BY MELISSA HUTSELL
There are hundreds, even thousands, of ways to build a pizza at Smack Pie Pizza in downtown Lodi, the region’s only fast-casual pizzeria. Pies topped with strawberries, Italian sausages, crispy bacon, pesto, or tacos… if you can put it on a pizza, you can do it here.
The restaurant offers more than 40 different ingredients to choose from, which include vegan, vegetarian and gluten free foods.
Customers can “smack a pie” together by building personalized pizzas by choosing the ingredients of their meal down to the dough, sauce, cheese, produce and protein.
“We encourage guests to get creative,” said Krysta Pleyte, who co-owns Smack Pie Pizza with her mother, Vicki Snell.
Snell, who also owns the Mud Mill in downtown Lodi, and Pleyte were inspired to go into business after they realized downtown Lodi lacked a local, family-friendly pizza joint. Also missing: a restaurant with an all-inclusive menu.
Pleyte knows that for some families (including her own), dietary restrictions or preferences can make it hard to choose a restaurant the entire family enjoys.
So, they set out to create an eatery that fills that void, and showcases local ingredients, opening Smack Pie Pizza in March 2014.
Pleyte described the process of launching the restaurant as a labor of love and a leap of faith. They didn’t know whether they’d find the funds to open, or sell enough pizzas to stay in business. Now, Smack Pie has become a citywide staple. They employ a staff of nearly 30 who handmake between 200 and 400 pizzas per day. On their busiest day so far, Pleyte said, they made 671 pizzas (nearly one pizza every 45 seconds).
All produce used at the pizzeria is sourced within a 30-mile radius and chopped by hand everyday. The menu revolves around locally procured foods and highlights the farms where they’re grown.
“We utilized Stanislaus Food products, such as the 74/40 tomato filets as a main ingredient in our red sauce as well as Corto Olive Oil,” Pleyte said.
Customers also inspire the menu. During farmers market appearances, said Pleyte, the company asked their social media followers, “what do you want to see on a pizza?” They then sourced the ingredients throughout the market, and created different community collaborations with toppings like Lockeford Sausages, Lodi’s Bruno’s peppers, or fresh strawberries from C and M Farms.
The restaurant also hosts pint nights, and monthly beer and pizza pairings. The pint nights beers are sourced from San Diego (Ballast Point and Stone Brewery) to Colorado (Oskar Blues, Avery and New Belgium Brewery) as well as Sudwerk in Davis.
“If we’ve got a smoky stout, we’ll pair it with a BBQ pizza,” explained Pleyte.
The build-your-own concept means meals are created by, and in front, of guests. Customers can order classics, like the Margherita, or an original Signature Smack, such as the Lodi Grape Pie or Date My Bacon. Also available: salads, sweet or savory smackies, cider and wine from local vineyards such as OZV, Oak Farms and Macchia.
Smack Pie fills a much-needed void in the Central Valley dining scene. The fast-casual model, Pleyte described, is defined as a fun, energetic environment. The open kitchen operates similar to Chipotle where guests are led linearly through a line of fresh ingredients.
“It’s not a sit-down restaurant, it’s not a drive through,” she added. Groups are welcome, and meals range between $8-$12, so the dining experience “doesn’t break the bank.”
When buying a pizza here, you’re supporting local businesses in more ways than one. The company is philanthropic at heart, and supports several community-led efforts, building partnerships with the Stockton Ports and Stockton Heat; working with local schools; and hosting fundraising events for nonprofits such as Lodi’s Changing Faces Theater Company.
“If there’s an opportunity, we jump at it,” said Pleyte. “We really want to root ourselves in the community and hopefully be here to stay for years to come.”
Why? Because this is where “three-four generations of my family decided to stay. The community has been so warm and welcoming,” she said, adding that this is a chance to return the support.
If You’re Going:
Smack Pie Pizza, 121 S School St. in Lodi
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday;
11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday