You can’t really go wrong with pizza, so the challenge in the fickle restaurant business — and especially in a changeable tourist element like Western North Carolina — is how to go all kinds of extra with the ultimate happy food, distinguishing not only the product but also the presentation. A kids’ play area, for instance, is a value-added “topping” that carries more significance than mere pineapple or pepperoni. Darren Stephens and Elena Saladukha thought of that when they recently opened Amazing Pizza Co. on 7th Avenue, debuting a downtown location without giving up their small fleet of food trucks/vans of the same name.
Then again, the couple was already harboring the flashpoint of their success: a series of 1,000-degree pizza ovens custom built by Stephens, who used to work in the natural-gas industry. The proprietary propane- and wood-fired beast can cook a full, 20-inch pizza in less than two minutes. Pies are rotated constantly.
“They never sit still,” notes Stephens. “It’s constant movement.” Under this kind of heat, oven mitts don’t last more than two or three shifts, he reveals; the tongs that remove the pies hold out a little longer, but still, a pizza that sits more than three minutes is totally torched.
Stephens and Saladukha got used to this level of hustle when they were on the road full time, traveling to music festivals with their mobile pizza operation to the tune of 600 gigs per year. “It was a brutal schedule,” he admits. But the hard work continues to manifest. “We truly built this company one slice at a time.”
Those slices are another signature of the eatery. Many pizza joints have stopped serving them, switching to a pie-only approach. At Amazing Pizza, though, they still plate sloppily enormous slices, with the thin, foldable crust reminiscent of a classic Northeastern pizzeria. (Actually, Stephens and Saladukha found their dough recipe — reportedly 400 years old, and always made by hand — via a source in Australia.)
It was a challenge, at first, getting used to the slower pace of a brick-and-mortar restaurant. “With food trucks,” Stephens explains, “it’s totally different. We got used to taking the party to the people. [Whether it’s] large concerts or small venues, you have shorter shifts and a captive audience. This is a totally different animal.”
He knows it can take a while to build a following when the customers have to come to you. “But we’ve had growth [on 7th Avenue] every day,” he says, noting the district’s trending nature. Since opening around two months ago, “we’ve only had two days that we didn’t show improvement,” he adds.
Amazing Pizza Co., 706 Seventh Ave. E., Hendersonville, open Monday through Saturday from 11:30am-9pm and Sunday from 11:30am-3pm. For more information, call 863-398-1988, check out Amazing Pizza Co. on Facebook, or see apcwoodfirepizza.com.