Canadian Pizza Magazine

Profile: Rockin’ the Pizza-Boat

By Colleen Cross   

Features Business and Operations Profiles

Pizza-Boat of Burlington, Ont., is expanding tastes with unique pizza shapes and flavours

Chef Ali Isitmezoglu of Pizza-Boat in Burlington, Ont., placed third at the Canadian Pizza Summit with the pizzeria’s signature boat-shaped pide featuring sauteed spinach, mushrooms and pulled beef. Chef/owner Yesim Erkus proudly assisted. PHOTO: CANADIAN PIZZA

Pizza-Boat in Burlington, Ont., looks like your typical bright, cheery pizzeria.

The brightly lit, welcoming shop is located in a busy shopping plaza. Customers are greeted as friends and offered tiny hot cups of Turkish coffee. “It’s strong,” counsels a smiling Yesim Erkus, who is chef and owner of the unique pizzeria. “But it’s not too bitter. I like it. Try it, I think you’ll like it.”

She’s right. I’m not a coffee drinker so I’m unsure, but the demi-tasse of coffee is rich and smooth. 

Erkus opened Pizza-Boat in 2020. That should tell you something about the owner’s determination and tenacity. The smart, straightforward entrepreneur says she had just signed the lease to their location when the government declared a pandemic. 


Others might have panicked. Erkus took a deep breath and carried on with the plan. “The timing worked out because we used the time to renovate and, actually, contractors were more readily available.

Trained as a lawyer and highly creative, Erkus designed the store herself.

Customers are invited to spin a wheel of fortune when they make a purchase to win a free menu item. Kids and adults alike are given bamboo utensils to colour while they wait five to 10 minutes for pizza. The mini works of art are posted on the wall.

These touches tell you this business has a personality.

Head chef Ali Isitmezoglu made the award-winning pizza at the Toronto Chef of the Year Competition, encouraged by Erkus, who presented the shop’s pizza to the judges. Isitmezoglu worked as a celebrated chef in Turkey at Nisantasi Basköse and other renowned restaurants. Erkus brought him over to head up her kitchen. 

The chef is precise and methodical. He takes me through the process of making pides and pocket-boats, another favourite shareable item on the menu. He uses a vertical dough sheeter to get the dough consistently super-thin, something they made do without at the Chef of the Year Competition in Toronto in October 2023. His handiwork impressed judges enough to award him third place among top Canadian pizzaiolos.

Also on the menu are eight-inch Lahmacun, which are thin-crust dough topped with ground beef blended with tomatoes, onions, green peppers, red peppers, parsley, garlic and herbs.

My hosts bring out pocket-boats that we all share, similar in shape to the pizza-boats but rolled into an enclosed “pocket” then served, like the pizza-boats, sliced across the narrow width into small and tasty morsels that are gone in two bites.

The Chef’s Signature Pizza Boat features sauteed spinach, pulled beef, sauteed mushrooms and cheese.

Pizza-Boats include meat lovers assorted, chicken, pepperoni, vegetarian and other pizzas most Canadians are familiar with. They also serve a pizza-boat called Soujuk, which is made up of beef soujuk and mozzarella. Soujuk is a dry, spicy and fermented sausage eaten in several Balkan, Middle Eastern and Central Asian regions.

A very special product designed to touch their Middle Eastern communities is Joseph’s Canadian Pizza Boat, which is made with beef pepperoni, beef soujuk and sauteed mushrooms. The compassionate Erkus donates $5 of the proceeds from every Joseph’s Canadian Pizza Boat to Turkey and Syria Earthquake Relief.

Erkus and Isitmezoglu say they loved taking their pizza to competition and spreading their word about their unique products. They have big plans for Pizza-Boat, and with so many great marketing ideas – from spinning wheels to branded napkin packages, magnet and framed copies of the issue of Canadian Pizza on the wall in which Ali appears in the gallery of pizza chefs.

The duo are presenting a demo at Toronto Bakery Showcase on May 5 where they will demonstrate how to make their pide and traditional Turkish desserts. Come cheer them on!

Print this page


Stories continue below