COLUMN: Online shopping whim leads to oven-hot pizza joint

Joe Pesto’s Wood Fired Pizzeria has it all a pizza could ask for, but could use more staff, says owner

You can get a lot of things on Craigslist, but it’s not too often you find an entirely new career and family business.

That’s exactly what happened for jack-of-all-trades Joe De Franco, however, when he responded to an ad selling a $600 outdoor wood fire pizza oven in Coquitlam just over a year and a half ago.

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And it didn’t take long once the oven was set up in the De Franco’s backyard for a full-blown pizza passion to take over, his wife Christy says.

“Before we even bought the oven we were making pizzas once a week, and then Joe just started experimenting going from store-bought shells to making his own dough, as well as gluten-free pizza dough for me and our daughters,” Christy said.

“Then with eight balls of dough in one batch we had so much left over we just put the call out. ‘Who’s home? Who wants a pizza?’ And I would just run them over. It was so fun.”

In short order – after the oven was operational – pizza night went from one night a week to two. Pretty soon it became evident that the family’s passion for Italian pies was not to be contained and Joe Pesto’s Wood Fired Pizzeria was born. It took about seven to eight months for the duo to find the right location, which now occupies the former home of the Kozo Café and Life’s Treasures on 2nd Avenue downtown, and regularly has line-ups out the door.

Don’t expect just your run-of-the-mill pizza pies at Joe Pesto’s.

Featuring both wood fire and New York thin crust and a delicious gluten-free option for both, you’ll find unique combinations such as Catch Of The Day – think tuna melt; The Rueben, Joe’s personal fave, featuring Montreal smoked meat, sauerkraut, thinly sliced pickle and mustard drizzle with mozzarella; and a female favourite Pearfect – a combination of caramelized pear, prosciutto, grana padano, soft goat feta with a balsamic drizzle. Of course there are also standards like Aloha and spicy Italian, said Christy.

“This brought me out of vegetarianism,” she said with a laugh.

The space, welcoming with lots of wood finishings and bar-height party tables that seat up to 10, was reno’d almost entirely by Joe with the exception of some help with plumbing and lighting.

It’s entirely coincidence, Joe insists, that one of his first jobs was in a pizzeria. Over the course of four years he worked his way up from dishwasher to pizza slinger by the time he left at age 17.

He says it was never a dream to open a restaurant nor did he ever see himself as a chef.

“Things just sort of snowballed after we bought the oven for the house. This all just sort of snuck up on us,” he said on a brief break from prepping dough, adding that help is hard to find in Squamish.

“Obviously I’d like to not to be here from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day, but I love it,” Joe said of the restaurant, which is routinely packed every night. “Truth is, we need more staff, but anyone with a business can tell you that we need more places to live. It’s a major problem in our town: People are making $15 an hour and can’t find anywhere to live.

I know people, good people, who are working and are homeless.

This town needs to address this. Everyone who owns a restaurant knows. Everyone who has employees knows.”

It’s obvious that De Franco cares about things and wants the best for not only his staff but also Squamish. The restaurant, which is ultimately aiming to be open for lunch and offer take-out, supports three local breweries – A Frame, Backcountry and Howe Sound Brewing, as well as featuring BC winery Hester Creek on tap.

 “I want to make some money, I want other people to make money. I want to be busy all the time – it would be great to never close and have a great staff that likes to be here,” the pizzaiolo said frankly.

Of course, finding another great deal on Craigslist might change all that.

Thankfully, with the long hours the De Francos are putting in, there won’t be much time for surfing the web – not for a while yet.

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