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How a pandemic passion project is helping a 'Neighborhood Pizza Guy' connect with his community

Matt Burr, an Atherton resident who taught himself to make pizza during the pandemic, says he's been overwhelmed by positive responses after offering tastings to the community. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

What started out as a pandemic passion project for Atherton resident Matt Burr has quickly grown into what could be something more.

Burr, formerly the creative director of a small apparel startup, said he started dabbling with baking pizzas last year during the pandemic partly to save money.

"It was hard for me to find a pizza that I enjoyed and wanted to spend $30 on," he said in an interview. "I figured I could make them at home for a lot less."

Each Sunday night, he said, he would bake two pizzas. And each week, he'd come up with a few ideas of things he'd like to change. He'd often only make it until Tuesday before he'd feel compelled to try again.

At a certain point, he said, he began making more pizza than he could eat. Then, when he was laid off in February, he began to dedicate more time to the craft.

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After about nine months of experimentation, he said, he reached out to the community via the neighborhood-based social media app Nextdoor, figuring he might get a couple of people interested in trying out his pizzas.

A bacon, roasted garlic, spinach and onion pizza by "Neighborhood Pizza Guy" Matt Burr. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Eight days later, he said, he's been floored by the response. "I've had countless people contact me," he said. "I'm now completely booked for April."

"I have been happier doing this over the past week than I had been at my job previously," he said. "I would like to see what I can do to build this up into a business."

Though he worked at a tennis club for a few years in college pouring beers and helping out at the snack shack, most of Burr's food experience is self-taught as a recreational chef and baker, he said.

"I've watched nothing but the Food Network for the last year," he added.

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The pizzas are made one at a time, and the project is still very much a cottage operation out of a small studio in Atherton. The dough takes 24 hours to rise so that's started the day before, and each morning he sanitizes and prepares his small kitchen to spend the rest of the day making pizzas, he said.

"I make each pizza the way I would want it, and I think that resonates with people," he said.

After the dough has risen, he opens them into "skins" a term for the unbaked pizza base.

He adds the toppings, and as they're going into the oven, he sings each pizza a little song.

The song changes based on his mood, he said, but it's generally a lullaby-type tune with words that go something like "Okay little pizza, you're going to get baked. You're going to have a good time. You're gonna be tasty," he said.

Matt Burr's mushroom and cheese pizza. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

"It keeps me bouncing around, it keeps my energy up a little bit, and maybe the pizzas like it," he said.

As a one-man operation, he's unable to deliver the pizzas, but people are invited to pick them up from him. His next priority, he said, is to find a larger kitchen to bake more pizzas.

He was drawn to the simplicity of pizza – the dough is just salt, water, yeast and flour, yet is complicated to get just right, he said. And while his pizzas so far have been New York style, he's eager to explore Chicago-style deep dish, thin crust and gluten-free iterations.

Burr moved to the area from Eugene, Oregon, about three years ago and has struggled to find a sense of community, or even a neighborhood spot to have a beer and chitchat with regulars, he said.

In Atherton, people are friendly one-on-one, he said, but there's not always a lot of smiling and waving while he's out walking down the street. Getting the opportunity to meet residents face to face "has been pretty great," he said.

"In the last week, I've had more interaction with my neighbors and the community at large than I have in my previous three years of living here in the Bay," he said.

Since reaching out to the community looking for pizza testers, a wide range of people have offered their aid and support: A man who works in the bakery supply business gave him a 50 pound bag of flour, a woman who does recipe testing offered advice, and a few others have told him that if he wants to "take this to the next level" they want to help.

"It's that kind of response, that people are willing to give me a shot ... it's been humbling and it gives me a sense of pride where I live now."

People can reach Burr at [email protected]

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How a pandemic passion project is helping a 'Neighborhood Pizza Guy' connect with his community

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, Apr 16, 2021, 10:46 am

What started out as a pandemic passion project for Atherton resident Matt Burr has quickly grown into what could be something more.

Burr, formerly the creative director of a small apparel startup, said he started dabbling with baking pizzas last year during the pandemic partly to save money.

"It was hard for me to find a pizza that I enjoyed and wanted to spend $30 on," he said in an interview. "I figured I could make them at home for a lot less."

Each Sunday night, he said, he would bake two pizzas. And each week, he'd come up with a few ideas of things he'd like to change. He'd often only make it until Tuesday before he'd feel compelled to try again.

At a certain point, he said, he began making more pizza than he could eat. Then, when he was laid off in February, he began to dedicate more time to the craft.

After about nine months of experimentation, he said, he reached out to the community via the neighborhood-based social media app Nextdoor, figuring he might get a couple of people interested in trying out his pizzas.

Eight days later, he said, he's been floored by the response. "I've had countless people contact me," he said. "I'm now completely booked for April."

"I have been happier doing this over the past week than I had been at my job previously," he said. "I would like to see what I can do to build this up into a business."

Though he worked at a tennis club for a few years in college pouring beers and helping out at the snack shack, most of Burr's food experience is self-taught as a recreational chef and baker, he said.

"I've watched nothing but the Food Network for the last year," he added.

The pizzas are made one at a time, and the project is still very much a cottage operation out of a small studio in Atherton. The dough takes 24 hours to rise so that's started the day before, and each morning he sanitizes and prepares his small kitchen to spend the rest of the day making pizzas, he said.

"I make each pizza the way I would want it, and I think that resonates with people," he said.

After the dough has risen, he opens them into "skins" a term for the unbaked pizza base.

He adds the toppings, and as they're going into the oven, he sings each pizza a little song.

The song changes based on his mood, he said, but it's generally a lullaby-type tune with words that go something like "Okay little pizza, you're going to get baked. You're going to have a good time. You're gonna be tasty," he said.

"It keeps me bouncing around, it keeps my energy up a little bit, and maybe the pizzas like it," he said.

As a one-man operation, he's unable to deliver the pizzas, but people are invited to pick them up from him. His next priority, he said, is to find a larger kitchen to bake more pizzas.

He was drawn to the simplicity of pizza – the dough is just salt, water, yeast and flour, yet is complicated to get just right, he said. And while his pizzas so far have been New York style, he's eager to explore Chicago-style deep dish, thin crust and gluten-free iterations.

Burr moved to the area from Eugene, Oregon, about three years ago and has struggled to find a sense of community, or even a neighborhood spot to have a beer and chitchat with regulars, he said.

In Atherton, people are friendly one-on-one, he said, but there's not always a lot of smiling and waving while he's out walking down the street. Getting the opportunity to meet residents face to face "has been pretty great," he said.

"In the last week, I've had more interaction with my neighbors and the community at large than I have in my previous three years of living here in the Bay," he said.

Since reaching out to the community looking for pizza testers, a wide range of people have offered their aid and support: A man who works in the bakery supply business gave him a 50 pound bag of flour, a woman who does recipe testing offered advice, and a few others have told him that if he wants to "take this to the next level" they want to help.

"It's that kind of response, that people are willing to give me a shot ... it's been humbling and it gives me a sense of pride where I live now."

People can reach Burr at [email protected]

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