Since the onset of the pandemic over a year ago, the restaurant industry has sustained devastating losses. By December 2020, the National Restaurant Association reported that 17% of restaurants permanently closed and 87% of businesses faced a 36% drop in sales revenue. As a result, restaurants feel pressured to undergo massive transformations to adapt to the new lifestyle by reducing the number of dine-in customers and adopting pick-up and delivery methods to mitigate their losses.
Stringent COVID-19 regulations may prevent restaurants from operating at full capacity, but it hasn’t stopped people from craving pizza. The one store I miss above all others is Bazbeaux’s. A local artisanal pizzeria in Carmel, Indiana, Bazbeaux’s houses fond memories of indulging in custom meat-lovers (all the possible meat options on the menu) pizza and stealing breadsticks from my friends at our post-orchestra concert dinners. All fresh pizzas at Bazbeaux’s are delivered to your table in a takeout box with hot steam still billowing away from the waiter. In a time of such rapid flux, we have a prime opportunity to revolutionize pizza delivery for the future.
Now, the cardboard pizza box is undeniably a quintessential part of American culture. It is a paper product that harnesses the power of childhood nostalgia. In fact, the opening of a pizza box is so salivating that Pizza Hut created a bottled perfume to mimic the scrumptious smell. In my mind, pizza holds high cultural significance, second to chocolate, of course. The pizza itself, having earned the title of most instagrammed food, is the ideal comfort food — made to be eaten at any time, anywhere. Though the food industry is slowly beginning to recover, food delivery will still remain immensely prevalent in our lives. Because of that, we need to have a long overdue, serious conversation about the pizza delivery box.
Before we get into the failures of the box, however, let’s first talk about pizza and why it is America’s favorite comfort food. When pizza first comes out of the oven, the crust is light, not too thin or thick. As the waiter brings the pizza to your table, you can almost taste the crackling and smoky texture of the crust before even touching it. I know the perfect pizza is subjective; I enjoy Hawaiian pizza, and some people hate me for that. But, I venture to say that most would agree that an impeccable pizza involves a mouth-watering cheese pull, a slightly scorched crust where the dusty flour still flakes onto your fingers and full coverage of the pie with cheese, sauce and the ideal toppings of your choice. Named the most devoured food of 2020, pizza is tied to inextricable bonds of social connection and memories of simpler times. Now, due to the pandemic, American eating habits are reverting back to that source of comfort to heal and cope with the uncertainty and stress that is constantly weighing on their minds.
However, the cardboard box ruins it all. The longer the pie spends in the box, being shaken as it races across the city to reach your home, the moisture from the sauce and toppings begin to soak into the crust, relinquishing its original crispiness and texture. The pizza becomes cold and soggy, a truly disappointing sight. For so long, we have taken the diminishing quality of pizza delivery for granted, or perhaps our culture has acquiesced to the exposure of pizza to harsh weather conditions and inevitable traffic jams with a measly cardboard box as its only support.
To combat the aforementioned issues, Brooklyn pizzeria, Wheated, completely remodeled its services and its pizza-crafting style to maintain their high quality, artisanal pizzas. When customers order, the pizzeria asks them when they will consume the pizza — either in their car or at home — which will determine if the pie is sliced or not. Next, owner Dave Sheridan found that wedging a paper mat in between the pie itself and the takeout box allows steam to escape from the crust while maintaining the pizza’s classic crispy texture. Instead of putting the cheese on top, Sheridan reversed the order, lathering the sauce over the slices of mozzarella instead, ensuring the bottom crust stays dry during longer durations of transportation. To allow the moisture of the sauce to evaporate, Sheridan lowered oven temperatures and increased the amount of protein in his dough. These engineering decisions caused the dough to be stronger, holding its shape throughout delivery.
In a second example, Dan Kluger, owner of Washington Squares, a New York pizzeria, got his inspiration from the grandma pizza and adapted the classic pie to fit his needs. Originating from Long Island in the early 20th century, the grandma pie is a thinner, square sliced pizza that also places the cheese beneath the tomato sauce, which is ideal to retain the flavorful crackle of the crust during pandemic times. Kluger’s crust is sturdy but not thick, strong enough to support a slew of toppings without forgoing the structural integrity of the final product. Arguably, maintaining a high-quality crust is fundamental, as it guarantees a proper balance of flavors from the sauce, the rich, gooeyness of the cheese and the salty umami of the dough.
What sets Sheridan and Kluger apart from many other local artisanal pizza businesses is their commitment to redesigning and potentially even reinvesting in equipment to increase the portability of their pizzas without sacrificing the delectable taste. Even though the pandemic has caused many to incur irreversible losses, it is still worth considering the possibility of a silver lining: we need to capitalize on the opportunity to revolutionize the art of making pizzas and delivering them.
More restaurants will begin to utilize delivery apps, integrate virtual waitlists to manage limited capacities in their restaurants and pivot their marketing strategies to rely primarily on technology. But who says this should just be restricted to digital technology? Pizza is serious business, and it needs to be treated that way. This is a chance to alter the course of pizza delivery by redesigning ergonomic pizza boxes. Let’s make pizza last longer and make soggy takeout pizza’s existence fade into history.
Sophia Ling (24C) is from Carmel, Indiana.