$3 million for not-very-matic pizza

Let’s make our own low-cost, healthy pizza, San Jose Unified officials thought in 2003. We’ll buy a $720,000 Pizzamatic, spend $2.2 million to build space for it in the central kitchen and then call Domino’s for pizza. It turns out that $3 million doesn’t buy a lot of  pizza, reports ABC News.

It’s called the Pizzamatic — an automated, industrial, all-in-one, pizza-making workhorse.

“It has a dough stamper, followed by a sauce machine,” said student nutrition consultant John Sixt.

It has a mammoth stainless-steel production line, like those the big pizza companies use. No other school district in the country has one.

It can produce up to 1,000 pizzas an hour. In the last two years, the Pizzamatic has produced 2,000 pizzas. Total.

“Sounds like the Pizzamatic isn’t very matic,” said parent Lisa Stapleton.

The pizza business is a lot harder than district officials had anticipated. In 2007,  San Jose Unified hired a consultant to get the machine to work. Sort of.

Sixt realized the Pizzamatic needed a full-time technician to keep it running and to keep all those electric eyes lined up. He also needed a crew to clean the machine each day. So he abandoned most of the Pizzamatic — all those gadgets — except for the oven and a couple conveyor belts.

Pizza production is now down to just one day a week. Kitchen workers assemble the pizzas by hand, starting with frozen crusts. The Pizzamatic sits polished and empty. It’s too complicated and temperamental for the staff to manage. They wait at the end of the assembly line to feed pizzas into the oven, one by one.

. . . The district also never figured out how to get the pizzas to schools all over the city before they got cold. They didn’t have enough trucks and drivers.

Over the past five years, San Jose Unified has spent $1.4 million to order out for pizza;  the central kitchen — using staff and the not-very-matic Pizzamatic — produces 100 pizzas each Friday for elementary school pizza parties.

However, Superintendent Don Iglesias dreams of  the day when San Jose Unified  will make a profit as the pizza supplier for all 33 school districts in the county.  Perhaps flying pigs can deliver the pies.

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  1. Everything is more complicated than you first think it is. But it’s sad that this guy knew so little about the real world that it didn’t occur to him that it must be hard to produce and deliver this much pizza. And to suppose that he could easily mass produce food that was both better and cheaper than the chains.

  2. This is mission creep. Public schools were created to educate children, not mass produce pizza for sale. Of course, the administrators managed to educated themselves on how NOT to run a start up pizza business. To bad it was done on the public dime.

    Keep your eyes on the prize, people.

  3. Judge Crater says:

    How hard could it be?

    What could possible go wrong?

  4. Judge Crater says:

    Keep your eyes on the pizza, people!

  5. Foobarista says:

    An amazing number of bureaucrats think people in business are stupid, evil, or both. After all, Dominos is an evil corporation, run by guys who make pizza! How hard can that be?

    Same for the local pizza joints, large-scale catering businesses, or anyone running a restaurant, who would have seen the flaws in this plan within about 30 nanoseconds.

    But they’re evil capitalists and don’t care about The Children, so we can’t possibly talk to them.

  6. ‘twould be interesting to know if they visited any places where this systems was installed and quizzed the managers on their experiences.

  7. “…However, Superintendent Don Iglesias dreams of the day when San Jose Unified will make a profit as the pizza supplier for all 33 school districts”

    Translated: “We screwed up big time. The only way to kinda cover it up it to not admit we screwed the pooch and continue to screw it up even more by FORCING EVERY school to buy in, chip in and burn even more cash before realizing we don’t have the money to hire drivers and buy delivery vans to deliver them”

  8. Never underestimate the capacity of bureaucracy for completely pointless waste. This is an example of “failure by success.” Not in the sense that Dominos and the other pizza chains have failed, but that they have succeeded to such an extent that it allows at least some people to think that what they do is easy.

  9. Foobarista says:

    This is why I don’t trust “service by government”. Failure in business (at least if TARP isn’t involved) is punished by going out of business. Failure by bureaucracy is “punished” by complaining about the lack of funds to “succeed”, and more often than not getting the funds.

  10. Lisa Stapleton says:

    I’m one of the two parents quoted. For $4.5 million, they could have easily negotiated a VERY sweet volume deal with some local pizza company to supply their classes with, say, vegetarian pizza that would have met their nutritional guidelines. I was not kidding when I said that it breaks my heart what they could have done with that money. What I didn’t know until I saw the final Channel 7 ABC News piece that contained my “not very matic” quote was that Don “the Delusional” Iglesias STILL thinks that he can run a pizza company within the district that would supply OTHER school districts with pizza at a profit. I’m not sure that’s even legal, but at the very least, it’s very controversial for local government to use public funds to go into a business like that without some kind of public vetting process, which apparently never happened.

    I really think that they should follow the first rule you learn in MBA school, which is that you don’t consider your sunk costs when trying to figure out if something is a good decision moving forward. They need to figure out a good use of the space devoted to the machine, sell the machine to someone who has a real need for it and the personnel to run it, and quit wasting money on this dumb district delusion.

    Lisa Stapleton
    Parent of two SJUSD students
    Former graduate of SJUSD
    Santa Clara University MBA, 2008

  11. One word for you: kickbacks. Someone needs to follow the money trail on this one. The school folks didn’t dream up this idea on their own – a bug was put in their ear by some salesperson and they were probably promised a little something something for themselves and something good for the school. Either than or it was someone’s romantic interest. Only greed and sex can make people THIS stupid.

  12. This is your money taxpayers! Can anyone stop this endless spending on things that never better EDUCATION!?!? The spenders of our money seem to never be accountable to anyone… They sweep these things under the carpet. No one suffers but our kids… and our pocketbooks!

    Get excited! Let’s not stop at shaking our heads! Let’s hold these bureaucrats responsible! This is CRIMINAL in my opinion.

  13. Judge Crater,

    You forgot, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time”.

  14. Margo/Mom says:


    I don’t want to discount love and money as motivators of stupidity. But, I would also point out that education is a very isolating field. Educators spend an enormous amount of time in a single building, frequently operating as if they are “independent contractors who share a single parking lot.” The end up isolated both individually and as a group. There is a high level of mistrust for anyone other than themselves who might make decisions that affect their work or profession. There is a high level of acrimony levelled at politicians, bureaucrats, parents, and especially business people. None of these people are qualified to share their expertise with educators (and we won’t even get into the divide between “teachers” and educators in other positions, such as professors, principals, superintendents or other administrators), because they don’t understand “what we go through.”

    This ego-centric view (and sometimes I wonder if prolonged exposure to adolescents even heightens this), leads them to believe that they understand things that they do not–and even that their understanding is at least equivalent to, or superior to, those who have other qualifications. This places the risk for poor judgements very high.

    No citations today–just my own opinion from observation.

  15. It is often a bad idea for businesses, as well as government agencies, to take on the management of things that are not core to their mission. For one thing, there are serious personnel issues: a pizza expert at Dominos has a career path. What is the career path for a pizza expert in a school district?

    Also, Dominos has a market test to keep them on their toes: a school district doesn’t.

    Related: two school systems–and two foundries.

  16. Just imagine how many other boondoggles like this don’t get reported. For each of these magnificent wombats (waste of money brains and time), there are probably three or four that never see the light of day.

    This goes a lot towards explaining why it takes more than a quarter million dollars to school a class of 25 kids for a year.

  17. You suggest “flying pigs” in these days of swine flu? You’re so insensitive!

    {sarcasm now /off}

  18. Hey, if I made a bid on the Pizzamatic, would they throw in those commercial espresso machines, too?

    This makes me furious, just furious. How many of their teachers are out buying basic classroom supplies right now because they’re rationing paper, pencils, and the copier?

  19. How well does SJUSD do at the job of education?

    It’s not like making pizza is very complicated, some dough, some ingredients on top, toss it in the oven. Now if the government ever got in the business of making something really difficult, like say automobiles, then we should be worried…

  20. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Lightly seasoned wrote:
    “How many of their teachers are out buying basic classroom supplies right now because they’re rationing paper, pencils, and the copier?”

    Not to worry. We’ve got parents for basic classroom supplies. It is the least they can do after paying their school taxes.

  21. You could hand roll, hand toss, and bake pizzas for far less money than this idiotic scheme. Besides subcontracting with a local pizza company, the school could have bought Trader Joe’s dough, sauce, and assorted toppings for less and had kids make orders in 1st period, and baked them all by lunch. I can’t believe how dumb this was.

  22. Margo/Mom says:


    In education we don’t often do things the way you describe. We tend not to start with the things that we know will work and gradually scale up or improve over time. We tend to leap in full force, with little knowledge, expect miracles, forget to plan for evaluation and abandon expensive efforts that don’t live up to expectations (and carry the baggage of the failure for some time after). We are not about continuous improvement. In fact, I am sure some will offer stories of how they bought a continuous improvement package that was supposed to solve all their problems, discovered they didn’t have the personnel, or training, or commitment or data to implement it and have by now abandoned it as another useless experiment.

    We have reinterpreted “data-based decision-making” as test preparation and ignored the concept of informing decisions of all kinds based on available data (meaning information, which would include in this case the cost, the amount of productivity required to make the thing pay off, the level of training required to produce the product using the machinery, upkeep costs, information about the target market and their inclination to purchase the contemplated product). Actually it might have made quite a project for a group of entrepreneurial high schoolers to explore.

  23. ” Actually it might have made quite a project for a group of entrepreneurial high schoolers to explore”

    No doubt any bunch of high schoolers would have done a better job.

  24. Margo/Mom,

    you are obviously an exception, but we all know that as a rule “Educators” are seldom well-educated. The GREs have proven this if there was any doubt – Test scores for all sorts of educators are about 100 points below the average for all takers of the test. We all know the saying: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t even do that, administrate.”

    As far as I’m concerned, the public education system in the U.S. should be completely scrapped, and most “educators” should be given jobs that they are better qualified for – such as dish-washing (if well supervised). That educators would feel so superior that they pay no attention to the opinions of non-educators is laughable – but we all know that fools are too stupid to even understand that they are fools.

    Private schools in the U.S. are providing actual education (not just better, but actual education), usually at one third to one half the cost per student that is spent in the public system. That alone says volumes about value for money.

    Whether the school system is doing what it is designed to do is another question entirely. Some people suspect that our current system is intended to actively prevent real education, and if that is the case it is certainly working as intended . . . though not as advertised. It is no accident that qualified persons are hesitant to enter the field in the public sector: lack of autonomy, bureaucratic idiocy, social ostracization for male elementary school teachers, and endless “certifications” that are useless and time-consuming are not selling points for the sort of people who are qualified to teach.

    Not much for it but to tear down the old – but there is no political will to do what is necessary, and the people who might vote are getting more ignorant every year. At home I have a couple 4th grade readers from approximately 1880, and I suspect that the average college student today couldn’t keep up with what the average 9 year old was reading 130 years ago. (There’s no question that the average Educator couldn’t understand those books.) That’s our educational progress for you.

    It sounds like you have a difficult job, so best of luck to you.

  25. Mother of two SJUSD students says:

    My experience with schools in the SJUSD is that, with some exceptions, many teachers and administrators seem to have no experience or interest in planning, making goals, evaluating whether the goal will be met, adjusting course to achieve the goal, or soliciting, assessing, and using meaningful input. Many also can’t discuss with any fluency or confidence their alleged area of expertise. Many exhibit bizarrely unprofessional behavior when dealing with parents. I’ve heard stories….I have my own stories.

    They also don’t have a very functional chain of command; nobody seems responsible for maintaining quality work or professional behavior at any level. Don Iglesias seems to be leading this dysfunction.

    My high-school son was shown the news coverage of this issue as an example of something that seemed like satire, but wasn’t. Ha ha. Funny, but in a pathetic way. Only the latest in a series of “what a waste of money” stories.