Fishtown's Pizzeria Beddia opened its doors for the first time almost exactly one year ago, and on the eve of that anniversary, Eater checked in with owner Joe Beddia for a look back.
Despite not making any grand gestures toward convenience or accessibility (there's still no phone, no chairs, no payment accepted other than cash) and getting by solely on the word-of-mouth marketing of fans, the shop has been racking up raves and building a reputation for putting out one of the very best pizzas in the city. Just yesterday, Beddia made its debut as the only shop repping Philly on the Eater National Pizza 38. So it makes perfect sense that Beddia isn't in any rush to change anything.
[Photo courtesy of Joe Beddia]
Eater Philly: So your anniversary falls during Eater Pizza Week, and you just made your debut on the Eater National Pizza 38, so there couldn't be a better time to check in on Pizzeria Beddia's first year.
Joe Beddia: It's really crazy how it's all happening, because last year, before we opened – my birthday's on the 19th of March, on St Joseph's Day, and then I went right into opening day on the 20th. And then this week, this year, it's another crazy thing – we have two different publications that we've done small interviews with and been in contact with just now, for things coming out in May.
It's all making me a little bit nervous. But I'm really excited and grateful for all the positive reviews and everything, which has been amazing. It's just odd how all of those things synced up at once. The Eater thing came out yesterday, and I get a lot of mileage out of that, for being such a small shop. We don't have any sort of media department or publicist or anything like that, so… I mean, I have a website, which is free. We don't have a telephone. We don't have any of those kinds of traditional means.
So that's kind of where I wanted to start, actually – you started with such a different model from most new places that open up in Philly. You didn't line up investors, you didn't try to take on too much, and it seems like you made a model that worked for you in a different way.
Well, there were a couple of different things that happened along the way. I did a tremendous amount of research – I mean, I can't tell you what other places have done, but I know my preparation was years. Part of it was just not having my shit together enough to open anything, but also part of it was just really being inspired by pizza and wanting to learn and study it. And I did enough of that to where, by the time I was actually ready to do something, it left me in a comfortable place. I'm still learning, it's still a bit of a struggle, but I feel pretty good about it.
I did a small stage at Osteria and I learned a couple of things, and then I had the opportunity to go to Wisconsin – my brother lives there, and there's a pizzeria there [Pizza Brutta] where I went and learned for a few months. Also, I used to brew beer professionally for about seven years, and it was when I was at a brewery in Japan that I think I really got an understanding of being able to do something simple, and focusing on it, and just like… Well, I knew I didn't want to open a restaurant. I didn't really have enough experience managing a restaurant or anything like that, but I knew I really enjoyed making pizza. And then, just a side note, my favorite places were all these same sort of places - like Di Fara, Una Pizza, like those are the places I love. And they're all, you know, one guy making pizza. So there are a lot of examples out there of what to do.
And then just getting closer to it, I found the space – I knew I wanted a small space that was manageable just by myself with the help of another person, maybe. That was a struggle in Philadelphia, to find a space that's small enough, that's zoned correctly, and with a decent location. But all of those things kind of fell into place eventually.
[Photo: Eater Philly]
There was another location in Northern Liberties that you tried for first, right?
Yeah, I was trying to get Fourth and Poplar. It used to be called Almanac Market; it was a nice little corner market. And I went in front of the zoning board for that space, and I probably spent about six months trying to get in there, and finally the neighborhood didn't want that there. I think the issue with zoning was that, if they do the zoning for the space, and then I don't succeed in the space, then anything can end up in there next. Which could be something that has a more negative impact on the immediate neighborhood. I'm just making pizza, not doing delivery, just doing this weird specific little business model. And I think they were pretty much OK with that, but not allowing that uncertainty. And the neighbors are weird right there.
But this location I found is a thousand times better. I've lived in Northern Liberties and Fishtown for twelve years between both places and, I don't know, something happened in Northern Liberties, with the development there. I'll just say I'm happy to be in Fishtown.
So how busy were you when you first opened, for such a small place that didn't really market itself?
Oh, crazy busy. I mean, I've been so fortunate. You know, the whole thing with not having a phone — I actually have a phone in the basement here that I purchased. My thing was, I wanted to wait a week or two before I put a phone in. I like things to run well; that's extremely important to me, for things to run smooth. When someone comes in here and we tell them it's an hour and a half wait, that's almost to the minute. It's a science. You won't wait an extra ten minutes, it just doesn't happen.
My point is, I actually intended to have a phone and use a phone, but on the very first Friday night, we sold out of pizza. And I didn't have a business plan for this but I was like, "oh, if we sell this many pizzas, it's OK." If we sell 40 pizzas a night, that's a pretty decent amount of work for me. I just figured, we're in a good place, and if the pizza's good, it'll probably end up working out. And that first week, we were selling out of pizza consistently, so there was no reason to set up a phone.
I really intended it to be a small neighborhood place. Which it is— we have people coming from across the street, and they order their pizza and then go back home to wait for it or go down to Johnny Brenda's, which is what I'd hoped. But of course you also have people who drive in from Washington D.C. to eat pizza, the pizza geeks—which is amazing, because I used to do the same thing. I'd drive up to New York for pizza; I used to do that all the time.
We have slowed down a little bit now, maybe because of the weather. Our weekends are still very strong, and we do still sell out a lot. But Wednesdays and Thursdays are usually pretty mellow, so we kind of tell people to come in on those days. If people come in on a Friday at 7 p.m., I might already have orders lined up for 20 pizzas.
It can be a struggle, and I did think about doing some sort of online ordering, but I don't know. I kind of don't want to change anything. The thing is, if you have a phone, the phone's going to ring. I'm in the thick of it, and I hear everything, and I also have the responsibility of making all the pizzas, and I like to have a pretty high attention to detail. So I don't know if I could also handle that. And then you need someone else there just to answer the phone. And you're going to be on the phone, and still having people coming in. My philosophy is that I'd always rather deal with the person that's actually here, before I would deal with anyone on the phone. They made the effort to come in. So, honestly, I wouldn't even know how to get into it at this point.
Have you found that it's kind of seasonal for you, since there is a wait, and maybe it's more in warmer weather that people are going to be willing to say "OK, we'll just go, then stroll down to the bar for a while…"?
Well, it's weird, even in the snowstorms we were still doing, like, 25 pizzas. But it's mostly people who live in the neighborhood, who know the deal.
[Photo: Eater Philly]
Since you are somewhat constrained by the fact that it's just you making the pizzas, have you found over the course of the year any ways to scale it up a little or become more efficient?
Well, the goal really was about 40 pizzas a night. Sometimes on a Friday or Saturday I can throw in another five pizzas, or even up to ten, but that gets kind of exhausting. I have kind of struggled with that for a while, and I don't know. Initially my idea was that maybe I could hire another guy who's got a vested interest in pizza, who would work at a really high level, and pay them really well, and then be open more days.
But I also really enjoy making pizza — I still like it so much, it's ridiculous. People come in, they see me, we can chat for a second, and I can make for them what I think is a really nice pizza. So, I don't know. I think if we're relatively busy, we're doing OK, so I'm not sure… I would need to find that person who really wants to do that. I just don't want to change what we're doing here. Especially because I feel like the only reason we'd change would be for other people. If I'm making the pizza I want to make, and people are buying it, I don't know if it really matters. I don't know who we're really trying to appease.
Is there anything you can think of that you have changed since you opened, then?
I don't think so. I kinda knew where I was going to buy my food from, which cheeses I was going to use—I haven't changed any of that. I don't know, I don't think so!
Early on, you started doing this very classic pizza shop thing of selling your extra dough as bread the next day; are you still doing that?
We are still doing that, but I think it was [former Eater editor] Collin Flatt who wrote about that, and then it really became a story. So people would come in asking for bread. But we sell out our dough on Saturdays, so we don't make bread, and then we have all these people coming in looking for bread. If you happen to be here on a Wednesday, we may or may not have bread. But I always send a tweet out in the morning or early afternoon to tell everyone if we have bread and how many loaves we'll have.
There are so many different things we could get into. For instance, I was playing around with strombolis for a bit, and they were good, but they kind of cook at their own rate, and I like to keep things really simple. I'm not sure we're going to change anything. But I do think about that stuff all the time.
Well, if it's working for you, it's working for you.
We're lucky to have this. And any sort of national attention is, to me, insane, and I'm honored to get any of that.
Have you considered the possibility that one day the next you is going to show up and ask to hang out and learn from you? I mean, have you thought about that, since that was such a big part of how you got started?
Oh, I'd be very open to supporting someone like that. I know what it took for me to get started, and it was difficult, and there were lots of people who helped along the way—whether it would be with zoning, or… I'm not that business savvy, I tend to be more on the creative side, but I would be open to that. I've already had people come in and work for a day.
Although really, it's not that much different from another pizza place, other than the fact that we have a nicer, longer fermentation and we really work hard to source the best ingredients. I got anchovies this past week for the first time, and I got the best anchovies I could buy. I think of it in terms like that: All I want to do is make sure that we're making the best pizza we can possibly make.