I have been involved in reverse engineering and cloning pizzas of others for many years. And, to be honest, a good part of that time I danced in the dark. Until Norma came along, I pretty much danced in the dark alone. When Norma arrived on the scene with the desire to make pizzas that she might be able to sell at market, I at least had a dance partner--one who had access to professional ingredients and a commercial deck oven no less-- but we still spent a good part of our time dancing in the dark. The reality is that people do not easily and willingly part with secrets of their businesses. They might tell you that their pizza dough is made up of flour, water, yeast, salt and maybe oil and/or sugar, and "a little of this and a little of that", but all that does is describe the haystack. The needle that I want is the baker's percents. Some of the younger pizza professionals have learned how to use baker's percents, most likely because of people like Tom Lehmann who spent years getting them to understand and use baker's percents, but the old timers were (and still are for the most part) volume oriented. If you ask an old timer about baker's percents, you are likely to draw a blank stare or they may tell you they have no idea of what your are talking about. Instead, they might talk about or show you water containers and measuring cups and bags of flours.
Over the years, I have spoken and/or exchanged emails with countless people from all parts of the pizza business in the U.S. (and occasionally in Canada, the UK and other companies in Europe via email), including ingredients and equipment suppliers and vendors, pizza operators, food brokers, an occasional executive chef, and customer service reps. Of these, I would say the least productive sources of information on dough formulations have been pizza operators and customer service reps. Often, they simply don't know the answers to questions posed to them, or they will politely say that they don't know even if they do. Sometimes, rather than say that they don't know the answers, I think that they just guess and end up giving you information that is either wrong or conflicts with information from other parts of the same enterprise. I also think that some people try to throw you off of the scent by intentionally giving answers that are wrong. Customer service reps are especially good at not revealing the trade secrets of the companies they work for because they are trained not to to do so. Once in a while someone will slip up and reveal a useful piece of information, but that does not happen very often.
It takes time to successfully reverse engineer and clone pizzas of others, especially when your are on the outside looking in. A while back, while I was at Craig's Pizza Summit 2, I had the pleasure of talking with Zane and Brandon Hunt. These are guys who moved from the Detroit area to Austin, Texas to start a business (called Via 313) that was to sell Detroit style pizza. They now have two mobile pizza operations and are in the process of starting a fixed (non-mobile) pizzeria. They have received national acclaim for their pizzas. They were very open with me and most likely would have answered all of my questions. However, I joked with them that I was not going to ask them questions about their pizza dough, and that I would just reverse engineer and clone it. But when I asked the Hunt brothers how long it took them to come up with the dough formulation they used in their business, my recollection is that they said that it took them two years. And these are guys who had spent most of their lives in the Detroit area and had eaten and studied the Detroit style pizzas of all of the big names in the Detroit area. They spent a lot of their time in their kitchens making test pizzas and getting feedback from the people who ended up eating the test pizzas.