Published on May 9, 2019 | by Alastair Gilmour0
An innovative street food business has come of age through its synergy with craft beer, writes Alastair Gilmour
Goldie is being joined by a new family member. The vintage mobile pizza van already has Nugget the trailer as a little sister, but her Scream For Pizza relatives are developing a new, permanent base in Newcastle to take their offer to a new audience. Fear not though, Scream For Pizza will continue its pub, brewery and beer festival business – a highlight of street food operations wherever it turns up.
Scream For Pizza, the brainchild of Vicky Featherby and Alex Walker, is opening a pizzeria on Starbeck Avenue in Sandyford, Newcastle, on the site of the former Sapori Italian Café, which has been a long-term ambition for the pair.
Alex and Vicky previously worked on cruise ships – Vicky as a production manager while Alex was a singer.
“We always knew we wanted to do something different and the pizza idea came on a beach in the Caribbean,” says Alex. “Probably after too much rum punch.”
Before they started, however, they decided they wanted to learn more about pizza – which they both absolutely love, along with beer – and starting with a mobile business seemed less of a risk than creating a restaurant.
So, in the finest method actor tradition of totally immersing oneself in a character before learning a line of script, they took themselves off to Naples – the spiritual home of pizza – to work for two months in La Notizia pizzeria. (Even its location on Via Michelangelo da Caravaggio reels with Italian provenance.) They absorbed everything, particularly the ethos of owner Enzo Coccia where every employee and customer is regarded as part of one big happy family.
The Michelin Guide 2019 describes La Notizia approach as “fresh ingredients capably prepared, simply a good meal” which is exactly what Scream For Pizza is all about. And there’s nothing like making pizza and serving it at tables in Naples to learn about food – and yourself – and to be taken seriously.
“We came back and bought the van in Colchester, a 1978 Peugeot, which had been an ambulance in Brittany then converted into a campervan,” says Alex. They soon discovered the vehicle that was going to be christened Goldie was not quite as fit as they had hoped. “My dad drove it all the way back in second gear; it took him 14 hours.”
Vicky says: “At first we parked in the Bigg Market in Newcastle on Tuesdays and Thursdays hoping people would buy a pizza. But they continued to walk on by and go to Greggs.”
Inevitably, after seven weeks, Goldie broke down and had to be resuscitated with a new engine.
“One of the first things we realised was that pizza has quite a synergy with beer, so we approached Mick Potts at the Free Trade for a regular spot outside. On the back of that we did similar things with breweries like Wylam, Almasty, Roosters, Anarchy, Hawkshead, Steam Machine, plus the Tyne Bar and Caps Off bottle shop in Bishop Auckland.”
A world of beer had opened up, though four days of making dough till two in the morning at the Leeds International Beer Festival did test their resolve and stamina a touch. A regular spot at the Hawker Market (HWKRMRKT) at the independent container community By The River Brew Co in Gateshead has also helped move the business along sweetly.
“Most people love pizza and we’re involved with beer so we’re living the dream,” says Vicky. “We’re doing four or five events a week – weddings and private parties too.”
Now in the Sandyford base, staff numbers have reached double figures, full- and part-time.
The direction in which Vicky and Alex operates meets in the middle from a creative angle (Alex) and a practical side (Vicky) and it obviously works extremely well. The decision to open a permanent venue came as a natural progression from being one of a small group of mobile street food vendors several years ago – along with Papa Ganoush and Riley’s Fish Shack – to the fairly crowded market it has become.
Vicky says: “However we improve (the mobile business) we can’t do any better than we’re doing – and anyway you can’t control someone else’s event or the weather.”
A little bit of financial security would have come into the pizzeria equation, although on a sunny evening they can serve between 150 and 200 pizzas at the Free Trade, so business there is brisk and constant and has been invaluable preparation for the future.
Craft beer and street food are symbiotic and they both offer scope for creativity, something that isn’t lost on Free Trade Inn manager Mick Potts, who sets up regular tap takeovers and brewery invitations with great enthusiasm.
He says: “What Scream For Pizza do is absolutely brilliant for us. Wednesdays now have become as popular as most Fridays. We couldn’t come anywhere near that level if we had our own kitchen.
“It’s now expensive for street food traders to book a pitch at a festival or fair so they’ve got to sell a lot before they even start to make money. Our only stipulation is that the staff get fed – and I’ve got a queue wanting to work Wednesdays.”
Pizza has much in common with beer as it’s 95% preparation and cleaning with only a short “cooking” time. With pizza, it’s mixing dough, leave for 24 hours, roll into balls, leave for 24 hours, so it’s in effect going through a double fermentation. “And where you get the bubbles,” says Vicky.
Brooklyn Bee has become the most popular item on the menu – mozarrella, tomato sauce, pecorino, mushrooms, pepperoni, basil and a mizzle of chill honey.
“At first people thought it was a bit strange to have chilli honey on a pizza,” says Alex, “and I wish I could say we invented it, but it was an idea we got in New York.”
In the meantime, Goldie sits patiently with her oven firing nicely, dreaming of Naples.
*Scream For Pizza pizzeria is due to open on May 17 at Starbeck Avenue, Sandyford, Newcastle.