Joe Beddia on opening his new place, volcanic soil, and whether he prefers Kurt Vile or The War On Drugs.
(Spoiler: It’s Kurt Vile)
By Michael Ferrence
June 23, 2018
MF: Sometimes this is a homerun, and others it totally flops, can you do your life story in a few minutes?
JB: Sure. I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I have a younger brother and sister. My mother passed away when I was 7. We had some turmoil, I had a stepmother come in with a whole other family, I grew up in that environment, and it was kind of weird.
My parents moved in my senior year of high school. I ended up staying with a friend. I went to some school for a while, at Penn State, for restaurant management at the Berks Campus, and after a couple years I’d gotten a job at a microbrewery, which is kind of what I wanted to do for a long time, I think mainly because I thought it was going to be cool. I was generally interested but then after a while you realize that there’s a lot of work involved.
MF: What brewery was that?
JB: That was Stoudt’s.
MF: How old are you?
JB: I’m 41. So, yeah, I got a job in the brewery then I kind of bounced around a while working with beer. It ended up being about 7 years professionally brewing beer. By the time I was 28, I was kind of disenfranchised with it. I was brewing beer at Yard’s. It becomes like a factory job. I was making $300 a week, maybe $350, whatever it was. I was like, what’s the future here? I just wanted a change for myself. I started working in restaurants. I learned a good deal about wine, and service and stuff, and I was in the front of the house for a while. I got into pizza, started making it at home. On my days off, I would head up to New York and visit all these old pizza places. I would also do a lot of experimentation. I did a two-month stage at Osteria. That was my first foray into a high-quality kitchen with great product, great execution, and I had no real business being there. They were operating on a whole other level.
Jeff Michaud kindly let me, I basically shadowed for a while. I had menial tasks but it wasn’t like I was cooking the pizza or anything, but I was on that station, and I learned and I just watched. I learn a lot from just observing.
The guy that worked the station was really good with his hands. Pizza, I think, and dough, is really a finesse thing. Starting out, honestly I was like I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do this. I just really wanted to.
I had another opportunity and there’s another guy in Madison, Wisconsin who let me come and work for the summer…
MF: How’d you hook that up?
JB: My brother was friends with him. When I went out to visit my brother, we went there for pizza, and we were just talking shop and he said, ‘if you ever wanna come out and work’, and so at that point I was, like, I’m just gonna go all in.
I also had another experience; I worked in a brewery in Japan. When I was over there I saw a lot of businesses operated by owner-proprietors and I also had amazing pizza there, and that’s where the light went off, and I was like, this is what I’m gonna do. I knew EXACTLY what I was gonna do, which is kind of a gift in some way.
MF: Can you give an update on your new place?
JB: I’m actually gonna go meet the architect this afternoon, and we’re almost done, but we still have construction and all that stuff so it’s still a while out but it’s gonna definitely be, I’m gonna have help. There’s gonna be people making pizza, which when I started I was completely opposed to, but over the course of five years it was really hard to… You know, have a relationship, and have time, and I would take vacation every year or something but the hours were pretty long, and I just didn’t envision myself signing up for 5 more years of it. I think if I started when I was younger it would have been a different story, but starting at 36 and ending at 41, it was time.
To be honest, it’s gonna be much larger, we’re going from zero to 100 seats so that’s kind of crazy. I’m partnering with a restaurant group that I have a lot of respect for. They just opened their second restaurant called Suraya, in Fishtown. These guys are above and beyond. They have an extreme amount of experience, knowledge, and they really care about what they do. And that to me trumps everything else. It was just a good fit. They really like what I do. I’m not going to be cooking all the pizzas. To be perfectly honest I don’t think I’m gonna cook one pizza. It wouldn’t work. The idea is to get people in there and educate them, train them, mentor them, teach them to make good pizza. It was basically this or no pizza for the rest of forever. There was no other option.
MF: You recently did some traveling. Can you talk more about that?
JB: Sort of a trip of a lifetime. I was thinking people were going to start hating me because of it.
MF: How’d you set it all up?
JB: I have a friend who’s sort of a, some sort of, kind of celebrity friend who has a lot of means and access to good people…
MF: Is that Eric Wareheim?
JB: Yeah. So he helped create this.
MF: Cool. You guys just become buddies through pizza and wine or what?
JB: Yeah. My friend grew up with him, played in bands with him, was really good friends, and introduced Eric to the pizzeria probably in our first year and we had a lot in common, and we became friends. Actually on my 40th birthday we went on a trip to Japan and Thailand. I’m really fortunate to have done this last trip. It was insane. Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris, Lyon, Barcelona, and this place Formentera, which is unbelievable. It was an unreal, kind of, adventure.
I feel like it was a great education too. Just learning and tasting and seeing, that’s really what I wanted to bring to the new pizzeria. I needed to eat in some of these places and think of ideas. Our new menu is going to be pizza, and there will be some salads and small plates, and that’s it. It’s going to be a pizzeria.
MF: How about wine, do you have a favorite grape or region or winery?
JB: Right now I would say I’m really into volcanic soil. You get some definite characteristics from it. On my trip there was a volcanic area in southern France, called Auvergne. Great wines from that region. Sicily. I went through a thing recently with white wines with a simple Riesling or Chardonnay.
MF: Have you eaten at Pizza, your replacement?
JB: I love it. It’s really good. They’re doing their own thing. It’s similar in that they use really good ingredients, but they only do slices. I’m just excited it has a new life. I don’t get around so much in Philadelphia for slices of pizza, but I can’t imagine someone is making a better slice of pizza than this.
MF: You have over 25,000 Instagram followers. Do you feel any sense of responsibility to use your platform for some greater good?
JB: I post political stuff sometimes and usually get shit for it but I don’t really care. I do feel some sort of responsibility.
MF: Do you like ice cream? (channeling Doug Pederson)
MF: Have you had Jeni’s?
MF: You should try it. It’s amazing. You can get it at Whole Foods.
JB: Oh cool. Have you tried Weckerly’s? They do really nice work with good ingredients.
MF: Yes. We crush that regularly. So, can you give me a name for your new place?
JB: I think it’s just gonna be the same.
Awesome. Well, I want to say thanks. I’ve reached out numerous times over the years, over Instagram and Twitter, one time in person, asking for suggestions about making pizza, asked if you’d connect me with your literary agent, and recently about doing this interview and each time you responded in a friendly, kind, helpful way and that’s somewhat unusual and I appreciate it. Thank you so much that, and for working for all these years to learn to make such incredibly delicious pizza so we can all enjoy. And thanks for writing the cookbook. It’s one of our favorites at home. My wife is amazing in the kitchen but I’m horrible, and you made it easy for someone like me to actually make something really tasty. So thank you.
JB: Yeah man. My pleasure. Thank you.