Posted on June 27, 2016
Sitting in the new brick and mortar building, Stan Stinson reflects on how his business went from a selling pizzas from a rolling pizza oven under a tent in 30-degree weather to making hand-made pizzas in a custom wood-fired oven in a brand new building at Campus No. 805.
Stinson formerly worked for an electronics firm and Ford previously worked in marketing before realizing they both wanted to do something different. After realizing they shared similar dreams, Stan Stinson and Tina Ford became business partners in May 2013 and formed Earth and Stone Wood Fired Pizza.
“When Tina and I were looking to start a business,” Stinson said during an interview in the new pizzeria alongside Yellowhammer Brewery, “that revolved around food and a little travel. So we initially were thinking of some high-end festivals.” Stinson and Ford started looking at different options. “We didn’t want to do carny food. I don’t want to do fried elephant ears,” said Stinson.
While on a trip to Atlanta, Stinson saw what he was looking for. “We saw the same set up we have as mobile in Atlanta at a farmer’s market. We really liked the farm to table and really like the operation.” But there was one thing about the operation where he saw room for improvement. “After we tasted the pizza, I thought I could do better. So we decided to buy and oven and give it a shot. And that’s basically how we did it.”
And, just like that, Earth and Stone Wood Fired Pizza was a really a thing and not just an idea for Stinson and Ford.
The mobile brick oven, a brick oven sits on a trailer and is towed to it’s location, made it’s debut at Greene Street Market. Stinson did not have grand aspirations for his rolling pizza joint. “We started at the farmers market assuming we would sell 30-40 pizzas a week and make extra couple hundred bucks,” Stinson says as contractors finish up a few details around the newly-opened pizzeria. “We just wanted to have fun as we figured this out.”
Earth and Stone Wood Fired Pizza was still working out of big marine coolers. They had ordered a pizza station, but it hadn’t arrived yet. It’s a pretty small operation. Then a reporter called and ordered $60 worth of pizza. “We had some specialty pizzas. One was The Latham, a pizza with goat cheese and sweet potatoes and a white sauce.” He ordered a few more of the specialty pizzas, too.
“He wrote a great review about us”, said Stinson. Matt Wake, the reporter made a comment about the shape of the hand-made pizzas. “Tina still talks about him making the comment that they weren’t round” Stinson says while laughing. “Because we didn’t know how to make round pizzas! That’s actually a process we were still figuring out.” After the article people started calling. And calling. And calling.
In September 2014 Earth and Stone Wood was voted 2014 Pizza Food Truck Of The Year, via a Mobile-Cuisine.com poll. They beat-out competitors from pizza joints across the country from New York to Chicago.
Stinson says they were getting catering requests and the breweries started ‘lighting us up’ Stinson attributes much of the success of the food trucks to the local breweries. “That’s kind of the beginning of the food truck revolution/evolution in Huntsville. The breweries really put us on the map. At the time the law stated that the breweries couldn’t sell food. So, they would bring food trucks in. That was their way around it. If you had food, people are going to buy more. They’re going to drink more. So that’s how we got our start.”
While food trucks are popular in Huntsville year-round, winter is kind of dicey in the food truck business. North Alabama gets more than its fair share of cold days and inclement weather in the winter and selling pizzas well when it’s 30 degrees with a cold north wind is not fun. Then, Ford and Stinson bought a food truck owned by Blue Pants Brewery and created Fire and Spice, a tex-mex food truck. This got then through the winter. “ At this point, we decided to open the restaurant and we sold the food truck so we could concentrate on pizza, said Stinson.”
One of the best locations for Earth and Stone Wood Fired Pizza was when they were at Yellowhammer Brewery a local brewery on Clinton Avenue. According to Stinson, “Yellowhammer had a location a block away. When we would vend at Yellowhammer we would do very well, they had that great biergarten out back. It was just a neat location, said Stinson. “When we would show up there their sales would go up. Significantly. Yellowhammer said, ‘look our sales go up 35-40 percent when you guys are here. Beer and pizza are a good marriage. Would you consider putting a place in the new building we are putting up?’”
Initially, they told them ‘no’. “I knew we’d be working the 100 hours a week and I’m to old and fat to do that,’ said the white-haired Stinson laughing in his t-shirt and plaid shorts. “But, we looked at the plans, met with the architects. We talked to Bill Roark again the senior partner over here. We decided to do it.”
Stinson is glad they decided to move into Campus No. 805. As customers order The Porkalicious, The Green Street, or The Peppadew in sight of the red-tiled, wood-fired ovens Stinson says, “We are darn glad that we did. What a great operation Randy and Bill put together over here. The city has embraced the concept. The mayor is certainly a proponent of the revitalizing of the neighborhood, as well”
Stinson hoped the new brick and mortar restaurant would be a success, but with any new venture there are unknowns and Stinson thought they could meet the challenges and be a success. “You know, I had hoped it would be. We were very fortunate because we had a following. In 2014 we won the national pizza food truck of the year award, that helped. Having been in business for three years, mostly around Huntsville, we had a pretty good following and that certainly helped. I don’t know if I would have started a restaurant, even here, without having that support to begin with. We vend out on Redstone Arsenal three times a week. We have a lot of support there as well.”
“Tina and I worked 7 days a week in order not to go to the bank to do this. Didn’t pull any money out. We were living like paupers. It was tough,” recalls Stinson. Then, Stinson takes a call from a food broker.
The pizzeria is always busy and there is always life interrupting the pizza business. “I live with my 86-year-old dad. Because he needs someone living with him. I’m there 3-4 days of the week.” I”m here the later part of the week because we stay open later. We’re always juggling that.”
Stinson and Ford, just business partners, have a ‘flophouse’ a mile from Earth and Stone Wood Fired Pizza on Clinton Ave. It allows them to spend more time on their business. “She’s from Hokes Bluff and I live in Albertville. So, we’ve got a flophouse a mile from here, right behind the Merrimack Center. It makes it really nice. I’m too old to power through an all-nighter or an 18-hour day,” says Stinson.
Earth and Stone Wood Fired Pizza is in the redeveloping area of West Huntsville. City planners see West Huntsville, including Lowe Mill, Merrimack Hall, and now Campus No. 805 as an emerging entertainment district in Huntsville. There is a bus loop which services the venue and Stinson, recently returned from San Francisco, thinks Uber is a great addition the area.
Campus No. 805 is also bike friendly. There is even a cycling pub crawl which stops at the Yellowhammer Brewery next door. Stinson recalls two of his biggest supporters riding the bicycles to the pizzeria from downtown Huntsville. “Two of our biggest fans, Dr. and Marilyn Evans, rode their bikes to Earth and Stone.” (Marilyn is the driving force behind the Greene Street farmer’s market.) “Last night, I was at a downtown Huntsville food truck event, and as I was driving down Church Street to pick up Tina. I saw the Evans biking down Clinton together When I got back here they were out here eating a pizza!”
Stinson says, We’ll have three breweries, two of them on campus. (You have to include Salty Nut, the are only a block away.) With the breweries, the sushi place, pizza, some high-end food, all the shopping, the concerts, the city park, folks will want to come here,” said Stinson.
Stinson has high expectations and is looking forward to all the other businesses opening on Campus No. 805. “The tourism board tells us that Campus No. 805 is going to be “The” tourist attraction in Huntsville., says Stinson. A bigger attraction then the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, which attracted 625,00 visitors in 2014? Stinson thinks so. “Unless they are rocket scientists or they have their kids and want to do the U.S. Space and Rocket Center thing. That’s a beautiful place over there. But then they can come here.”
– Eric Schultz, owner of Rocket City Photography, is an award-winning professional photographer, blogger, and pizza connoisseur