7.05.2013

Once you go Pizzicletta you'll never go back

When Matt and I heard a Flagstaff local was opening up a new pizza place on Mike's Pike in town, we were pretty excited. Matt is born and raised in Flagstaff, and I have become a surrogate local since moving here in 2009. We are crazy about our town, and we love supporting other locals whether that is through their business, art, or what have you. So, when Pizzicletta opened around the time we started dating, and we got to know Caleb a little more, we were instant loyal customers. Since then we have had numerous date nights there, and Matt even tried to plan our proposal there, although the Grand Canyon ended up being his final choice! I cannot say enough about this place, from the food to the employees, it is such an amazing dining experience. Each member of the team pours their heart and soul into the business, and it really shows. 

So, as Matt and I come up on our two year anniversary, and Pizzicletta comes up on theirs (today) I am beyond thrilled to introduce you all to Caleb, the owner and chef behind this great place's magic. 

Caleb in Naples.

I grew up in southern Indiana. I loved the outdoors and was a scout (earned Eagle), enjoyed sports and loved the west. I knew I would move west and that's where I ended up going to college (CU Boulder). After graduating, I moved to Flagstaff to pursue my Masters in Geology. 


Where did the idea and inspiration behind Pizzicletta all begin? What made you decide to leave your day job at NAU?

I'd worked in bakeries since high school. It helped me get through college. I have a deep love for bread but never thought I'd make a career out of it. 



Then I went to Italy. I went to a conference in Iceland in 2006 while a grad student at NAU (MS in Geology, 2007). My brother was living in Germany and I'd always wanted to do a bike tour through Italy. I had the time (though not a lot of money) and could base out of Germany so I packaged up my cannondale and went. The conference was a near failure as I realized my master's research needed major retuning (perhaps a foretelling sign) and it was good to spend a few days in Germany. From Nurnberg I took a train to Milan and bike through northern Italy for 3 weeks. It was my first experience in a culture that valued food to such a high level. The bread and pizzas baking in wood-fired ovens especially caught my interest. After the trip, I built an oven in my backyard (documented here).

The oven was just a hobby. I never had the idea to open a restaurant. However, I became obsessive about making pizza. It was sooo much fun to host friends, work on recipes, and bake bread. At the same time, I was not enjoying my now full-time job at NAU. It was leading me down a career path that I felt was rather narcissistic and I was losing energy to work hard at it. That was a big day for me... when I realized I no longer wanted to work hard at my job. That's not me.



Can you tell us a little about your trip to Italy? What made you take off on a 34 day trip abroad? What did you hope to learn while on this journey?


I quit NAU in 2010 and worked full-time at Diablo Burger to help get my feet wet in the industry (though I worked at a number of bakeries ever since high school). At the same time I was writing a business plan and had a number of supporters, though I was no where near the point of raising the money I'd need to.



I took a second trip to italy in the fall of 2010 (documented here). With travel, the trip was about 40 days long and took me through most of the south. I flew in to Naples and out of Bologna. This trip had more purpose as I was working towards Pizzicletta though didn't know at the time if I'd ever make it happen. Anyway, I made many visits to vineyards, the Caputo flour mill, etc., all with the hope of getting to know the country, people and the food better. Many of our wines we pour are from the vineyards I visited, and I am happy to get to share the stories of my time with the winemakers with my customers. We use Caputo flour and I was fortunate to get to see that whole operation too. It's impressive.



Of course, I was fueled by lots of pizza, bread, cheeses, amazing charcuterie, and wine. It was a experience that I will never forget and think about constantly. A trip of a lifetime.


Some may not know that you kept a blog while traveling through Italy. In one of your final posts, you stated, "As this is the final post, I wanted to conclude with the number one take home message that I learned during my time here. Yes, I ate lots of pizza, picked up great concepts, drink many glasses of wine, and met amazing people, but these things do not summarize my trip in my mind. Rather, its that belief in one's self is an amazing thing." How has this lesson been played out upon your return from Italy and the opening of your restaurant? 



When I finished the trip, I knew I would open Pizzicletta. The trip gave me the confidence and belief in myself. That is what I meant.





What makes Pizzicletta stand out?

It is chef-owned and run and I am committed to always improve the business for customers, for staff, and for myself, everyday. 



We have 650 sq ft so we constantly have to think outside the box, or triangle as it were. The small space forces us to work very efficiently. I believe it's a better approach to operating a business. Give yourself too much space, money and staff and you get inefficient and slow. We are focused and lean. It keeps overhead low and oversight high.



Of course, we care about the food we make. We don't hide anything. We care about our customers health as much as our own. We eat the food we make, every night. 

Seriously... get in my mouth, like NOW.



I also believe most restaurants try to please everyone, and they most often fail. I'll be the first to admit that I know I cannot please everyone. It's a fool's errand. I'd much rather do one thing as best we can and let the chips fall where they will. Some people will love it, some will not. Some will even hate it. I'm ok with that.



Italians make wine to go with food. Period. That's WHY they make wine. So, our wine list is almost exclusively Italian, but most definitely all food friendly. Some call our list esoteric and many people probably find it intimidating. I work with my staff to know all the wines and to be helpful. I want to expand peoples knowledge of wine and not just ask for the "house red." 



Introducing new foods to customers is definitely part of the goal with my restaurant. Many people have never had a neapolitan pizza that has a wet center and is simply topped. Many people have never heard of the grape schioppettino. Many people assume lambrusco is a very sweet wine and so have never had real lambrusco from emilia-romagna. All these things were new to me 8 yrs ago. I live a lot better than I did 8 years ago.


How many people does Pizzicletta seat? Why is it important for you to keep it this way and how have you been able to accommodate the rapid growth of Pizzicletta?
 
30 (22 inside, 8 outside). I have few options in my current location to expand. If I had more space where in the Milum building, I'd expand a little bit and maybe open a bakery. I'd love to do that. 



But never too big. Quality is a number one priority and quantity can often take a toll on the latter. I spent $21,000 this past month on a walk-in cooler to insure that we can maintain the dough quality as we get busier. I could be making less good dough and meet the demand but it was more important to me to insure we could make the pizza that can stand on it's own. I don't say if often, but I am very proud of our pizza.






As the restaurant continues to thrive, you seem to be taking on more and more, such as baking fresh bread. How do you maintain such a constant presence at the restaurant while still balancing everything at once?



It is amazingly exhausting. I have extreme bouts of fatigue where I can feel detached from my mind and body. I do it because I love it. That is also how Pizzicletta is different. This type of restaurant requires a complete commitment. 



At the same time, I have amazing staff. I'd still be in my backyard without them. They are how we can grow. They are family to me.



I'm still working on the whole balancing thing though.


Anything exciting we can look forward to in the coming months or year?



The anniversary party will be something to look forward to, I promise. 



I know this sounds silly, but you should expect consistency. I think it is one of the hardest things to maintain in a restaurant but it's what I constantly think about. It's why I didn't take a day off until we were 18 months into it. I had to know my staff could deliver. Now they can so even if I'm not around, the pizza will be top notch. That's exciting to me, perhaps only expected from customers... but take my word, it's not easy.

After reading this, I hope you already love Pizzicletta as much as I do. And if you're not in Flagstaff to taste this magical pizza, then I hope you already fell in love with it due to the sheer passion Caleb shows. That being said, if you are ever in Flagstaff, you better stop by and show this place some love. I will truly miss it when Matt and I move away in August. 

5 comments :

  1. Those look absolutely divine! You've got mouths watering over here - any chance they deliver to South Africa? ;)

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  2. loooovvveeee pizza! this is such a great idea! love Katie

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  3. this is SO awesome! i love how this is not American style pizza either :) What an inspiring story, I can't believe he built his own oven. that is dedication. and passion.

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  4. Cassie, you'll have to come in and get a pizza before you leave. Not sure if Caleb has told you, but a lot of people who are GF can eat the pizza without upset because of the Italian flour used.
    -Alyssa

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