Wood-fired pizza restaurant opens downtown tonight

June 13, 2019

The final tenant to fill the marketplace at the downtown Jones421 Building opens late this afternoon, and it will fill the hallways with the smell of wood-fired pizza.

Papa Woody’s Wood Fired Pizza is taking the next step after starting as a food truck three years ago. Owners Lisa Esser and her husband, Steve Blumke, will keep the trailer going for festivals and private events, but now their fans will have a permanent place to find them.

“We built our reputation through word of mouth, and people kept asking, ‘Where can we find you?’ We realized our next step had to be a permanent location,” Esser said.

Their space in the marketplace on Phillips Avenue north of Sixth Street is small – 700 square feet – but Esser and Blumke are accustomed to working in a tight space. Customers can dine at six seats at the counter or take their food into one of several common dining areas inside the building or out into the courtyard.

The star of the new restaurant is the wood-fired oven that was imported from France. It’s so large it wouldn’t fit through the building’s doors, so workers had to remove one of the courtyard windows to get it inside. Earlier this week, it ran continuously for several days to seal and season it.

Inside, there’s a rotating deck that can hold up to 20 pizzas. “By the time it spins back to you, the pizza is done,” Esser said. That process takes two to three minutes at 800 to 900 degrees.

While Esser and Blumke have extensive restaurant experience – they met through Texas Roadhouse — they had never cooked wood-fired pizza before starting the trailer.

“We fed the neighborhood a lot trying to figure out how to cook. It was a lot of trial and error,” Esser said.

Over time, they started to get creative and developed their own recipes. The couple started the trailer with eight varieties of pizza and now offer 20. Those pizzas will be on the menu at the restaurant, and because the bricks-and-mortar location has a fryer and a grill, the menu is expanding to include chicken wings and tenders, French fries, fried pickles and mozzarella sticks.

Papa Woody’s won’t serve beer or wine because, according to state law, a location is limited to one license, and that’s held by The Source Roasterie + Taproom. But the beauty of the marketplace is that the businesses complement each other, Esser said.

Papa Woody’s plans to add online ordering next week to help people who might have a short lunch break or want to get a pizza on their way to a concert at Levitt at the Falls across the street. Customers also can call 605-271-0519 to order. Eventually, the restaurant will join one of the delivery services, Esser said.

Hours are subject to change, but Papa Woody’s will open at 11 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday. It will be open until 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 7 pm. Sunday.

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Wood-fired pizza restaurant opens downtown tonight

The final tenant to fill the marketplace at the downtown Jones421 Building opens today in late afternoon, and it will fill the hallways with the smell of wood-fired pizza.

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