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Joshua Scott
Joshua Scott

A Day in the Life of a Pizza Guru

Joshua Scott
Joshua Scott

This story originally appeared in print in the November 2014 issue of mental_floss magazine. Subscribe to our print edition here, and our iPad edition here.

Two minutes into a conversation with Scott Wiener you can tell the man is obsessed. The 32-year-old, who lives in Brooklyn, loves pizza like nobody else. He loves it so much he’s made a career and a life out of it: He’s the author of the definitive book on pizza box design, holds the Guinness World Record for largest pizza box collection (775 and counting), writes for Pizza Today magazine, judges pizza competitions, and founded the only tour in the country—maybe the world—solely dedicated not to pizzerias but to “pizza itself,” he says of the aptly named Scott’s Pizza Tours.

When Wiener was growing up, it had been a joke among his friends that he was “that into pizza,” he says. But he never considered it a career path: He worked in TV and music and spent some time as a caretaker living on the only surviving Ellis Island ferryboat. Then, in 2007, for his 26th birthday party, he went all out: He rented a bus, put together pizza-related goodie bags, and invited a group of friends to join him on a pizza-eating tour of New York City. It was a day that would change his life.

Six months later, he’d taken his pizza-party concept and made it his profession, offering bus and walking tours in New York to paying customers. Around that same time, he traveled to Israel, where he noticed “some stunning pizza box specimens.” Collecting them, too, became an obsession.

It’s hard not to look at a self-made pizza expert without a sense of awe. Hungry to find out if his daily life is as delicious as it sounds, we tagged along with Wiener on a busy day over the summer, through a Skyped meeting for his pizza-box art show in London and Berlin, a walking pizza tour in Greenwich Village, a meeting with a Japanese online magazine (pizza is having a moment in Japan), a comedy show that Scott’s Pizza Tours sponsored, and other random pizza business that came up. Here’s what we saw. 

Joshua Scott

9:01 a.m. Most mornings, Scott starts out with a swim at the YMCA, followed by a bowl of oatmeal to prepare for a day of pizza eating. (He limits himself to 15 slices weekly, which he tracks with an app.) Settling into his office full of pizza boxes, he fires off a few emails. As his Skype call begins, Scott remembers it’s his mom’s birthday. He jumps up to call her quickly, telling her, “You’re the most important one!”

Joshua Scott

9:43 a.m. It’s no surprise that the majority of Scott’s frozen foods fit a certain theme: People are always sending him pizza. There’s also some brisket his mom made. He digs through the foil-wrapped items to show us a pizza he made in January 2013. (Shortly after our visit, he threw it out “to make room for more frozen pizza.”)

Joshua Scott

10:30 a.m. People just “give me pizza things,” says Scott. This pizza umbrella was made by a friend and has pizzeria locations noted—with tiny plastic pizzas—on a map of downtown Manhattan that can be read from the inside, in case of a rainy-day pizza-mergency.

Joshua Scott

11:50 a.m. Before our Greenwich Village tour begins, a man walks by eating pizza. “That’s the second person I’ve seen eating a slice!” exclaims Scott, who’s changed into his official tour attire. There are nine of us, including two couples from New Jersey and a woman from Korea. Tours vary widely; whoever is there defines the day, says Scott. There have even been marriage proposals and one wedding, which he officiated.

Joshua Scott

12:07 p.m. Being buddies with pizzeria owners all over town means Scott gets to play chef every now and then. At Keste, a Neapolitan pizzeria with a dome-shaped wood-burning brick oven heated as hot as 930 degrees, Scott encourages us to touch the dough. “Dough is alive, and pizza is all about how hands interact with the dough,” he tells us as we ooh and ahh over its softness. He shovels it into the oven; within seconds, a focaccia emerges.

Joshua Scott

12:55 p.m. “I move fast in the morning,” Scott explained earlier. He also moves fast in the afternoon. There’s a lot to cover where pizza is concerned, so he walks and talks, dropping facts. Here’s one: When pizza chefs practice making pizza, they often use rigatoni (yes, the pasta) instead of cheese—it’s cheaper than fresh mozzarella and weighs about the same. Here’s another: A pizza oven can weigh as much as 3,000 pounds.

Joshua Scott

1:06 p.m. At a break between pizzerias, Scott pulls out a binder and gives us a mini lesson on grains. Wheat sourcing impacts flour options, and historically, pizzerias have had to depend on local flour. Some flours are much finer than others; “00” flour is the finest grain you can get and what’s used in Neapolitan pizzas (which is why the dough is so soft). Generally, the coarser the grain, the more time the pizza will need in the oven.

Joshua Scott

1:28 p.m. Scott’s infrared thermometer comes from an online tool shop and is typically used to check heating and air conditioning. He pulls it out on tours to demonstrate oven and pizza surface temperatures and “to avoid pizza burn,” which happens when slices are more than 175 degrees. When he checks a few seconds later, the temperature reads 168, and “this pizza is open for business.”

Joshua Scott

1:32 p.m. Among Scott’s many pizza hacks is a tip for divvying up a just- baked pie: Just insert a fork between the sliced sections at the crust and twist to separate. (For more hacks, visit mentalfloss.com/pizzahacks.) He shows us this at Fiore’s, where a gas deck oven is used, meaning a longer bake time. Quickly, we eat. As Scott says, “If there’s one thing I respect in the world, it’s the sanctity of fresh pizza.”

Joshua Scott

4:40 p.m. The tour completed, we hit Staples, where Scott cuts Slice Out Hunger fliers to pass out at the comedy show. The Slice Out Hunger annual pizza-eating event began six years ago as an anniversary party for Scott’s Pizza Tours. Each slice is $1, and all proceeds go to Food Bank for New York City. Last year, $20,000 was raised, funding 100,000 meals for the needy.

Joshua Scott

7:25 p.m. At the comedy show, talk again turns, of course, to pizza. Earlier in the day, I’d asked Scott if he ever got annoyed being asked so many questions about pizza. “That’s what I’m there for,” he said. “If my 12-year-old self thought I would grow up to think ‘What’s your favorite pizza?’ is the worst question, well, that’s still the best.”


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46 Mouthwatering Facts About Pizza
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If you live in the United States, it’s statistically likely you’ll eat around 6000 slices of pizza over the course of your life. But how much do you actually know about that delicious combo of dough, cheese, and sauce? Where did pizza come from? What makes a great slice?

Whether you’re a fan of thin crust, deep dish, or the New York slice, here are 46 facts that’ll tell you everything you need to know about pizza, in honor of National Cheese Pizza Day:

1. The word “pizza” dates back over a thousand years—it was first mentioned in a Latin text written in southern Italy in 997 CE.

2. In 1835, Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers, traveled to Naples, where he observed that the Neapolitan poor ate nothing but watermelon during the summer and pizza during the winter.

3. The first pizza place in America was Lombardi’s in New York City—originally a grocery store, Lombardi’s started selling pizza in 1905.

4. During the first few decades of the 20th century, pizza was predominantly eaten and sold by working class Italian immigrants...

5. … But after World War II, American GIs came home from Italy with a craving for pizza, bringing the food to a broader consumer base for the first time.

6. The first American cities to start selling pizza were New York, Boston, New Haven, Conn., and Trenton, N.J. All four of these cities had an influx of Southern Italian immigrants around the turn of the century.

7. At first, pizzas were sold exclusively by the pie. But in 1933, Patsy Lancieri (of Patsy's Pizzeria in New York City) started selling pizza by the slice—a trend that was quickly picked up by other pizzerias.

8. Humans aren’t the only ones who love the taste of pizza: There’s even a mini pizza for dogs called the “Heaven Scent Pizza” made of flour, carrots, celery, and parmesan cheese.

9. The first-known Chicago deep dish pizzas were created in 1943 by the restaurant that later became the Pizzeria Uno chain.

10. Domino’s was founded in 1960. The restaurant chain’s founder, Tom Monaghan, is one of three people in the world who hold an advanced degree in "Pizza-ology” from the “Domino’s College of Pizza-ology”—a business management program he founded in the ‘80s.

11. Domino’s dropped its “30 minutes or less” guarantee in 1993 after a series of lawsuits accused the company of promoting unsafe driving.

12. The Domino's delivery offer is still good in some places around the world. The guarantee has been great for business in Turkey, for instance. 

13. The first frozen pizza hit the market in 1962. It mostly tasted like cardboard until the genius food inventor Rose Totino got her hands on it. 

14. The Hawaiian pizza was invented in 1962 by Sam Panopoulos, a native of Greece who ran a pizza place in Canada. 

15. In the late ‘60s, the U.S. Army’s 113th Military Intelligence Unit spied on reporters and politicians using fake pizza deliveries.

16. Pizza may have originated in Italy, but countries around the world have developed their own regional spins on the classic food. In Brazil chefs top their pizzas with green peas, the French love fried eggs on their slices, and in China a crust made of mini-hot dogs is surprisingly popular.

17. The first pizza ordered by computer happened in 1974: The Artificial Language Laboratory at Michigan State needed to test out its new “speaking computer,” so they used it to order a pepperoni, mushroom, ham, and sausage pizza from a local pizza joint. 

18. In the 1980s, the Pizza Connection trial became the longest running criminal jury trial in American history, running from 1985 to 1987. It prosecuted a group of mafia members who were using pizza restaurants as a front for drug trafficking.

19. Chuck E. Cheese's was founded by Nolan Bushnell, the co-founder of Atari, as a way to make more money off of the game consoles.

20. Chuck E. Cheese may be the most famous animatronic pizza-selling animal in the world, but in the '80s, ShowBiz Pizza Place’s “Rock-A-Fire Explosion” gave the rat a run for his money. ShowBiz's animatronic band played hit pop songs and original tunes at locations across America, and were the creation of Aaron Fechter (who also invented Whac-a-Mole).

21. When pizza chefs around the world need help with their recipes, they turn to “Dough Doctor” Tom Lehmann. Lehmann, who lives in Manhattan, Kansas, is a pizza expert who’s been working with the American Institute of Baking since 1967. One of the biggest challenges he's faced? Low-carb dough requests during the height of the Atkins diet craze.

22. Plenty of famous people got their start making and delivering pizzas. Stephen Baldwin and Bill Murray both worked at pizza restaurants, and Jean Claude Van Damme used to deliver pizzas. 

23. The only pizza-themed superhero movie made to date is called Pizza Man—released in 2011, the film stars Frankie Muniz as a pizza delivery guy who acquires super powers from eating a genetically modified tomato.

24. In 2013, former child star Macaulay Culkin formed a pizza-themed Velvet Underground cover band called Pizza Underground. The band performs hits like “I’m Waiting for the Delivery Man” and “All the Pizza Parties.”

25. Pizza played a role in helping police catch an alleged serial killer known as the “Grim Sleeper” in 2010 when an undercover officer took a DNA sample from a slice of pizza the killer had been snacking on at a family birthday party. 

26. Pizza has also helped prevent several crimes: In 2008 when a pizza delivery man in Florida was confronted by robbers, he threw the hot pizza he was delivering at them and escaped harm.

27. In 2014, a woman called 911 to report a burglary and sexual assault, but because the burglar was still in her home, she came up with a novel way to get the attention of police: she pretended to order a pizza. Fortunately, the police figured out that something was not quite right with the pizza order, and instantly responded to the call.

28. In 2001, Pizza Hut delivered a six-inch salami pizza to the International Space Station—the first pizza delivered to outer space

29. A little over a decade later, in 2013, a group of NASA-funded scientists invented a 3D printer that could cook pizza in just 70 seconds, literally spraying on flavor, smell, and micronutrients.

30. The U.S. Military Lab recently invented a ready-to-eat pizza that can last for up to three years. The pizza is intended for soldiers abroad who are craving a slice… and also presumably for anyone preparing for a zombie apocalypse.

31. Pizza is such an iconic food, it even inspired an art show. In 2013, the Marlborough Broome Street Gallery in New York curated a show called “Pizza Time!” featuring more than 25 pizza-inspired works of art. The works ranged from paintings like “Caveman on Pizza,” which featured a sunglasses-wearing caveman surfing a giant slice of pizza, to works of art made of actual pizza, like John Riepenhoff’s “Physical Pizza Networking Theory.”

32. Pizza chefs use a wide variety of pizza lingo to show they’re in the know. For example, a ball of dough that’s been stretched and is ready for toppings is called a “skin,” mushrooms are often referred to as “screamers,” and slices of pepperoni are called “flyers,” for the way they’re thrown around the pizza kitchen like Frisbees.

33. Pizza chefs call the internal cell structure of pizza dough “the crumb”—most pizza makers try to achieve a crumb that’s airy with large holes.

34. The four primary kinds of mozzarella used to make pizza are mozzarella di bufala (made from the milk of water buffalo in Italy, and used on Neapolitan-style pizzas), fior di latte (similar to mozzarella di bufala, but made from cow’s milk), burrata (a fresh Italian cheese known for its creamy filling), and “pizza cheese" (the less perishable whole-milk or part-skim mozzarella used by the majority of American pizzerias).

35. In 2014, food scientists studied the baking properties of different cheeses, and found scientific evidence for a commonly known fact—mozzarella makes the best pizza cheese.

36. Ever eat a soggy slice of pizza that seemed to have a gross gooey layer between the base and the toppings? There’s a term for that. It’s called the “Gum Line,” and it's dreaded by pizza chefs. It’s caused when dough is undercooked, has too little yeast, or is topped with sauce or cheese that’s recently been pulled from the refrigerator and hasn’t had a chance to reach room temperature.

37. Think spinning pizza dough sounds simple? Think again. Dough-spinning has its own professional-level sporting event where pizza teams compete in acrobatic dough-spinning competitions at the World Pizza Championships.

38. But spinning pizza dough isn’t just for show: It’s the best way to evenly spread dough, create a uniform crust, and even helps the dough retain moisture.

39. There’s an association called the Associazione Verace Pizza Nepoletana (“True Neapolitan Pizza Association”) that sets specific rules about what qualifies as a true Neapolitan pizza and certifies pizza restaurants accordingly.

40. According to legend, the “Pizza Margherita” takes its name from Queen Margherita of Savoy who, in 1889, sampled three pizza flavors made by master pizza chef Raffaele Esposito and expressed a preference for the version topped with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, and designed to resemble the Italian flag. Nice story—and while the Queen did eat Esposito's pizza, there's no evidence of what was on the menu, and a lot of skepticism that this was mostly a marketing scheme concocted (complete with forged historical documents!) to boost business. 

41. Over the years a number of strange pizza-flavored products have been released, including potato chips, condoms, ice cream, beer, and e-cigarettes.

42. There’s a pizza museum in Philadelphia called Pizza Brain that is home to the world’s largest collection of pizza memorabilia.

43. Pizzerias sell the most pizzas on Halloween, the night before Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and Super Bowl Sunday.

44. The largest pizza in the world was 131 feet in diameter, and weighed 51,257 pounds.

45. The inventors of Bagel Bites got the inspiration for their first recipe off the back of a Lender's Bagel bag.

46. Research firm Technomic estimated in 2013 that Americans eat 350 slices of pizza each second, and that 40 percent of us eat pizza at least once a week.

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12 Cheesy Facts About Pizza Hut's BOOK IT! Program
Pizza Hut
Pizza Hut

If you went to school in the U.S. in the past three decades, you were probably exposed to BOOK IT!, the reading reward program by Pizza Hut that has kids devouring books by the dozen in order to earn free pizza and other rewards. According to Pizza Hut, more than 14 million students across 620,000 classrooms (or roughly 1 in 5 Americans over the past three decades) have participated in BOOK IT! Here's what you need to know about the delicious—and educational—program.

1. THE PROGRAM WAS INSPIRED BY THE SON OF PIZZA HUT'S THEN-PRESIDENT.

Inside a Pizza Hut restaurant, a woman pins a blue Book It button on a boy's shirt. Based on the hairstyles and clothing, the photo dates from the mid 1980s.
Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut's BOOK IT! program was created in Pizza Hut's Wichita, Kansas, offices in 1984. According to a video created by Pizza Hut, the program was created after President Ronald Reagan put out a call to America's businesses, encouraging them to get involved in education. Arthur Gunther, then-president of Pizza Hut, thought of his son, Michael, who had had trouble with reading due to eye problems when he was growing up. Gunther—who later told the Los Angeles Times that he was "truly motivated by my son and my love for him"—met with educators in the Kansas area with the goal of coming up with a program that would encourage kids to read and help them develop reading skills; what was developed became Pizza Hut's BOOK IT! program.

The idea behind BOOK IT! was simple: Reward students with certificates, stickers, buttons, and a single-topping Personal Pan Pizza for reading books. It was tested in Kansas schools before it—and its signature blue button—was rolled out nationwide in 1985.

Just over a month later, more than 7 million grade school students had participated across 233,080 classrooms. Gunther reported that three-quarters of students in the program exceeded their regular reading level. It also cost the chain an estimated $50 million in free pizza, plus $2.7 million in printed materials.

2. ITS CREATORS GOT A LETTER FROM PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN.

On June 2, 1987, Reagan sent a message to BOOK IT! organizers, reading, in part:

"During this 'Year of the Reader,' we can all reflect that reading is essential to the vitality of the mind and to the success and accomplishment of almost every endeavor. As the Book-It Program prepares for yet another tremendous year of bringing the gift of reading to youngsters, I want to commend all those associated with the program for the outstanding work you do. Your efforts give help and inspiration to many and strengthen our Nation. I salute you."

3. BOOK IT! POPPED UP ON TV.

In a 1988 episode of Small Wonder, Vicki's class participated in BOOK IT! In the episode, two students have to finish their reading assignments. This being late-'80s primetime TV, one of the students creates a hip-hop book report comparing Robin Hood to Mr. T. They earned that pizza.

4. BILL CLINTON DECLARED AN OFFICIAL "BOOK IT! DAY" IN ARKANSAS.

October 3, 1988 was a very special day. Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton issued an official proclamation declaring it "BOOK IT! Day," stating that the program was "an effective tool in motivating elementary students to read." He further noted that across Arkansas that year, 5711 classrooms with 142,775 students participated in the program.

5. PIZZA HUT COFOUNDED NATIONAL YOUNG READERS WEEK ...

Pizza Hut extended BOOK IT! in 1989 with a week-long reading event that brought "celebrity" role models into schools to demonstrate the importance of reading to kids. ("Celebrities" are often local figures like school principals, though can include pop stars—see item 11 below!) Dubbed National Young Readers Week, the event was created alongside the Library of Congress Center for the Book. Pizza Hut proceeded to issue a challenge to school principals "to become shining examples for literacy by choosing one day to read their heart out all day long, from first bell to the last during National Young Readers Week." The event runs during the second week of November each year.

6. ... AND THE "BATMAN PRINCIPAL" WON THE CHALLENGE IN 2016.

Principal John Rizzo of Jonestown Elementary in Jonestown, Pennsylvania, won the National Young Readers Week principal challenge in 2016. He dressed up as Batman and visited classrooms in his school, promoting reading. Rizzo then went on the roof of the school to read to students. "We try to develop lifelong learners, especially lifelong learners of books and reading," the Bat-Principal told ABC27 News.

7. BOOK IT! IS FOR HOMESCHOOLERS, TOO.

While many students are exposed to BOOK IT! in public schools, it's available to homeschoolers too. The program runs from October 1 through March 31 each year, and students ages 5 to 12 (grades K to 6) are eligible to participate. BOOK IT! prohibits clubs and other such non-school groups from participating, suggesting that this could dilute the value of the rewards. The program is also available to virtual and online schools, with the proper paperwork.

In its first few decades, BOOK IT! kids recorded their reading with paper logbooks—and that's still an option. But there's an app for that, too. The app syncs student progress with a teacher dashboard, allowing teachers to keep track of ongoing participation.

8. CLASS PIZZA PARTIES ARE STRICTLY PROHIBITED.

The BOOK IT! FAQ explicitly prohibits "group redemptions and parties," including class pizza parties. The guidelines say:

"An important part of the BOOK IT! Program is individual recognition of your students for meeting their reading goals and our team members are trained to provide individual recognition."

9. LOTS OF PEOPLE SELL THEIR OLD BOOK IT! BUTTONS ON EBAY.

A vintage BOOK-IT pin from 1985.
The 1985 BOOK-IT! pin.

Vintage BOOK IT! promo items appear to be slightly collectible, especially the logo button which debuted in 1985. eBay has dozens of pins dating from the '80s and '90s—you can even see how the logo design changed over the years.

10. THE OFFICIAL BOOK IT! STORE SELLS SOME WEIRD STUFF.

For a brand based on reading and pizza, the official BOOK IT! store takes the merchandise to a slightly odd place. With USB car chargers, magnetic fridge clips, and squeezable dart rockets, you'd be forgiven for thinking BOOK IT! was aimed at grownups.

On the other hand, they also carry the "retro" t-shirt design and reader awards, which are great for kids.

11. BOOK IT! WAS EXAMINED IN A RESEARCH STUDY

In 1999, a paper studying BOOK IT! was published. Entitled "Effects of extrinsic reinforcement for reading during childhood on reported reading habits of college students" (Psychological Record, 1999, by Flora, S. R., & Flora, D. B. [PDF]), the paper examined how pizza functioned as an extrinsic reward for reading. In other words, although reading carries intrinsic rewards like enjoying the story, the addition of extrinsic motivators like pizza or money (not part of the BOOK IT! program) can affect students' reading behavior. The study sought to determine whether those extrinsic rewards negatively affected later reading behavior—the concern being that perhaps without pizza or cash, students might stop reading.

From the paper's abstract (emphasis added):

Neither being reinforced with money or pizzas increased or decreased the amount college students read nor influenced their intrinsic motivation for reading. Answers to direct questions about BOOK IT! and parental pay for reading suggest that when a child is extrinsically reinforced for reading the child will increase the amount read, enjoyment of reading may increase, and if they do not yet know how to read fluently, the programs may help the child to learn to read. These results provide no support for the myth that extrinsic rewards for reading undermine intrinsic interest in reading. Rather, extrinsic rewards for reading set the conditions where intrinsic motivation for reading may develop.

12. JUSTIN BIEBER READ THE CAT IN THE HAT FOR BOOK IT!

In 2011, BOOK IT!'s "America's Biggest Bedtime Story" program presented Justin Bieber reading The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. The program exists to encourage parents to read bedtime stories to their kids. Bieber read the story to benefit the Pencils of Promise charity. The next year, BOOK IT! recruited Tim Tebow to read Green Eggs and Ham. (Back in 2007, John Lithgow kicked off the trend, reading his own kids' book, The Remarkable Farkle McBride.)

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