Welcome to Plant Basting Talks, where we interview entrepreneurs in the vegan-friendly space about their story, what they’ve learned thus far, their business model, and revenue numbers.
Learn in this week's interview with Chris Clark, head of Earth to Pizza at Merzbacher's Bakery:
- How E2P began and how he obtained the role of heading it
- What the benefits of partnering with other makers and farmers weekly have been
- Why he doesnt let feelings of imposter syndrome hold him back
- His strategies for breaking down large to-do lists
1. What influenced you to start Earth To Pizza?
So I actually did not start Earth to Pizza. E2P was the brainchild of my boss Pete (Merzbacher) & chef Dan Britt.
Chef Dan started working for Merzbacher’s in early 2021—and had been executive chef at Beddia—so pizza at the bakery was bound to happen once he showed up. Pete brought years of bread & dough development, and chef Dan brought all his pizza knowledge & restaurant experience—and Earth to Pizza launched February 2021.
Chef Dan (my former boss at Beddia) called me into the bakery to cook for him in March 2021. And by May he was moving on to another gig—and passing the pizza torch to me.
2. What were the critical steps you took to start? (Was there a partner special the first week?; or anything else you think was pivotal)
My first few weeks in charge, we hadn’t started the weekly collaborative specials yet. I remember the very first special I put on the menu was a pizza with ramps. When March/April rolls around in Philly everybody has a ramp guy.
We did that—we did a couple other specials focused on hyper-seasonal produce (local asparagus, etc.) before we finally settled on the weekly collaboration idea.
It’s been amazing—a great way to connect with all kinds of local artisans & farmers, and really support one another.
3. Did you start out with a vegan option on the menu? What made you decide to include one?
For sure. There has always been a vegan option on the Earth to Pizza menu. It’s our Tomato Pie with herbs & oil. An extra ladle of Jersey fresh tomatoes reduced down almost to a jam—plus fresh basil, EVOO & a dried Kalamata olive crumble. All of Merzbacher’s bread products are vegan, so a vegan pizza option was an absolute must.
4. How did you get your first Earth to Pizza customers?
Luckily Earth to Pizza is a kind of micro-business within a larger wholesale bakery business. So Merzbacher’s has a built-in customer base who were excited for pizza for sure. We have lots of support from the neighborhood too—Germantown has been really kind.
5. How have you continued to grow Earth to Pizza’s customer base?
The weekly collaborations have been a great way to grow the customer base. Partnering with a different local farm/restaurant/maker every week definitely gets new people coming in regularly.
6. What is Earth to Pizza’s business model?
We sell hot & fresh pizza directly to customers on Friday nights at the bakery. We also wholesale our tomato pies to local markets & co-ops, delivered on Friday & Saturday mornings.
7. What is your monthly revenue and how have you grown it? (or) How many pizzas are sold a month on average?
On average, we’re selling about 50 pizzas every Friday and wholesaling about 80 tomato pies every weekend. So rough math, that makes somewhere around 500 pies a month.
8. How did you originally decide on pricing of your pizzas? Do prices change weekly for the partnership pizza? Have rising prices or shortages of supplies affected Earth to Pizza?
As far as pricing I know it’s always been important to make our products fairly priced for our neighbors & our regulars. Rising food costs & shortages have definitely caused some hurtles but so far we’ve been able to keep prices the same.
The weekly partnership pizza price sometimes fluctuates, but so far only by a dollar or two. Depends on the nature of the product/collab.
9. Is it important to you that Earth to Pizza is vegan-friendly?
Definitely. Even though we’re not exclusively vegan, it’s super important to have that option. And not just as an after-thought. We want to be inclusive & accommodating & offer delicious food to all our customers.
10. What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome? (Either during your career or with Earth to Pizza?)
Honestly, the biggest personal hurdle in my cooking career so far is probably imposter syndrome. I’ve only been cooking professionally a few years—after doing an office job forever & then starting to do my own pop-up & catering gigs.
So I got a late start and I’m definitely a little older for the amount of experience I have. But I’m overcoming it every day, bit by bit. Just doing the job—learning new things all the time and figuring out how to adapt. It can feel crazy in the moment, but when I hear from happy customers, it makes me feel like I know what I’m doing a little bit. Which is nice.
11. Have you found anything (resource, book, skill, habit, or bit of knowledge) that’s been valuable or useful for your journey?
I think for me—as a cook, and now doing the more organizational chefy work too—being able to compartmentalize things is super important.
So you have this huge to-do list, right? Break it down. Prioritize. Figure out what needs to happen now & what can wait 'til later. And just chip away at it in a focused, logical way.
Next thing you know—what maybe felt overwhelming at the start is done & a little sense of satisfaction creeps in. Then it’s time to start all over again! 🤣
12. How do you tend to your mental health running Earth to Pizza and everything else you do alongside that?
It can definitely be tough sometimes. Life is busy! I try to read when I get the chance. Lots of podcasting for sure. Spotify tells me I listened to 80 episodes of Questlove Supreme this year—which is definitely my feel good/learn something while doing the dishes at home podcast.
I’m also lucky enough to be home with my 18 month-old daughter when I’m not doing pizza stuff at night. My daily walk with her & the dog is where I’m usually able to get my mind clear.
13. What’s your advice for those venturing into working in the vegan-friendly space?
Get after it! People are doing amazing things all the time—and if you have an idea & the motivation you can do it. Be cool, be friendly. It’s great to have something to offer to everyone. (Sorry to all the gluten-free folks who hit me up now & then. Maybe some day!)
14. Where can we go to learn more about you and Earth to Pizza?
The @merzbachers.bakery on Instagram is the best place to see what’s up with Earth to Pizza day-to-day. It’s where we promote & post the weekly collaborative specials, etc. And then merzbachers.com/pizza is where you can order online for pickup at the bakery.
My personal IG is @chrizzycooks. And I have to shout out @pretzeldaypretzels - the small batch, hand-rolled Philly soft pretzel company I’m involved in. One of my oldest friends—Jim Mueller—started the whole thing. We’ve been rolling & baking soft pretzels for pop-ups & pre-orders lately, and I’m really excited to see where it’s headed. No vegan pretzels yet, but we’re working on it!
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