I had the opportunity to do a question and answer piece with Elk Grove resident Brad Buechler, who along with his wife, Amy Hottman Buechler, own Old Town Pizzeria in Elk Grove. It’s a story of local kids making good, pizza that is.
Doc: Both of you grew up in Elk Grove and graduated from Elk Grove High School and are members of long time Elk Grove families. You moved to the east coast, was that to attend college? Which college did you attend?
Brad: Yeah we both grew up here. My grandmother on my mom’s side graduated from Elk Grove High School in the 30’s, and both Amy and I’s parents graduated as well. I ended up on Cape Cod in 1999 with a buddy (the original owner of Fat Mike’s Pizza in Sheldon) who bought a pizzeria. I was teaching (subbing) and coaching at EGHS and was all set to student teach when we had a paper work snafu which would have delayed any chances of a full time job a full year. So I hitched a ride back East and ended up loving the business world and able to buy my current restaurant, Carmine’s, in 2001. Amy and I met around Christmas of 2000 while I was back home. We knew each other but really hadn’t traveled in the same circle due to age difference. Anyhow, she was a winemaker and had just moved home from Sonoma to take a job at Woodbridge in Lodi. She made the mistake of her life and ended up giving up that up and moved East! For me!
Doc: How was that going from a smaller town in California to the east coast and the colder winters and also a different lifestyle than what you were used to here?
Brad: The Cape is absolutely idyllic. It’s actually a pretty small and isolated community during the off season. It’s like living on an island. We make our living during the summer months, and then hunker down from Sept to May. The winters are cold but what got us was the length of the winters and the isolation. It doesn’t hit 60 til maybe the end of May. But we do miss it. Can’t have the best of both worlds.
Doc: While living back east you started your own business. Was that after you completed college? What type of business was it and what gave you the idea to start a business there?
Brad: Yeah I graduated from Sac State in 97 and did the teaching/coaching thing. Amy graduated from Fresno State and got into the wine biz. She’s the brain in the family! I really had no plan when I moved East and was very lucky to grab Carmine’s. I had like $3000 to my name and somehow was able to convince a lot of people (family, government, former owner) to loan me cash. It’s a great business and we’re very grateful for it and want to “pay it back” to someone in the future. Everyone deserves a break.
Doc: When did you move back to Elk Grove, and how long was it before you decided to start your own business here? What happened with your business back in the Cape?
Brad: We moved back in 2006 after Amy had our two kids in 12 months. To say the least, we needed some help and back to Elk Grove with family it was. I have a wonderful manager back East and i have been going back in the summer. Usually its a week or two there, and a week back here. It’s pretty taxing on the family, but this year the whole family is going back for a month so we’re pretty excited to make this a family tradition.
Doc: What made you choose that location and that type of business? It was previously Papa’s Pizzeria and then was Lamppost Pizza.
Brad: Well we really had no intention of getting into business here. We were pretty happy with our lifestyle and the time available for our kids. Lamppost closed its doors in July of 2009 and a friend called us like the next day and told us about it. Amy and I talked about it and called the agent who had literally just posted the listing. I played baseball with the former owners of Lamppost and the agent basically just gave me their numbers and we hammered a deal out in a few days. Then we woke up and realized we had to run another restaurant! It was that fast.
Doc: How has having grown up here benefited the two of you with your business? Do you have built in support base?
Brad: Oh yeah. We’ve had tremendous support from family and friends. We had our ups and downs the first year and wasn’t exactly happy with our pizza because we were using an old conveyer oven. We finally were able to upgrade in January and its pretty close to what I’m doing on the East Coast, minus the fact that everyone wants a massive amount of toppings on their pizza. About 40% of our business on the Cape is just a plain cheese pizza and another 40% are one or two topping pizza’s. If you’re ready this people, keep it simple! Pizza is about the dough, sauce, and cheese>
Doc: What have been some of the challenges so far?
Brad: Well, obviously the economy is incredibly challenging. The public is demanding lower prices, which I understand, but unfortunately the utilities, food markets, landowners, and taxes and fees haven’t come down in a corresponding manner. Food prices are crazy right now….I just want to punt my salad bar over produce prices. And the rash of business failures makes dealing with purveyors and banks extremely hard. There’s no credit out there. My main purveyor just dropped me from 14 to 7 days….that’s pretty hard when I’m used to 30 days out East.
Doc: In your opinion how is your pizza better than others?
Brad: Our pizza is light. When I came home and started eating pizza here I couldn’t eat more than a slice because the crusts are thick, the sauce are generally more pasty, and the cheese and toppings were too heavy. We use high quality flours, olive oils, real thin sauces, and use good cheese and TRY to go light on it. Hey that’s my liking but I get the public wants what they want, but we’ll continue to try to push simplicity. We’re in the process of introducing slices and “half bakes” which is like a take in bake in that we’ll bake it 75% or so and you can take it home and finish it off on (hopefully) a pizza stone. Time and a pizza box is a pizza’s worst enemy, and half bakes is a great way to enjoy and extend a pizza’s lifetime.
Old Town Pizzeria is located at 9677 Elk Grove-Florin Road in Elk Grove, 95624 and is open 11 am to 10pm, every day of the week.