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Top This!

Deep-dish, gourmet, stuffed or extra-thin--no matter how you slice it, pizza delivers profits for entrepreneurs. Here's how to get your piece of the pie.

Recall the anticipation . . . anxiously awaiting the delivery of tantalizing tomato sauce and thick, oozing cheese atop a soft, chewy crust of happiness. Whether it serves as fuel for an all-night cram session or an inexpensive attempt to satisfy a troop of voracious Girl Scouts, the wonderment known as pizza has provided instant happiness to cafeteria-weary college students and cash-strapped slumber-party facilitators for years.

An inexpensive favorite, usually sufficing for both dinner and the following day's breakfast, pizza represents all the necessary food groups and offers extreme edible ease (i.e., no need for those annoying utensils and plates). According to Doskocil Food Service Co. LLC, a leading U.S. supplier of branded and private-label pepperoni and pizza toppings for the food-service industry, pizza has gained title as America's best-loved food, outnumbering the country's ordering of both hamburgers and chicken. And according to the Gallup Organization, pizza ranks as the preferred food among kids ages 3 to 11. So if you're starting to get hungry--and simultaneously contemplating entrepreneurship--one route to consider is to turn this American favorite into a profit center by getting into the pizza business. Starting out 1,000 years ago as herbed foccaccia bread, today's pizza evolved from dough created by a baker in Naples, Italy. Since its migration to America after World War II, pizza has grown to account for 24 percent of U.S. entree consumption, according to Doskocil--surpassing the growth rate of all other food-service items.

"For a menu item that is popular, profitable and easy," says Kevin Kreutner, marketing manager for Hutchinson, Kansas-based Doskocil Food Service.

There are three reasons pizza is profitable, says Kreutner: demand, low cost and simplicity. With Americans eating 100 acres of pizza each day--that's 350 slices per second, or a total of $30 billion worth per year, according to Pizza Today magazine--the demand is clear. The food costs involved in pizza are generally 5 to 10 percent lower than just about any other menu item, says Kreutner. Finally, since pizza requires very basic assembly, you don't need experienced labor.

Today's pizza isn't limited to the flat, circular type anymore. With deep-dish, stuffed crust, pizza-on-a-stick, pizza pockets and pizza strudel, the structure, sauces and toppings are endless and only limited by your own inventiveness. With dozens of niches and endless pizza opportunities nationwide, potential entrepreneurs have a variety of businesses to choose from. And with a variety of pizza outlets offering franchise programs, it's usually unnecessary to have previous experience in the field, making excellent people skills and love for the product the key ingredients for success.

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This article was originally published in the October 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Top This!.

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