Westerly is fortunate to have so many amazing places to indulge in whatever cuisine you’re craving, and we’re particularly rich with pizza options. One of the newest spots to get pizza is so confident in what they’re bringing to the table that they’ve called themselves Mr. Pizza, and the owner recently took some time to share with us his backstory and his process for crafting an exquisite pizza from scratch.
Dave Reeves grew up in Westerly, graduated from high school here, and got his start with pizza at the Pizza Place in downtown at age 19. He worked there for several years, starting as a dishwasher and moving up to line cook, prep cook, and then manager before deciding to go back to school and study photography. His photography career took him across the country as he made a name for himself in pursuit of his art. He eventually wound up in Portland, Oregon, and right back in a pizza parlor – Scotty’s Pizza Parlor, specifically. “Scotty has been a great mentor,” Dave shared. “He was the one who introduced me to the sourdough process and he taught me how to approach pizza as an artisanal product in a fast-casual setting. Scotty’s was just such a classic pizza parlor, but the amount of care that goes into everything he does really inspired me.” The two still keep in touch today and Scotty was able to help guide Dave as he opened up his own pizza spots upon his return to the East coast.
Dave’s first restaurant, Vincitori Apizza, was opened in fall of 2019 in Niantic with his uncle. “It was not a quick process,” Dave reflected. “The place we got needed a ton of renovations. It took about seven months and it was brutal. We gutted it down to the studs and had to re-work all of the plumbing and electrical.” After overseeing the renovations, Dave managed the kitchen while also learning the ropes on how to run the restaurant as a whole. “It was an intense crash course in everything,” he said.
After getting Vincitori off the ground and through the pandemic, Dave decided to take what he had learned there and from Scotty and focus his attention on a new endeavor – and that brings us to Mr. Pizza.
Opening a new business is always a challenge – particularly a restaurant, and particularly a restaurant during a pandemic. Mr. Pizza opened its doors only a few months ago and even with plenty of competition in town, they were well-received right away and busier than they had anticipated. ” “Pizza is fairly recession proof, because of the smaller staff and less overhead, and it turns out it’s pretty Covid-proof, too,” Dave laughed. “It’s one of the most quintessential to-go options. We weren’t even sure how to manage that amount of business, to be honest. I called Scotty and he helped me figure out scheduling blocks so we’re running smoothly now and our wait-times are short.”
There are a few bar-top tables inside and out if you decide you want to stick around. There’s no alcohol, but you can enjoy a Mexican soda because, as with his pizza, Dave believes in sourcing and offering the best products possible and Mexican sodas are made with real sugar, not corn syrup.
Dave uses a sourdough starter originally from Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples, and employs a 24-hour room-temperature fermentation process. He comes in early to feed the starter every morning, makes dough at noon and lets it proof until the next day, at which point it’s ready to be rolled out and used until close. “It’s why we’re only open for dinner at this point. I already come in at 8 am to have things ready for 4 pm, so I haven’t quite figured out how to shift that and start offering lunch service. We’d need more staff and we’re not there yet,” he explained.
“Our pizza style is a combination of Neapolitan and New York and New Haven, all smashed into one,” Dave said. “The sourdough adds a whole other depth of flavor and texture, and makes the crust crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. When you make pizza, you’re outsourcing most of your ingredients and the main thing that you can control yourself is the dough. Instant yeast wasn’t giving me the results I wanted, and I hated to see trays brought back to the kitchen filled with uneaten crusts.” Hence, the diligently attended sourdough, made with a special blend of flour from Italy that’s designed to be cooked at a particular temperature – in this case, a lower heat for a longer time, which leads to a crispier crust. Dave also lets the pizzas set on a wire rack for a few minutes after taking them out of the oven rather than sliding them directly into their carry-out box, to avoid having them steam themselves into a soggy state.
The more you know: Dave shared with me that the heavy, bloated feeling you might get after eating pizza is due to the fact that whatever dough was used is still fermenting while you’re digesting. Not so with sour-dough, due to the longer fermentation process that takes place before baking.
At Mr. Pizza, all of the pies are finished with a ring of freshly made garlic oil for an extra pop of flavor right at the end. If you’re a traditionalist, like Dave himself, order one of their classic pepperoni (they’re cup style!) but if you’re feeling like branching out a bit, Dave recommends the Potato Pizza, which is topped with sliced russets, buttery leeks, fresh mozzarella, cheddar, slab bacon, parmesan, and pecorino. Carbs on carbs? Sign me up!
It’s a small staff, with just Dave and two other cooks, a dishwasher, and a few servers – and that’s the way he likes it. “I’m so grateful for my staff. We really work as a team. It’s one of the reasons why I love pizza places so much. It’s way less traditional and hierarchical than a lot of other restaurants, and more fluid. I want my people to feel like they can move around if they want. We just had a server, Julie, jump on the line to help us make pizzas a couple of nights a week. She was so excited to learn and she picked it up really quickly – I’m absolutely impressed,” he explained. This sort of flexibility and cross-training helps to create an enjoyable work environment, which pays off in the product as well.
Stop by Mr. Pizza soon to discover a new favorite spot!