Pricing Out Pizza: The Real Cost of Quality Pie

By Carolyn Alburger  |  September 27, 2013

From a slice shop’s $2 piece of cheese pizza to a $22 personal pie from Una Pizza Napoletana, there’s a lot of variety in pizza prices out there. But are you really paying for what you get? We asked a few pizza chefs to break down their costs for us.

“Dairy is our biggest food expense, period.” Said Pizzeria Delfina executive chef Brandon Wells. “Milk costs have skyrocketed in the past five years.”

The successful Bay Area pizza chain uses Belfiore cow’s milk mozzarella from California. Wells likes this cheese even better than Mozarella di Bufalo from Italy. “The quickest we can get buffalo mozzarella from Italy, legally, is five days,” explains Wells. “By then its enzymes and high acid content have already caused the cheese to break down.” So in this case, the more expensive option, actually doesn’t make the most sense. Belfiore’s mozzarella features prominently on most of Pizzeria Delfina’s pizzas, like the $17 pie with Prosciutto di Parma, mozzarella, panna and arugula.

Pizzeria Delfina’s philosophy is to have the best sauce, cheese and dough the market has to offer and then to “figure it out from there,” explains Wells. “This is why our margins are much slimmer than a slice of New York pizza down the street.”

The same theme continues with Pizzeria Delfina’s crust. “Flour is the one ingredient we import,” says Wells. They get Caputo 00, which is “absolutely more expensive than your average flour,” according to Wells. From there its just pure Hetch Hetchy San Francisco water, salt and flour. “There’s nothing crazy about that, but it’s the standard in high-end pizzerias.”

At Pizza My Heart in Santa Cruz, CA, where a slice of cheese pizza is $3.50, chef Leah Scurto “walks a fine line” between offering a product they love at an affordable price they can feel proud of. “We take a hit on our end to give better quality to our customer,” says Scurto.

The chain of 24 pizzerias, which goes through about 1,000 cases of pepperoni per month, has continued a big initiative to move towards nitrate- and GMO-free meats over the past six years. “The difference with offering these meats is anywhere from $.80 to $1.30 per pound,” says Scurto. “It adds up, but it’s worth it.”

Amazingly, olives are an area where Pizza My Heart actually saves money by using a more natural product. Scurto is working with Lindsay Olives to start serving natural olives on top of their pizzas. “I guess it makes sense,” explains Scurto. “You pull out an ingredient and it’s cheaper.” Scurto is referring to ferris, an iron additive that gives canned olives their clean, black color. Without ferris, the olives are tan. You see their blemishes, but they have a “buttery and sweet” flavor, according to Scurto. “We tested them on the kids and they didn’t seem to notice, so we’re going to use them now.”

Are there items that are too expensive for Pizza My Heart? Sure. Scurto describes the most fantastic sun-dried tomato she’s ever eaten: an imported Italian beauty that’s actually dehydrated on the vine under the Tuscan sun. “They’re $.25 a piece and we’d need twenty five of them on one 20” pizza,” she says, laughing. “There’s no way we can use those.”