Interview: Pizza Tonight
"The first rule about 'Pizza Club' is: You do not talk about 'Pizza Club.'”
What started as a once-a-month backyard gathering of friends cooking pizzas in a 24-inch wood-fired oven, fondly remembered as “Pizza Club,” is now pizza, every night, for neighborhood restaurant and bar owner Victoria DeRoche of Pizza Tonight.
How did you get into making pizzas?
My husband and I put a 24-inch dome, wood-fired pizza oven in our backyard because we thought it would be cool to learn how to make pizzas. After I watched at least 3 YouTube videos and totally had it down, we made some pizza dough. We got some clams, good crusty bread, went in the backyard… and completely messed everything up. We drank a couple bottles of wine, we weren’t talking to each other, there were black husks of pizza in the yard and the dogs wouldn’t even eat the pizzas — so that’s how it started.
But eventually, we got to the point where we sort of figured out how to make pizzas. And I like to entertain, so we invited friends over and we had the best time. Everyone wanted to make their own pizza, so I started throwing prompts down like "make a pizza based off of a soup." People brought ingredients and I provided them with dough and sauce, and everyone cooked and brought alcohol. That’s what spawned the whole idea of doing a monthly pizza club, which was vaguely based on Fight Club. (If it's your first time at Pizza Club, you have to make a pizza. The first rule about Pizza Club is: You do not talk about Pizza Club.)
That went on for about two years until monthly, people started coming into my house that I didn’t know. At that point, I started thinking that it would be cool to do a farmer’s market booth where people could buy two pizza doughs and 8 oz. of sauce, and then they could pickup whatever they wanted to top the pizza with to have pizza... tonight.
So how did “Pizza Club” evolve into Pizza Tonight?
I started taking classes downtown at New Visions, New Ventures, which was a food-based, business-building opportunity through the city. I met Stephanie Ganz there — she helped me develop the vision of what I wanted to do, and I wrote a business plan. Eventually, I got into the winter farmer’s market selling pizza packages. I brought on the mobile wood-fired oven in spring, 2011, and started offering breakfast pizzas at the farmer’s market. So it started with that, which moved into catering — and then after standing outside for 5 years, I eventually wanted to be inside in a neighborhood bar.
Your restaurant menu is much more expansive than the mobile cart. How did you all expand your concept from mobile to permanent?
The addition of Randy Doetzer, our Executive Chef, really made this concept what it is now — it’s beyond my scope of being able to do things. I’m a home-cook, so I can make pizzas and antipasti. But Randy’s a chef. So when he came on board, we started doing things like making our own pastas in-house and sourcing pigs from Autumn Olive Farm in Waynesboro.
Wood-fired is the vehicle, and the Italian part is in the simplistic flavors. We use a lot of olive oil, garlic and lemon, but it’s hard to present simple in an excellent manner. It’s not fussy in the sense that our plates are perfectly composed, but the food is absolutely cooked to the best of Randy's ability, and it's consistent. Dishes come out and anyone who has done some traveling or is a fan of that style of food will tell you it’s the real deal. We’re not 100% Italian, per se, but we’re inspired by those types of flavors because we’re dealing with Virginia produce and products. I couldn’t be more pleased with what we’re able to do.
What’s on your dream pizza?
I don’t know if I dream about pizza anymore, to tell you the truth. I still eat it but it’s not like I’m ever like, “Man, I really want some pizza.”
You mentioned you’re working on some cool collaborations — tell me about those.
In March, we’re collaborating with Ardent. (My husband and Tom from Ardent are super good childhood friends, and Tom and I were in the same business plan class.) We've started throwing around ideas about doing “Flights and Bites,” featuring four of Ardent's beers and one collaborative beer that Randy and Kevin, their head brewer, are working on together for the event. It’s a fun way to promote what they’re doing, what we’re doing and to get people interested.
Are you always at the restaurant?
I like to be here. It’s a labor of love. I’m super interested in it and motivated by it. It’s not a drudgery — it’s something that’s inspiring, and it’s really nice to see that having this idea that went from the backyard to here, what it could possibly be. It’s inspiring to dip into that, and exciting to see people and friends come in to eat and enjoy the food.
What are you stoked about in Richmond right now?
There’s so much cool chatter about Richmond. It’s an affordable place to live, and it’s always been a cool place to live. There was still stigma about certain parts of town when I came here in ’89 to go to VCU, but now it’s this vibrant, bustling art scene, music scene, tourist attraction, dining scene, and it’s super cool. It’s really great having people tune into something that you always held in your heart as being this amazing, amazing place — it’s just like sharing a meal.
Pizza Tonight is located at 2110 E Main St, Richmond, VA. Visit them for lunch, dinner and soon-to-be brunch.Photography by Jeff Ocampo.