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How a pandemic passion project is helping a 'Neighborhood Pizza Guy' connect with his community

Matt Burr's one-man operation gains momentum through Nextdoor

Matt Burr, an Atherton resident who taught himself to make pizza during the pandemic, says he's been overwhelmed by positive responses after offering tastings to the community. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

What started out as a pandemic passion project for Atherton resident Matt Burr has quickly grown into what could be something more.

Burr, formerly the creative director of a small apparel startup, said he started dabbling with baking pizzas last year during the pandemic partly to save money.

"It was hard for me to find a pizza that I enjoyed and wanted to spend $30 on," he said in an interview. "I figured I could make them at home for a lot less."

Each Sunday night, he said, he would bake two pizzas. And each week, he'd come up with a few ideas of things he'd like to change. He'd often only make it until Tuesday before he'd feel compelled to try again.

At a certain point, he said, he began making more pizza than he could eat. Then, when he was laid off in February, he began to dedicate more time to the craft.

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After about nine months of experimentation, he said, he reached out to the community via the neighborhood-based social media app Nextdoor, figuring he might get a couple of people interested in trying out his pizzas.

A bacon, roasted garlic, spinach and onion pizza by "Neighborhood Pizza Guy" Matt Burr. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Eight days later, he said, he's been floored by the response. "I've had countless people contact me," he said. "I'm now completely booked for April."

"I have been happier doing this over the past week than I had been at my job previously," he said. "I would like to see what I can do to build this up into a business."

Though he worked at a tennis club for a few years in college pouring beers and helping out at the snack shack, most of Burr's food experience is self-taught as a recreational chef and baker, he said.

"I've watched nothing but the Food Network for the last year," he added.

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The pizzas are made one at a time, and the project is still very much a cottage operation out of a small studio in Atherton. The dough takes 24 hours to rise so that's started the day before, and each morning he sanitizes and prepares his small kitchen to spend the rest of the day making pizzas, he said.

"I make each pizza the way I would want it, and I think that resonates with people," he said.

After the dough has risen, he opens them into "skins" — a term for the unbaked pizza base.

He adds the toppings, and as they're going into the oven, he sings each pizza a little song.

The song changes based on his mood, he said, but it's generally a lullaby-type tune with words that go something like "Okay little pizza, you're going to get baked. You're going to have a good time. You're gonna be tasty," he said.

Matt Burr's mushroom and cheese pizza. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

"It keeps me bouncing around, it keeps my energy up a little bit, and maybe the pizzas like it," he said.

As a one-man operation, he's unable to deliver the pizzas, but people are invited to pick them up from him. His next priority, he said, is to find a larger kitchen in which to bake more pizzas.

He was drawn to the simplicity of pizza – the dough is just salt, water, yeast and flour yet is complicated to get just right, he said. And while his pizzas so far have been New York style, he's eager to explore Chicago-style deep dish, thin crust and gluten-free iterations.

Burr moved to the area from Eugene, Oregon, about three years ago and has struggled to find a sense of community, or even a neighborhood spot to have a beer and chitchat with regulars, he said.

In Atherton, people are friendly one-on-one, he said, but there's not always a lot of smiling and waving while he's out walking down the street. Getting the opportunity to meet residents face to face "has been pretty great," he said.

"In the last week, I've had more interaction with my neighbors and the community at large than I have in my previous three years of living here in the Bay," he said.

Since he's reached out to the community to find pizza testers, a wide range of people have offered their aid and support: A man who works in the bakery supply business gave him a 50 pound bag of flour; a woman who does recipe testing offered advice; and a few others have told him that if he wants to "take this to the next level" they want to help.

"It's that kind of response, that people are willing to give me a shot ... it's been humbling and it gives me a sense of pride where I live now."

People can reach Burr at [email protected]

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Kate Bradshaw writes for The Almanac, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

How a pandemic passion project is helping a 'Neighborhood Pizza Guy' connect with his community

Matt Burr's one-man operation gains momentum through Nextdoor

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Sun, Apr 18, 2021, 8:30 am

What started out as a pandemic passion project for Atherton resident Matt Burr has quickly grown into what could be something more.

Burr, formerly the creative director of a small apparel startup, said he started dabbling with baking pizzas last year during the pandemic partly to save money.

"It was hard for me to find a pizza that I enjoyed and wanted to spend $30 on," he said in an interview. "I figured I could make them at home for a lot less."

Each Sunday night, he said, he would bake two pizzas. And each week, he'd come up with a few ideas of things he'd like to change. He'd often only make it until Tuesday before he'd feel compelled to try again.

At a certain point, he said, he began making more pizza than he could eat. Then, when he was laid off in February, he began to dedicate more time to the craft.

After about nine months of experimentation, he said, he reached out to the community via the neighborhood-based social media app Nextdoor, figuring he might get a couple of people interested in trying out his pizzas.

Eight days later, he said, he's been floored by the response. "I've had countless people contact me," he said. "I'm now completely booked for April."

"I have been happier doing this over the past week than I had been at my job previously," he said. "I would like to see what I can do to build this up into a business."

Though he worked at a tennis club for a few years in college pouring beers and helping out at the snack shack, most of Burr's food experience is self-taught as a recreational chef and baker, he said.

"I've watched nothing but the Food Network for the last year," he added.

The pizzas are made one at a time, and the project is still very much a cottage operation out of a small studio in Atherton. The dough takes 24 hours to rise so that's started the day before, and each morning he sanitizes and prepares his small kitchen to spend the rest of the day making pizzas, he said.

"I make each pizza the way I would want it, and I think that resonates with people," he said.

After the dough has risen, he opens them into "skins" — a term for the unbaked pizza base.

He adds the toppings, and as they're going into the oven, he sings each pizza a little song.

The song changes based on his mood, he said, but it's generally a lullaby-type tune with words that go something like "Okay little pizza, you're going to get baked. You're going to have a good time. You're gonna be tasty," he said.

"It keeps me bouncing around, it keeps my energy up a little bit, and maybe the pizzas like it," he said.

As a one-man operation, he's unable to deliver the pizzas, but people are invited to pick them up from him. His next priority, he said, is to find a larger kitchen in which to bake more pizzas.

He was drawn to the simplicity of pizza – the dough is just salt, water, yeast and flour yet is complicated to get just right, he said. And while his pizzas so far have been New York style, he's eager to explore Chicago-style deep dish, thin crust and gluten-free iterations.

Burr moved to the area from Eugene, Oregon, about three years ago and has struggled to find a sense of community, or even a neighborhood spot to have a beer and chitchat with regulars, he said.

In Atherton, people are friendly one-on-one, he said, but there's not always a lot of smiling and waving while he's out walking down the street. Getting the opportunity to meet residents face to face "has been pretty great," he said.

"In the last week, I've had more interaction with my neighbors and the community at large than I have in my previous three years of living here in the Bay," he said.

Since he's reached out to the community to find pizza testers, a wide range of people have offered their aid and support: A man who works in the bakery supply business gave him a 50 pound bag of flour; a woman who does recipe testing offered advice; and a few others have told him that if he wants to "take this to the next level" they want to help.

"It's that kind of response, that people are willing to give me a shot ... it's been humbling and it gives me a sense of pride where I live now."

People can reach Burr at [email protected]

Kate Bradshaw writes for The Almanac, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Comments

Ugh
Registered user
Midtown
on Apr 18, 2021 at 11:01 am
Ugh, Midtown
Registered user
on Apr 18, 2021 at 11:01 am

I’m pretty sure you need to be baking in a commercial kitchen in order to sell these pizzas. It’s illegal to sell most food out of your home without a cottage food permit, which is basically just jarred products and dried fruits and stuff. Why is pa online giving this illegal operation free advertising- do your research!


Leona Driscoll
Registered user
Atherton
on Apr 18, 2021 at 12:00 pm
Leona Driscoll, Atherton
Registered user
on Apr 18, 2021 at 12:00 pm
Sunshine Meadows
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2021 at 2:12 pm
Sunshine Meadows, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 18, 2021 at 2:12 pm

Any free pizzas as a good will gesture?


CC
Registered user
University South
on Apr 19, 2021 at 11:19 am
CC, University South
Registered user
on Apr 19, 2021 at 11:19 am

Dear Ugg

Please be kind. We are in a pandemic. This young man took a horrible situation, of being let go from his job, and went after his passion.

I’m sure he is going to be wildly successful. I for one am ???? behind him. I hope he’s able to open a local pizza joint where we the community can gather and chit chat, eat pizza, and support our locals. Like what he had been missing.

I’m on the wait list to try what looks like a scrumptious pizza.


Esther
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 19, 2021 at 11:21 am
Esther, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Apr 19, 2021 at 11:21 am

@Ugh: I think people can cook at home and sell their goods. Please check out California's AB626 which was signed in 2018.


Jessica Zhao
Registered user
Charleston Meadows
on Apr 19, 2021 at 11:31 am
Jessica Zhao, Charleston Meadows
Registered user
on Apr 19, 2021 at 11:31 am

# I think people can cook at home and sell their goods. Please check out California's AB626 which was signed in 2018.

Then anyone can cook at home and run a take-out restaurant?

What about the food health inspectors?

If this is all legal, then my in-laws can easily start a business in our kitchen.

They are very good cooks.


Finally
Registered user
Midtown
on Apr 19, 2021 at 12:27 pm
Finally, Midtown
Registered user
on Apr 19, 2021 at 12:27 pm

Each county can decide to implement AB626. Santa Clara County has not adopted it yet, but San Mateo County, which is where Atherton sits, has. Hopefully this guy does have a Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations in San Mateo County, and if so, I would totally support him. But if not, who knows about his food safety practices, etc.


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Apr 19, 2021 at 1:02 pm
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Apr 19, 2021 at 1:02 pm

Matt Burr: GOOD FOR YOU! This a terrific Covid-twist on the ages old corner lemonade stand. I am glad you have some neighbors who appreciate what you are doing and have contributed to your supplies. Carry on!!


Kayleigh Johnson
Registered user
Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 19, 2021 at 1:23 pm
Kayleigh Johnson, Palo Alto Hills
Registered user
on Apr 19, 2021 at 1:23 pm

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