DOWNERS GROVE – After Bob Ciciora built his first brick oven in his Downers Grove backyard, requests from friends and family started coming in for their own.
“Then I decided that hauling bricks and mixing mortar was pretty tough,” he said. “And it would be easier to build one on wheels and bring the brick ovens to people.”
Masonry is a new skill that Ciciora, 52, a Boeing 777 pilot for American Airlines, acquired when he attended a seminar taught by the Masonry Heaters Association. He always had a love for artisan breads, inspired by the sourdough loaves his father, – who also was a pilot – would bring home when he passed through San Francisco.
Three years after that first backyard oven, Ciciora and his son, Alex, 22, have turned what initially was a hobby into a fully operational pizza-catering business named Pizza Via.
Bob built the Ciciora’s mobile brick oven inside a 9-by-5-foot trailer brick-by-brick. Fueled by a wood fire, temperatures inside build to about 1,000 degrees after three hours, at which point Alex can cook each specialty pizza in about 90 seconds.
Alex started to get serious about culinary arts his senior year at Downers Grove South High School, when he began cooking classes at the Technology Center of DuPage – about the same time his father learned the masonry trade.
From there, Alex got his associate degree at the College of DuPage and to become a certified pizzaiola, or pizza chef, at the San Francisco branch of the International School of Pizza.
He returned from California with the knowledge to master the details. Still, it took time and patience to get the thin, Neapolitan-style crust just right.
The Ciciora’s gather their own wild yeast from a neighbor’s grapes, giving their crust a depth of flavor not found from grocery store baker’s yeast. Any catered party includes all-you-can-eat of the basics, such as Margherita and pepperoni. Alex likes to experiment, too, and the party host can choose a selection of pizzas.
“I love making flavors come together and coming up with some good ideas,” Alex said. “My big belief is that as long as you have a good base – which I’ve worked really hard on perfecting this pizza dough – almost everything tastes good on pizza. We’ve done some crazy ones before. We’ve done a lemon pizza with butter and powered sugar on top; it’s like a lemon meringue.”
Another favorite includes kalamata olives and pesto.
“People don’t think of that as a kind of pizza that they’d want, but when they taste the combination that Alex makes with the olives, the salty prosciutto, along with the pesto, it’s just a great combination,” Bob said.
The business began to expand last spring after Alex graduated from the College of DuPage and the family could devote time and energy to their pizza pursuits. Bob is excited to build a second mobile brick oven, which will be larger and have a few more modifications.
The entire family is involved in Pizza Via – Bob’s wife, Tammi, coordinates the events, and Alex’s sister, Aimee, pitches in, too. The Ciciora’s say they probably will need to hire an employee soon. A pizza storefront also could be on the horizon.
“The question is, are we going to be a full-time catering business year-round, with the specialty of the pizza during the [summer] season?” Bob said.
“Or do we want to be a pizzeria year-round, offering the freshly made pizza, with the catering ability of bringing the pizzeria to you, rather than just bringing pizzas to you?”