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Ovens, small business, and being up against the wall

After reading my last post from September 2015, I find it funny to be starting out the blog about ovens again. Here we are over a year later, and the story continues.

We’ve been open at the Doughjo for just over three years, and we are now happily cooking with our 7th and hopefully final pizza oven. That’s right, I said 7 ovens.

The two most important pieces of equipment in a pizza shop are the dough mixer, and the pizza oven, and for the last three years we’ve had nothing but problems with the ovens. Those of you who have been regular customers have seen us go through situations that would make any sane business person close the doors. Not us. Though I got pretty close last May.

A brief history for you. I purchased the shop’s contents in October 2013, and among the relics and rubble, there were two very old 36″ deck ovens with steel floors, and tons of wear and tear. I had them serviced just before opening day, and everything was looking pretty good. They cooked pizzas just fine, but they were a little on the small side for our anticipated volume. Replacements were already on my mind, but after spending all the money on opening, this would have to wait for a little while. Those first four days nearly killed those decks. They hadn’t seen that kind of action in a long time. On day three, one oven started malfunctioning and severely compromised dinner service. To those who were there, we apologize for the 2 hour wait times. On day four we said Fuck it, and ran all the pizzas out the back door to the wood fired mobile unit. We had a near perfect service and produced 94 pizzas in roughly 4 hours.

We limped along with the original decks for a couple months, but by late February I had saved up enough cash, and called a broker. Fred Phillips found me two 56″ stone decks, again quite old, well used, for $8000. These units run upwards of $16K new per oven, so it sounded like a good deal. As all “good deals” usually go, we got them installed and both were working great, at first. We really started hitting our stride by summer of 2014, bigger ovens meant cooking more pizzas at once and the orders kept coming. By May of 2015, we were down to one working oven, and the struggle was getting real. Another call to Fred Phillips, and a set of “better” “used” ovens were in the works. For that chunk of the story, see my last post: It’s been a long time, hello, internet. The blog returns…

Fast forward to Summer 2016. The replacement ovens in the shop had been humming along since January. By May everything was great again, we were selling lots of pizzas, and our customer base was increasing. I was feeling like it was time to buy a new trailer. Summer was fast approaching and the original mobile oven was showing its age of six years, the four year old beast was also showing wear, so I figured it was time to get another production oven built, and committed to spending $19K to do so. The next day (no joke), our new bottom oven went out inside the shop, AGAIN, after not even 6 months in use, and would not turn on (the same oven that fell off the truck the first time). Days later the top deck decided it was also time to take a smoke break, and it went out. Wouldn’t light again.

I called our service company, and they came out to replace the malfunctioning parts. First visits’ repairs lasted 2-3 days. Second visit lasted 1 day, and on the third visit by our repair company, A.J. leans over to me and says this is the last time I’m going to do this for you because I do not like spending your money (they were kind enough to send me a bill for almost $2k for all three visits). In short, the ovens were too big and poorly insulated for our tiny space, and we lacked adequate ventilation for such large ovens. We had tried everything we could, I replaced the hood fan, replaced the make up air, and nothing was working. So what is a pizza place without an oven? Screwed, for the moment.

The third set of replacement ovens we bought for $16K (through financing) and waited several months for were removed from the Doughjo July 18th, 2016. R.I.P. both Y-600 decks. Their spent carcasses were hauled away by the same Fred Phillips and were sent back to L.A. where they were “repaired” and sold to another person. I got $3000 back from that sale, and as of today (02/02/17) I still owe $3400 on the initial purchase.

We had been here before. Day four 2014 taught us all we needed to know to get through this. The day the ovens officially died, I parked the Beast out back in our parking space, fired it up, and got it up to temp for regular service, but this time the mobile oven wasn’t going anywhere. I told my staff all pizzas would be cooked outside until I could figure out my next steps. It’s either this or we shut down the storefront and just focus on catering, and we had plenty of that going on. This was early June, and we were in full swing with trailers going out every weekend through October.

Begrudgingly everyone agreed that continuing any way we could was a better idea, and we adapted. We built pizzas inside the shop, cooked them outside, we hustled, and we got away with what could conceivably be a major health violation for three months. To that I mean it’s kind of a gray area here, we cook outside at events all year round, so really what’s the difference? Not much but a piece of paper and a hefty fee for cooking out doors. I figured it would be fine, so I rolled the dice. That new trailer I ordered back in early May wasn’t going to be ready for 10-12 weeks, so some nights the Doughjo had to shut down, and we lost untold amounts of neighborhood sales as a result. Meanwhile I’m still making a monthly payment for the ovens I no longer have in addition to keeping the lights on. Waaa. This is hard work.

We sold the pizzas renegade style out of the back of the Doughjo for three months, and a band-aid was put on a situation that needed a real solution. To the internets I went in search of the next oven. I was looking for my “Neo” now because the storefront business needed to be saved. Cash strapped and determined to succeed, I weighed my options. Took some loans, did some research. Woodstone makes an amazing pizza oven that would fit our space and costs about $28K, I felt it was too expensive and too small for our needs, not to mention another $4K to rip apart the storefront and actually install it. I was like, there must be another solution.

I called my trailer guy Pete Rostritto, and said I need a 48″ Forno Bravo dome oven for my store that can run on gas. This is the exact same model we just commissioned him to put on the new trailer, but it runs on gas and/or wood. It can be assembled in the store, through the back door, piece by piece, and cost about 1/3 of the Woodstone model. I placed the order. By August 1 2016, the what we hope is our last major oven purchase, was installed and ready to serve by August 5th. This oven is a 48″ diameter circle of cooking space, as opposed to the 3.5 by 3 square feet per deck we had in previous years. Naturally with severely reduced cooking space, the 18″ large pizzas we used to offer were the first to be cut from the menu. Yes we can still make slice pies at 18-20″ but with the volume of orders we get from 6-7:30 pm every night, there was no way we would be able to keep up. This new oven can cook three 14″ pizzas in 3+ minutes at a time, as opposed to the 6-8 minute cook times we had in the decks, but bigger pies in volume just can’t happen anymore. For those of you wondering why we stopped making the large pies, there you go. Real estate.

Looking back, the last six months have been quite a ride. It’s now February 2017 and things seem to be leveling off. Business at the Doughjo has stabilized, and may well be on the rise. We signed up with Caviar in October, and the online delivery is picking up. Catering quotes are coming in at a good pace, and our Summer catering season is filling up. Year 7 at Fist of Flour has started, and after six years of rough roads, we’re still here making great pizzas all over the place, and right here at home in the Laurel District. We have no plans of leaving anytime soon.

Until the next…

It’s been a long time, hello, internet. The blog returns…

hi everyone, let me just say I apologize for not hittin the keys for the last 10+ months. I can’t believe my last blog post was september of 2014. Certainly a lot has happened in those 10 months, and I can’t even begin to sum it all up in this post, but here goes. The house is quiet, I’m all alone, and I find that I have time to fill you all in on the last year (almost).

Let’s start with the Doughjo. After being open in a fixed location for the last 19 months, I’ve learned a lot, and we’ve survived our first year + as a brick and mortar, and catering company. Things are finally coming together at Fist of Flour HQ. Everyone asks, “how’s business?” and I often reply, “it’s business,” and leave it at that, with a look on my face that would say otherwise. This is a tough business to be in. There’s so many unknown variables that come into play every day, you never know what to expect, except the unexpected. The Doughjo’s been plagued with oven problems since the first week we opened. That saga continues today.

We recently spent 6 weeks of back and forth, and purchased a set of Baker’s Pride Y-600’s to replace the previous set of used Baker’s pride 152’s we had bought back in February of 2014 for $8K. The bottom deck stopped working about three months ago, so we’ve been limping along on our weekend service ever since. I did not blog about the lack of ovens for obvious reasons. You can fit a lot of pizza in one 56″ deck, but it takes effort and time to recover floor heat.

Apparently the used decks we bought last year were not up to the task, and have mercury pilots. Turns out replacement parts are illegal in California. I had my oven guy (who chooses to be anonymous for this blog) attempt to fix the dead deck for $500 with some “parts” in his van that he salvaged from another era. “It’ll work a week, or it will work for a year,” were his words. I believed him and rolled the dice. It lasted maybe 10 days. I called a dealer soon after the oven died to do some looking for us, and the price tag on new/refurbished decks was $12K. I said ok, lets do this. We got financing, and the project began. All new stainless fronts, all new parts inside, professionally rebuilt, badass pizza machines, the biggest we can fit under our hood.

UPS freight drops one oven en route from Virginia, and it’s destroyed in shipment. I think they dropped both, but one was serviceable upon delivery. nothing a rubber mallet and a mini forklift can’t fix. We installed the good new oven, swapped out the dead one, and repositioned the old oven on top. Two ovens once again. It only took four guys, a forklift, two genie lifts, and five hours to do the swap. Now we’re just waiting on the insurance claim, and we’ll get another oven! And they’ll be matching, which is exciting.

The catering business continues to grow, and we keep overcoming hurdles as we navigate the field. The shop is nice, a fixed location, where very little changes, but out in the field, every event is a different battle. Without the proper intel, every mission is up in the air. We’ve wedged our vans and trailers through the smallest of openings to the biggest of fields and to this date, have not encountered a scene we couldn’t handle.

It’s late summer, and festival/event season is in full swing. We’ll be out and about at a lot of great events, and we hope to see you out there, stay tuned for website updates, I promise.

Some weeks are tougher than others…

Hi folks, as the title would indicate we had a rough week here at the Doughjo headquarters, and we also had a Great week here! I tell ya, its not easy running a small business. Especially one with so many moving parts, like our two pizza rigs. There’s always something just waiting to go wrong, all the time, and you have to be ready to handle it as best you can. This week was no exception.

It was this past Thursday morning, I was headed out to Semifreddi’s to get our morning bread order (we’re still too small to get daily delivery…buy our meatball subs!), when all of a sudden the mini van comes to a grinding halt. I thought I had been rear ended, but I was all alone on Maitland Dr. and the mini van would not go forwards or backwards. Ok. This is not cool. I had just booked a Last minute private catering for Friday, and we had our first ever Camp out wedding experience booked for Saturday 9/6, along with the Oakland First Friday, and another wedding on Saturday in Walnut Creek. Double booked all weekend so shorty is unavailable for my events. Lets just say not the best day for your second towing vehicle to take a shit.

The typical series of phone calls and texts proceeds from that moment on, first to Moe at the Kitchen saying I won’t be back for a little while and can we open at 1pm instead of noon? To my afternoon shift leaders, can you come a little earlier, like now? To AAA to please come and get me, and then a heads up for the guys over at J&O that my shit’s broken and I’m bringin it to you. BTW I need this fixed by 9 am friday…(Not happening). As I know they can’t replace my rear end in seconds I secured a F150 with a two package from our local U-Haul in East o. Set. 9am Friday pickup time and 750 miles covered. Cool. Tow truck on its way, Cool. Broke down in front of a deli, even better, order lunch while waiting for tow truck. Good sandwich BTW, Maitland Deli, below the Chick Corica Golf Course, out near the Health Dept. Weird area for sure, but hey, a good sammy was had.

Next, call first client about Friday, with me saying “So I’m pretty sure we’ll still be on time for Friday night, we had a little car trouble but everything’s Ok, we have rental and all is well!” She says “great no problem, see you when you get here!” Second client however has been out of cell range since Wednesday planning her wedding and camping out, so I figure no need to bother her with this, I’m test driving the U-haul Friday and we’ll be fine. Test drive was great, but the friday gig ran a little later than expected. Time to get home now and back line your Saturday. I finally got out of the kitchen at 1am Friday night/Saturday morning. The gig I took solo was in Tomales Bay, so a bit of driving was necessary. the hours do tick away when working and having fun. And when you stay up that late you can miss a few details.

Saturday morning came too quick, and at 7 am I was loading up the camping stuff from home, set out by my partner Nadia the night before. Check. Head to kitchen, 8 am, start grabbing all the stuff we set out like 6 hours ago. check. Load rental truck, check. Everything here? yes! (not really, but it wasn’t a major thing)… Lets go, on the road by 9:30 am, we had time to hit In and out in Vacaville for early lunch, and arrived at Packsaddle campground 4.5 hours later, at 1:56, right on time. The ceremony and pre dinner party was at Sardine lake. We has three hours to build our camp, get set up and then, at around 5pm, they said Go, make pizzas! We did, and they ate, drank and raved about the whole scene! Definitely one of the nicest weddings we’ve done. With pit toilets and no running water.

Can your average Pizza catering company do that? I don’t think so…

Recap: Six months open and Summer’s well under way

I feel like I have a lot to talk about this week. I figured its time to sit down and pen this digital paper and catch everyone up on whats goin’ on with Fist of Flour. I’ve heard from several people that this blog is somewhat entertaining, so I will try to adhere to some sort of standards while writing. Here goes it.

We do a lot of catering, festivals and whatnot during the summer, and sometimes, when the free moment appears to sit down and blog, I’m not all there. I try to write with fluidity, which usually comes from one too many Racer 5’s. This past weekend and subsequent residual feelings of exhaustion are no exception. To answer the question of the hour, “how is the business going?” I say quite well. But it’s tough keeping up.

The Doughjo has been open for 6 months now, and our fan/customer base is consistent, and or growing just a little. We’d love to see more people buying pizzas earlier in the week, or earlier in the shift, but when you call us, our team of pizza making experts are ready to make you some pizza, no matter what. People need dinner when they need it, not necessarily when we’re ready to make it. I get that, but its kind of crazy how people all order between 6:30-7:30pm. Be forewarned, you’re not alone and there may be a little bit of a wait for your order at that time.

The biggest bit of news is that we’re excited to be featured on a local T.V. show, Food rush with chef Ryan Scott , and you can check out the episode by clicking here. The show originally aired on July 20th, and features several of our good friends in the biz, like Roland Robles of Fivetenburger, and of course, Ryan’s new sometimes KGO radio sidekick, Tina “Tamale” Ramos, plus I got to show Ryan how to make our soon to be famous, craziest pie, the Blueberry Hill! The folks at Food rush were kind enough to Post the recipe on their site, so you can try to make this one at home!

So needless to say we were pretty excited that this was happening. They came in early June to film the episode, it seems like so long ago. The crew was in our shop for a little over 4 hours on a Monday when we were closed. It’s amazing how a 5 minute segment takes so long to shoot. I heard from Tina that the editors were struggling to get the show into a 1/2 hour format. They had so much footage of good stuff it was rather difficult to squeeze all that Oakland into a tiny time slot.

Despite how it looks on screen, I was beyond nervous. I’m not talking cute little butterflies, I’m talking polyphemus moths flying up in my tummy. I spent about 30 minutes on my moustache and made sure it was perfect for my closeups! On the Sunday before, we stayed well into the night cleaning, organizing, polishing, and drinking lots of beer, which didn’t make the morning any easier. Turned out Ryan also spent the night drinking heavily, as most chefs tend to do on their nights off, but he was amazingly chipper once the cameras were rolling. He kept saying off camera, “I really need a beer this morning.” Unfortunately I was so tense and nervous I decided we would not have any beer on hand, I really wanted to keep my head clear and stay on point. I felt I had one chance to shine, so dimming my lights wasn’t happening. As soon as it was over though, we headed straight out to celebrate.

in addition to the TV show, we were also recently featured on a local food blog called Foie Gras and Funnel Cakes. You can get the whole story of my coming up as a new Pizza chef and entrepreneur right here! So I’m hoping the business will grow with all this recent buzz. I know we’re busy, but we can always be a little more busy! Come see us soon and try the Blueberry Hill!

Training camp is over, and so is this weekend! The catering season begins

Sunday May 18th, 10:48 pm. The weekend of 6 gigs plus 6 days of Doughjo service is officially over for the staff at Fist of Flour. From robotics to drugs, beer enthusiasts, partiers, neighbors, to our biggest wedding to date, we’ve covered some serious bases, all within like 10 miles of home. This was the first of many weekends to come over the next 6 months, and this was just a warm up. It felt good to be back out in the field. Though I should remember to wear sunblock on my neck and arms.

We’ve been working towards this weekend for the last several months. Figuring out all the scheduling, managing the new shop, and slowly but surely booking more gigs out in the field. Things have taken their toll on us all, but we’re still here, still breathing, still slingin, and still full of love for this life I’ve chosen. A big thanks must go out to the crew who’s been with me this whole time, I know I don’t say thank you enough to them, and instead get hung up on the smaller details. But as the old saying goes, the Devil’s in the details, no? We’re only as good as our best efforts, and one can’t attain greatness without paying attention to the tiniest of those details. I want to make people happy. I want to make awesome pizza all the time, no matter where we are.

Speaking of making people happy, one question we do get a lot is “Why aren’t you open more?”, or open for lunch at the Doughjo? Well the simple truth is we’re out and about making a lot of pizzas, and the rest of the time we’re prepping for our daily Dinner service, and all of the events on the weekends. Our kitchen space is fairly small, so selling food and prepping are hard to do at the same time. Our ingredients don’t arrive prepared in any way. Everything comes in fresh, and either gets hand made, mixed, sliced, cubed or diced by the team every day. It takes all of our space to do this every day, so we’re looking into other spaces and a possible mini expansion, but right now its just an idea.

The take away restaurant aspect of the business is really secondary to our main attraction, Wood-fired pizza where you are, via catering or public events. With over three years handing out business cards and stickers, people call, email and message us all the time. Especially right now, as summer approaches I can barely keep up with correspondence. We have 22 gigs on the calendar for this May. That alone is a full time job, which is probably the next position I should start looking to fill. For now, I’ll manage that end as best I can. In the mean time, we are still looking for pizza makers to help out through the summer and into fall, so if you know some pie slingers we’re hiring!

We’ve got a great season of events already lined up, and we’re really looking forward to summer! Nothing like sweating your brow off in front of a 950°F oven on a hot summer day, or trapped inside four walls, up against two 56″ gas stone deck ovens running at a cool 620°F for 8 hours a day alongside our newest addition to the kitchen, a mini slice oven that also sits at a cool 450°F. This heat, coupled with stress, a strict diet of other food trucks’ cold food (eaten well after it’s been delivered to you at a festival and probably the only actual “meal” of the 12+ hour work day), and supplied cocktails from groomsmen, and Beer Maidens with pitchers of all kinds of beers all weekend long add up to weight loss and nothing but trouble for the post-gig wrap up. And we’re lovin every minute of it. Wouldn’t do it any other way. Time to lighten up, put our heads down, and get to work!

Business, and the cost of doing business

There are two rivers running through the small business world, and they are creating a bit of whirlpool in my pockets. In one pocket, the fresh, crisp and clean “green” water flows inward from reliable sources in the forms of cash, checks and credit cards, while the other pocket expels this whirlpool in the form of bills, taxes, and surcharges. One hopes that this cycle continues, with more green coming in than going out, keeping everything in the Black. When the river flow turns red, its usually too late to learn to swim, and the small business can sink to the bottom real fast.

I suppose this is the case with all businesses, and most certainly in a Restaurant business. This effect seems magnified to me now that we’re growing and hiring more people, and booking more and more gigs. We’re a good size, we know how to swim in the ocean and know how to tread water through the small ponds. We can be a little more choosy now that we have the brick and mortar running 6 days a week, but its a 24-7 job just reading and responding to emails. We’re still scrappin for every gig we can get.

I ask David several times a week, “Do we have the staff for this?” as I seek to book a third mobile gig on a June Saturday, and he tells me we need more Pizza ninjas. Its hard finding good people who are willing to work 14+ hour days, driving across the bay on all the best days of the week, Fridays and Saturdays, plus scheduling 3-4 people to run the shop on our busiest nights, Fridays and Saturdays. We’re always on the lookout for our next Pizza chef, so if you know someone with ninja-like skills, please Send Email“>send them my way.

So, we’ve got 4 solid months under the belt, and under a solid roof. I can’t believe its already May. Where did April go? I know we did 12 various gigs on the street, finally got our Gas deck ovens fully 100% operational, hired two more people, and sold a bunch of pizza. All a warm up for the months to come. We’re poised to be busy all summer long, with no real rest in sight till early November. We’ve got weddings, weekly happenings, Roller derby, fundraisers, Beer parties, Local Hip hop Shows, Big outdoor Festivals, Winery Events, and so much more we haven’t even booked yet.

Stay tuned for more, and see you soon!

Why did I ever decide to do this? the truck life was so much simpler

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know pretty much the whole story, every gritty detail, every bit of cornmeal stuck up under my fingernails, every knuckle blow from the oven floors, every little problem we’ve encountered, and I’m compelled to keep this online journal and compile the information, the story. Some day I’m going to look back and hopefully be able to answer the question in this week’s title. Why did I ever decide to do this, and by this I mean open up a retail location?

Seven weeks into it and I definitely do not have the answer. In fact, more questions keep popping up, as do the responsibilities, the bills, and the amount of work it takes to even run a simple little shop with no tables, no seats, just good eats handed out over a really nice looking redwood counter top. I can’t imagine what running a proper double or triple digit seat capacity establishment would be like. I’m not sure I could handle that, yet.

But I’m not just running a to-go counter, and as the cold and rainy days of winter fade into the distance, I’m remembering what it is we do quite well, cater. All over the bay area, and to some extent northern California with two ovens on trailers. We’ve booked our first Mega destination wedding in Arcata this summer, along with another wedding in Big Sur, and already a dozen street festivals and fairs happening right here in Oakland. This side of the business went “dark” so to speak, after a record setting 28 mobile events in 31 days last October, the rest of our year was pretty slow. How convenient was it that I found the ailing Roma Pizza ready to sell at the end of that run? Very. That kept us busy all right.

Now, March 5th, and the email-request machine has been turned back on at full power, quote requests are coming in from all directions across multiple computer interfaces, the iPad, the iPhone, the Laptops. Press people are also contacting us now that we’ve been stationary and open for over 6 weeks. Word is getting out. These are all good things I need to stay on top of as the boss.

The Doughjo is sustaining itself and gaining popularity with the community. My crews are solid and they can keep the lights on while I run around crazy. The inside decor is pretty much done, new handmade custom chalkboard menus are almost finished. I’m starting to turn my attention to the facade treatments. New vinyl stickers have been made, along with brand new outdoor signs in the Final production stages, being generated by our friends at Fast signs Oakland. I’m getting ready to do some much needed painting, just in time for Spring.

Come April, I won’t have time for such luxuries, I’ll be leading catering shifts in the field ah-gain, slingin pies, gettin flour in my eyes, and having a good time doin it. I’m looking forward to getting back out on the streets, so watch out bay Area, the big black van and the 7000 lb. pizza beast is firing up once again for an amazing festival season. We hope to see you soon out there or in here, at 4166 MacArthur Blvd. Let’s hope they update the Street view after I get the new signage up…

Some days at the Doughjo are so interesting you just gotta blog about ’em

As the title implies, yesterday, February 20th, 2014 was no ordinary day at the new headquarters for operations. The day started out much like any other day, but something was in the air, and I was not aware of what was to come. Granted, in the grand scheme of things, what did transpire seems kind of normal for Oakland, and the world these days. I got to the shop at about 9:45 am, and started figuring out the day’s prep schedule. We don’t really start looking at the phone till 3 pm most days so if its not ringing with telemarketers and solicitors of all ilk, then I’m cool with that. (a little secret, we only answer the phone for relatively local area codes in our “off-hours”, so we will pick up if you call from the Bay Area and want to make a pre-order.) I was trying to get our tunes online but got distracted and hadn’t noticed we had no internet or phone connection until the landlord came by around 11 am, to see if our phones were working.

I was like, Uh, why do you ask? I think so, but, sure enough no signal, and the router was blinking red. We then realized what had happened. We believe our building was the victim of an attempted robbery. The would be perps used big tin snips or wire cutters and severed all the phone and data lines they could see outside on the back wall, including the main AT&T cable that runs back to the pole. I figured they tried to deactivate the alarms or something, and they must’ve gotten scared off or realized their plan did not work. You’d have to be some CIA ninja to disable our alarm with a pair of wire cutters and a CIA issued Crackberry. If you can knock our communications satellites in space the I’m screwed, but if not…

When I entered the place I saw no obvious signs of forced entry to either our front door or the back door. Anyone else looking at our doors may think otherwise, as they’ve both been hacked at dozens of times with the previous owners, but they are thick, and well fortified. Everything’s locked up and hidden all over the place. We don’t have much to steal, a couple refurbished Apple products, a craigslist-scored 1990’s era stereo, $200 in pepperoni, a decent printer, and like a couple hundred bucks at any given time. We do have three all-light cameras and a DVR pointed at the important areas. We are adding a fourth camera to an undecided location outside our back door as a result of this incident. Our landlord said that the Everett and Jones down the block was successfully broken into, so maybe they were just out to do something somewhere. That’s the second time in less that two months for E&J, and from what we’ve heard, pretty par for the immediate MacArthur Course. I.E. this may happen again. Time to lay some pipe, or well conduit at least. Protect our data lines!

To begin the crisis management plan we have in place (which is none), I got one the phone with the beginning of many an automated call system navigation gamer, starting with O.P.D. Tried to report the incident, but we had nothing on anyone. All we could do was file a report online. Did that, Check. Next was AT&T, henceforth known as “them,” to set up the repair ticket and eventually, after the suggestion of a Facebook fan, establish call-forwarding. Brilliant. Yes I’ll get that happening. Ahh, no phone line, right. Ok Call them from mobile device. Account number? passcode? please say or type…Let’s just say I have it memorized now. In between all of this there was another incident I happened to get involved in.

I was out back to take a call, and a minivan pulled up, smoking from all sides. I’m like, pretty normal because there’s an O’Rielly Auto parts across the street, smoking cars do appear from time to time in East Oakland. I peered over towards the car as the man opened the hood just to kinda lend my advice to the situation. If you knew me as a teenager, I had a lot of car incidents involving flames, steam, smoke and you name it. He was with a small child, who we both told to move away as soon as I saw freakin flames coming out from behind the engine block. I ran inside and grabbed an extinguisher, and maybe over-did it with the Halon blast, but that shit did tha trick! Car was no longer flaming, and the side of our building wasn’t gonna suffer any blast. Several people have since told me it takes a little while for a car to blow up but I was having one of these days and I wasn’t wasting any Time.

After that the day seemed a little easier, until the top oven went out. If you’ve been following along with our feeds, the ovens have been the bane of my existence since we opened. The ones we bought with the place hadn’t seen that much action in some time and well, just weren’t up to the task. I think we killed them in our first week, and have since gotten replacement ovens. Right away. Brand new stone floors in some older refurbished ovens. But I’ll be honest here folks, they’ve had some troubles. The guys that sold them to us have been good to us and have done everything they can think of to make them work, driving back and forth from the L.A. area. I think we have a few more parts to replace and we’ll be good as new. When they work, they work great, but when they go out it kinda sucks. For the most part, everything is working out as long as we check them every 1/2 hour we’re good.

The service Thursday night began hecka quiet. No phone line and we were all calling to see if my cell would ring. The phone line finally made the connection, and the call forwarding was working. I asked a customer what number the called to confirm. Sweet. The night progressed and all was well. The next day (today) AT&T was on it like a bonnet, and was onsite before me. They got the lines repaired before 2pm, and had to replace a whole bunch of stuff. We were back up and running. Friday night. Ready Set Go. Month number one done. First possible robbery attempt, check. Onto month number two.

Fist of Flour Doughjo is OPEN! Reflections on the past six open days

Just in case you’ve missed it, we have officially opened the door to the Doughjo for limited dinner service, weekly from 5-9pm Wednesday-Sunday. We have been open six whole days! (at the time of this post) and we’re going strong, despite several minor obstacles we’ve encountered during all of this including the top oven blow out, the almost electrical meltdown, and learning how to use the hold/mute feature properly on our new phone. I hope I’m not over-sharing with everyone here, but this is how I blog.

I want everyone to know, we will start this small, and grow into our new shell, just like we did with our First trailer, heck, just like our first few BYO private parties in my back yard with the first hand built pizza oven. I overheard a customer tonight say they had been in attendance to one of those early parties and had my “backyard pizza.” That was four years ago, in the winter of 2010, maybe the spring. Tonight, another blast from the Laurel past came in who worked with the Oakland Food Connection when we were first starting out, slingin at the Farmers market in the Giant Burger parking lot in the fall of 2010. I hope the customer who always paid with $2 bills finds out we’re back in the Laurel, and stops in to say hi. I do remember a lot of cold rainy mornings back then in the early days. What did happen to all of our rain this year by the way?

I do find it rather ironic, I and my crew have spent the last three Bay area winters working through all kinds of conditions in a 10×10 fabric tent, and now we’ve taken shelter under some brick and mortar in the driest year and warmest winter for some time, right across the street from where we went public without actual permission from anyone of authority over such matters. Cosmic solid with a twist perhaps? Not sure, but it feels good being where we are. I looked at several places around Oakland before finding our new digs: Downtown, Mid town, Temescal, Emeryville border, you name it, if it had a for rent sign I was knockin. We even tried to make a couple deals, thought we had this or that, and none of those panned out. I think we were supposed to land right here, close to home where we had planted roots. I mean I must’ve sat and stared a dozen times over at Roma Pizza from the Giant Burger parking lot with a terrible hangover at 9am saturday morning going, I wonder what kind of thing they got going there? I bet they’d sell. I dunno, I wasn’t quite ready for that. I think I had only sold 20-30 pizzas by then over a couple weekends. But I saw it. I thought someday, maybe, a little tiny takeaway spot. I vaguely remember wondering if they’d call the cops or the health department on us because we were a similar business operating as a rogue unit of one guy. Just me. Little did I know, they weren’t inviting anyone of authority around that place lemme tell ya…

Now I stand in the “fishbowl” as we affectionately call our storefront of glass and security bars, gazing across MacArthur Boulevard at the Giant Burger parking lot, looking back at a simpler time where ideas and inspiration were all around me. That feeling is back again. A new space, a new set of ovens and a whole bunch of new menu ideas and extended hours in the works. Not to say I haven’t had the feeling all along, every step of the way, but the entity reaches a certain point where its alive, sustaining, growing, moving, doing, learning, adapting and surviving without as much help from me. It’s a good feeling, and a scary one too. I believe the line that comes to mind was “feed me Seymour.”

Come see us at the Doughjo, 4166 MacArthur Blvd, right off the High St. exit from 580. Please use appropriate navigational devices to guide you. I think most of our immediate neighbors have been following their sense of smell. We start taking the night’s orders at 4:30. Call 510 531-6367. Revised_Limited_menu012314

So when is the Doughjo Opening?

Man, oh man, I have to tell you all I am overwhelmed with the supportive response we’ve been getting from neighbors, passers by, internet fans, and random phone callers. Which by the way, my cell phone is the phone number that has been associated with our mobile business. I am not answering my phone right now for unrecognized numbers. I encourage voice mail messages if you are truly needing to get a hold of me, I will call you back.

I have been “working” with the the local monopoly to get an actual land line at the new space, and its harder than you’d think. We will be getting a new Phone number for orders and making some menu/flyers for the neighborhood, but I can’t go to print until the monopoly confirms the new number. Perhaps if I hadn’t cut all the existing cables in there beforehand, I wouldn’t need a technician to come out and run another line from the box. All that stuff had to go. Period. So I’m sorting that out Wednesday morning. Tuesday (tomorrow) is going to be fun. Every piece of equipment is getting a massage with happy ending, starting at 8 am. Every floor tile is being scraped off of leftover paint, every nook and cranny polished, because all the walls are now covered in stainless steel. We can polish crannies.

The next few days are critical. We have our Health inspection this Wednesday 1/8/14, and that will determine if I followed directions closely or not, and will help determine our much anticipated opening date (which is what this post was supposed to be about). Several friends advised me to have a preliminary inspection with what was there, and they were solid advisers. I think we’ve hit everything on the report, and we should be ready to open by mid January as planned. As of this date (1/6/14) I cannot legally say when we’ll be open. All I know is I’ve done everything I could to make this happen. We’re going to open on time, not quite “finished,” but thats Ok with me. Some stuff is still being made, some little details are still being worked out. F*&k it. The kitchen is 95% fully operational, and I’m ready to Cook!

As some of you know We’ve been working almost non-stop since late October 2013 when we took over Roma Pizza. I want you all to now close your eyes, and imagine a different landscape. One that has been transformed by the basics: cleaning, painting, a little interior decorating, and a whole lotta focus on the food! To clarify, The Doughjo as it is now officially known by will be a take-away establishment, focused on call-in and online ordering, with walk-in pickup. We will not have tables to sit at for Dine-in service, but we will have some really nice counter tops for you to stand at and grab a slice or a Stromboli, maybe a salad too. I’m still sourcing red leather bar stools, so there will be some “seating” eventually. We gotta start small and build up. I’d rather spend money on our ingredients than a driver and fuel costs to be quite honest. Besides there’s services now that can do the delivery for us, so we will consider that too…

Laurel District prepare for liftoff! The countdown begins, T-Minus 10 days and counting…