Grotto Pizza Factory in Central Delaware in Dough

Each ball of dough is checked for its perfect spherical shape and placed on trays for hours of cooling before being packed and shipped. | DBT image by JIM COARSE / MOONLOOP PHOTOGRAPHY

Dover – There are about eight people who know the dough’s recipe Grotto pizza Among the thousands who work for the pizza empire. Each was carefully vetted by a group of senior staff, including owner Dominique Bollieri. Everyone must sign confidentiality agreements.

“You’re talking about an early stage product and putting it in somebody’s hands. Michael Jones said Grotto pizza Food and Beverage Manager. “They also have to be artistic, because when it comes to mixing the dough, it’s a very controlled process.”

While it’s the elite group that knows the exact recipe for legendary pizza dough – including Jones’ – the manufacturing process is down to good science. Top-secret ingredients are mixed in giant mixers, with 1,100 pounds of dough in one go.

Once the dough is processed, it is loaded onto a conveyor belt and divided by hoppers and dividers – machines that measure and divide large quantities of dough. After weighing and dividing, the dough is sent into a zigzag stream to roll the dough into perfect balls. If not properly rounded, the dough will not expand properly, and the pizza will have thin spots.

Dough balls are placed on trays, trays are placed on tall racks, and wheeled into a cold room for hours. Each tray can hold 75 lbs., and in the summer, the freezer can be packed. Each rack is covered to ensure that the dough retains moisture.

After the dough has aged, it is bagged and shipped to one of Grotto Pizza’s 23 locations in the state in refrigerated trucks.

Overall, Grotto Pizza can produce 1.4 million pounds of pizza dough per year, for store pizzas and home bakers. The facility operates up to six days a week, depending on the run-up to the summer season.

“Baking is an all-encompassing science, and it’s the same here,” Jones said. “That science is ingredients and process control. For example, yeast is a living product and if you don’t control that ingredient, the product could suffer. That’s why we limit our production here. Everything has to be controlled for the product to be consistent.”

Grotto Pizza’s dough divider can process thousands of pounds in one sitting, weighing and dividing it to the perfect size. | DBT image by JIM COARSE / MOONLOOP PHOTOGRAPHY

In 2021, Grotto Pizza will boost its pizza dough manufacturing in One warehouse in East Dover, moving production there between the New Castle facility and a restaurant in Lewes. In all, the restaurant giant has spent $2 million on the new facility in Kent County, including renovations and equipment.

It made room for the Grotto and gave the restaurant a central location to quickly transport pizzas to Wilmington and as far south as Bethany Beach.

When it comes to the other two main ingredients of the pizza, Grotto Pizza is now working with Winona Foods, a Wisconsin-based manufacturer of high-quality cheese for its cheddar, aging, and grade to specification to ensure it melts just the right way while the pie bakes.

“We used to take 40-pound blocks of cheese and grate them,” Jones said.

For the sauce, Grotto Pizza also contracts with Stanislaus, a California-based processor, for the plum tomatoes. Grotto Pizza has about a year and a half of canned tomatoes in store, just in case drought or other supply chain issues occur.

Cheese is too fragile a product to buy in bulk. So when it’s time to buy, he’s on the phone with Winona Foods, anticipating the future. In the event of a shortage, Winona Foods will hit the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to buy up milk futures contracts to ensure it can make cheese in a pinch and without seeing a huge cost increase.

But for now, Jones said Grotto Pizza doesn’t have to worry about that scenario. Sales trends have been up slightly in the past few years, as people enjoy fast food and pizza delivery. Even whispers of a recession leave some uncertainty, but he said people tend to stay close to home during recessions.

“Pizza is easy to produce, and while other restaurants have tried fast food, it’s hard for fine dining options,” he said. “When I first came here in 1980 and tasted the product, I thought it had a unique flavour: a tangy, slightly sweet sauce with oregano. Not to give too much away, it’s a simple recipe. Nothing overpowering, and I think that’s how it should be.”

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