ILWACO — It’s handmade and wood-fired. The ingredients are Italian, just like the brick oven. The name of the business is Serious Pizza. Owner Jim Chrietzberg isn’t joking around when it comes to producing authentic, Neapolitan-style pizza.
“It’s fun when people say, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I got this pizza here,” Chrietzberg said.
Started by the park
Jim and Chi Chrietzberg started their business across the entrance from Cape Disappointment State Park seven years ago. Their plan was always to expand and the state park offered the perfect place to start.
“We were drawn there specifically after researching parks,” Jim said. “Cape Disappointment is one of the busiest parks in the state.” More than 880,000 visited the park in 2015, according to Washington State Parks visitor figures. As visitors pour in, Jim saw a demand and an opportunity to provide something people wouldn’t expect in a small town — authentic, Neapolitan pizza.
So what exactly makes brick-oven pizza better than pies baked in traditional ovens? According to Chrietzberg, it’s all about the intensity of the heat.
“A wood-fired pizza oven cooks very hot,” said Chrietzberg, who experimented with gas ovens before ordering a wood-fired Mugnaini brick oven from Italy.
“It’s considered to be the Rolls Royce of ovens,” he said. The oven was assembled in California before being delivered to Ilwaco. The oven can accommodate up to six pizzas at a time and is heated by burning apple wood from organic fruit trees in Yakima. The 900-degree temperature translates to faster cooking times and a crispier crust.
“You want to use a fruit wood because it’s more dense and won’t crackle or pop,” Chrietzberg said. “It cooks in 90 seconds.”
Quality over quantity
Each step of the process is authentic and hands-on. It all starts with super-fine Italian flour, the basis for a Neapolitan-style crust. The flour is then carefully mixed using bottled water and homemade yeast cultivated by Chi. There are more than 30 different choices categorized by toppings under meat, vegetarian, vegan and shrimp. Prices range from $9.50 for an 8” cheese pizza to $32 for a 15” shrimp pizza with pesto sauce. The options continue to grow as more customers come in with their own creative ideas. The Earth Pie — with garlic Parmesan oil, mozzarella, onion, gorgonzola, fresh tomato, basil, balsamic vinaigrette and sea salt — is among the nontraditional pizzas that have become popular enough to become a mainstay on the menu.
“It is spectacular!” Chrietzberg said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had someone who didn’t come back and have another one — sometimes in the same day or trip.” Other options are named after local landmarks. There’s “The Jetty,” featuring garlic Parmesan oil, mozzarella, provolone, sliced pears, walnuts and gorgonzola, and then there’s the “Cape D Delight,” which features chicken, sun-dried tomato, onion, cashew and fresh basil. With all the pizzas, quality is emphasized over quantity.
Chrietzberg was influenced about value and quality from friend Bob Graham, co-founder of Papa Murphy’s, a take-and-bake pizza franchise with more than 1,500 locations across the U.S.
“He has tremendous ethics in what he does and how he does it and what he offers for the dollar,” Chrietzberg said.
Salads, sandwiches, steamer clams, chowder and homemade cannolis are also available.
Hiring hurdles, deep remodel
The second location in downtown Ilwaco was ready to open last spring, however hiring issues hindered the start.
“We started the Ilwaco location about two years ago,” Chrietzberg said.
“We didn’t open last year because we didn’t have qualified people.” Remodeling the former gas station and bait shop also took time, and Chrietzberg didn’t plan on cutting any corners.
“We’re either going to do it right, or we’re not going to do it at all,” he said.
“We’re both cursed with being perfectionists.”