In May 2014, just two months after Timber Pizza Co. owners Chris Brady and Andrew Dana quit their corporate sales jobs to launch a wood-fire mobile pizza operation, the new business partners had a full lineup of summer catering gigs around Washington. There was just one small problem: neither of them had ever made a pizza before.
“We both hated our jobs—just hated them—but liked lunch, and we were like, ‘How are we gonna get out of here?'” Dana says. “We wanted to create something that we really believed in, and get away from sales, where we were selling stuff that we didn’t believe in.”
Brady had a background in catering, and Dana always dreamed of opening his own deli. They both loved pizza, and while chefs often agonize over the perfect flour blend and crust consistency, the newcomers figured it would be one of the easiest foods to learn how to make.
“We thought, ‘It’s not rocket science. We can figure this out,’” Dana says.
Fast forward two years, and Timber Pizza has won fans and accolades—one of their best-selling pies, the Green Monster, was recently named among the Washington Post’s 40 most essential DC dishes of 2016. Brady and Dana’s first pizza shop opens in Petworth this week.
Initially, Brady and Dana weren’t ready to open their own place, so they settled on a more “feasible” business plan: pulling a mobile wood-fired oven behind a 1967 Chevy truck to farmers markets and breweries. Using their savings from corporate sales and loans from family, the duo purchased an oven in Colorado, and a truck from a guy in Minnesota, both of which they had shipped to DC. Using their sales background, they convinced places around town to book them.
“When you have a wood fire mobile oven, people trust you. even if they should or shouldn’t,” Dana says. “But we were never going to deliver less than what we promised.”
Armed with the oven and truck, they still needed a place to actually make the pizza. So they went to Union Kitchen.
“We sort of bluffed our way in,” Dana says.
Nowadays, aspiring entrepreneurs have to undergo a selective vetting process to get a spot in popular food incubator, which gives members access to commercial kitchen space, among other perks to help launch their businesses. Things were more lax a couple of years ago. In an interview with the Union Kitchen representatives, Dana and Brady boasted about their ‘amazing’ pizza recipe, and gave more finite details about their sales plan. Once Timber Pizza was accepted, they snuck into the kitchen during off-hours to figure out how to make their recipe.
“They’re 100 percent bootstrappers,” says Maya Atlas, the member development manager at Union Kitchen. “They want to do something, and they figure out how to do it.”
With all the pieces in place, Brady and Dana still had no idea how to make pizza. So two weeks before their first event at Baying Hound Brewery in Rockville (which is now closed, no fault to them), Brady and Dana read everything they could about pizza making, locked themselves in their Union Kitchen space, and figured out their recipe through days of trial and error. Out of the flour dust, Timber Pizza was born.
With financial help from a team of DC-based investors, Brady and Dana will launch the first brick-and-mortar location of Timber Pizza, after years of towing their oven to farmer’s markets, city curbs, and weddings. The 36-seat restaurant in Petworth maintains the same focus of the mobile venture: 12-inch “Neapolitan-ish” pies.
“We didn’t want to do classic Neapolitan dough,” Dana says. “We wanted it crispier.”
They use mostly local ingredients from farmers markets, and make everything they can in-house. Early favorites include the “Big G” with pesto, smoked mozzarella, heirloom cherry tomatoes, and ham; the “809” with hot chorizo, soppressata and sweet peppers; and the “Ty Brady,” a mix of crab, corn, potatoes and Old Bay seasoning named after Brady’s dad. All of them range between $10 and $17. They’ll also have pork empanadas and an Italian riff on elote (Mexican street corn), along with local draft beers and simple summer cocktails. For dessert: Dolcezza gelato served in homemade cones.
“We had a lot of initial luck where things kind of just worked out well…but we definitely had a lot of ‘oh shit’ moments that first summer,” Dana says. “But you learn fast in those moments.”
Timber Pizza is one of a handful of businesses from Union Kitchen to open a storefront–others include Chaia, District Doughnut, and TaKorean. But even as they move beyond the food incubator, collaborations continue, like a special pie using Dirty South Deli’s pulled pork and Chups’ mango chutney.
“The thing that’s been most valuable in the last year is the relationships that we’ve created and rubbing elbows with different food trucks and purveyors,” Dana says.
Timber Pizza Co. 809 Upshur St., NW