• Pizza entrepeneurs bring mobile wood-fired oven, tasty pies to Farmer’s Market
By Jane Pascall
Homer resident Neil Wagner has contemplated building a wood-fired brick oven at his house for years, but just could not find the time. Then, a few months ago while he and his wife, Kyra were visiting an Artisan Bread Festival in Ashville, N.C., they came across a mobile wood-fired oven that happened to be for sale.
“Kyra suggested I buy it,” Neil said. “I thought, well, it’s portable, and in the food business, location is everything. So, that was even better yet – and it will be fun to do.”
Neil loves to cook and began surfing the Internet to find ideas on different types of crusts, sauces, toppings and anything else related to pizza.
“There are just so many resources out there from around the world; from different types of doughs that you can adapt – to what supplies to get,” he said. After much experimenting at taste-testing pizza parties at their house, “Uncle Neil’s Pizza Wagon” became a reality at the Homer Farmer’s Market.
It may sound simple, but there is much going on behind the scenes.
“There’s a lot of background prep that has to happen for a five-hour market,” Neil said.
The thin, crispy crust is made from scratch, along with all the other ingredients. Neil is buying local produce from his fellow vendors as items become available.
“We’re trying to move toward organic, but it’s hard to do, and it’s expensive,” he said. “We want to partner with people to get a large amount of flour up here. These are all things in the process.”
In addition to procuring fresh ingredients, working the oven is an art, said Neil, who has singed eyebrows to prove it.
“The floor of the oven is 800 degrees, and the pizza has to be closely watched,” he said.
It takes about two minutes for a pizza to cook, and Neil is constantly spinning the pies.
“It’s a balance to get those things all lined up – so the topping is cooked and the right amount of crispiness on the crust. That’s the art of it, getting that balance there to make them come out perfectly,” he said.
Uncle Neil’s is serving four different kinds of pizzas at present. There is a pepperoni with a red sauce and black olives; a Margarita pizza with a red sauce, two types of cheese, garlic and basil; a white pizza with gorgonzola chunks, spinach, sun dried tomato and light olive oil; and a dessert pizza made with gala apples, cheddar cheese, butter, cinnamon and brown sugar. He is also experimenting with calzones, breads and other foods.
Neil plans on using the portable oven for fundraisers once the bills are covered. “I’m on the board of the Alaskan Center for Coastal Studies, and involved with different non-profit agencies,” he said. “I just thought it would be a good thing for different groups to use to raise funds.” Neil is also on the City of Homer’s Economic Development Advisory Commission. He helped start an entrepreneurial group that meets once a month at a local coffee house. “We are off for the summer, but I think this business can show what can be done in this local economy.”
Uncle Neil’s Pizza Wagon will make its third debut at the Farmer’s Market Saturday, yet already has a following.
“It’s been a lot of work – research, test firing, sauces, toppings. We’re getting a lot of good feedback from people who are eating the pizzas,” he said. “We have regulars, already,” said Neil. “They ask us if we have another location during the week, but we plan on staying at the market for the rest of the summer, do private parties along with fundraising events.”
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