I firmly believe there’s always some nagging gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach that gives you pause/doubt. (I personally imagine it to be kind of like that implanted Alien egg that pops out of the guy’s stomach in Space Balls and starts singing “Helly My Baby”).

One of the ways we help ease our fears in starting the venture is to seek partners who will share not only in the risk, but also the work associated with making the venture successful. But as everyone in the world will tell you, mixing business and friendship (or family for that matter) can result in the destruction of those relationships.  So how does one go about pursuing the business without losing those relationships?  I’ve always firmly believed that it’s the same as any relationship you have: clear expectations.

Whenever you begin a partnership, it’s rare that your partners will commit to the same amount of work as you will whether it’s logistical reasons, interest in the process, or personal drive.  At extreme levels, they may work far faster and harder than you and spend 80+ hours a week on the business or they may do the bare minimum to get by with 1 hour a week.  Ultimately, there is no such thing as a perfectly equal partnership, and if you attempt to provide each individual within your new business equal stake, someone will likely start to develop feelings of discord and resentment.  This is why it’s important to establish those expectation as soon as possible from all partners, along with an identified list of roles, responsibilities, and duties that each partner will be responsible for so that you can hold each other accountable (that includes yourself!)

When Za Pi first started, we believed erroneously that it could be an even split of 33.33% ownership across Gambit, Aku, and myself, which definitely caused some feelings of discontent on my part as we progressed in the project.  It’s a feeling that I’m not comfortable with, as I never like internalizing feelings of unhappiness/disappointment with friends.  How does one separate business and friendship?  You really can’t… as much as you’d like, your interactions aren’t fully separable, and I would argue that they shouldn’t be.  You’ve selected some of your friends to join you because in your mind, you firmly believe that there will be a joy in working together on something to move towards success.  Something that will benefit the friendship and each of you individually.

Luckily, in our most recent conversation, we’ve clarified the work in terms of delegating responsibilities in our pre-kickstarter process as well as when we go live at the farmers markets, which has also helped define how our ownership shares should be distributed amongst the team.  While each of us has committed the same amount of money for investment, anyone that’s started a business can tell that the work required to succeed in business isn’t just about the money (unless you have one individual who is looking to serve as the primary investor and fund the majority of all needs).  The challenge is finding the right balance of ownership for those who are investing more and/or doing more work so that everyone is happy with their roles and ownership.  One would think that this is trivial at the start of any business, but it’s an important detail to be worked out earlier rather than later.  After all, what if the business succeed beyond your wildest dreams and there’s big money at stake?  I’m guessing the conversation gets much more heated when significant money is at stake (think Facebook fallout).  Similarly, if the project crashes and burns, it’s important to know who bears the risk.  Ultimately, I’m just glad that we’ve been able to negotiate amongst ourselves and come to a comfortable consensus  along with clear lines of responsibility.  Don’t forget, if you’re creating a multi-partner LLC, your bank will want a similar description that defines roles and responsibilities for each of your partners.

My advice to you: it’s never too early to start identifying roles/responsibilities in your business venture, and it’s important to revisit them whenever the situation changes.  The honesty between partnerships is paramount in keeping your relationships clear of resentment, and making the partnership work.

And now, a new pie in testing:  Chinese sausage pie!  For those of you who never have had Chinese sausage before, it’s a tasty/fatty cured meat, very similar to salami in concept, but much smaller and sweeter in taste.  I’m not entirely sure what the curing process entails (something to look up later), but there is a definite sweetness that brings back great childhood memories for me.


You’ll see that it has a familiar curl from the oven that pepperoni gives, and the shimmer of delicious flavorful fat that has been rendered out at a high temperature bake which melds nicely with the tomato sauce.  Unfortunately, we need some additional ingredients to help round out the flavor more, as while the sausage is good, the sweetness is a bit much.

Any one with ideas on what may help balance out this favorite ingredient of mine?

Inspiration for Za Pi, and New Experiments

So what’s the theory behind Za Pi?  We want Za Pi to be interactive for the people and have thought of three  creative (at least we think so) methods to allow for everyone to be part of Za Pi.

1.  Kickstarter:  The definition of community approval.  We’ve launched the Za Pi kickstarter to help mobilize the oven, provide a nice discount on pizzas in advance, and to hear from the community whether they would be interested in such a project taking off at farmers markets.   WIth 21 days to go, we’re 18% funded with 32 backers.  While it’s a slow start, I’m a firm believer that it takes continued push and presence in order to build awareness for the project which will hopefully get us funded.  Unfortunately, if we don’t get funded, we won’t be able to mobilize, which would stink after all the work of setting up the LLC and stressing out over Amazon payments, not to mention the time our friend spent making the Kickstarter video for us.  I remain optimistic.  😉

2.  Customer voting:  Since we’ll be a mobile operation, we have to limit the toppings we can offer each week at the market.  Because of this, we want customers to be able to vote on the next set of toppings or “specialty” pizzas to appear!  So while we firmly believe that we should always offer the standard traditional pies (marinara, bianca, margherita), we’ll want customers to help tell us what THEY want next week to appear at the market.  Whether it’s straight up pepperoni, sausage and mushroom, or something more non-traditional like like mango pulled pork pie or Filipino breakfast pie, we leave it in the customers’ hands to vote for what’s next.

3.  BYOI:  While we’re still working with the local health department about this one, the goal is for customers to be able to bring us veggies from the farmers market that they purchased same day, and we’ll use them to help top their pizzas at no additional charge!  You’d pay for using our dough, sauces, and any additional ingredients, but this allows customers to really customize their pie with inventive creations!  Inspired by a trip to the Philippines where we went to an open market called D’Talipapa, my wife and I had one of our best experiences and meals ever… IMG_1749 IMG_1789

The center of the market was all the fresh ingredients you were able to negotiate for… fresh caught seafood, fresh slaughtered animals, various veggies, etc.  And surrounding the market were a slew of restaurants where the whole purpose was for you to bring your ingredients to them, and either ask for a suggestion on how to prepare them, or instruct how you would like those ingredients prepared into a dish.  While it’s not quite farm to table, it’s pretty much as close as you’ll get on that kind of scale.  We want Za Pi at the farmers market to reflect the same spirit of turning fresh food into a meal on the spot!  There’s nothing better than the brightness of fresh ingredients… and while we wanted to some how prep fresh meat as well (chicken/pork, etc), the amount of gear and elements we would need to prepare all that ended up being too complicated… so we decided to stick with fresh veggies!

The dream is for Za Pi at the farmers market to be interactive and have customers really help guide the direction of the pizzas.  You’re the designer, we’re just the pizzaolos that will make your design a tasty reality.

But just in case some of you feel like you lack the creativity or need inspiration, we continue to work at different pies to see how we can refine our final pies, and provide some new ideas for you to play with ultimately.  Here’s the three I had talked about last time:

Kimchi bacon pie

Kimchi bacon pie

While the kimchi bacon pie was tasty (it has bacon!  Who doesn’t love bacon!)  I couldn’t figure out what kind of sauce to put on, and just used an olive oil base.  Neither the kimchi nor bacon offered enough wetness to create a great pie, and next time, I”ll have to ponder more on a base sauce for this… perhaps GochuJang?  (Traditional Korean spicy pepper paste)?  Or some diluted version?

Peking Duck Pie

Peking Duck Pie

The Peking Duck pie, while true to form in terms of taste, was a LOT of work… beheading the duck’s head and claws, separating the skin, saucing it, air drying for a day, roasting it, breaking it down, etc. and for very little meat unfortunately.  This one may never make it to market just solely based on how time and cost intensive it was to prepare a few pieces of meat for the pie.  As tasty as it was, I’m guessing this one may be out.

Filipino Breakfast pie

Filipino Breakfast pie

And a Filipino breakfast pie, featuring a blended tomato/vinegar sauce with onions, garlic, sliced longaniza, an egg on top, along with fresh diced tomatoes – every aspect of a Filipino breakfast!  The sauce was dead on, according to the Filipinos in the room (including EyeDoc), and the leaky egg came out just right!  It’s a pretty sweet pie, so perhaps a touch of salt to finish next time… but boy was this good.

In any case, I’m off to work, and then to continue planning for all that we have to get in place for Za Pi to take off… the list of permits/licenses/requirements are astounding for such a simple business.  Who knew serving the food you love to people would require so many steps?  Next time, I’ll talk more about what this really all entails!


The Origins of a name… and some surprises!

So why Za Pi?  Well, the “Za” part is pretty simple… It’s really become the ubiquitous phrase shorthand for pizza.  Some may argue that “za” is strictly an East Coast/New York concept, but the term has carried far from New York thanks to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT).

Those ridiculously cool (and now making a comeback in toys supposedly) green ninjas with a half shell were one of the toy/cartoon crazes of my generation.  And while I can’t find an exact episode where Michaelangelo’s boldly states wanting some “za”, the image of me running around the house with nunchucks asking my parents if we could have “Za” for dinner was inspired by one of those episodes.

So now that we have half the name, why Pi (or 3.14)?  This really symbolizes quite a few things…

1.  It expresses the geek in me, as well as my teammates.  The three of us that are pursuing this journey together all met in high school (Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy) where we were endlessly teased by other schools at sporting events.  (Seriously, some schools were creative enough to dress up as a TI-85 calculator to “insult” us…)

2.  It’s expresses our approach to making great quality Neapolitan pizza.  We research the topic endlessly, run test trials on dough formulas, sauces, flavor combinations, heat temps, etc.  We firmly believe there’s a “scientific” approach to making great pizza and we want to find it to make it part of our culture.

3.  It’s Pie!  Pizza Pie!  Pizza Pi!  Za Pi!  It’za Pi! (Say that last one with the ridiculous Italian accent you know you have in you).  Za Pi… flows pretty well, right?

So after much discussion and playing around with 30 some potential names and hearing feedback from family, we settled on Za Pi for our mobile business.

Before we close out for the day, two things:

1.  We did our first set of sauce tests last night… a blind taste test for six key people to determine favorite sauce flavors to serve as the base of all our tomato based pies.  Here’s the five sauces we tested with some simple Italian bread.  Image

Each person was asked to provide 3 points to their first choice, 2 points to their 2nd, and 1 point to their third choice (assuming they had three they liked enough to rank).  Part of this was to determine whether San Marzanos or DOP based tomato sauces were really worth the extra cash for the pizza.  Guess what we found out:


The 6 in 1 tomato sauce (B) seems to have faired the best out of the taste testers, with the Duomo crushed tomatoes from California (C) in a far second choice.  While the Cento San Marzanos (E) did got some votes, the importaed Flora San Marzano DOPs (D) was left out in the cold in terms of flavor and texture and received no votes at all (not even a third place!).  Make me wonder if pursuing Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN) is worth it for what we’re trying to do… But that’s a post for another time.

2.  Here’s a look at where we hope to take Za Pi’s direction.Image

Our first trial of a BBQ pork with mango pizza.  It was tasty, but will need some refinement.  Looking forward to making some more of the “non-traditional” pizzas I have in mind as we move forward in our testing phase of what to bring to you at the market!

Tools of the Trade and Dough Tests

So now where were we…?  Oh yes.  The crazed light in my eye of from tasting that Neapolitan marinara pizza.  It’s not quite as crazy as Jack Nicholas’ face from “The Shining”, but I won’t tell you it wasn’t close.

The next day after work, I headed to the library and checked out Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine from the library to read up on his scientific thoughts and tests around Neapolitan pizza.  (Did I mention that I’m a technique geek in the kitchen?  I should probably get that out of the way now…)  His strongest recommendation of recreating a somewhat comparable surface to woodfired ovens was to utilize thick 1/4 inch steel in ovens at the highest heat possible.  I started seeking out my tools…

After calling nine different steel companies to get quotes for a 1/4 inch thick steel to be cut that would fit my oven and receiving quotes between $250 to $400+, I was disappointed.  As much as I wanted the right tools to make the pizza, $250 before shipping costs was just ludicrous amount of money to pay for making pizza at home.  While I had used heating the back of a cast iron skillet and broiler method with some success, it wasn’t efficient in making large quantities of pizza.  I figured it may be time to just purchase or build a woodfired oven for the house, until someone tipped me off to Andrew Lagsdin’s Baking Steel…  I missed the Kickstarter opportunity already, but EyeDoc ordered one up for me for Xmas 2012, and it was a FAR more reasonable price than the custom quotes I had sought out.   On the day it arrived, I eagerly opened up the delivered package and hugged my new toy with the glee of kid who just got his first video game system.  (Hugged carefully mind you, as I didn’t want to drop this heavy piece of steel on my toes).  I began making pizzas for EyeDoc only at first, then expanded to family members throughout the holiday parties, and then began inviting friends over to share my new bundle of joy.  And since then, over 200+ pizza have been churned out from our little home oven.

“So when are you going to open your own restaurant?”  – Aunt

At one of our many holiday parties, in the midst of chopping ingredients and opening dough, my aunt looked at me and asked.  I laughed and told her this was just a hobby, and that I could never leave my day job as a project manager.  After all, I was raised a nice, conservative Chinese boy who didn’t take risks, worked hard at the job to make a healthy salary.  What did I know about opening a business?

But that night, I couldn’t get her question out of my head… my Aunt and Uncle had opened up their own business and were doing well for themselves.  Could I possibly turn the hobby I loved into a business?  The next morning, I made my way to a farmer’s market downtown to pick up some fresh ingredients for another pizza night, and it dawned on me… why not bring pizza to a farmer’s market on the weekends?  This way, I could not only share my love of pizza with more people, but I could continue to work as a project manager during the week!  And thus, an Za Pi was born… why Za Pi?  That will be for next time…

Before we cut out, I wanted to share some interesting information with you.  Per my geek technique ways, I’ve been wanting to figure out what the flavor and texture differences were in different flours, so this weekend served as the perfect opportunity for just that.  So I prepared three doughs with three different flours for a few family members, all Margherita for test purposes… here’s the results:

Dough Tests

The first pizza was a Eagle Whole Grain white flour at 70% hydration.  Nice rise, but never quite firmed up and very “soggy” throughout the crust.

The second pizza was a Gold Medal Better for Bread flour with 70% hydration.  While this felt the wettest out of the three doughs while working with it, it firmed up the best around the crust and was voted best texture by family members.  It had a nice formation around the crust, and gave away to a soft interior.

The third pizza was a Caputo Tipo 00 flour at 65% hydration, the standard that Neapolitan pizza is made by.  While the rise seemed slightly smaller and the crust wasn’t as firmly formed as the KA flour, it easily had the best flavor crust.

And to reward my family for subjecting them to three straight margheritas, I made three others to end the night with lots of full bellies:


Spinach and fresh mozz, topped with prosciutto right as it comes out of the oven.  The fat from the prosciutto slightly melts into the hot pizza, making a tasty flavor.  While normally prosciutto is done with fresh arugula, I’m not a big fan of the bitterness from arugula and decided to try sauteed spinach directly cooked on.  Not bad, but still needs some modification…


Straight up pepperoni with shredded Sargento mozz.  The crispy edges of the pepperoni are the best bites on this pizza.


And one of the family favorites, Funghi Formaggio.  Sauteed baby bellas with fresh mozz, goat cheese, and gorgonzola.  This has far become the favorite pizza of EyeDoc and the rest of her family and requested every time I make pizza.

Until next time!