Fayetteville restaurant thinking big with oversized pizza

By JENNIFER GARDNER, Charleston Gazette-Mail
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Finding the perfect ingredients and recipe at Big Dam Pizza was never the problem.
The struggle was finding boxes big enough to hold a 30-inch pie.
So, the restaurant settled and reduced its pizzas to 28 inches when they found a box of that size.
However, the slightly smaller size was possibly a better starting point.
“Most people say we need a bigger door to get out,” said Morgan Gawronski, a manager at the restaurant. “Most people need bigger cars.”
Once, Gawronski said a woman strapped a pizza to the roof of her car. Many customers have to move around seats or at least fit the box into the trunk.
Ironically, the giant pies are delivered in a Prius, which only requires the back seat to be folded down, not a roof rack.
Of course, the pizza could be eaten in-house, but if you forget to bring a team with you, even a slice to go might require an entire seat.
Big Dam Pizza began as a play on words and the answer to Fayetteville’s need for a simple pizza shop, said owner Kellie Villenave.
In addition to its Big Dam Pizza pies, the restaurant’s menu features “Big Dam Nachos” and “Big Dam Pepperoni Rolls.”
One slice of pepperoni costs $5, while a whole pizza, which includes eight slices, costs $35.
The shop’s logo features a slice of pizza serving as the side of a dam, with whitewater rushing down its edges.
Villenave drew the design, inspired by the Summersville Dam.
“This is a whitewater town and a lot of the whitewater starts at the dam,” said Villenave, a rafter herself.
Many of her ingredients are sourced locally, she said. Her team makes each pie from scratch.
“I had a general base because I’ve cooked my entire life,” Villenave said.
She learned to cook from her grandmother, who inspired the pizza sauce recipe used in the restaurant.
“She’s a homesteader, so we grew half of what we cooked,” she said. “From her, I learned the science of food. All it is is chemistry and love.”
Even the dessert is local. In addition to its “Big Dam Apple Dumpling” and “Big Dam Cookies,” ice cream sold in the shop is made by Homestead Creamery, three hours away in Virginia, and the pies and cheesecake are made by a local woman.
Villenave said the response from the community since Big Dam Pizza opened in late September has been “humbling.”
“People come in when they’re not even hungry to make sure that we make it,” Villenave said.
The restaurant skipped a soft opening and was forced to close early several times in its first week. Photos and videos on social media were not enough, people had to see and taste the giant pies for themselves.
A ball of dough for each pizza weighs about 3 1/2 pounds. One pie requires about 11/2 pounds of cheese.
“We accomplish it with really big ovens,” Villenave said.
The oven, which could bake up to a 48-inch pizza, was found used in Morgantown. It was used to make bagels in its former life.
One day, Villenave would like to use the oven to its full capacity, accomplishing a near 50-inch pizza.
The crust of each pie is thin, with the exception of its thick, crisp edges. Gawronski compares it to New York-style pizza.
“Go up to New York and you’re going to find something like this on every street corner — not at this size though,” Gawronski said.
Besides the size, the pizza is also different from thin New York-style pizza because it isn’t hand-tossed.
While some members are able to stretch it in a similar way, tossing the dough would be impossible to accomplish, Gawronski said.
Gawronski had managed pizza shops for many years before moving from Philadelphia to help open the shop, which she heard about through a friend. She helped tweak Villenave’s recipe.
“This is kind of a shop of friends,” Villenave said, when she introduced each team member.
The staff is constantly trying new things and putting them on special. Like last week, when one chef created a pizza made with mashed potatoes.
Each member of the staff took a bite, discussing what worked and what didn’t.
The mashed potatoes were a “no” for everyone.
“All of the staff here gets a lot of freedom,” Gawronski said.
Villenave also works full-time as a telephone operator. She has had the job since she turned 18, 17 years ago. It provides her with health insurance, she said.
However, eventually, she might need to gain an extra 40 hours a week to spend more time at Big Dam Pizza.
She’d like to go even “bigger” one day, if possible.
Big Dam Pizza is located at 190 South Court Street in Fayetteville. More information can be found at bigdampizza.com or on the Big Dam Pizza Facebook page.
Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.