Pizza the way it should be

Publication Date: Friday Feb 20, 1998

Pizza the way it should be

Name:Bela Kardos, owner

Restaurant:Applewood Inn, Menlo Park; Applewood 2-Go, Menlo Park; Applewood Pizza, Menlo Park, Los Altos

Why is pizza so popular? Everybody likes it because the variety is so big. There is no ceiling. But you cannot just dump on ingredients and not think about it or it is garbage. It is just like a big orchestra with different instruments. If you don't match each other, it is just cacophony.

How long have you been in the pizza business and how has the pizza business changed over the years? The difference is the creativity of the toppings. When we started 15 years ago, everybody had the same toppings--pepperoni, salami and sausage--and that was the whole thing. Now you have all kinds of different toppings, from salmon to spinach to barbecued chicken to beef--all kinds of things.

How did you get into the pizza business? I was in real estate for seven years and I asked the owner of the Village Host, the beer joint that used to be (at the Menlo Park Applewood site), if he wanted to sell. I thought I live right here and with real estate I would have enough time. But the man I hired to run the place had a heart attack after three months so I had to make a go. I had never even eaten pizza before, so I went around to local pizzerias and went through cookbooks trying to figure out how to make a pizza.

What is the latest trend in pizzas? They want low-fat, healthy ingredients. In most cases, the pizzas suffer in taste, so you have to be creative and use spices like garlic and basil to make up for the taste.

What is the most important element of a great pizza? For ours, it is the crust baked in an old-fashioned brick oven. That is the best way to bake a pizza. I worked on the pizza shell (recipe) for seven months. Nobody can copy it. I tried and tried and finally came up with the formula and since then people have loved it.

What menu changes has Applewood made over the years? The base is the crust and what you put on that makes every year more interesting. These days people are more willing to try something new. We started with five different pizzas and now we have 17.

How does Applewood stay competitive? So far, we have won first prize in the community because people like our pizza. They like something unique and unusual, and I am working all the time to create something new.

Has anyone famous ever eaten at Applewood? Mr. (Joe) Montana is our customer and Steve Young eats at our Los Altos store.

Most pizza restaurants deliver; Why don't you? It amazes me how a company can do that. I have looked into it. They take 40 percent off the price, but if we only make a 10 percent profit, how can I pay 40 percent for drivers? And sometimes delivery takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours. People are smart enough to know that if they come here, they get good, hot pizza. Pizza is best when it comes hot of the oven.

What is the future for pizza? I think it will be on the market forever because of the variety of options. It has everything your body needs: vegetables, meat if you want, and dough is a bread. It is just like a hamburger. It will never go out of fashion.

What goes on in the kitchen that diners don't realize? We do not prepare much in the back. Spinning the dough for the pizza crust, preparing the pizza for the oven--people out front can see everything you do.

What keeps customers coming back to Applewood? We try to keep the atmosphere family-style, pleasant. And the food is the best sell.

Any tips for making pizza at home? The only problem with cooking at home is the stone. Pizza is best if you have a stone. Metal does not make it taste the same way. Plus making our pizza for 4 to 5 people is a lot of work. It takes three days to develop our crust.

Where did you get the name Applewood? My wife, Inge, came up with it. She went through books (including telephone books, too) and tried to find some unusual name. Everyone liked Applewood right away.

--Jennifer Napier-Pearce 

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