Coal Oven Pizza from Table 87

table 87When Tom Cucco opened Table 87 Coal Oven Pizza in 2013, he probably never envisioned being on Shark Tank, but here he is in episode 706, pitching his business. Cucco is serving up “old school,” New York style pizza. Most pizza joints in New York (or anywhere else for that matter) use gas ovens – many use wood fired brick ovens, too. Coal ovens date back to the early twentieth century, before gas was included in the “energy infrastructure.” Almost everyone used coal then – for heating and cooking.

Coal is often perceived as a dirty, inefficient fuel by twenty-first century standards, but clean coal and high efficiency gas-assisted coal ovens have changed that. While the greater population won't soon turn to coal for everyday use, coal oven pizza is experiencing a rennaissance of sorts in New York. There are four pizza joints using coal that have been doing so since the early to mid 1900's (Lombardi’s, John’s, Patsy’s, and Totonno’s), and another dozen or so “upstarts,” Table 87 is among that crowd. They're also the only place that servs their coal oven pizza by the slice.

Pizza is best cooked in a hot oven to give the crust the right texture combination of crispy and doughy. Coal burns hotter than gas or wood, so the pizza is, apparently, AMAZING. Supposedly the trend is catching on, for Table 87 anyways. Cucco opened a second location recently. Both spots have great reviews and are doing a good business.

I wasn't sure what Cucco was looking for in the Tank initially. I thought he was thinking franchising. It appears, however, that Table 87 is making a push to sell a frozen version of its pizzas. Perhaps Mr. Cucco wants a Shark to help him with this aspect of his business.

My Take on Table 87

I've had pizza in New York many times; it's one of New York's signature dishes (along with hot dogs). I've even eaten at Patsy's, but I had Veal Piccata (it was EXCELLENT). I've never tried Table 87 pizza, so I couldn't personally attest to its quality, but I do LOVE pizza.

If coal oven pizza is as good as (or better) than wood-fired brick oven pizza, I'd probably want more than a slice. I'll be sure to check the place out next time I'm in town.

I'm not sure if the whole coal oven experience can be replicated in frozen form, however. There are some very good frozen pizzas on the market, but none compare to getting a “real” pizza, fresh from the oven. If Cucco can even get 50% of the yumminess in his frozen product as he does in his shops' fare, he'll have a winner. I'm IN just because I like pizza so much!

Do Sharks eat Pizza?

I am sure Mr. Cucco will have plenty of samples for the Sharks. With any food product, the proof is in the taste, but I'll bet anyone a large pie with the works the Sharks will devour the Table 87 samples. I'm pretty sure a Shark invests, too, and here's why.

A few weeks ago, there was no mention of frozen pizza on the Table 87 Facebook page. On October 9, there were several posts about it. One was touting the fact that Stew Leonard's markets were set to carry Table 87 in their freezer aisles. A second post, also dated October 9, says “did you know that we are now shipping out Coal Oven Pizza nationally?” A quick check of the website shows they are indeed shipping pizza, from a brand spanking new Shopify eCommerce site! A single 10 inch pizza costs $22.99, but you can get three for $43.99. At nearly 15 bucks a pop for the three-pack, it's pricey for frozen pizza, but if it's that good, it's worth it, IMHO.

So a week before they air on Shark Tank, Table 87 starts shipping nationally and announces they're headed for a dozen or so grocery store chains. Smells like Shark pizza to me! The question is, which Shark?

Robert has been trying to build his “food portfolio” in the Tank lately, but with his inexperience with co-packing and his dismal record of actually completing deals, I doubt he gets involved. Mr. Wonderful may like pizza, but I don't think Table 87 fits into his “Something Wonderful Platform.” Mark may love pizza, and he has venues where he could sell a ton of the stuff, but I don't think he's the Shark involved.

That leaves Lori and Barbara. Either one of the Sharkettes could be the one who sits at Table 87. Lori invested in a Bantam Bagels, a bagel shop in New York City, in season six. She had them shipping their product nationally after hooking them up with a co-packer within weeks of the original air date. Barbara has several food products in her Shark Tank portfolio. What makes me think it could be her is the Stew Leonard's connection. When she partnered with Ry's Ruffery in season 4, she had that product in Stew Leonard's almost immediately. She's also a native New Yorker and, despite her Irish heritage, I'm sure she's had her fair share of New York's finest pizzas. Maybe the two of them team up with Table 87?

Whatever happens, look for at least one of the Sharkettes to be in the pizza business once this episode airs.

About Rob Merlino

Entrepreneur, auteur, raconteur. Rob Merlino is a blogger and writer who enjoys the Shark Tank TV show and Hot Dogs. A father of five who freelances in a variety of publications, Rob has a stable of websites including Shark Tank Blog, Hot Dog Stories, Rob Merlino.com and more.

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