Test-driving Domino's new pie -- and savoring the reasons why

In an act of fearless reporting, I test-drove the new Domino's pizza the other night.

The verdict? That's a matter of taste. But the bottom line is this: If you liked the old Domino's, time to say arrivederci -- as the company has promised, that pie is long-gone.

In its place is a pizza that boasts a crust with less heft and more flavor (garlic butter, to be exact), sauce with amped-up herbs and cheese that swirls and strings like that of local-parlor pizza, rather than lying in a single circular sheet.

I'll take the new stuff over the old any day. But as the comments on our earlier coverage of Domino's makeover indicate, America still hasn't made up its mind about Domino's 2.0.

If you're looking to share your opinion on the product, head over to pizzaturnaround.com or tweet the company. According to Domino's brand innovation VP Brandon Solano, he and other employees are actually listening. "After I put my kids to bed, I'll pull [the site] up and see what people are saying," says Solano. "Late at night the entire team will start trading emails, saying, 'Did you see this one? Did you see that one?'"

Solano came to Domino's from Hershey two years ago and remembers what a friend in Pennsylvania told him before he left for the new job. "He was like, 'Oh, man, you gotta do something about that pizza,'" Solano recalls. "[At the time], I hadn't had Domino's in years."

Not long into the job, Solano realized his friend was right."It was all about 30-minute delivery and not about the product," he says. Even more pressing: since 2006, Domino's business had declined for three straight years. Revamping the recipe was going to cost the company a lot of money, Solano knew. But: "The cost of not having a fantastic pizza? Consumers leave you."

So Solano spearheaded a total reinvention of a 50-year-old pizza. First came the sauce: its flavor had always been dominated by black pepper. The company replaced that with red pepper and added a blend of herbs to the mix. Then, the cheese: it had long been too stiff and manufactured. "Our cheese didn't have texture -- it was mushy," says Solano. "We reduced the fat and increased the protein, which gives it more of a bite." They also added provolone.

Last -- and most importantly, says Solano -- was the crust. "That was the hardest," he says. "We tried all different things -- yeast, malt, over and over." Finally they hit on a formula that won over their in-house culinary team and consumer taste-testers: a garlic butter crust that incorporated parsley and romano cheese.

In short, the new recipe incorporates a lot of strong flavors -- i.e., if you don't like garlic, now you don't like Domino's pizza, either. "We might lose some customers along the way," says Solano. "But the American palate is changing. Having bland food everyone can agree on is an old model. What we wanted was a point of view."

And it's a point of view that even longtime doubters are coming around to. "My friend from Pennsylvania called me and said, 'You did it,'" says Solano. "That's gratifying, to see the critics turn."
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