What do you look for when you walk into a restaurant? Are you most interested in the menu? How much do you consider the atmosphere? I believe a successful restaurant is a combination of great food and entertainment, so I consider both. After all, creating a unique and memorable experience is what turns occasional customers into loyal patrons.
Thankfully for me, wood-fired pizza offers a menu that provides both: when properly executed, the pizza tastes great and the preparation and baking of Neapolitan pizza provides the entertainment. So today I want to take you on a short tour of my space and the surrounding neighborhood. It won't take long. The pizzeria will be quite small (650 square feet!), but it will have a lot of character.
Pizzicletta will be located in the Millum building, a textile factory built circa 1920 in a "south-of-the-tracks" neighborhood of downtown Flagstaff, Arizona. The physical dividing line of downtown Flagstaff is the BNSF rail line. North of the tracks is home to more refined establishments, while south of the tracks hosts grassroots businesses and the local state university (NAU).
Visually, the south side has a more raw, industrial feel than the better-kept north side. Correspondingly, simply crossing the tracks toward the north will double a business's rent. You can see the tracks from my front door. Approximately 88 trains pass through town on a daily basis and add a wild-west character that charms tourists and tends to inconvenience us locals. The south side has been experiencing a revitalization during the last few years. Some of my neighbors worry of gentrification while others embrace this change.
I've lived in Flagstaff for six years now and walked by this corner storefront countless times. I lived a few blocks away while in grad school. My favorite coffee shop is just down the street, as well as some popular watering holes and the only bagel shop in town.
The storefront's juxtaposition with Mike's Pike and Phoenix Avenue makes the space stand out, almost separating it from the rest of the building. And as shown here on a google map, you can see that the street block and Millum building are in the shape of a pizza slice. Wow, I thought, this was meant to be. So when I noticed the "For Rent" sign posted earlier this year, I scribbled down the number and called later the same day. A few weeks later, I had locked in a long-term lease.
I'll be taking over the old office of the textile mill while Flagstaff Bike Revolution and Mother Road Brewery are occupying the factory section of the building. During demo, I uncovered the old window and door frame that once led from the office to the factory floor. I'm sure the original owners never envisioned a pizzeria, bike shop, and brewery taking over their space, but I'd like to think this combination of businesses would make them smile rather than send them rolling over in their grave.
The small space is a challenge: I must accommodate my needs as a pizzamaker but also save enough space for my customers to be comfortable. It's tight fitting everything in: oven, mixer, refrigeration, and dining area. Of course, my Ferrara oven will be front and center and visible from everywhere in the space. I'll be exposing the rafters above the dining area too. My architect and I worked for a long time to find the right balance, and I'm excited about what we've come up with. In general, we followed the philosophy that form follows function. The oven and pizza-prep area will provide the fundamentals of the layout with the remaining shape contouring around it. But I still wanted to offer my customers an open and entertaining environment.
I took some of my first childhood pizza-experience into account when designing the layout. The local Noble Roman's pizzeria in my hometown had a huge glass window that allowed customers to watch their pizzas getting topped. They also hosted pizza parties allowing the kids to make their own pizza, completely nailing the entertainment aspect as well as making parents happy by essentially turning the pizza into a babysitter. It was pure genius. I recall standing on my tip-toes watching the pizzaiolo make the pizza through the glass window. Little did I know I was looking at my future career.
So at Pizzicletta, I'll be installing a sneeze guard along the front pizza prep area and I'll top every pizza in front of my customers. I want everyone to see how each one of my pizzas make a whole that is larger than the sum of its parts. Nearly every pizzeria I visited in Italy puts their pizzamaking on display, but for me it's more of a throwback to my memories at Noble Roman's.
However, I won't be having the kids in the kitchen—my apologies in advance to all those Slice'r parents that were hoping for a Neapolitan-daycare. Nonetheless, as I retire the peel at the end of each night, I'm hoping I'll see lots of fingerprints and nose smudges as I look through the glass at my customers enjoying the environment and the pizzas I've just created.