Four local pizzerias not only survived, but thrived, during the ebbing COVID-19 crisis, adapting their businesses to shifting consumer habits.
Launched more than 45 years ago, Goat Hill Pizza, located on the corner of 18th and Connecticut streets, has a storied presence on Potrero Hill. It’s one of the community’s longest continuously operating restaurants, co-founded by a group of friends, including Philip De Andrade, who is recovering from heart surgery.
Goat Hill Pizza is “the quintessential dream of San Francisco,” said General Manager Sjimon Gompers. “We took this approach to sourdough pies before it became a trend that now seems larger than San Francisco itself.”
Today, its bestseller is the Maggie Mae, a take on the classic margherita pizza using marinara instead of pizza sauce. Gompers refers to it as the “intersection where pizza and pasta meet.”
The turn-of-the 20th Century building that houses Goat Hill Pizza has served as a neighborhood meeting place, showcasing the work of local artists, offering Halloween trick or treaters free slices, collaborating with nonprofit organization 826 Valencia to post poems written by schoolchildren on delivery boxes. Pre-pandemic, Goat Hill’s expansive back room hosted monthly meetings for the Potrero Dogpatch Merchants Association, which gathers to discuss new developments, regulations, and other challenges.
“Post-pandemic success—not just for Goat Hill, but all these establishments—is predicated upon community involvement,” said Gompers. “We’ve all banded together to support one another, invest locally, keep money on the Hill, and push toward prosperity as a communal goal. Without our neighbors, we wouldn’t be here.”
It’s unclear what community events Goat Hill will sponsor in the future, or whether it’ll reprise its popular Monday all-you-can-eat night, with immediate plans mostly revolving around counter service.
Neal DeNardi envisioned a relaxed gathering place for family and friends when he and co-founder, Andrew Markoulis, established Long Bridge Pizza in 2014. Located on Third between 20th and 22nd streets, the pie joint is named for a wooden causeway that ran through Third Street in the 19th century.
“It’s important to have a place to kick back, eat some pizza, watch local sporting events on TV and hang out,” said DeNardi.
“Laid back vibe, serious eats” is the pizzeria’s tagline. “We also like to be involved in the community and give back to all the people that have supported us throughout these years,” he said.
Long Bridge has hosted teacher appreciation nights, held fundraisers for the California Fire Foundation, donated meals to underprivileged youth, and contributed gift cards for silent auctions. No community-oriented activities have been scheduled yet this year.
The pizzeria celebrates classic flavors and combinations like mushroom and pepperoni, while offering seasonal specials with local produce. Available only on Mondays, Detroit style-square pizzas are baked with a mozzarella and cheddar blend that crisps at the edges. Local craft beers Harmonic Brewing, Cellarmaker Brewing, and Almanac Beers, among others, are offered.
Pre-COVID, DeNardi’s clientele included day-trippers keen to explore Dogpatch’s flat streets. He’s hoping the community will regain its status as a destination neighborhood, especially with the new Crane Cove Park nearby. In the meantime, his pizzeria evolved to match shifting pandemic needs. A mobile-friendly website offers online ordering and delivery; Quick Response codes are available at tables to place orders. On its third expansion, Long Bridge can seat 40, spread out six feet apart, with plans to add 20 more chairs when it’s safe to do so.
“Our draft beer is back online and TVs are hooked up. We’re slowly getting back to what we used to be in 2019,” said DeNardi.
In Mission Bay, Casey Crynes of Casey’s Pizza also retooled his business in response to the pandemic. Crynes opened his 1,000-square-foot pizzeria in 2017, near the corner of Fourth and Long Bridge, heralding the arrival of the first brick-and-mortar pizza joint in a growing neighborhood. Originally a food truck that served Financial District lunch goers starting in 2012, Casey’s serves East Coast-style, thin-crust Neapolitan pizzas with simple, fresh, organic ingredients. Crusts are “…light and fluffy, but also have a nice crispness and a bit of chewiness,” he said.
During the pandemic Casey’s started offering frozen mini pie versions of margherita and Zoe’s Pepperoni pizzas. “They’re a little thicker, and smaller at 11 inches; basically, the perfect cocktail pizza, or meal for one person,” said Crynes. He sells do-it-yourself pizza kits and dough balls to satisfy the at-home crowd.
While he acknowledges that pizza is “pandemic-proof,” Crynes is grateful for his regulars. “Mission Bay has been incredibly supportive and amazing during the pandemic. Without them we’d be struggling,” he said.
Recently, Casey’s expanded its space with a 20-foot long parklet that seats up to a dozen, more than half of what he could previously accommodate.
Sharing food truck roots, and a Mission Bay location near Casey’s, is Firetrail Pizza, located at SPARK Social SF. Founders Jed and Krissy Tukman first setup at SOMA Street Food Park in 2013 before becoming one of the first permanent vendors at SPARK Social in 2016.
“Our dough is made from scratch and hand-rolled fresh every day,” said Tukman, who uses Giusto’s organic flour and Grande cheese. “Simple quality ingredients cooked in an old-fashioned wood-burning oven. That’s what makes it good.”
He said it’s been fun to see the neighborhood grow in the past five years. With the expansion came customers, many of whom were the construction workers, police officers, fire fighter and University of California, San Francisco workers who built the area, including those who erected the Warriors stadium as well as several players.
“We feel a part of the community just serving them,” he said.
The public health crisis was “a gut punch.” Firetrail had to let go 25 employees, including Tukman and his wife, Krissy. A Paycheck Protection Program loan helped the eatery survive and reopen last June.
“We’re very thankful for our customers. It’s finally starting to feel like 2019 again,” he added.