Via 313 owners (and brothers) Brandon and Zane Hunt didn't originally intend to open a 'Detroit-style' pizza trailer in Austin. In fact, they never thought of the pizza they ate growing up as Detroit-style at all. "In Detroit, they just call it pizza," Zane says. They originally thought they'd serve Neapolitan and offer diners a sample of this new style of pie in order to build an audience.
Flash forward several years, and the brothers Hunt have created something of an Austin craze for square, thick-crust pizzas baked in auto part pans. Their wildly popular trailers feed the pizza-loving masses at Craft Pride and Violet Crown Social Club, and a Via 313 brick and mortar is in the works. Eater spoke with the brothers about bringing a taste of home to Austin, their initial doubts, and how hard, and yet so simple, it is to just be yourself.
Why Detroit-style pizza in Austin?
Zane: Growing up we didn't know that what we were eating was Detroit-style pizza. It was just pizza. When I got here in 2009, I embarked on a serious pizza eating tour. We were looking for something that reminded us of home, and it became clear that it didn't exist in central Texas.
Brandon: We both have bar and restaurant experience, and pizza experience. We went to 'pizza school' to do Neapolitan.
Zane: We were concerned that if we just sold Detroit-style pizza, it would take awhile for people to warm up to it. The idea we had that was we would open a restaurant and serve a second type of pizza. Maybe you'd come in and get a wood-fired or coal-fire pizza, and then we'd bring a sample of Detroit style pizza. You could try it then.
When you guys were shopping around the idea, or after you started the trailer, did you encounter resistance to 'Detroit-style'?
Brandon: People come up and joke, What is Detroit style? Does it go out of business next week?
Zane: Did you get carjacked on your way here?
Brandon: We've heard every stupid joke. Can't do anything about it.
Zane: One strategic thing we did was actually calling it Detroit-style. We were one of the first to do that. Even in Detroit, they just call it pizza.
Brandon: You just call it square or round. You don't call it Detroit-style.
The square style of pizza comes from a pan made from auto parts. What about the round style?
Zane: That's just classic Italian. There's lots of Italians in Detroit, and not much of that here. There's high end Italian, but there's not much of the red and white checkerboard tables.
What else is different between Detroit and Austin?
Brandon: I like to tell this story when I went to Buffalo Billiards, and this guy was staring at me. He stared at me all the way to the bathroom, and then all the way back. I was like, I swear to god, this guy has got a problem. If I walk by him one more time I'm going to say something. So I go by him and he stares so I say, You got a problem man? and he says, Oh, I'm sorry, I was just looking at your tattoos.
Why do you think Austin has embraced this new style of pizza so enthusiastically?
Zane: Along the way of us having doubts about whether the public would accept something different, we started to become more involved in the Austin food scene. We started realizing that this is a place where you can try things.
Brandon: People like to be the first to try something, and are very vocal about what they like here. We grew by people bragging to their friends that they tried this other style of pizza they'd never had before.
Has serving pizza that you thought was normal growing up, that other people treat as exotic, changed your perspective?
Zane: I think we're pretty fortunate in hindsight. Southeast Michigan is a hotbed of great pizza.
Brandon: We didn't know how good we had it until we left the pizza. You could take the cheapest party store pizza here and it would be great here.
Sort of like if you took Austin barbecue or tacos to Michigan.
Zane: People wouldn't know what to do. They'd go nuts.
The auto part pans are obviously distinctive to Detroit, but what about the other aspects, like the thicker crust?
Brandon: The stories are like folklore now, about a guy working on the assembly line who takes a pan home, and his wife bakes with it.
Zane: Southeast Michigan lots of Sicilian families, and they brought those Sicilian pizza recipes.
Brandon: You can get a lot more height out of this auto pan than out of a traditional sheet pan that you make a Sicilian pizza in. And you can get the cheese all the way to the edge.
Zane: I want to talk to that guy. The guy who says, I'm going to put the cheese to the edge.
Brandon: I'm going to make the least favorite thing the most favorite thing.
Who doesn't love the burnt cheese?
Brandon: Putting the sauce on after the bake is a think in Detroit as well.
Zane: Some places do it back home and some don't.
Brandon: It lets the cheese bake into the bread, you get this really good, not gummy pizza.
Zane: The freshness of the sauce too plays into it. If you eat fresh tomatoes as opposed to baking it for fifteen minutes, the flavor is really different. People crack me when they say they love the sauce.
Brandon: It's just tomatoes. So what you're saying is, you like tomatoes.
You don't do anything to the tomatoes?
Brandon: Very little. Like Neapolitan, you let the tomatoes and cheese do the talking. We add stuff to tone down the acidity in the tomatoes and that's it.
Why pizza? Why is that the food you decided to focus on?
Brandon: I think people legitimately wake up and want pizza. It's who we are and what we grew up eating. If I have a dollar for every time we sat around playing video games with two liter of Coke and a pizza from a pizza place as kids, I'd be rich, you know?
The memories of playing baseball and getting pizza after. That's our next step. We want to open a place where people can bring their families and kids can play video games and donate to the local baseball teams. That's how our childhood was spent. We want to create memories for families and be a part of our community.
Zane: What's the line that somebody said? It's like serving ice cream. How unhappy are you going to be if it's your job every day to give someone an ice cream? Pizza is the same way.
The easiest thing for all of us to do is to be ourselves. And yet we all fight that. We did that internally as we were trying to figure out what kind of pizza we would serve. Somewhere along the way we said, let's just be who we are. We're two brothers from Detroit, and we are going to serve Detroit pizza.
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