Pizza Maria turns one year old today, and last week, we sat down for a chat with owner-chef Sean Coyne and his FOH manager, Anna Caporael, to check in what they've learned in their first 365 days.
When they first flung open their doors to the public, Coyne and Caporael say they tried to do so quietly, a deliberate maneuver that would give both the kitchen and the waiting staff the chance to hit their stride.
It seems to have worked. After finding their feet, their 60 pizza-per-night output has doubled that, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.
And in a way, that slow, quiet roll-out was a boon for business—because their mixer had yet to arrive, Coyne was mixing doughs by hand for the first three months, a tedious process that could have swallowed up the kitchen whole if they were busy from the get-go.
But the main thing they learned was that no matter how passionate they were about what they did, and no matter how clear and precise their mission was, they had influence over what Pizza Maria would eventually become was refreshingly limited
"There's a feeling that when you're that passionate about what you do that it will create all the momentum that you need," Caporael says. "But then public comes in and that changes. They help determine who you really are."
They're the ones, she says, that give them all that feedback that's so crucial in the first few months. By listening to those suggestions, and incorporating them into the the way they did things, the public, especially the regulars, got to claim a little ownership in the business, too.
Coyne and Caporael say their especially grateful for their guests' patience while they tried to figure out what worked and what didn't.
"Right now, our dough is in a real sweet spot," Coyne says. "We did a lot of tweaking the first three months, but now we've really hit our stride."
As far as the toppings go, the kitchen has been able to flex its creative muscle there, too. In those first few months, it went from specializing in just four different pies to offering a much more robust roster of nine, including those topped with meatballs, clams or market vegetables.
And even the staff gets in on the action. When their shifts wind down, bartenders and servers will approach the kitchen and order off the menu, requesting build-it-yourself pies, and will then sharing those with the rest of the staff. If that pie's a hit, they kitchen will tweak it in the days ahead, letting it "evolve," says Coyne. And if they're not all sick of it by week's end, they'll offer it as a special.
Of course, every restaurateur knows that there is one inherent risk in offering the public the kinds of foods he or she likes eating: weight gain.
And Coyne and Caporael laugh when asked if they put on pizza weight during their first year.
"We definitely went through that," Caparael says. In fact, if you consider those end-of-night pie free-for-alls and the staff dinners the team shares before each dinner service starts, she estimates that she and Coyne were eating two to three pies apiece each night, a number that's dropped considerably, along with those extra pounds.
"It's a blessing a curse to like what you're good at doing," she says. "But we've got plenty of salads, too, so we're eating more of those to balance it all out."
And to show just how much they appreciate you, the public, Pizza Maria's kitchen is offering one complimentary pie to anyone who walks through their doors, tonight only.
You don't even have to order a cocktail or a glass of wine to claim it. But you're all adults, here, so you probably should.
Pizza Maria: 3060 SE Division St., 971.303.7000; Hours: 5 to 9 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays; Reservations for parties of any size are available, as is delivery through Caviar