By KATE FULLAM //
While large-scale manufacturers like General Mills produced huge mounds of Totino’s Pizza Rolls to feed homebound masses during the pandemic, a Long Island-based wood-fired frozen pizza business was growing also – in the kitchen, and the parking lot, of the East End Food Institute.
Homeslice Pizza sold thousands of frozen pies as COVID-19 spread across the region, delivering directly to clients quarantined at home across the Hamptons. Many of these were longtime fans of the company, which was created about six years ago – on top of a retired military equipment trailer – to offer on-site catering, highlighted by honest-to-goodness wood-fired pizza.
The unique setup has helped Homeslice gain plenty of fans, who dig the fabulous pizza, the low-key vibe and, especially, the mobility: The trailer can be towed to any beach or backyard.
Catering, of course, has been on pause since the pandemic began. But business owner Terence McGuire was determined to stay in touch with his clients, and stay in business.
Cue the frozen pizzas. McGuire was already licensed to freeze and distribute his wares, which he did – primarily in the winter, just to keep busy and raise a few bucks for local charities – via an auxiliary battery-powered chest freezer loaded into the back of his 2002 4×4 Quigley van.
He guesses that he made about $1,300 over each of the last two non-pandemic winters. But this winter into spring into summer, at the height of the pandemic, McGuire estimates he was preparing, packaging and delivering about $20,000 worth of frozen foods – per month.
And all of it cooked and frozen at EEFI and delivered in that Quigley, where McGuire also keeps his surfboards and wetsuits – essential tools for staying sane during the socially distanced shutdowns.
Surfing and pandemics aside, the entrepreneur has refocused his efforts on securing indoor space for manufacturing his wood-fired frozen pizzas. Local zoning laws and real estate availability proved significant challenges, until McGuire found a new home in an industrial building just around the corner from the popular Quogue Wildlife Refuge.
It’s another new beginning for the pizza man, who launched his business as a unique catering-on-wheels offering and pivoted hard into frozen foods.
“It is crazy to be working indoors, when my entire business was built within the constraints of seasonality and weather,” McGuire noted. “I love hosting outdoor parties, so hopefully we can do that again soon, too.”
But his indoor space – a former electrical-supply warehouse transformed into a clean and safe food-processing facility – figures to heat up fast, at least when the pandemic is over.
“When it is safe to gather again, I would love to welcome clients here to learn how to cook in the wood-fired oven,” McGuire added.
It was the entrepreneur’s vision and tenacity that led to his new space being certified by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. The space is ready to cook: High-grade plywood and white PVC boards line the walls, with dark-gray painted floors soon to be lined with new steel tables.
It’s a simple-but-sleek look, highlighted by a beautiful Classico 5 Combo gas- and wood-fired oven in the cooking space. The centerpiece oven was made in Napoli by Italian legend Ditta Mario Acunto. Acunto and his team craft pizza ovens with the knowledge and experience of three generations, combining traditional Neapolitan techniques with modern technologies designed to save energy, reduce environmental impact and improve production efficiency.
Full disclosure: McGuire is my partner and I am so proud of him. The final punch-list items are being completed, and as we lit a fire in the Classico 5 for the first time (indoors) this week, everything became real.
One of the best parts of my job at the EEFI is supporting businesses as they grow. It’s always a proud moment when businesses that get their start in our space (or just outside it) graduate to a place of their own.
This one is extra sweet. Or perhaps savory? You can decide for yourself.
Kate Fullam is executive director of the East End Food Institute.