“Yeah, like that! Just pinch a little lighter next time, the guests will appreciate a full crust all the way around.”
Those words from my trainer echoed back in my head as I found myself standing in front of my hydraulic dough press chucking another pizza dough in the nearby trashcan after another failed attempt at pressing one out. I felt the sweat start to gather on my forehead, only an hour had past since I clocked in and the end seemed nowhere in sight. Free Pizza Friday was in full effect and people were hungry to save some money.
“I got the call yesterday! I actually start my training tomorrow, isn’t that awesome?” I said, readjusting the grip on my phone. My mom was just as excited as I was that I landed another part time job.
“Yeah, it’s not like Papa John’s or anywhere like that, it’s in a grey area between sit-down and fast food pizza”, I told her as I was driving home. “It’s like Qdoba for pizza; you go down the line and pick your toppings. They press the pizza dough in a fancy looking machine that molds them like car fenders. No, spinning them up in the air like the movies sadly”, I joked.
I had attended walk-in interview process a couple days prior. I learned about the opportunity to work at Blaze Pizza whilst browsing Craigslist for something part-time. I saw they were giving on the spot interviews in the upcoming weeks, so I marked my calendar. The day finally came and I put on a plaid fitted button down dress shirt, slim khakis, and my nice pair of Sperry’s ready to make an impression. Gleaming with confidence, I locked the door behind me and made my way up to the new restaurant. Conveniently enough, the place was only two streetlights up from my apartment.
“How nice would this be? Not even five minutes away!” I thought to myself as I parked.
I opened the door to the restaurant and I was greeted with loud rap music playing over there sound system. I glanced around the spacious dining room and saw tables lined pizzas and already-hired employees all over the place- some eating, some seeming to be receiving training. Slightly confused as to what I walked into, I suddenly heard a voice come from my left side.
“Hi welcome to Blaze, I’m assuming you’re here for an interview?” I immediately turned and gave him my attention, “Oh thank, yes, I am! I saw your ad on Craigslist and decided to swing by.” A younger man was sitting down at the closest booth adjacent to the front doors. I assumed he was a manager of some sorts. “Awesome man, why don’t you sit down and start filling out the application. We have an open laptop right here you can use.”
It only took about 24 hours to get the confirmation call that they wanted to take me onto their team. I was of course excited to be making money again, but I was also very interested to see how the process worked. Ever since I had moved out of my parents’ house, about four years earlier, I found out cooking was not my strong suit after many attempts of replicating things I loved from my childhood that my mom cooked. I was a toaster oven & microwave guru, but actually prepping and cooking my own recipes was so daunting in my head. I had really begun to miss the days of my mother’s cooking after I moved out. It was time to step up to the plate and take control of my meals.
“You see that? Three spins one way, then three spins the other way and it should evenly spread across the dough. Here, take the ladle and try it out on a few on these pizza trays.” Trainers from various Blaze locations had come all the way from the west coast to help train us for the grand opening that was creeping up. Nate, my trainer, took others and I through a few basics like food prepping, saucing, and ingredient portioning, but my eye kept getting drawn to the couple microwave-sized, red machines that were behind the pizza building line. I had first seen them the day I came into apply. While sitting in the dining room going through the dos and don’ts I kept hearing the sound rushing steam like a train stopping. I wanted to learn how to use that machine and press out the pizza doughs.
“What’s up with those machines, Nate? Is that something I can learn right off the bat?” We had a moment of downtime and that’s when I decided to ask finally. “Oh, dough-pressing? Sure, let me go make sure it’s all right with a manager.” Nate walked off and I partially grinned. It looked fun as I thought to myself, but I wasn’t ready for what was to come on that Friday opening the following week.
The grand opening day finally arrived and I was sufficiently trained in a lot of areas of the restaurant, especially in dough pressing. I was feeling a level of confidence in food I had never felt before. The only restaurant job I had prior to this was a busboy position, cleaning up after people. I never thought I’d be preparing other peoples’ food.
My shift was four in the afternoon to close, which was eleven o’clock. The store opened doors at noon that day granting us an extra hour to for the staff to prepare before the onslaught rushed in for free pizzas. The one parameter that was in place to get a free pizza was to go to one of Blaze Pizza’s social media sites and “like”, “share”, “tweet”, a post of theirs and show it to the order taker. This was a simple recipe for madness, and the trainers had warned us it wasn’t going to be easy. Every Blaze location had gone through this trial by fire, and now it was our turn.
I felt the anxiety swell up as I pulled into the parking lot. Parking was jammed up. I could barely find a spot for myself, so I was certain I was about to walk into something out of the ordinary, especially given the time of day. I opened the front door and instantly hit the back of the guest line. There were maybe 40 people zig-zagging in line from an eyeball’s guess. I quickly made my way to the back of the restaurant and put an apron on. Before I knew it, I had my panicked General Manager hone in on me and direct me where to go.
“Zach, we need you on the floor ASAP, get your hands washed and gloves on and take over on back-up dough press from Josh.” Said my GM quickly as he passed by. “Well, here goes nothing, we got this!” I thought to myself.
Josh was one of my other managers; he was cool from what I knew in our short time working together. I knew if things got hairy he’d help out if he could. I tried to keep that in the back of my mind; I also had someone else on the other dough press, so I wasn’t in this alone. Dough press is a vital position due to the fact it’s the first step in our pizza building process.
“Can we get a High Rise?!”, the order taker called out to us.
I flinched every time I heard a High Rise or gluten free called out. They were the biggest delays us dough pressers had to deal with during the dinne rush. Each one respectively has its own extra steps compared to the standard pizza doughs. Say a full family gets a set of High Rise crusts. Get outta here! It meant a minute or so of valuable time washed down the drain where we could’ve been pressing more standard doughs.
The night was a push and pull between us and the guests. Some moments of the night we were ahead of the game. Pizzas were moving down the line quickly and coming out of the oven just as fast. Other moments were different.
“Where’s the third gluten free?” I heard shouted from across the line. I was picking up more wooden pizza peels from the oven area to keep my flow going. “Heard!” I yelled back. “Behind! Behind! Sorry!”
I juked and weaved other staff members as I hurried back to my station with a large stack of peels in hand. Making gluten-free crusts were the worst though, and still holds that title. Most people that ordered those were not even allergic to gluten products; it was just a preference to paying extra for dry, tasteless cracker-like crust apparently… I knew if people were actually allergic to gluten based on whether I was asked to change my gloves or not.
“I’m on the second press, one minute!” These suckers took two rounds on the press, killing my speed and flow in the process. There came another point where I was pressing two gluten frees and my partner was left to keep up with the flow of normal doughs. He failed to do so and we were left scrambling. Adding insult to injury, I realized a little too late that I was out of dough. I forgot I had failed at pressing my last one out before the gluten frees were called out.
“More dough please!” I yelled around the corner to the staff at the prep stations in the back of the restaurant.
It was crucial not to run out of dough. Twenty dough balls came in trays that had been prepared the day prior. I felt a stream of anxiety rise when I looked at the line and the time while waiting on my dough. It was 8:30 and the dinner rush should have already subsided by then.
“Shit.” I muttered under my breath as the realization dawned on me.
“Okay guys, we’re almost there. We can finally say the line is dying.” My general manger was pacing the line making sure we were still staying afloat. By the end of the night, I was numb to the guest line. It didn’t even bother me. I was just beyond exhausted as I stood in front of my dough press for the fifth hour of the dinner rush. My break served well, but nothing was going to replace that feeling of clocking out. “Okay man, I think we can stop for the time being.” A stockpile of pressed dough finally stacked up to last the next several here-and-there customers as we grew closer to closing.
By eleven o’clock, the pizza building line and floors were complete messes, and the dining room didn’t fare any better either. I sighed at the sight and started putting my closing shift duties in. We had to get everything back to spotless. I remember the feeling of being energy drained like I ran a summer marathon.
“Gather round everyone, you guys ready for the day’s pizza count?” My general manager said as he turned the corner holding a long receipt. “Today we gave away 1,266 free pizzas over the eleven hour span we were open, give yourselves a hand you deserve it!” The twelve or so employees including myself all started applauding and cheering over our massive accomplishment.
The real accomplishment I started to feel more so over the proceeding weeks was how comfortable I was getting around food. Once a kid who got by on Hot Pockets and chicken strips was now someone who could make himself a pesto sauce, or make handmade pizza dough. The days of frozen pizza had been replaced with a 9 to 5 cooking and preparing food for other people; pressing 300 or more pizza doughs on a given night. This thought would’ve scared eighteen year old me, but now I was up for the personal challenge, and welcomed the growth and transition into adulthood.