Roots' scissor-sliced pizza (Metromix photo)
World’s coolest job: pizza consultant. And Marv Wise, owner of Wise Guys Pizza in Davenport, Iowa, is talented enough to hold this designation. Hired by The Fifty/50 (2047 W. Division St.) co-owners Greg Mohr and Scott Weiner to consult about their new East Village project, Roots Handmade Pizza (1924 W. Chicago Ave.), Wise brought his unique pizza recipe to Chicago.
Open for a little over a month, Roots highlights the signature style of the Quad Cities — five cities on Mississippi River on the Illinois/Iowa border, including Davenport — which includes hand-tossed dough; a sweet, chewy crust made with dark-roasted malt syrup; and in-house sauce and sausage recipes that include four different spices. RedEye spoke with Wise about his pizza consultancy, which, Wise said, is basically “another way of expanding my business” without having to go out and purchase another property.
The owner of Wise Guys in Davenport for 15 years, Wise sold a license agreement to Mohr and Weiner, which allowed them to use all of his original recipes.
“I worked for someone else for 13 years,” Wise said, “and basically took the knowledge of what I’d learned, and I essentially stepped up the quality to a higher standard.”
He bought the “highest-quality products,” without letting the price influence his shopping behaviors.
“Maintain consistency and quality,” Wise said. “In the restaurant business, those two things will keep you open and in business.”
Wise met Mohr, who grew up eating Quad Cities pizza, through a friend. He told him about “a gentleman from the Quad Cities interested in purchasing a license agreement.” Both Mohr and Weiner had a lot of experience, Wise said, and “they’re pretty intelligent guys,” so they set up a time to meet and Roots was born.
It wasn’t just about selling the recipes, however. Wise’s role also included training the employees and consulting on the proper equipment, such as the Roto-Flex rotating oven that can fit 28 large pizzas at once and where they also cook the pork sausage, and an 80-quart Hobart mixer, “one of the toughest mixers” out there, Wise said.
Wise spent several weeks in Chicago training the staff, and he also brought them to Wise Guys in Davenport. The early training “wasn’t as successful as what I wanted it to be,” he said. “The issue was that we didn’t get enough people trained, so we spent four days before we opened doing some intense training,” learning how to make the dough, how to make the tomato sauce, how to cook and grind the sausage and how to prepare all the vegetables. After that’s done, they need to learn how to stretch the dough depending on the 12-inch or 16-inch size of the pizza, and then how to properly cut the pizza — with scissors.
But it’s tossing the dough that’s one of the most important parts. It’s a “lost art,” Wise said, since the majority of pizza spots use stretching machines. Tossing the dough creates a different texture, less uniform. Wise explained how to toss: ‘Start by keeping the dough round. Pinch an edge of the dough, then basically stretch the edge. Pick the dough up. Use your knuckles and thumbs, and stretch it holding above your head. Depending on whether you’re right or left handed” — Wise is right-handed — “use your right palm and put it flat, and then balance with other hand and flip it. Flip your wrist completely all the way around, which begins to get dough spinning and catch with hand. Repeat until dough is size that you want.” Simple?
Now that Wise has sold his recipes to Mohr and Weiner, he legally can’t sell his license agreement anywhere else in Cook County.
“Even if somebody in one of the suburbs or within, say, 40 miles of Chicago, approached me,” Wise said, “I’d have to think long and hard about selling the license agreement that close.”
But he wouldn’t be surprised to see Roots expand to other parts of the city.
“With the start they’ve gotten off to,” said Wise, “it’s been huge.”