Super Peel Interview from Pizza Therapy
(An interview with Gary Casper, Creator of the Super Peel)

Gary Casper had a pizza problem. A BIG Pizza Problem.

He was given a pizza stone, but he didn't know how to use it. He was able to make pizza alright, but getting the pizza on and off the stone proved to be a problem.

Gary had been given a pizza baking stone similar to this one: Old Stone Oven 4467 14-Inch by 16-Inch Baking Stone


Then he had a brilliant idea... Gary and I have been an Internet friends for a number of years. I've always been amazed at his unique way of moving pizza on and off a pizza stone. In the following interview, Gary explains the Secret of The Super Peel: (EXO Limited Edition Super Peel in Solid Cherry! 100% Made in USA)

Albert: The Super Peel is a new take on an old tool. A peel is used to transfer a pizza on and off a pizza stone (or wood fired oven). Gary how did you come up with the idea of the Super Peel? How does it work?

Gary: This truly was a Father-Daughter project from the get go. Jen (my youngest) had given me a pizza stone when she was about 9. We tried sliding pizzas from a cardboard sheet and off of a flat baking sheet. Neither worked too well initially. I am sure now that the whole shaking-sliding thing was probably not beyond my abilities with a bit more practice. But, impatience and stubbornness and a need to fix things was already kicking in. Generally, we just set off try and incorporate a floured pastry cloth into "something" that pizza wouldn't stick to and that would magically put our pizzas onto our baking stone.

How did you first create it? Did you go through a couple of design ideas?

Gary: Ha, I wish I had pictures of some of the variations. I do still have one early version that was sort of a cloth held between two wooden rods and third rod to move a loop of the fabric. Another one incorporated parts from a car window shade. Fun yes, but getting more complicated all the way. The basic design that is used in the Super Peel today, came as sort of a "bolt out of the blue", a flash of thought that came after having set the whole project aside for a while. It was so simple and elegant!

Albert: What gave you idea that the Super Peel would be popular with pizza makers and home chefs?

Gary: A lot of research: books, magazines, internet, etc. all led to the confirmation that we were not the only ones with this dough transfer problem. We were clearly focused on pizza initially. Regarding possible patenting, what is important is that which has already been done or described before - referred to as "prior art". During my research, I came across a bread baking cook book by Carol Field - "The Italian Baker". In one part of the book she is describing how she observed bakers loading their oven in the "Old Country". She described them using a sling of fabric to place loaves in the oven and then just whipping it out to leave the loaves behind. She then goes on to lament the fact that there is unfortunately no such device for use in the home kitchen. That helped to further enforce the notion that maybe we really were onto something and that it might find uses beyond pizza making.

 Albert: Does the Super Peel have any other uses in baking other than pizza?

 Gary: Yes, bread bakers, both amateurs and professionals have found it useful and have endorsed it. The Super Peel has been used in classes at the CIA and has even been mentioned in some bread baking books over the years. It can also be useful for pie and pastry making, as it can be slipped beneath and dough sheet even if it is partially stuck to the rolling surface. Generally, it can help with any dough moving task and will reduce the amount of handling and reduce the amount of extra flouring needed. As you know, too much of either of these can adversely affect the quality of your finished baked goods. Most recently, the wood fired oven gang has been giving us more attention. The use of too much bench flour can leave deposits on the bottom of your pizza, where it burns in the high heat of the WFO. The result can be an unpleasant bitterness which can really detract from the pie.

Albert: How did you first start to Market the Super Peel?? What was your most successful promotion? I actually started by attempting to license the concept. There was good interest and a couple of near misses, which actually bolstered my confidence in the product idea. The major obstacle to licensing was the fact that it was just too new of an idea.

 One might think that a revolutionary game changer would be a good thing, but such a product often requires so much education up and down the line so as to be a real negative, regardless of how cool and functional the product is. If customers cannot easily understand a new product, they are not likely to buy it, especially if it purports (like the Super Peel) to do magic. I pitched the product to The Baker's Catalogue, and they were interested in trying it.

Eventually, it appeared on the cover of the Catalogue in Nov. of 2003 and they sold about 1000 units. It was such a good fit with the Catalogue that we had to do it, even though we didn't make any money on the whole deal. But, the exposure in The Baker's Catalogue would later lead to product testing at Cook's Illustrated. Gaining a Cook's Illustrated endorsement has undoubtedly played a role in the success of the product.



Albert: You sell the  on amazon. How did you get Amazon to sell the Super Peel for you?

 That is an interesting question.  Several years back, Amazon opened up its site to products other than used books and CDs.  This was a game changer for
me and others with their own products to sell - Amazon exposure, WOW!! Initially, we packed and shipped everything in house, but have gradually
migrated most of this over to Fulfillment by Amazon.  Product is shipped to Amazon's warehouses and they take it from there right through customer
service.  Using Fulfillment by Amazon carries with it the free Amazon Prime shipping offer.  Of course, someone actually does have to pay for the
shipping until UPS and the Post Office offers to deliver for free.  There are more fees for this service, but you get actual shipping prices that are
ridiculously low compared to what one could get themselves.  So it averages out, and so far Amazon has been good for the product.

Albert: Is the Super Peel used by commercial bakers? Or is just used by home bakers?

 Gary: From the very beginning there was some interest from commercial bakers and pizza shops, but it really has been a home use type of product. We continue
to sell some to restaurants, pizzerias and bakeries, but these are generally small and/or specialized.  Last year I spent a large chunk of time designing
and building a large prototype that would work with a particular commercial oven brand.  It was an interesting project, but it did not end up going
anywhere.  On a related note, Eric Kastel from the CIA tells his bread baking students to get a Super Peel as part of their home baking arsenal
when they leave.  It is the best tool to simulate the oven loaders that they have been using in class.  In the end, the Super Peel is and has mostly been
a tool for home users.

Albert: How did you come up with the design for a long handled Super Peel?

 Gary: The design for the long handled Super Peel has been in the works for some time. Over the past several years, I have sent out maybe a dozen of various
prototypes to customers who wanted a longer handle, mostly for their WFOs. Early users have been very happy with it.  Having one for my own use has
converted me, even for indoor oven use.  There is just something very cool about having the extra reach.  So, the design has been sort of shape
shifting, but has been getting more refined.

Albert: We understand you will be working with the Fire With In as well as Forno Bravo.  How did that come about?

Gary: Hooking up with The Fire Within group was a bit of serendipity.  Jim, who works with them and also operates one of their WFO "pizza wagons", just
happened to receive a Super Peel from Florida from his Mom's estate.  He had never seen one before, but was struggling a bit with loading pies into his
WFO.   He tried it out and was totally hooked.  Turns out that he lives in my home town, just 20 miles from where I am located.  We got together and I
set him up with a few more of the standard Super Peels.  I actually had a chance to see his WFO pizza wagon in operation a few weeks back at local
farmers market.  It is a winner for sure!  I was there only 2 hours and I bet he made and sold 200 pies.  People could not walk past without stopping,
gawking, shooting video, etc., and even buying a pie or two!

The connection with The Fire Within has only been through Jim so far, and I am not entirely sure where it is going.  We will have about a dozen
preproduction units in a few weeks and, hopefully we will be able to equip their cart packages with both standard and long handled Super Peels.
Pairing the Super Peel with the traveling WFO does make a lot sense, as many people starting one of these operations have never made a pizza before.  The
Super Peel makes prep and loading of their pies so much easier.  And, as I mentioned earlier, using less bench flour can really improve the results.

Albert: Do you have any advice for someone that wants to create a new product?

Gary: I would strongly recommend that they start with a concept that fits their knowledge base and is relatively simple, ideally being a product that they
could actually make and sell themselves in order to test market and develop some sales data.  Even if they wish to license the idea to another company,
sales data speaks way more loudly than just optimistic words like "everyone will want one of these".  And, a good licensing deal with a good company can
be hard to get.  Even with luck finding a willing and able licensee, they need to keep performance requirements and minimum royalties in any contract.

What seemed like a good deal can sour easily for any of many reasons, and they will want the rights to their invention to come back to them in any
case of non-performance by the licensee.   As was the case with the Super Peel, they might then still be able to bootstrap a business of their own
around it.  I never did make many Super Peels personally - maybe 25 or so. I am sure they will be worth millions down the road, so if you have one hang
on to it!!  The best way to get going is to get some sales data to prove the need and pricing, and then work with contractors to make the widget or at
least the parts.

The most important thing, above all, is to persevere!  Once they have some "real data" to absolutely know that their idea has good potential, they need
to go at it like a shark on a seal, and drive through all of the many setbacks that will inevitably come along.  At the same time, they need to
pay real attention to any show stoppers that might crop up and be ready to
let it all go if that time comes.

Albert: What has been the hardest thing for you in developing the Super Peel?

Gary: Development was never a hard problem, though redesigning to reach a product that would be of high quality and could be sold at an acceptable price was
challenging.  I always continue to look at other products, new materials and manufacturing technology to see if there are improvements that can be made.
Even looking back through old stuff can be helpful.  

Case in point, we will be launching a new version - the Super Peel Pro, in October this year. It is
available in limited quantities on Amazon right now, but I just contracted for the first real production run.  It will be made of the same resin/fiber composite board that goes by the name "Richite", sold under the Epicurean brand.  In many ways it is a better material for the product than wood, but
it was way too pricey when I first looked at it over 10 years ago. Manufacturing costs have shifted enough that it has now reached relative
parity with wood.  We will keep the wooden peels, but I expect that many will prefer the composite for its low maintenance.

Albert: Part of your marketing strategy has always been to give back to
the community. (And yes I think you've gotten Pizza Therapy involved  more than  once..)

How does that fit in with your mission statement of your company? Has giving back to the community helped your business?

Gary: Giving back and paying it forward are two things that I strongly believe in. I can't say that charitable giving has helped the business directly, at
least not to my knowledge, but it is something that I am committed to.

 I strongly believe that all of our kids need every chance that they can get to succeed in life.  I donate to local children's charities and have for years given talks to grade school kids on inventing and being an inventor.  I love to see how amazing their problem solving is at an early age, and want them all to know that this is something that they also can do.  People usually refer to thinking inside of or outside of the box. Young children tend to think without  consideration of any box at all.  And, who knows where the next great product idea or company will come from?

Albert: What else is new with the Super Peel?

Gary: As usual Albert, I have probably ranted on a bit long already, and have covered a lot of this question already.  I can only add that I do have many
product ideas in various stages of development.  Some are just simple existing products that make sense to brand and sell under our company name.
Others are totally new products.  And then, there is the next generation Super Peel - the final frontier!, which is always in the works.  This last one must remain a secret for now, but stay tuned!!


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