After several months of renovations, the former Pizza Hut location on Queen Anne Avenue is once again slinging pie. But diners will find a far different experience than the one they came to expect from the national giant.
Evviva Woodfired Pizza opened in early October, as the second location for owner Luan Berisha.
A financial adviser-turned-restaurateur, Berisha opened his first Neopolitan-style pizzeria in Edmonds six years ago, as turmoil in the stock market made him increasingly uneasy about his own industry.
“The market goes down, it goes down for everybody,” he said. “No matter how smart you are.”
In the meantime, he saw the quality of a local pizza chain’s nearby location become increasingly inconsistent. Berisha himself knew a thing or two about pizza, having lived throughout Europe in his late teens and early 20s, and had fond memories of the small oven he used outside his childhood home in Albania.
“No matter what we put in there, it tasted great,” he said.
To boot, he previously worked as a marble and granite mason, and had the know-how to build one of his own.
Berisha admits that his first foray into running a restaurant wasn’t always smooth, opening during lean economic times in a tough location, just blocks from the ferry terminal.
“It took a long time to really get the business going,” he said, “but I knew deep down we made a superior product.”
That patience paid off, and eventually the decision was made to expand to a second restaurant. When the former Pizza Hut space came on the market, Berisha was interested in both the location and the neighborhood, and said he’s found the same type of tightknit community in Queen Anne that he did in Edmonds.
He got the keys to the storefront on May 1, and after several months of renovations, the new location (2231 Queen Anne Ave. N.) officially opened Oct. 2. Thus far, they’ve relied on word of mouth, and passersby while ramping up operations.
Though neither location has the official Vera Pizza Napoletana certification — a designation given to qualifying pizzerias that meet a wide-range of guidelines — Berisha says that’s by design. By maintaining Neapolitan pizza standards without that label, it allows them to retain creative flexibility, with toppings like Yukon gold potatoes, or a pesto base.
And the exacting standards kept in-house are part of what Berisha says sets his pizzerias apart. He has high praise for his chefs and their expertise, calling them some of the best you can find in the Seattle area, and stressed the importance of fresh ingredients in everything they make.
“If anything in the bin doesn’t look fresh, I toss it out,” he said.
While he takes the time to sort through that produce by hand, ingredients like buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto cotto and crudo, and San Marzano tomatoes are imported for both authenticity and quality.
Berisha also mentioned the dough his restaurants use, which ferments in cold temperatures for at least three days through slow leavening. The result, he said, makes for a better crust.
Though his two pizzerias are separated by about 15 miles, the owner is at both locations each day, and does the shopping for the two several times a week, spending two-to-three hours each trip sourcing ingredients, along with other needs for the business.
“If you can time it right,” he said of the distance, “it’s actually not that bad.”
Berisha said the hope is to eventually open daily in Queen Anne from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., with a greater attention to the lunch crowd.
“We’ll let our customer base tell us what we should do,” he said.
By next spring, the plan is also to add a large deck for outdoor seating, in addition to the 40-or-so seats inside.
“We’ve felt embraced really warmly,” he said, “so we hope to be here for many years to come.”
To learn more about Evviva Woodfired Pizza, visit www.evvivapizza.com. To comment on this story, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.