Below is a document I wrote three years ago when I quit working at Shakes full-time. I originally wrote it to be an addendum to the “rolling training book” that Shakes provided. I figured I’d share it here completely unedited for the context and humor. If you decide to read it, careful! I was a little edgier back then…
— Joseph, Nov. 2019
In this essay, I’m going to detail the things that I think are most important for a good roller becoming a great roller. A good roller can kick out a few pizzas impressively fast. A great roller keeps the current wait time for pizzas as low as possible for as long as possible. Although a low wait time on the busiest shifts takes a great team of condoers, oveners, and servers, the roller is the person most responsible for keeping the pace of the pit. Below, I’ve tried to describe how to keep that pace as fast as possible and how to make use of every second in the most efficient manner.
For the setting of the rest of this essay, let’s picture a lovely autumn afternoon. The leaves are gently falling from the tree by United Methodist where Mama June sits. The sun is playing hide-and-seek as the clouds intermittently drift across the cool Missouri sky. And there’s a goddamn line out the door and around the corner full of hungry Mizzou fans. The emps inside are keeping up well but at any moment things could desolve into a complete shitshow. Having established that, let’s start with:
DOUGH BALL SETUP
Most of us tend to use this same setup. Larges are closest to you, then mediums, then smalls, then wheat. Basically, the less frequently you need it, the farther it is from you. Makes sense.
Slow afternoon: 6 larges, 6 mediums, 4 smalls, 1-2 of each wheat Busy shift: 9 larges, 8 mediums, 5 smalls, 1-2 of each wheat Insanity: 12 larges, 12 mediums, 6-7 smalls, 4-6 large wheat, 3 medium wheat, 2 small wheat
If you’re kicking someone off because they are not keeping up, you may want to let them continue rolling for another minute or two while you quickly organize the setup. If they are really bad, you will have to kick them off immediately and catch up on the setup while kicking out pies.
GOING IN ORDER
On the subject of doe balls, here’s something all great rollers do: they go in the same order… all the time. I go from bottom to top, left to right. Most people I know go this way. It doesn’t really matter which way you do it, though. It’s easy to keep the order by leaving one dough ball missing. This is assuming you are doing the “make one take one.” You see the missing dough ball and you grab the one above it. Done. If the missing one is on the top row, then go to the next column. If the missing one is on the top row of the last column, then you must be starting over…
Some people like to say, “just grab the biggest one.” This is not as good for two reasons. Mainly, it’s a waste of time and mental energy to evaluate all the dough balls and select the biggest one. It’s more efficient to simply have a system that gives a visual cue on the next one to take. If you don’t believe me, have a computer science geek explain to you the difference between sorting/iterating through a list or simply using a queue that is always in order. The second reason is that the biggest one might not always be the oldest one, and dough from different batches rise at different rates, and yada yada, etc., you don’t want to have to think about any of this when you’re flying. Just go in order.
Also, if you make someone else dough balls, make some effort to go in their order.
DOUGH BALL MAKING
Let’s divide the dough ball making process into two parts: weighing the correct amount and then actually making it.
Once you’re really used to the feeling of dough weight, you should be able to get the weight correct on the first try A LOT. Like a freakishly large percentage of the time. If it is not right, grab what appears to be the correction and immediately start making the dough ball. Don’t weigh it twice unless you are really far off or are just too fresh at this process. It’s kind of a luck process but the more you practice the luckier you get.
As far as making the ball, I like a good dough ball. A good dough ball is easy to roll and make a round crust. A good dough ball can be made in just a few seconds. If your dough ball is shitty, the final crust is either going to be equally shitty or is going to take additional time to make it look better.
TL:DR, They should be really good and be made really quickly.
Now that you’ve got some dough balls, let’s get to the tickets. Believe it or not, there are a few good habits one can bring to Ticket Printer Management (TPM). A small sin that wastes precious time is constantly taking the tickets down and putting them under the scale. If things are going great, a great roller will be effortlessly keeping up with the printer, with 0 to 4 tickets at all times. If this is the case, leave them hang. Read the ticket upside down and make it. Only spend the motion to grab the ticket when it is ready to leave with the crust. If there are multiple pizzas on the ticket, you can read the rest of the ticket and memorize it while you are saucing the pizza. I generally try to memorize the next 1-4 pizza sizes and types because I can see them all hanging upside down. If they start to pile at 5-6 tickets or orientate oddly, I still know what they are.
There are some rollers who, either by habit or for style points, take the ticket(s) from the printer, separate them, and put them under the scale (which already has a fat stack of tickets… because they’re slow) after/before each rolling cycle, even if there are only a few tickets hanging. While I suppose it does keep things looking a little “neater,” ultimately, it’s just a waste of time. Also, it’s easier to tear a single ticket off the ticket train than to grab it from the stack (it can be like picking up a playing card off a smooth floor).
Now obviously when it gets out of control, you’re going to have a big ticket train. Maybe 10, 15, or heaven forbid, more than that. You’ll have to tear the train up and put them under the scale. Fine. But don’t waste any more time with the next ticket train that is now accumulating UNTIL you’re done with your current stack. It’s faster to organize 15 tickets on a train on one occasion than to do it individually on separate occasions. Plus there’s always the chance someone will come over and organize it for you and you can spend even more time rolling.
The beginning of each cycle for me is putting the corn meal on the peel. In almost every case, I’ve just finished up saucing the last pizza and putting the ticket on when I put corn meal on the next peel because I’m already orientated that way. It’s the best time to do it.
To meal: hold that thing in the center above the peel and go from one end to the other once. Your shake motion should be as quick as possible but also as loose as possible. It should be a nice even coating with as little waste as possible. Regarding the shaker, at the beginning of the day, make sure you have a lid that slides on and off the shaker effortlessly. Also, I only fill mine about 2/3 up because if it is too full, it is harder to shake fast and my hand tenses up.
Occasionally an ovens person will request that I use more corn meal. I always say, “okay” while muttering curse words under my breath.
I do try, though, to put more than usual on there for them. Some times they are new and don’t have good technique for getting a pie off the peel when, for example, an uncooked pizza has been sitting on the rack for too long.
If the dough is excessively wet, you will have to use more corn meal.
There are so so so many ways. I’ll quickly go through my technique. I think my technique is top notch but not the absolute best. Pin work is very important but ultimately it is only part of what makes a roller great.
Gather some flour towards the center of the table. Put dough ball on top. Smash it once quickly with both hands. Turn it over. Smash it again. Then flip it over to the original side and start rolling. If you don’t flip it back, the hardened slick side will now be on the bottom. I personally don’t like this as I prefer a little ‘grip.’
I roll with long strokes putting quite a bit of pressure but not an incredible amount. Both of my hands move the same distance with each stroke. I make subtle variations in pressure to make the crust spin ‘while’ I’m rolling. The pin generally never leaves contact with the crust.
A well risen 12” dough ball will take 5-7 swipes (a down and back). A 16” will take 7-10 swipes. 8” dough balls usually need a lot of flour or need to be flipped half way in between because they stick easily.
If the dough has not had time to rise, I will usually spend more time pounding down the dough ball (using more fingers than whole hand). I will roll with much greater vertical pressure and it will usually take a few more strokes.
For thins, I usually roll it out as much as I can (before it inevitably starts to stick), flip it, put extra flour on it, and roll it out to a size that is spin-able.
SPINNING VS. TOSSING
A lot of folks out there think that tossing a pizza in the air is just for show. Some are even pretty fast rollers. However, a great roller will SPIN a pizza to great effect; they don’t “toss” it. What’s the difference? A toss is when you throw up your uneven, Buscemi-shaped, poorly rolled piece of dough into the air, it makes a half-turn and falls into your amatuer hands like a brick. A spin is when you launch your very round, “mini-me” crust into the air and it spins perfectly like an alien spaceship right in front of you until everyone has finished taking pictures, the centripetal force (or tangential velocity?) grossly enlarging the crust to its full Dr. Evil size.
Things to remember here: height doesn’t really matter. The more the crust goes in a vertical direction, the higher the chance is to poke a hole in it when it comes down.
For a 16”, pre-spin hand position will be on the edges of the crust. One hand to support and another to spin using a “frisbee-basketball”-like motion. Wind up your spinning hand and then release. You’ll basically trace out a full circle with your hand, accelerating through the stroke with a nice follow-through like Tiger Woods (does with all his mistresses). 12” and 8” crusts are similar although I find that the spinning hand is closer to the center and you use more wrist-turning motion than arm.
I usually catch it at the peak of its height while it is spinning (around eye level). My arm floats down while it continues to spin. Quite frequently, I use both hands to catch it as it is more gentle and it stops spinning faster.
Use as much flour as you need to go really fast but don’t be ridiculous about it. It is cheap anyways. And don’t worry too much about making a mess. They’ll sweep and dust later. They’re going to do it either way. Over time, you’ll probably need to use less and less flour anyways.
Occasionally, however, another roller will comment on my more-than-average flour use and brag about how they use less. These people are all slower than me. I don’t worry about these people.
You should dock things in as few as strokes possible. The table below is the number of “down and backs.” The docker is 5 inches wide. So here is a chart of how many strokes it takes (a stroke here is one down and back).
- 8” - 1
- two 8” one peel - 1
- 12” - 2
- 16” - 2
With the two 8” on one peel, get both of them in the diagonal stroke.
With a 16” weekday slice that will be sitting there for a while, might be best to make 3 down and back strokes for a better concentration. For something getting boxed up for later, I usually do 4-10, depending on how long it’s going to be in that box.
A great roller is an equally great saucer; as I will have occasion to explain later, even in the busiest rushes, a great roller will be saucing the vast majority of the pizzas. It’s simple. You start in the middle and go around in perfect circles until you get close to the edge and then you do touch it up for 1-2 seconds. After you get going, you really shouldn’t have to press down. The spoon should just glide. Also, don’t let your hand tense up. Keep everything relaxed or else you’re going to hurt yourself after hours of doing this.
In 99% of cases, after I finish saucing, I already know what the next ticket is from memorizing them or seeing it in passing. After saucing and moving the pie down the line, I immediately corn meal the next peel. I then turn to the rolling table and spend a second or less gathering flour to the middle of the table. I then make the next appropriate dough ball, put it in the missing spot, grab the fully risen one directly above and immediately smash it out on the pile of flour that I gathered. This is the most efficient way I can think of in a Make One Take One (M1T1) situation.
I generally use ‘M1T1’ because you never fall behind on balls and it allows maximum time for the dough to rise. Although if I have the ‘Insanity’ setup described above, I will mostly do a ‘M3T3,’ or so, as it is more efficient to make more than one dough ball at a time.
But don’t be a noob and get behind on the dough balls. It’s tempting when you’re starting out to just keep rolling out doughballs without replacing them because everyone is waiting on you, but then you have no dough balls left, you’re forced to make a bunch frantically, and you’re rolling out freshly made balls. And your speed goes down the drain along with your hopes of being a great roller. Someone has to kick you off soon after because you can’t keep up and they are pissed at you because you left them with no dough balls. If you can’t keep up, ask someone to make you dough balls or have them help in other ways (get more sauce, more peels, make more dough, etc.) so you can buy some time.
Docking is really the minimum of what a roller should do for each pizza. But the truth is, even on the busiest football weekends, the roller should sauce the majority of pizzas. The fewer condoers, the more the roller should do, like weighing cheese, spreading cheese, evening condoing. Below is a table assuming it’s really busy.
- 1 condoer - spreading cheese / often condoing yourself (to keep your 1 condoer on a meat train especially)
- 2 condoers - weighed-out cheese on each pie / occasional condoing or spreading the cheese
- 3 condoers - sauce every pie / weighed-out cheese occasionally
- 4 condoers - sauce every pie
- 5 condoers - sauce most pies
Each condoer here is a condoer equivalent: a condoer that has been around a while and knows their stuff and is pretty good. If you have 2 condoers and it’s their second day in the pit, you really have 1 condoer on the chart. A really fast senior emp, probably a 1.5. A Luke, Toby, or Cara: probably a 2. These are just all estimates.
Sauce. Sauce. Sauce. The more you let your unsauced crusts pile up, the more time you or the condoers have to needlessly spend managing the positions of the crusts, saucing from 4 ft. away, etc. The time that is wasted with this mismanagement is all lost in vain. It is truly a sin. This is how a “fast” roller gets on the pin on a fairly busy (but manageable) shift and the wait is somehow 45 minutes when it should be under 30.
The opposite of sinning is making wise decisions to buy precious seconds back and keep the wait time as low as possible. In the pit world, keeping a fellow condoer on a meat train is the perfect example. By meating pizzas back-to-back, the meater does not have to wash their hands in between. This time is a literal gift from the gods, a reward for good decision making.
A great roller will have a keen eye for these sorts of opportunities. Condoing a pizza to the point someone else can stay on the meat train is one of these common opportunities. The reason is because less time is wasted washing hands. When you waste time, the wait goes up.
Some times I will skip around to grab these opportunities. For example, when you have two 8” pizzas coming up but there is another unrelated ticket in between them. Often I’ll just make those at the same time because it’s more efficient.
Now, some might say that if you skip around, a pizza that was supposed to be made in 30 minutes will be made in 31 minutes. They say it’s wrong. I can understand that, but consider this. If you are consistenly earning your time back through intelligent management techniques like these, the wait time is 25 minutes, not 30. Therefore the pizza that was supposed to be made in 25 minutes was made in 26 minutes. And 26 minutes is faster than 30. Get it? Got it? Okay.
Here’s another small example. With each additional job that the roller does past rolling out the pizza and docking it (the bare minimum), that is one less job that the condoer has to do, causing a widening disparity. Another way to put it, if the roller does 5 seconds of additional work (saucing a pizza), that is 5 seconds of work that a condoer of similar speed does NOT have to do, causing a 10 second disparity. This is just an interesting fact. However, there are countless seconds to be saved in this disparity through intelligent management. If a condoer can sauce a pizza in 8 seconds and the roller can sauce the same pizza in 3 seconds, those 5 seconds will be wasted unless the roller does the job. Now if the condoer is standing there with nothing to do, then obviously it will be faster if he does the job. But in nearly every case, if the roller is great, condoers will rarely be waiting on the roller anyways.
A wise roller knows the strengths of the employees in the pit and does the jobs they’re not good at. Throw a few pieces of pepperjack cheese on a pizza with PC to ensure the emp won’t blindly throw the provolone down first and then spend 20 seconds correcting it. Tell them when something is a take’n’bake, has no sauce, etc. Be preventative.
These are just some dumb examples. I’m really refering to everything in this paper with regards to good technique and making good decisions. But the bottom line here is: A roller who does the bare minimum is at the mercy of the quality of the condoers. And in my experience, a situation where there is an all-star lineup of 5 condoers who will do all the roller’s potential overlap work is extremely rare. A great roller performs like a champ in clutch situations and makes everything run smooth and fast despite the circumstances.
DEALING WITH KIDDOS
When I see a kid who wants dough, I try to acknowledge them quickly with my eyes or voice but I continue what I’m doing until I’m at the part of my cycle when I’m making dough balls and I cut them a piece and throw it to them. They can wait a bit. Plus a few may trickle in during this time and you can dough multiple kids at once. Some times another kid will pop up after I’ve already chopped off my dough to give to them. Instead of going back, I usually just divide what I have further. They don’t know any better.
HELPING A SLOW ROLLER
Now, we know the roller is pretty damn important when it comes to the pace of the pit, but the whole pit speed is not determined by solely by the roller, obviously. In fact, a great condoer can drastically speed up a slow roller. A slow roller will likely be slow at making dough balls, slow at the pin work, slow at grabbing the peel, slow at putting corn meal on it, etc. If an expert condoer can help this person out by making the dough balls, corn mealing peels, and saucing pizzas (as well as condoing…), the slow roller is suddenly slowing down ‘less of the process’ and things will move much more quickly overall.
MAKING MORE DOUGH
A great roller will obviously know how to make the dough that’s perfect for him/her. And you should be really fast at making it.
If it is really busy, I just ask someone to make the dough for me. However, there are a lot of circumstances when it is better if you stop rolling and go make it. For example: there aren’t a lot of condoers and they are backed up quite a bit; no one around knows how to make the dough; no one around knows how to make ‘good’ dough.
First off, if I’m rolling a busy, but not insane shift, I will try as hard as I can to have everything prepped by/in the mixer beforehand so that it takes just a few seconds to make it when I need it. The flour is in the bowl, the goodie cup dumped on top (so you can remember that you dumped it in just by looking). A Shakes cup is filled with oil to the proper amount. The first gallon (4 qts.) is filled with scalding hot water. If I find time to squeeze this out in advance, I will. Then when I need the dough to be started, I dump the 4qts of water in, get 2.5 more (or so) and dump it in and it’s spinning. (I sneak over a minute or two later to turn up the speed and dump the oil in.) This takes almost no time.
If I don’t have anything prepped, I’ll try my hardest to ‘back up’ the condo line with enough work to do by not saucing any pizzas for a minute or two. Once I have 3-4 pizzas backed up, then I go off and make dough.
ASKING FOR HELP
If it’s insane, don’t be afraid to boss people around a little bit. “Need those peels.” “I need sauce soon.” “Hey such-and-such, can you make me a batch of white dough as soon as you’re done making that pie?” “Someone dough all these kiddos.” Having said this, always assess your situation; there’s no point in asking someone to throw dough at kids if there are very few condoers and the condo line is maxed out with pizzas to be made. Do it yourself. But if you detect that the condo line is keeping up with you well or you’re barely not keeping up with them, put someone to work doing your bidding so you can spend even more time rolling.
A PERSONAL STATEMENT
Alright, we’re basically at the end here.
Ya know, I think anyone can be a great roller if they really want to be. Some people are seemingly gifted with a natural grace for this duty. Some are not.
I was not one of these people. I’m a lanky/scrawny individual with no talent for the activity. But I was obsessed with the thing. That was my strength. I studied the best and copied them. Because everyone knew I was nuts for rolling, they let me roll at least 90% of my shifts for a solid year; I got lots of practice.
But it was still a long slow development; I rolled mostly slower shifts during the day. It wasn’t ideal, but it did put me in situations where I was at times responsible for everything except the register. I got good at negociating the pace of the whole pit by myself: learning tricks on how to keep the wait low.
Eventually I was allowed to roll rush shifts, but not until I was ready to keep up; I was never really kicked off the pin. And I gradually went from being allowed to roll busy shifts to being ‘counted’ on to roll THE BUSIEST ones. It was a really, really good feeling. And having come all this way, I didn’t want to leave Shakes without leaving behind some kind of semblance of a HOW-TO paper: a product of all my study and obsession. If nothing else, it satisfied me to make it. And maybe it might help someone out a little too, or just give someone a warm smile, chuckling at how a kid could like rolling this much.
It was worth it to me at Shakes to be one of the best at something. With other great teammates, I think we had some impressive performances. On homecoming 2016, I rolled for 10+ hours. For the dinner rush we had a ‘football Saturday’ line for 4 hours. 3 condoers (Toby, Luke, Adam — probably a 5+ person equivalent). Max wait time? 25 minutes.
Joseph Weidinger AKA: Jojoe, Bart, John Henry firstname.lastname@example.org Autumn, 2016