Wagner’s Pizza Bus Serves 30 Regional Types in Wild Alaska

Deep within the wilds close to Fairbanks, there’s an old style bus, painted vibrant crimson towards the tall, inexperienced pine timber. Scattered close by are a couple of picnic tables. Two flags—one for the U.S. and one for Alaska—flutter within the chilly arctic wind. Stand there for a second, take a deep whiff, and also you’ll catch the soul-lifting waft of cheese and pepperoni floating on the intense, clear air.

It appears an unlikely place to seek out any pizza in any respect, a lot much less a St. Louis-style pizza with a cracker-thin crust. Or a Philly Tomato Pie. Or a New Haven-style apizza. However Mike and Diane Wagner, the homeowners of Wagner’s Pizza Bus, know one thing about Alaska that the majority of us not often contemplate: Not not like Florida, its hotter, sunnier obverse within the continental U.S., the state often called The Final Frontier pulls its personal share of cosmopolitan sorts from across the nation. They only are usually a great deal extra rugged and adventurous than the growing older snowbirds of Miami.

And, wherever they arrive from, these free-living expatriates nonetheless love the pizza they grew up with.

The Wagners get it. Like so many, they got here to Fairbanks as a result of they like snow. Now they’re working a cell pizzeria that braves the weather year-round—we’re speaking temps as little as minus 40° levels within the lifeless of winter—and produces the widest vary of pizzas you’ll discover at any pizzeria wherever on the planet.

Final December’s heavy snow and -40° temperatures didn’t decelerate Wagner’s Pizza Bus.

Chasing Snow
“What introduced us to Alaska was chasing snow,” Mike says. “We began canine mushing in Pennsylvania with a loopy crew of Siberian canines and a few Malamutes. We’d drive over an hour to seek out snow to run them. So my spouse, Diana, began trying into Alaska.”

After Diana discovered a spot to lease in Ester, a historic mining city eight miles west of Fairbanks, the Wagners packed up their children, sled canines and eight puppies and made the transfer west in 2007. They’d by no means even set foot in Alaska earlier than. “Folks thought we had been loopy,” Mike recollects.

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Mike took a job as a lube technician at a Fort Knox gold mine, and in 2010 he and Diana purchased 50 acres of land and constructed a home. They ultimately purchased the varsity bus that they reworked into what Mike says is Alaska’s smallest pizzeria, which opened in 2013.

Wagner’s Pizza Bus largely stays parked in a non-public lot in Two Rivers, about 30 miles exterior of Fairbanks, though the Wagners just lately constructed a meals trailer to allow them to serve pies on the native county honest. In the summertime, they provide a mini-golf course for a little bit enjoyable within the Alaskan solar.

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However what they’re actually identified for is providing nearly each fashion of pizza beneath the solar, even on these lengthy, chilly days when the solar’s nowhere to be seen.

this is a shot of a Detroit-style pizza, shown in a carryout box, with stripes of tomato sauce on top of the cheese and crispy edges
The Detroit-style pizza from Wagner’s Pizza Bus

Pizza Types within the Wild
The Wagners began out as true pizza newbies. “I by no means had any education [in pizza-making],” Mike stated. “I by no means thought I might be making pizzas. All the things I find out about pizza is from consuming it again in Pennsylvania and doing plenty of analysis on-line.”

“We do a chilly rise with our dough, and pizzas are made to order,” Mike continues. “As an order is made, my spouse hand-stretches the dough to the scale of the pizza for order. We par-bake it, then high it and end it on a stone in our Blodgett fuel oven. We’ve got a blanket heater on our propane tank to maintain it from freezing, and we’ve got warmth hint on our water strains.”

Now get this: Wagner’s Pizza Bus fires up greater than 30 types of pizza—Detroit, New York, Previous Forge, St. Louis, New Haven, Brier Hill, you title it. The menu boasts a D.C. jumbo slice, a Quad Metropolis pie, a Denver Mile Excessive, a Grandma and even a Grandpa. In case you’re actually hungry, you possibly can feast on all three main Chicago types—the thin-crust tavern, the deep-dish and the stuffed-crust.

“We began doing regional pizzas a couple of years in the past as a result of nobody up right here did that,” Mike says. “It solely made sense as a result of the general public up listed here are from all around the nation, so why not supply pizzas they bear in mind consuming whereas rising up? We additionally supply hoagies, like Philly cheesesteaks, and chilly cuts, wings and salads with a pickled egg—that’s a Pennsylvania factor—on high. We promote Middleswarth chips and birch beer, that are solely present in Pennsylvania.”

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Mike admits that the remoteness of his location presents some challenges. “It’s subsequent to inconceivable to get brick cheese for our Detroit pizza in Fairbanks, so we’ve got to substitute one other cheese to get the identical outcome,” he notes. “It’s the identical with Provel cheese for our St. Louis-style pizza.”

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Even so, Wagner’s Pizza Bus has each kind of pie {that a} connoisseur might hope for. Along with the quite a few regional types, the Wagners supply practically 20 signature pizzas, together with the Pickle Pizza, the Rooster Bacon Ranch, the Spinach & Tomato Pesto, and the White Garlic & Herb.

In case you’re hankering for an actual culinary journey, toppings embody reindeer sausage, Spam and pink salmon. Additionally they supply hoagies just like the Rooster Parm, Philly cheesesteaks and the BBQ Meatball and Mozzarella, to call a couple of. And for those who left room for dessert, they’ll ply you with cannolis, zeppoles, floats and sundaes.

All made by simply two individuals—Mike and Diana—in a college bus that’s method, method off the overwhelmed path.

Mike Wagner, wearing a black Chicago Deep-Dish t-shirt and Wagner's Pizza Bus cap, displays a pair of Chicago deep-dish pizzas
Mike Wagner has taught himself make 30 regional pizza types.

Turning 10 Years Previous
Final fall, the Wagners added a brand new signature pizza after a good friend signed up for the well-known Iditarod Path Canine Sled Race. The race travels from Anchorage to Nome over eight to fifteen days, and the sledders do get hungry on the path.

The Wagners’ good friend “wished our pizza to eat on the path,” Mike says. “So we made a deal. We’d sponsor her with our pizza if, when she completed, she would take an image of our pizza beneath the arch on the end line, which she did. So our pizza made it to Nome, Alaska, on the Iditarod path. For probably the most half, [she and her husband] all the time order certainly one of our pan pizzas and add pepperoni, Canadian bacon, mushrooms and banana peppers, so we now name that our Musher Particular. It’s a great, hearty pizza to fill you up on the path at 30° and 40° under. You freeze every bit in a zip-lock bag. Then, while you’re prepared, you throw it within the scorching bucket with the pet food. After a couple of minutes it’s all warmed up.”

Wagner’s Pizza Bus will rejoice its tenth anniversary in April. And that’s with out a web site, though their Fb web page has greater than 3,800 followers. The little pizzeria weathered the pandemic, Mike notes, with out making use of for any authorities funding. “As a result of we’re a meals truck and arrange for all takeouts, we had been prepared for COVID and all of the laws, and we stayed open. Costs on provides don’t actually damage us more often than not; it was extra a matter of not having the ability to get the gadgets we wanted. However in the direction of the top, we had no selection however to boost a few of our costs. For us, a 50-pack of pizza packing containers went from $25 to $40. Gloves went from $8 for a field of 200 to over $22.”

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To maintain offering worth for his or her prospects, the Wagners made their pies one inch larger after they raised their menu costs. “So our 12-inch is now 13 inches, our 16-inch is now 17 inches, and our 18-inch is now 19 inches,” Mike says.

However inflation continues to precise a painful toll. “With the excessive price of fuel and every thing else, we’re on the spot once more. Due to this inflation, a 50-pack of packing containers is now $55, and gloves are $30. So we’re on the stage the place we’ve got no selection—to remain open, we’ve got to boost our costs once more. We’re cheaper than all of the pizzerias round us now. Most promote a big 14-inch pizza at round $18 to $20 and $3 per toppings. We promote a big 17-inch pizza at $17 and toppings at $2.50.”

Mike worries that one other value hike will price him some prospects, particularly because the competitors in his space is more durable than you may suppose. “What’s humorous about pizza in Fairbanks is that each restaurant and meals truck proprietor suppose they should promote pizza,” he says. “So, with a inhabitants of round 33,000 individuals, there are over 50 completely different locations to get pizza.”

However a various menu—one that actually affords one thing for each pizza connoisseur from each area of the U.S.—stays an enormous benefit. Even the a lot bigger and extra well-known Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria in Anchorage can’t contact Wagner’s Pizza Bus for sheer selection.

The bus won’t be straightforward to seek out, however as soon as prospects discover it, they hold exhibiting up time and again. “We’ve had prospects come by on four-wheelers, snow machines, canine sleds, cross-country skis,” Mike says. “We even had one man come along with his bike with a aspect automobile on it in the midst of a snow storm.”

“Residing in Alaska has it challenges however it turns into a lifestyle at 40 under with seven-plus months of winter and 4 hours of daylight,” he says. “It’s not for all, however it’s what we do.”