Not a pie in the sky venture for couple
BOWLING GREEN—It’s a good thing the Aloha Wood Fired Pizza food truck opened directly across the street from the Bowling Green Police Station, because if the size of the crowd that gathered during it’s opening minutes on Friday is any indication of what’s to come, the owners are going to need crowd control.
Greg and Donna Ellison, both recently retired from their “day” jobs, decided that they were still too young to just fritter away their days, so they embarked on a pizza-making venture, making Bowling Green the lucky town to receive their Italian/Hawaiian pies.
Greg used to work for Ameren and Donna had been a social worker. Even not knowing how well things might turn out with their pizza-making venture, they said a bad day making pizzas is far better than working a 9-5 job. One, they were working for themselves, and two, they could stop when they wanted. In fact, for the time being, they’re doing only limited runs of pizzas; making 45 pies a day, three days a week. They are open from 3 – 8 p.m., Wednesday, Thursday and Fridays only. Once they sell out of the 45 pizzas, they are done for the day. Down the road, however, they are going to expand their hours, and be open during lunchtime, as well. But that will come once they have a good feel for how the operation will work, and what they need to do to make it as efficient as possible.
During the week leading up to their opening, they were doing test runs of the Italian made pizza oven, using the perfected recipes they had worked on over a period of months. Businesses around town were the recipients of those hot pies, fresh out of that oven, which Greg installed in the trailer he repurposed from a regular camper. He removed the beds, installed a health-department certified four-compartment sink, a full-sized refrigerator, and added the space for the wood-fired oven.
“I bought this trailer from a guy who had fixed it up as a home-made camper,” Greg said. Where the oven is now, Greg said, “This is where he used to haul his four-wheeler.”
The wood-fired oven is more of a residential model, Greg explained. It’s designed to make four pies at a time, but when working with the oven, he’s only been able to cook two at a time. He can get the oven up to 1,000 degrees, but likes to keep it at about 800 for cooking. At that temperature, he added, it takes about 1½ to 2 minutes to cook a pizza. That made the couple confident they could handle community walk-up traffic.
“We’re new to this,” Greg said. “She’s in there making the pizzas, and I’m trying to help her out. If I don’t watch it (the oven), well I can’t walk away.”
“I keep telling him to get back out there,” Donna said.
He showed off his turning peel; the device he uses to turn the pizza half way through it’s cooking cycle, so it doesn’t burn on the side closest to the fire.
They believe that most of their business will be walk up, but they can take orders over their phone at 573-721-7868. Because there are only two of them running the business, if they get backed up with people waiting in line, there’s a good chance they won’t be able to answer the phone.
“We can’t not take care of the people who walk up,” Donna said.
For their first day, however, they are going to have their children and some friends help them out, just so that they don’t get overwhelmed. Even though the Ellisons said they believe they have all the contingencies covered, neither has worked in the food service industry before, so it will be a trial by fire that first day.
It’s part of the reason they opened on a Friday. Once they’re done cooking for the day, they can take a few days to breathe and asses how they did and what they need to do before they open again the following Wednesday.
“You may see a ‘For Sale’ sign on this,” Greg said with a laugh. But just the way he describes how much he enjoys making pizza, it’s easy to see they will be doing this for quite some time.
Greg and Donna recently purchased the building where the Aloha Wood Fired Pizza trailer is parked. It had belonged to Sue Haley, who owns the Garden Gate Antique store. Sue’s family owned it for generations, she said. Part of the deal for the building’s sale, she noted, was that she got to maintain the space for her antique store.
The space next to hers was recently rented to Jerry Hickerson, who moved his newspaper, The People’s Tribune, down two doors from where it had been housed. The back office of the newspaper was repurposed for food storage for the pizza trailer. That had to be health department certified, Greg added.
On the other side of the newspaper, at the corner—that space was rented to Ginny and John Elliott, the owners of the Ink Therapy and Body Piercing studio, which opened last November.
Greg said he and Donna had thought about opening a brick and mortar pizza place in one of the building’s spaces but the cost of bringing it up to restaurant code was prohibitive. Besides, they only wanted to do this part time. And having the trailer, gave them the flexibility to enjoy Greg’s passion for making pizza while still being able to enjoy their retirement. And they could tow the trailer to festivals. They’re also available for parties and other celebrations. That’s why they are keeping Saturdays available for those events.
They have a credit card reader for people to use when buying pizza. But Donna said they would prefer cash transactions.
Donna retired in February last year and then Greg retired last September.
“He’s always been a pizza connoisseur,” she added.
“And we’re both relatively young for retiring,” Greg said. “And might as well do something we’ve never done before.” He wants to look back on this time some day and say he was glad they tried doing this venture together.
They still want to travel and she watches one of her grandchildren, so if they don’t want to open one day, they can post their schedule on Facebook.
Greg prefers to make Neapolitan-style crust, and uses fresh tomato sauce and locally sourced fresh vegetables. The meat toppings are from a distributor. Actual cooking time for the pizzas will be 3 to 4 minutes, so it won’t be a long wait for those in line.
“A true Neapolitan pizza will have some charring on the top and bottom, and it will have some bubbles in the crust,” Greg said. “It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but I sure do like it.”
One look at their menu and you quickly realize why the business is called Aloha. There is The Big Kahuna Supreme, the Mahola BBQ Chicken, The Hawaiian Veggie Pizza, The Maui P Pepperoni Pizza, The Waikiki Sausage Pizza, The Honolulu Cheese, the Kilauean House Special, and of course the Margherita Italian Classic.
Right now they’re only selling whole pies, but in May or June, might expand their hours to lunchtime and sell pizza by the slice.
“We’ve already got our flatbreads ordered,” he said. “We’re going to do flatbreads and pizza by the slice.” The pizza of the day is the one that will be sold by the slice. “But we do have several flatbread options,” he added.
“We’re really looking forward to this,” Greg said.
On the day they opened, several people had stopped to order a pizza. Karen Allen said she got off work at 3 p.m. and came right over to order her The Big Kahuna Supreme. Gail Miller ordered the same thing. Even Bowling Green Police Chief Don Nacke walked across the street to let Greg and Donna know that if they had any overcooked pizzas that they couldn’t sell, his department would be happy to take them off their hands.