In high school, I worked in a resort restaurant learning the ins and outs of food service kitchens. As well, I have always had a passion for serving food to those around me. It is very satisfying watching someone in moments of joy eating the food that I have prepared. Many of my friends and family had suggested that I consider a food business. With the success statistics not being favorable, I had always resisted the idea for fear of failure.
With a food business far from my mind, but continuing the idea of entertaining as a hobby, I began large scale backyard project that included a deck, patio, outdoor bar under a pergola, lots of limestone pavers, and the idea of an outdoor kitchen. As I began researching options for the kitchen, I stumbled onto the idea of including a Tuscan-style brick oven that would heat with wood. At this point, I knew nothing about wood-fired cooking and had only experimented with homemade pizza in my kitchen without much success.
The biggest struggle that I had to overcome was me: my fear of failure and all of the excuses I was making to procrastinate getting started. I am very pragmatic. Everything I do has to have an end goal, a process to get there and a plan for execution. There was much to learn and so much that I didn’t know. I went over every detail many times to ensure every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed. If it wasn’t for the persistent encouragement from Ajith making sure that I was keeping my butt in gear on this project, I might still be sitting on the couch thinking about what might have been. I kept reminding myself that people don’t lay on their deathbeds regretting what they have done. They lay there regretting what they haven’t done. For all of those considering this endeavor, you have to get off your rump and make it happen. If you follow the book, go to at least one Wood Fired University, and have a passion for what you are doing; you can be successful.
I most enjoy the expression that people give when they eat the food. It is not just a facial expression, they feel it in their whole body. Their shoulders droop, their knees bend, their head tips back and their whole aura glows brighter when they bite into that warm, crisp, chewy dough topped with deliciousness. The texture of the fresh mozzarella layered over creaminess of the sauce soaked into the top of the crust reminding you of a grilled cheese dipped into a hot cup of savory tomato soup. The experience touches their soul, and we get to provide that. I especially love the east coast folks that walk up to our booth determined that we are going to serve them some second-rate commodity pizza. They are let down so often in the Midwest that they are a bit cynical. They become some of our most loyal return customers. We often hear; “this reminds me of back home” or “this is better than Naples.” I have never been to Naples, so I don’t know, and I have a lot of respect for the Neapolitan craft, but we appreciate the compliment, and we love our pizza.
There are so many rewarding things associated with this business. I can only attempt to summarize a few. It is fascinating that we never stop learning and perfecting out craft. Our crew is an impressive group of people with as much passion for the business as I have. I love teaching and leading them to be a part of something that they are proud. Each type of event has its own unique set of learning opportunities. There is a great sense of accomplishment when you knock out a wedding for 160 people, and everyone is happy with how well it went and how delicious the food was. Getting to see familiar faces when you do reoccurring events like our Saturday morning farmer’s market or monthly winery events. I especially like when the wineries that have outdoor patios, and we get to see the people enjoying the food. We immerse into the experience. Of course, the financial benefits are whatever you want them to be. The harder you work, the more events you book, the more money you make. Once you determine your breakeven point, converting on sales is easy. You have to get out there, sling some world-class pies, and collect the cash!
We have a local food truck association that has been wonderful. We meet every other month to discuss the community and events. We have a Facebook group where we share information and a website where we connect with inquiring customers. When someone contacts us as a community through the site, it is posted on in the Facebook group, and we all have an opportunity to work with the event organizers if it is a fit. We share a lot of information in this forum beyond event dates. It is very worthwhile. All of the local businesses that have come to rely on our services are also a great community. Farmer’s market coordinators, winery/brewery owners, and local festival organizers are all great contacts to have. You need them, and they need you, include them in your best friend list.