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Michael Friedman and Greg Augarten on the Past, Present and Future of Pizza Delicious

Greg Augarten and Michael Friedman in the Delicious kitchen.
Greg Augarten and Michael Friedman in the Delicious kitchen.
Photo: Amy Jett

New Orleans' pop up dining scene has grown astronomically over the last couple of years, but the one constant throughout this growth has been Pizza Delicious. Run by two New York-born Tulane alumni, Michael Friedman and Greg Augarten, Pizza Delicious began as a couple of guys making pizza the way they grew up with it, once a week out of a catering kitchen in the Bywater. It quickly grew to two nights a week, and now Friedman and Augarten are preparing to open a brick-and-mortar basically just down the street from the Delicious kitchen.

With Pizza Week going on right now, what better opportunity to chat with the Pizza Delicious guys about doing New York style pizza in New Orleans? Here, now, are Friedman and Augarten on the development of Pizza Delicious and their plans for the future.

When did you guys start talking about making pizza in New Orleans?

Mike: When did we start being roommates?

Greg: I forget the year. I was a junior in college, Mike was a senior.

Mike: Yeah, so whenever that was. You can do the math on it. Greg and I ended up living together. My girlfriend was the connector in that; they had gone to high school together, so I knew Greg was cool, from New York, we listened to similar music and stuff. And I don't know, we started cooking a lot at home together and it was just a natural topic of conversation, missing pizza and Chinese food and bagels. We were always interested in hopefully [finding] some magical pizza place down here we didn't know about. We kind of kept striking out on that.

So you decided to open the "magical" pizza place yourself?

Mike: Well it was an idea, like, "Man, if somebody did that it'd be great." And then it became, "Well what if we did that?" But we didn't know how to do anything like that. We had lived on Freret and Jefferson, and just at that time you saw that a lot of things were happening there, and we were like, "Man, it'd be awesome to do there," but also Bywater seemed like a super under-served neighborhood that would benefit from that. So that's where it began.

How'd you find this kitchen?

Mike: It's a bit of a longer story. We just kind of stumbled into it. I started cooking. We got pretty serious about it and had heard about this kitchen, and then Greg got an opportunity to go to Alaska and do some Americorps stuff and so we couldn't say definitively that we were going to do it. So he went and we put a pause on that. Then he came back, and I was kind of like, "I don't know how to do this, I don't know if it's going to work." And Greg came back and came down with his friend, Nick, who said, "You guys gotta do this."

Greg: Yeah, he was the hype man.

Mike: Yeah so then it was just, let's see what happens.

Have you guys been surprised by the response you've gotten, doing New York-style pizza in New Orleans?

Greg: Pleasantly surprised, yeah. Not shocked, but it's definitely nice that you see the recognition, of people paying attention to the pizza. It's all we do, so it's not like we're just trying to make a bunch of money making cheap food.

That leads to something else I was wondering. With Pizza Delicious open two days a week, do y'all do anything else or do you just concentrate on this?

Mike: Full time. Full time, Pizza D! Thanks to our customers, that there are enough of them that we're able to do that. It used to be a really common question at the door, when people come in to pick up their pizza. "What else do you do?" And for the past couple of months, the answer's been, "You're looking at it." It takes a lot more than just me standing here right now making your pizza, which is sometimes surprising to people.

Is there anything from the last couple of years that y'all are most proud of?

Greg: What's cool is the response from New Yorkers or other people who grew up with this kind of pizza. You get that real visceral response, that "This is what I've been waiting for. I've been here for X amount of years and this pizza is great, thank you so much." And that's pretty cool.

Mike: Definitely, we get really really stoked on that. Whenever we see 212 or 718 or 646, 516 numbers on the phone, all the area codes from where we're from. ... There also seems to be a common pattern from people from those areas who don't really trust us at first [and] who do this cheese pizza test. It's like they almost all planned this. The first time they call they order a cheese pizza to see if it's worth it, before they'll even think about toppings. I think it's cool, it's something I would do. I'm not saying it's a bad thing at all. It shows their commitment to good pizza, and that they want to see what we're about.

On the flip side of that, as New Yorkers doing a pop up pizza shop here, have you gotten any push-back from locals?

Greg: I don't know. If we have maybe we haven't heard it.

Mike: We just filter all that out.

Greg: Definitely some people pigeonhole us, like, "Oh, they're in the Bywater, they're only open a certain number of nights, they sell this way where you have to call, I'm sure it's just hype." Definitely we get some of that.

Mike: Yeah, we get some shit about being too annoying or not being open enough or not having space for seating. Things that are out of necessity, not because we're trying to be really cool. I'm not going to say any of that stuff hasn't helped us, it definitely has. [Other] people are like, "Pizza on the curb? That's cool." It's nice, but we wish we had a place where people could sit, we wish we could be open more of the time.

Greg: But this is really the only way we can do it.

Mike: Yeah, we can't even be open a third day now in this location. We share this space with other people, so it's just too much.

All of that speaks to why you guys are moving to a brick-and-mortar, yeah?

Mike: Yeah, exactly.

When did you start talking about that?

Greg: A while ago. It's been over a year now that we've been trying, but everything that we thought we knew a little about, like what it would take, we didn't really know how to do it. We looked at a few places that we thought might be good for us, but in retrospect we still had a lot to learn. In that time?it gave us enough time to kind of get our ducks in a row, in terms of what we need.

So you've been pretty deliberate about it?

Mike: For a while, yeah, we just kind of wanted to see what was out there. It's been a huge learning curve, so we're just taking it step-by-step. If we ended up in the first place that we were looking at and really thought would be our full-time spot, we'd be so fucked. That would've been a horrible mistake. Since that first time, the amount that we've learned?just checking out other spaces and meeting more and more people and talking to people about things like money, things that we're still just understanding, day by day, how that all goes and how to be profitable?I think we're really lucky. We hope we're in the right spot now, we feel really confident about it. And with that confidence comes our ability to share with people and definitely know that this is the move.

So what's the new space going to be like

Greg: It's going to be pretty simple. First and foremost it's going to be a place where people can come and hang out, grab a beer and sit, or they can pick up [pizza to-go]. Really we're just putting in what we have to. Most of the budget is going to necessities like the plumbing, the electricity, the equipment, all that stuff. There's nothing really in there now. It's a big leap to go into a space that hasn't been a restaurant before, because it's so much more expensive. But there are so few commercial spots in the neighborhood that it seemed worth it to make that kind of investment. That's the meat of it. We don't really know what the dining room's going to look like yet, we know it's going to look like something. We have a bit of a budget and we have a lot of friends who want to help us out. We're going to have an outdoor space, too. We're not going to have table service, though. It's going to be an order window. But we'll see. I think it'll take its own identity as we go. We don't have a rendering of the dining room or anything.

Mike: We're so excited that people are excited. But we just want to make it a pizza place, as normal as possible. We just want it to be comfortable. And it's just going to be counter-service. Keep it casual, keep it simple. I think we had a lot of ideas a while ago, about this being one of those places that has like 64 versions of chicken parm, or places that seem to offer every single Italian dish. But I think we realized that we should pare it down and keep doing what we're doing. We've always been interested in having pastas, so we'll have a couple pastas that we'll rotate. We've been experimenting with that a bit here. And salads. There's some really cool local produce sometimes, so we'll want to take advantage of that.

How long do you think it'll take to build out the space before you open?

Greg: We're working, we're trying to move it forward as quickly as we can. We've made a lot of progress so far, but that's really where our inexperience comes in. We really just don't know how long it'll all take to come together. It'll definitely be before the end of the year, hopefully before.

Mike: This is a picture of the plumbing that's going on right now. [Shows a picture of a couple pipes sticking out of the ground.] If you know how long it takes to get from there, let us know. We hope it's owner sooner than later. We're really lucky to have [this kitchen] and be able to keep this in the meantime. We've been inside, Greg more than me. He's more physically talented than me. He's been in there to bust some things up and dig some holes and stuff like that.

Are y'all funding the move just by continuing to work out of this kitchen and then the Kickstarter and that sort of stuff, or are you doing more traditional funding as well?

Greg: We definitely have a lot of loans, it's mostly loans. We were hoping to kick in a little here and there, hoping to raise a couple thousand dollars through that stuff. But it's way bigger than that. We've been working through the Louisiana Small Business Development Center, which is a nonprofit through UNO. The guys there have been super-helpful. And we have a pretty sizable bank loan, and family-and-friends loans.

Mike: It's a lot of money. It's been sort of frustrating. There have been some comments online, like "Why should I help them raise money for their business? That's what banks are for." We're doing that also. This is an incredible investment. I understand, but don't think we haven't been busting our asses getting gigantic loans from the bank. That's definitely the most homework I've done since college.

Do you think you'll miss the informality of working out of this kitchen?

Greg: Yeah, definitely.

Mike: I mean, if stuff is crazy now, we have no idea what it's going to be like. But yeah, I think we're definitely going to miss it. We hope people follow us on this journey. We're taking a big jump, we hope people come with us and still think that we're whatever the reason was they were coming here in the first place. Hopefully most of it's about the pizza, that it's as good as it's ever been, if not better.

Anything to add?

Mike: We're just stoked. We're happy. It's been crazy, it's been so, so cool, all the support we've had from people we know and people we don't know. The response has been so cool, the Kickstarter thing [they achieved their fundraising goal in about half the time allotted] has been incredible and the fundraiser we did. That was the most visually stunning thing for me. We see people coming in all the time, we count the number of pizzas we sold, but then like 200 people were there who just love pizza and love what we're doing and just wanted to see us succeed. That feeling is just so overwhelming, it's so cool. It's really been amazing.

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