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Pizza on wheels

New Brunswick’s mobile wood-fired pizza oven is making a statement across the province


The food truck phenomenon that travelled through the United States has made its mark on Canada. Larger cities like Vancouver, Hamilton, Calgary, Ottawa and Toronto are filled with gourmet food trucks and mobile eateries, and the trend is still making its way across the country. Over the last year, New Brunswickers have had the chance to see what the hype is about thanks to Pizza del Fuego, a travelling wood-fired pizzeria owned and operated by Natasha Miller and Cody Pendleton. Pizza del Fuego is a popular staple in farmers markets across the province. Canadian Pizza spoke to Miller about the inspiration behind the business, and some of the trials and tribulations of owning a mobile eatery.

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Pizza del Fuego’s menu changes daily, depending on what fresh ingredients and toppings owners Natasha Miller and Cody Pendleton can get their hands on. (Photos credit: Pizza del Fuego)


The food truck phenomenon that travelled through the United States has made its mark on Canada. Larger cities like Vancouver, Hamilton, Calgary, Ottawa and Toronto are filled with gourmet food trucks and mobile eateries, and the trend is still making its way across the country. Over the last year, New Brunswickers have had the chance to see what the hype is about thanks to Pizza del Fuego, a travelling wood-fired pizzeria owned and operated by Natasha Miller and Cody Pendleton. Pizza del Fuego is a popular staple in farmers markets across the province. Canadian Pizza spoke to Miller about the inspiration behind the business, and some of the trials and tribulations of owning a mobile eatery.

Why did you decide to open a mobile business over a restaurant?
I’m from Vancouver Island and Cody is from Prince Edward Island and we were going to start a restaurant out east somewhere, but we couldn’t decide where to live or what to do. Cody is a trained chef, he graduated from the Culinary Institute of Canada, and he knew he wanted to have a restaurant. We were looking at doing something with a wood-fired oven. We’ve travelled extensively over the last six years, and spent time in South and Central America, specifically in the Tierra del Fuego region of Chile, where they do a lot of wood-fired cooking. That’s where we got the idea that we really wanted a wood-fired oven, but we couldn’t commit to a location, so we thought about doing something that’s mobile or on wheels. We started looking at building a clay oven on a trailer. We found a company in Colorado that imports Italian ovens and they have a heavy-duty trailer company that mounts them on a trailer. We worked with them to customize our oven; it weighs 3,000 pounds and can cook a pizza in less than a minute. When we were deciding on a name we felt that we needed a Spanish accent to it. We have the Italian side with the oven, and the name is a nod to our travelling experience.

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Are mobile eateries becoming more popular in New Brunswick?
They’re starting to be. I’m not 100 per cent certain, but other than a few hotdog carts, I’m pretty sure we’re one of the first mobile food carts [in New Brunswick]. It’s been a struggle that way, I know the government is becoming more aware in giving permits and finding spots for us on the street corners, but right now I think there are only two available permits that you can get to do that. It’s really expensive and really time consuming. That was the route that we wanted to go, but we thought we would give it a few years, until the government decided that they want more mobile food carts. It would be ideal to be downtown Saint John and Tweet our location so people could come to us for lunch: that’s what we would love. In the meantime, we started doing the farmers markets to see what would happen and now we have about 200 regular customers at every market. Other than getting another oven, I don’t know how we could do both! We’ve done a few concerts and private events and events in town when there are special functions happening, but it goes back to having the permit, of course. And, of course, our schedule: we’ve had to turn away a lot of weddings or private events because of our schedule. We make everything from scratch, so when we’re at five markets a week, the other days are spent making our dough and doing other prep work.

A farmers market sounds like a great place for ingredients. What’s on your menu?
We focus on using local ingredients and we grow a lot of our own stuff. We partner with a lot of farmers; we’ll buy our veggies at the market and put the farmer’s name on our menu, which changes daily. Whatever we can get our hands on that day is what we’ll offer. Typically it’s whatever is coming to season. That’s the great thing about the farmers markets: you can really watch the food come into season and see how our menu changes, basically every week. We always have four pizzas: a cheese and a pepperoni are always there. Our veggie pizza and our “works” are the ones that really change. Our bestseller is always the pepperoni. Everyone likes it. Sometimes we get into crazier pizzas, which turn out to be the ones people request a lot. This summer we did a pear and pesto pizza with blue cheese, lime and cilantro. Our customers can be stuck in their ways, but they’ve been really branching out. Getting people to try goat cheese for the first time is really rewarding. Next year we’ll be doing a lobster pizza because we’ll be lobster fishing all winter. But our menu is seasonal and depends on what we have.

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Pizza del Fuego’s wood-fired clay oven weighs 3,000 pounds.


 

What happens when the markets close for the season?
Even when the weather starts to get bad, people still come out to support us and the markets. Our main markets close for the winter, and we’ll be lobster fishing this winter, but we’re thinking about doing flea markets next year. The oven is 1000 degrees but it’s well insulated, so we’re looking into building a shelter [to operate outside]. This will help for private events too; we have to say no all the time in the summer, and during the winter we’re not so busy.

What are some of the challenges of operating a mobile eatery?
Besides permits and climate, the price of gas is our number 1 challenge. Having to draw the line and not go to a market because it’s too far is hard. You can imagine the wear and tear on our vehicles! Wood hasn’t been a problem yet – we’ve been pretty fortunate with that but we do go through a lot of it.

Between operating at your different market locations, serving a wide variety of customers and coming up with new combinations, you have lots on the go. What’s your favourite part of it all?
We’ve talked about it, and if we had a restaurant we’d be limited to the same client base or same topographical spot, which you are in some way. Not that that’s bad, because it’s reliable, but the really exciting thing is we travel as far as four hours away to get to an event. That’s kind of fun, seeing different stuff, it’s exciting. Some of our towns and markets are touristy so there are lots of people, but there are some markets where you’ll never get a tourist: it’s just locals. There’s such a broad spectrum of customers, from age three to 95. It’s neat to see that variety.


Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed.