RTP History

The Perception of an Ever-Changing Quality Pizza

By Tony Herbst

I just attended my 60th high school class reunion and decided to write this article after talking to a longtime friend.  Every time I see him, he says, “Employee number three!  Employee number three!”  We always enjoy laughing and joking about the old days.  He was the third person that Bill Larson hired when he opened his first store, just a few miles from our high school.

“Do you guys still mix your sauce in a garbage can with a canoe paddle?” he asked.

When I look back at how primitive some things were made, it makes me think how much has changed over the years.

Skillful rollers were admired for their proficiency in completing the days’ roll of perfect skins in a timely manner.   Often talked about and listed by the roll room was who’s the best. It was an honor.

When I look back at how primitive some things were made, it makes me think how much has changed over the years.

Store number three is where I started in 1964.  Bill Larson often frequented the store as his office and warehouse were close by.  Here, in a very small Round Table, the Hobart would mix dough for hours to be delivered to most Round Tables up and down the peninsula and across Dumbarton Bridge.

It was memorable working there at night, part-time, with Bill Larson.  Every customer would stop at the front counter on their way out and rave about the fantastic pizza.  All the customers, every night!  It made us Round Table Proud!

Bill’s oversized warehouse is where I repaired and painted picnic tables and benches for some Round Tables.  In the middle, mysteriously sat a cement mixer with nine large cardboard barrels filled with various spices and a shovel.  This is where Bill would scoop up in his shovel one scoop of one spice, two scoops of another, and so on until he had all nine spices in the cement mixer.  I’m guessing that nobody was around when he scooped, mixed, and bagged his secret spices for the pizza sauce.

Back then, the pizza sauce was mixed with bare hands and arms, reaching down into the garbage cans, mixing thoroughly, and over time, losing the hair on arms.

At one time, we grated our cheese.  A pizza made with mozzarella, followed by provolone, and topped with cheddar, when cooked, was pleasingly delicious and flavorful.  Now blended, the aroma of a cheese pizza is mostly absent.

Exceptional pepperoni and salami was sliced in store years ago.  Today it is pre-sliced and its distinct zesty flavor is not the same.

We mixed spices in our fresh sausage by hand.  Now it is delivered mixed and frozen.  Again, it is not the same.

Skillful rollers were admired for their proficiency in completing the days’ roll of perfect skins in a timely manner.   Often talked about and listed by the roll room was who’s the best. It was an honor.  Morning rollers for lunch, afternoon rollers for the rest of the day, was the norm. Today’s rollers often hired just to roll are left alone with little fanfare, and soon leave.

For the first two decades of Round Table, deck ovens were used to cook our pizzas.  Skillful oven tenders proudly showing the burns on their arms, would sweep out burnt cornmeal, finding a hot spot for a pizza.  Each pizza was attentively scrutinized from top to bottom before it was removed from the oven, resulting in a perfectly cooked pizza.  The crust with cornmeal, some burnt, had distinctive blotches on the bottom of a delicious pizza.  Under the weight of the large pizza cutting knife, the crunching sound of an exceptional pizza could be heard.

Conveyor ovens replaced the deck ovens, changing the foundation of our pizza.  Regardless of the size: small, medium, large, or the type of crust: thick, thin, or skinny, a pizza was presumed finished when it came out of the oven.  Undercooked or overcooked, pizzas were cut, wrapped, and delivered.  Gone was the skillful eye of an obsolete oven tender.

Halfway through the lifespan of Round Table we started delivery.  In the first half, consumers were eating our pizzas hot from the oven in house, or taking them home right away, unable to resist a slice while driving.  Delivery changed the dynamics of how our customers would consume and evaluate our pizza.  Delivery quality is hit or miss for so many reasons.  Younger generations judge our pizza from pizza delivered to home, school, and athletic events.

The perception of our quality pizza from days gone by was extraordinary.  Many customers went out of their way to express their delight with our product.  Today, with changed ovens, delivery, a frozen sausage, elimination of fresh ground beef, a countless number of loyal customers still love our pizza.

Preferences of the customers of tomorrow with changes still to come like ready to use sauce and frozen dough remain to be seen.  Let’s hope the elimination of the skillful dough roller doesn’t compare to the elimination of the skillful oven tender.

 

ROUND TABLE PROUD!

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