Anodyne is a coffee roaster that also makes pizza. How did that all come together? Was it coffee first, then pizza?
It seems a bit strange at first to have chosen pizza over sandwiches or more typical coffee shop offerings, but at the heart of it, both pizza and coffee are equally elusive creatures. We have been roasting coffee and operating retail cafes since 1999. We love coffee and it is really at the heart of what the company does, but pizza has always been a soft spot for me. My sister-in-law lives in Carol Gardens and we began visiting and eating as much pizza as our bellies could hold in the late nineties (when Grimaldis’ was where Juliana’s is and well before the fire at Totonno’s). We also took a trip to Italy during that time period and flew home with the intention to find pizza similar to what we had during our travels. This proved more difficult than we had anticipated! Pub pizza and deep dish prevailed (still do, really) in Milwaukee and we were not able to get wood fired pizza that stood up to what we had while we were in Italy. That’s when we took the leap and had a wood fired pizza oven installed in our tiny Bay View back yard. We loved making pizza as a hobby, and it was a great way to entertain family (I am one of 10 kids and my husband is one of 7, so family gatherings are generally big affairs…Irish/Italian Catholics). As we continued teedleing and fiddling with dough recipes and flour and toppings and heat and timing and fermentation times….some space became available in one of our cafes where we used to roast coffee. We moved the coffee roaster to a larger roasting space and were left with a hole in the ceiling, a very heavily reinforced floor, and lots of food-grade quarry tiled flooring. I quit my full-time job as a Speech and Language Pathologist, and just a touch over a year later we were rolling in a Stefano Ferarra oven and figuring out how the fork mixer worked compared to our home Kitchen Aid. I also found out two months before the oven arrived from Naples that I was pregnant with our fourth child! It was a very busy year, but one of the best.
What style of pizza do you make and why?
I make wood fired pizza that resembles pizza found in Naples, but with Milwaukee ambiance and Mid-Western weather. Wood fired pizza is just so damn fun to make. There are so many minuscule elements to teeter with that each day is different. There are so many adjustments to be made from fermentation time, to hydration, to the type of wood (kiln dried, oak, apple, the size pieces and when to add them to the fire), to what brand of flour and when it was milled. Each day presents a different factor to consider and adjust for. After all the decisions are made, I get to start the fire in the oven, see the end results, and continue to adjust based on what is coming off the fire. I’m always chasing my idea of what the pizzas should look and taste like. It’s a never-ending balancing act, and it is incredibly fun. A bonus to all of this is we have an amazing all female crew. That’s pretty rare in the pizza world (I think!), especially with wood-fired pizza. The energy and pride and enthusiasm that comes out of our kitchen is a pretty special thing.
How are the processes for coffee and pizza production similar? Do you have any crossover of staff working both sections, or are they entirely separate?
They are surprisingly similar. Coffee is a crop, which means it changes with each season. We source green coffee beans, sample roast them to determine roasting profiles, and then roast them to serve in our cafes, sell by the pound, and sell to wholesale accounts. The roast profiles change with the season and the characteristics of the crops that year.
With pizza we are also constantly source new produce, cheese, and meats to go on pizza specials or to improve the offerings on the regular menu. In the summer I make the rounds to the weekly farmers’ markets to pick up produce that is the freshest and will work best with the type of pizzas we are making. Many times what you think will work great falls short or needs to be prepped differently because it’s hitting a 850 degree oven and only has 60-90 seconds to do its thing. Many times the garlic vendor or woman with the best tomatoes is not there that week, or the market gets rained out and you have to adjust your plan. We move with the veggie crop that are in season just as we do with the green coffee beans. Both are fun challenges (and addicting)
What’s your favorite pizza/coffee pairing?
If it’s brunch on a Sunday a nice roasted potato pizza with an over easy eggs bellies up nicely with a round Guatemalan or Brazil.
If it’s dinner on a Wednesday a nice fruity Ethiopian settles in nicely with either our beet tops and blood orange or shaved kumquat and lemon pizza with creamy white sauce.
If it’s a hot summer day everything goes with the nitro cold brew. Everything.
What is your current challenge in running the business, particularly one with a split personality?
In the beginning it was hard to get folks to understand that we are dedicated to perfecting both coffee and pizza. It’s getting easier for customers to understand that we can kick out some super great fresh pizzas while continuing to source, roast, and serve super nice fresh coffee. We are known as a coffee company first, and that will hold true forever. The pizza is a very nice perk.
Another adjustment has been for our barista staff to begin to act in a server roll when it’s needed. There has had to be a lot of training related to speaking as fluently about crust and ingredients and as they are able to speak to coffee. It’s a constant work in progress and there is always so much more to learn about both pizza and coffee. We are lucky to have the best staff (all of whom love pizza).
I noticed on your website that you have a pretty robust schedule of live music. How did that get folded into the business model?
When we moved the roaster from the space where the pizza oven is now we ended up building out both a roastery and a retail café in that same building. The building itself is pretty big. The original half of the building was built in 1920. During the build out we discovered a beautiful curved wooden ceiling and wooden beams surrounded by cream city brick (white brick that is common to Milwaukee from that time period). We figured the sound in the room had to be pretty good, so we notched out a stage area during the initial build out not knowing exactly what would come of it. Over the last few years we have been able to have some great acts, both local and traveling, make their way through. It’s been a nice addition to the business
What’s next for Anodyne? Are you looking into expansion or satisfied having a single space with multiple personalities?
There are no plans as of now to expand the pizza side of things. It’s a very exacting balance of insanity and compulsion. I’m too particular with it to hand off to just anyone. For now I’m happy with the quality and consistency that we have built in our corner of the pizza world.
As for more cafes, we keep our eyes peeled for under-caffeinated neighborhoods that are looking for a great place to drink great coffee and chat with their neighbors.
*This post is part of a month-long series featuring women in the pizza industry in honor of Women’s History Month!