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Cloverleaf Pizza ??" The Truth Behind that 45-Minute Wait to Pizza Bliss

Owner, general manager, and dough squasher Debbie Brese in front of Cloverleaf's ovens.

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Debbie Brese, owner, general manager, and dough artist.

Cloverleaf Pizza is a Tacoma mainstay. We all know it. We all have our favorite pizza. We all sit patiently and wait the half hour to 45 minutes that it takes said beloved pizza to find its way to our tables.

And secretly wonder why our pizza takes so long to arrive.

The answer is deceptively simple. The answer is part of what makes these pizzas so delicious.

I'm the owner general manager. There are three people who make dough, and I'm one of them.

What makes the dough so special?

It's a thin crust dough. Most pizza places use a bread-type thing that they can toss and throw in the air-ours you can't. It's very soft. We squash it. It's a blob of dough and we fan it out onto the pan. It gets needed in a Hobart. A typical yeast bread you would make the bread, let it rise, kneed it down, let it rise a second and maybe even a third time. Ours you don't. We put it out right away and it rises and falls on the pans. It's a thin dough.

It's not made like bread. It still uses live yeast, but it's a thinner dough. We don't put as much flour in it. It's more like a cracker, but a cracker doesn't have yeast.

Debbie bought in 2004. Changes?

First six pizzas were on the original pizza menu-monster, lars, funk, nerd, o'brien-those were all named after Leonard's friends. Then we added the House favorite because everyone ordered a PMS-pepperoni, mushroom, sausage, but we didn't want to put PMS on the menu so we put house favorite.

We added a veggie. We added the Turco. Larry Turco is the one who brought the pizza here. He's a great old man. He's close to 90 now. He used to come in every week and have coffee with me. He's always been very supportive of me-he was the owner and then my father-in-law Leonard bought it from him in 1974 and then I bought it from my father-in-law.  So we named the Turco after Larry. That's not his favorite pizza, but we needed an all-meat pizza so we named it after him. Also added the BBQ chicken pizza, white sauce, and bacon cheeseburger.

Funny thing about this bacon cheeseburger pizza. Have you seen the advertisements for Papa Murphy's? They've advertised a bacon cheeseburger, well, they started that after we'd had it on our menu for about a year. And now our sales on our bacon cheeseburger have picked up about 100%.


The sausage is made specially for us by a local vendor. That's all we buy from him. It's Verones sausage. That sausage we've used for years and years and have never changed it. It's the only sausage we use. All our meats are raw meats, raw vegetables when they go on the pizza. We don't use bacon bits or sausage balls. We're putting raw meat. That's another thing that contributes to the crispy crust-because of the juice. We don't have grease, we have juice. Makes it nice and crispy.

Why 45 minutes?

It's raw dough-it's not a frozen patty dough. It's raw dough, raw meat, raw vegetables in a 500-degree oven.

A lot of places make their own dough, but make the bread dough and are using a different kind of oven. Often use a convection oven or a conveyor belt that's also a convection oven. But they're also putting on products that are cooked, not raw.

We use the old fashioned stone oven. A stone oven has actual bricks that go in the bottom of the oven. As the oven heats up, it heats the bricks so they hold the heat and the heat comes from below.

Larry created the pizza and brought it here. He owned a place out in Ponders, out toward Tillicum. Him and an Italian couple made pizza out in Ponders.

How do you plan the menu?

The way we add a product is that we start by creating a product in the kitchen. We test it out on all the employees. Then we test it out on a few select customers. Then we put it on a temporary menu and test it out for no less than 3 months and see what the response is. We tweak it based on comments we get back. If it survives the three months, and people like it, then we add it to the menu.

Ever make changes to the pizza menu?

No. I have to say, since I bought it, we added some toppings-garlic and chicken.

That's the beauty of the menu is that people can create their own special pizzas. Have you ever been to a place with 13000 entrees? It's overwhelming. So these are our standards and then you can build your own.

Stonegate is Larry Turco's godson or nephew. Larry helped him with his pizza recipe.

When I got this place, we had three different people making dough and no one made it alike. Now it's all standardized and it took me a year.

Restaurant background. Managed the Spar, my mother in law's place. Worked for her on and off for years. Owned a chain of restaurants here in Tacoma-planet burrito, a take off on Taco Del Mar. Owned several Taco Del Mar and several coffee stands. Managed old Shoreline restaurant in Gig Harbor.

Process of pizza.

Make the dough every day.

Shows me the oven-giant flat stones inside. Four ovens running at 500 degrees.

Pizza dough waiting patiently on racks, pre-sauced. Dough rises and then rather than kneeding the dough down, drops the pan and the dough collapses.

If it rises too many times, that's no good because it gets just flat. But ideally it needs to rise and fall, rise and fall. You don't want to bake it while it's big and fluffy.

On average, 325 pizzas a day. On weekends, more.

Process: Take the raw crust and put the cheese first. A lot of places put the toppings and put the cheese on top. We put our cheese first because we're dealing with raw meat, we want it exposed. Flat meats go on first. Then raw veggies, then raw meats on top. We cook them thoroughly. You can tell they're done because everything is crispy.

Our sandwich menu is also very good. The majority of the items are built off the pizza menu-toppings we use for the pizzas. We also did an extensive salad menu, none of that was there before.

If you come in on your birthday, you get a birthday shirt. Every year, we change the design on the shirt.

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