Mobile pizza truck makes hit with mouth-watering pies

Published 8:45 am Monday, August 24, 2015

Contributed Photo Shawn and Jennifer Stanley are the two sole employees of Fire in the Hole Pizza Truck. He prepares the pizzas and she bakes them and serves as cashier.

Contributed Photo
Shawn and Jennifer Stanley are the two sole employees of Fire in the Hole Pizza Truck. He prepares the pizzas and she bakes them and serves as cashier.

Like most food trucks, Fire In The Hole Pizza never stays in one place long. Shawn and Jennifer Stanley publish their itinerary weekly on social media as well as the new flavors of pizza they are concocting.
There’s a good bet weekends will find them at one of the breweries in the area. Their pizza is a favorite at the Sleepy Owl Brewery in Kingsport and the Atlantic Ale House in Johnson City.
In addition to the breweries, the Stanleys do festivals and other events. Earlier this summer they participated in a fundraiser with Second Harvest Food Bank. “When and if the opportunity arises, we’d like to set up in Elizabethton,” Shawn said.
The Stanleys, who live in the Gap Creek area of Carter County, can fix a pizza to satisfy almost any craving in their food truck. Earlier this month, their Black Cherry Pizza and Blueberry Special were hits at the Sleepy Owl Brewery.
Some favorites are their Squash Blossom with bacon and goat cheese, or their BLT pizza which has no sauce, but is brushed with olive oil, then tomatoes, spinach, bacon, mozzarella or feta cheese.
This is the first season for the Stanleys and their food truck. They bought the business from Shawn’s brother early this year after he moved to Chattanooga. In the beginning they assembled their pizza under a 10-foot-by-10-foot tent, using prebaked dough. They also prepared their ingredients offsite at Smoky Mountain Bakers in Roan Mountain. The pizzas were then assembled and baked onsite in their mobile oven.
But, because of health department requirements, the Stanleys were forced to upgrade their setup to a mobile unit that works from a food truck. “It had nothing to do with sanitation as much as it did with the volume of pizza Fire in the Hole has been serving since gaining popularity in the area. We have a 100 percent rating,” Shawn explained.
Now, the Stanleys assemble their pizza onsite with fresh produce, some of which they grow and some of which is purchased at area farmers markets. They are the two sole employees. Shawn is the cook and Jennifer is the baker and cashier.
“A good pizza is all about the dough. It’s the foundation of the pizza. We do about 50 percent whole wheat,” Shawn said.
“We can do a pizza in about 90 seconds in the wood-fired oven, whereas it takes ten minutes in a traditional oven,” he shared.
Shawn explained that in the wood fired oven, the crust begins to rise almost immediately. After 25, maybe 30 seconds, it starts to bubble. Tiny little bubbles all along the edges. There are some bigger ones, too, the dough inflating like a balloon. Rolled pie-thin initially, the crust takes on a topography like undulating hills. The cheese, a grated heap — sometimes topped with additional feta, ricotta or fresh mozzarella — melts nearly flat, exposing toppings like pepperoni, chicken, red onions, green apples, spinach or any number of other vegetables.
Soon the cheese begins to boil. In less than a minute, the crust has risen and stiffened. While the heat radiating from the brick has been vaporizing the moisture in the crust, creating a spongy loft, the air off the fire, pulled by convection over the face of the pizza and out the mouth of the oven, has been flash-cooking the toppings. The direct heat from the apple or hickory wood coals — all 800 to 1,000 degrees of it — has been broiling brown the cheese, forming a crisp layer over the crust and lightly charring the points closest to the coals.
The pizza is left in the oven for another 40 seconds or so, then pulled out — both sides evenly browned, the cheese still bubbling in spots like molten, off-white lava.
The pizza are 12 inches in diameter and Shawn usually cuts it into four to eight slices before serving it out the window of the truck. “A 12-inch pizza goes for $10, which is a pretty good price,” Jennifer added.
The wood-fired oven built of brick and clay is pulled on a wagon with wheels behind the food truck.
Shawn credits Anton Decker of Roan Mountain with teaching him a lot about pizza. “It’s one of those foods you can personalize. We eat it a lot, doing a different one every time we set up. The wood fired oven makes a big difference in the taste. You get the smoke flavor and you can do a much thinner crust. Also, the cheese reacts differently to the heat,” Shawn explained.
Some of the Stanleys’ best-selling pizzas include the green apple, feta, and walnuts with pesto sauce. Another favorite is the White Pizza, which is made with pesto sauce, spinach, red onions, and chicken.
“We do custom-made pizzas almost every weekend,” Jennifer added.
“The community has really been supportive of us and we have developed a following,” Shawn said. “It’s good to be able to walk through the crowd and get high-fives for your pizza. As much as we really enjoy making and selling the pizza, we enjoy the people more, the ones who keep coming back whenever they hear we are close by,” Shawn said.
Over the course of the last few months the Stanleys have had difficulty fulfilling all the brewery locations that have requested their pizzas. “They’ve all been so supportive, especially the Holston River Company Brewery which got behind us and promoted our fundraising efforts this spring to upgrade to an enclosed trailer with prep and sanitation areas. The Sleepy Owl Brewery also helped us, too,” Shawn said.
“We never have to worry about our pizza because we know wood-fired pizza – (based on what he calls an ‘extremely simple dough’) — speaks for itself. What we give to our customers is the most important part of our job. We want to deliver them flavor,” Shawn said.
The wood Carey uses is mostly apple wood, taken from area orchards. The smell of the fire it produces is earthy and sweet. However, they do use other woods, hickory, for one.
It takes an hour and a half to get the fire up to temperature, so the Stanleys set up before almost any of the other vendors. Once the crowds show up, the process of pizza-making turns into a kind of sideshow attraction.
“I love the anticipation it builds; of watching a pizza cook. The oven is a sideshow itself,” he said. Jennifer usually handles the oven duties.
As the evening wears on, more and more of the spectators walk away with slices and whole pies. The quality of each pizza that comes out of the oven is incredibly high, which keeps the spectators coming back when the Fire in the Hole Food Truck is back in town.
Until the next appointed stop, Shawn stays busy cutting wood for the pizza oven, and both work to tend their vegetable and herb garden on Gap Creek, where they also raise horses.

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