- Can Marc Schechter and Danny Stoller, the founders of Sq. Pie Guys in San Francisco and Oakland, change lives with Detroit-style pizza?
- The 2 pizzaioli consider Sq. Pie Guys is “the following nice American pizza chain.”
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Story by Rick Hynum | Pictures by Melati Citrawireja
How did two Jewish guys—one from Lengthy Island, the opposite from Seattle—turn into well-known in San Francisco for making Detroit-style pizzas? Danny Stoller, co-founder of Sq. Pie Guys (SPG), is definitely one of many few American pizzaioli who might have been a rabbi (his personal rabbi recommended that profession at Stoller’s bar mitzvah). His enterprise associate, Marc Schechter, began out making pies and giving them away free of charge to his buddies—and to homeless individuals. They’re, to borrow a homey expression, “good individuals.” And their shared values—a agency conviction that with nice pizza making ability comes nice duty—inform and form the tradition at Sq. Pie Guys, with three places in San Francisco and Oakland.
Introduced collectively by God or happenstance—relying in your perspective—Stoller and Schechter have turn into media darlings and ambassadors for a pizza model that hardly existed exterior of Detroit after they have been children. Thanks partially to some masterful advertising and marketing, each location they open makes headlines within the native press. And each location makes a distinction within the lives of individuals in want. As a result of the founders aren’t simply companions in a pizzeria however collaborators with a community of neighborhood nonprofits that obtain a portion of Sq. Pie Guys’ gross sales.
“Look, nobody begins a enterprise as a result of they aren’t making an attempt to construct a greater life for themselves,” Stoller explains. “And, as we have been speaking about the kind of firm we wished to run, we knew neighborhood was such an necessary a part of what we have been striving for. We’ve been so fortunate to have a voice, to get the curiosity from the press. With the ability to repay a little bit of that goodwill is simply the pure evolution of making an attempt to do issues the precise approach.”
Crossing Pizza Paths
When he was rising up on Lengthy Island, Schechter says, “It was a fairly regular factor to solely eat nice pizza. After I went to summer time camp, I used to be shocked by the horrible frozen pizzas they’d serve us as a result of I used to be so spoiled by what we had again residence. Ever since then, I went out of my method to try to discover the most effective pizza wherever I used to be.”
That quest continued when he moved to Berkeley, California. He was working in software program gross sales, however what he cherished was making pizzas for his buddies at residence—and displaying them off on Instagram underneath the @squarepizzaguy (singular) deal with. “On the similar time, my fiancé broke up with me, which left this huge gap in my life,” Schechter says. “I additionally wasn’t super-happy with my software program gross sales profession. However making pizza for individuals really made me pleased. I poured my coronary heart and soul into it.”
Schechter typically made extra pizza than he wanted, so he donated the additional slices to the Homeless Motion Heart subsequent door. Nonetheless working his day job, he additionally took a weekend gig at Pizza Hacker in San Francisco. Earlier than lengthy, he began working their pop-up at Vinyl Wine Bar and additional honing his expertise.
Stoller, in the meantime, had labored at a number of fine-dining eating places in Seattle after quitting faculty at 18. He ultimately landed at The Culinary Edge company in San Francisco. “We developed recipes and menus for a few of the largest restaurant teams within the nation,” he says. “Certainly one of my tasks was overhauling and creating a complete new pizza idea, from dough recipes to operations supplies to monetary plans. So, in a accident, I mainly acquired paid to be taught the craft, a craft that might rapidly turn into my very own.”
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That’s how Stoller and Schechter’s paths lastly crossed—Schechter was buddies with Stoller’s new boss at The Culinary Edge and had been employed to cater an organization occasion. By this level, in early 2018, Schechter had moved on to a different weekend job, this one on the Burlingame location of Pizzeria Delfina, and was working his personal pizza pop-up—that includes New York-style and neo-Neapolitan pies—at Vinyl Wine Bar.
The 2 males met and hit it off. “We began chatting about pizza, and we made some lengthy bike rides to tour pizzerias in Oakland and Berkeley and have become quick buddies,” Schechter says. “At Danny’s July 4th barbecue in 2018, I pitched him the concept of a Detroit-style fast-casual restaurant. It instantly clicked in Danny’s head, and we determined to associate. We’d convert my pop-up into the Sq. Pie Guys pop-up in September of 2018.”
Constructing a Model
Not lengthy earlier than that, Schechter had begun experimenting with Detroit-style pizza for his pop-ups. One night time, a betrothed couple, on the lookout for a marriage caterer, confirmed up at considered one of Schechter’s regionally famend pop-ups for a tasting. However Schechter had offered out for the night time. All he had left have been three Detroit-style pans with dough that had been proofing for his check pies.
“I instructed them that I might make them Detroit-style simply so they might strive my sauce and my toppings and get a way for my pizza making model,” Schechter says. “They cherished the pies and requested if I might serve these at their marriage ceremony. I instructed them it’d be very troublesome since they’d 50 visitors and I solely had three pans. I’d want to purchase at the very least 20 to 30 pans, and it’d be very costly. With out hesitation, they instructed me to incorporate the price of the pans in my catering quote. That’s the true origin story! The couple accepted my quote and acquired my first 30 Detroit-style pans. These pans are what Danny and I first launched the pop-up with.”
Quickly, Schechter’s @squarepieguy account on Instagram, which had constructed up a considerable following, grew to become @squarepieguys—with an S. The companions opened their first brick-and-mortar location in July 2019 in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood. Providing Detroit-style fare “allowed us to face out amongst the ocean of different pizza locations and acquire consideration for a novel new pizza model within the Bay Space,” Schechter notes. Stoller provides, “We knew that, if we did it nicely, we’d profit from people’ curiosity in genuine regional meals they both had by no means tried or had a deep nostalgia for. We additionally knew that, if we weren’t cautious, we might find yourself a novelty, a flash within the pan, so there was a deep want to be sure that not solely was our pizza consultant of the Detroit custom, however that it met our excessive requirements for excellence. Mainly, we wished the most effective components of the custom however didn’t need to turn into mired in it.”
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To get media consideration, the companions labored with PR corporations at first, then nurtured the relationships they’d cast with the native press on their very own. “One piece of suggestions we get is that almost all operators aren’t responsive [to media inquiries],” Stoller factors out. “So that they don’t get their voices heard as a lot as a result of they’re not answering their telephone or their e-mail. We do.”
With media publicity got here alternatives to collaborate on fundraising occasions with superstar cooks like Samin Nosrat, writer of Salt Fats Acid Warmth and host of the Netflix present of the identical title. For Nationwide Pepperoni Pizza Day in 2021, they rounded up a dozen Bay Space pizzerias to kind the Pepperoni Posse, with every store donating a portion of the day’s gross sales to nonprofits combating meals insecurity.
Amongst its many neighborhood companions, SPG helps the Camp Mendocino Boys & Women Membership of San Francisco; La Cocina, a nonprofit that helps ladies, immigrants and folks of shade launch their very own eating places; the Jeremy Lin Basis, which serves low-income AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) and BIPOC (Black Indigenous Folks of Coloration) communities; and Oaklash, the Bay Space’s drag and queer efficiency pageant.
From a advertising and marketing standpoint, these relationships assist set up SPG as a enterprise that’s about greater than its backside line, which is more and more interesting to millennial and Gen Z clients. And Stoller and Schechter makes positive to have fun their very own numerous roster of staff throughout the net.
It’s uncommon to discover a restaurant firm that spotlights each particular person group member, from shift results in dishwashers, on its web site with professionally shot pictures. However SPG does precisely that. “On the finish of the day, we’re solely a small a part of Sq. Pie Guys,” Stoller says. “With every retailer, that turns into increasingly true. I used to be uninterested in going to eating places’ web sites and solely seeing senior management. In a time when people complain about labor and the way individuals don’t need to work, they by no means take the time to look within the mirror. We’ve seen that people like working someplace they’re valued, and the primary of our 4 core values is ‘Workforce First.’ That signifies that, as we make selections, we embrace the impression on the group after we do it. That includes our wonderful, hard-working group is simply a part of that general method to creating SPG the very best place to work.”
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Making the Pizza
However what concerning the pizza? Native web site SFGate says SPG serves “a few of the greatest pizzas San Francisco has to supply.” Earlier this yr, the San Francisco Chronicle listed SPG as among the finest pizzerias within the East Bay. Their pies “come out dense, salty and with a resonant crunch,” the article states, boasting “gooey cheese within the center and crusty cheese on the perimeter. Order pepperoni and discover it overflowing with cups.”
To nail these trademark crispy edges, SPG makes use of Tillamook cheddar, then tops the pie with Grande’s whole-milk, low-moisture mozzarella. “Actually, attending to know your dough and ensuring you’re utilizing simply sufficient oil within the pan are two large elements of it,” Stoller says. “Past that, I believe Detroit-style is far more forgiving—you possibly can all the time begin the oven on a super-high warmth to get the pan sizzling and crisp these edges, then convey it down later. We’ve additionally discovered that selecting a cheese generally is a actually necessary a part of the cheese edge; a few of the low-moisture, whole-milk mozzarellas burn actually simply.”
Pans make a distinction, too. SPG makes use of anodized aluminum pans from Lloyd Industries. “Within the early days, we realized that [these pans] have been much more forgiving and gave us a greater product,” Stoller says. “The truth is, we’re nonetheless utilizing pans on the first location that we used proper after we opened!”
SPG has grown quick—three shops in three years—and so they’re simply getting warmed up. “I believe there are nonetheless progress alternatives within the Bay Space, up in Marin County and down within the South Bay by the large tech corporations,” Schechter says. “Then I’d prefer to see us develop to Southern California and a few of the main metropolitan areas up the coast—Portland, Seattle, and many others.”
“Sq. Pie Guys is the following nice American pizza chain,” Stoller provides. “We each have a objective and imaginative and prescient to take this idea nationwide, doubtless with out franchising. We expect we’re simply scratching the floor of curiosity in inexpensive, premium-quality pies which are distinctive and craveable however not a novelty. We expect we bridge generational divides, and we’re continually studying the way to supply glorious service in-store and off-premise.”
Ultimately, they need to see SPG places in a number of states, with a model title that’s acknowledged nationwide. And that rising tide might carry staff’ boats as nicely, Stoller believes. “I’ve heard tales of execs at Panda Categorical—additionally all company shops—bragging about former dishwashers changing into millionaires over time. That, to me, is probably the most motivating and particular factor I’ve ever heard. I would like SPG to be the job that adjustments individuals’s lives.”
Rick Hynum is PMQ’s editor-in-chief.