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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, July 25, 2014

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In Marketplace

Erik Burgos and Nick Smith own the Milwaukee Pizza Company.

In Marketplace

Pizza that is buttery delicious.

The Milwaukee Pizza Company rolls out big plans


The Milwaukee Pizza Company is a 1-year-old manufacturer of "freshly frozen," hand-made pizzas with all-natural ingredients.

Although they have a shelf-life of about three months, the pizzas are meant to be eaten within a week of creation.

The company's pizzas are appearing in bars all over the Milwaukee area, from 88 Keys Martini Lounge in West Allis to the Art Bar in Riverwest (one of its first clients) to Walker's Point mainstay The Monkey Bar, as well as its newest bar, The Parlor.

Erik Burgos and Nick Smith started The Milwaukee Pizza Company after developing several pizzas "with Milwaukee in mind" (one of their catchy taglines).

It was especially while creating their own thin crust when they thought about Milwaukee, but with offerings like the Lakeside Deluxe and the Brat Pizza, made with beer cheese sauce, cheddar, onions and, of course, bratwurst, it's clear that Milwaukee was part of the design process throughout.

Thin crusts are a hallmark of what's becoming known as the Milwaukee-style pizza, along with the finished pies being cut into "party squares." But Burgos and Smith still wanted something a little bit different.

"People in Milwaukee like to drink. If they eat a thick, heavy pizza, they're not going to want to drink anymore," says Burgos.

They developed a flaky thin-crust pizza with what's more like a pastry dough as its base – and they they put a little bit of butter on it, which they say makes their pizzas "buttery delicious" (another company tagline).

Burgos and Smith met at Ike's Pub in Pewaukee in 2005, but the two new friends and co-workers didn't know their nearly 40 years of combined experience in the food service industry would take an interesting turn just a few years later.

They've both worked at various establishments over the years, many in Pewaukee, like the aforementioned Ike's, Golden Anchor and Applebee's, and at Shoney's (when there was one in Delafield), among numerous others.

But it was when they worked together at Mike Hegan's Field of Dreams in New Berlin that their pizza ideas started to flourish.

Rather than cooking the same frozen pizzas for kids' birthday parties every week, Burgos and Smith decided to create fresh-from-scratch pizzas for the kids to indulge between swings in the batting cages or shots at monsters in the arcade.

The pizzas became a hit, with the parents as well as their kids, and the two friends knew they were on to something.

But they didn't want to just make regular pizzas so, figuring there are enough frozen pizza manufacturers around already, Burgos and Smith began developing specialty sauces to complement their unique take on the Milwaukee thin and crispy crust.

"The sauces took a little bit of development. Everything's from scratch. Our sauces bring out the flavor of our crusts," says Smith, who has a culinary degree from Waukesha County Technical College.

Various white cream and BBQ sauces complement Milwaukee Pizza's beer cheese and red sauces. Among the company's 13 different pizzas are two with chicken, one with an Alfredo sauce and the other a caesar cream sauce. The BBQ sauces accompany an artichoke chicken and a gyro meat-topped pizza.

"The Herbivore" is, naturally, a veggie pizza topped with red peppers, onions, artichoke hearts, cilantro, arugula and cheddar cheese. Others include the Gyro Monster, Brick House and Margherita.

The Milwaukee Pizza Company offers crusts in 9-inch, 12-inch original and another 12-inch size that Smith calls the "capacious stomach," a one-pound pizza.

"For people who say, 'This is so good, I need more,'" says Burgos.

Burgos and Smith are local businessmen who want to support local businesses. They focus on supporting Milwaukee bars as if on a mission. They use Wisconsin beer and cheeses in all their products and the brats are Usinger's.

"Eventually, we'd like to go direct to farmers for the produce," says Burgos, who adds that more organics are in the plans, if not someday going entirely organic, as well as dreams of growing many of their own vegetables at the plant.

And Smith sees Milwaukee Pizza Company eventually keeping all the raw materials for pizza building (except the mushrooms) in-state, Wisconsin-proud, and sending their pizzas out of state, as ambassadors of the culinary variety.

For now, their more modest production facility in West Allis suffices, although they'd like to get big enough to move over to Walker's Point, yet not grow too big.

"The bigger you get, the more automated you have to be," says Burgos. "Pizza is our art, it allows us to express ourselves, but in food form."

The pizza artists work together nearly every day. Since everything at this point is made to order, Mondays they make all the crusts for what they deliver to each bar on Thursdays. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are spent topping the pizzas.

The Milwaukee Pizza Company is decidedly wholesale and bar-oriented at this point, but there are plans to perhaps open up a retail store, like a frozen-pizza boutique, where customers can pick up already-prepared frozen pizzas.

"Our pizzas are made with fresh, all-natural ingredients. We get a lot of compliments on them and lots of people telling us they taste like fresh pizza," says Burgos.


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