Brick oven pizza maker reinvents business after fire disaster
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Black Rock, CT – “Large pizza to go,” said Marty McCarthy to his cook, his cousin Freddy, after receiving a cell call while standing in front of Acoustic Café on Fairfield Avenue in Black Rock.
This spot had become a regular one for him Friday and Saturday nights from 9 p.m. to bar close – Marty, that is, and his 25-foot long, candy apple red pumper fire truck that he had outfitted with a wood-fired pizza-making brick oven.
With the truck parked curbside and two long tables – one with pizza on platters ready to serve up slices and a second with pods of dough in a tub, he was a full-service mobile pizzeria.
This was not McCarthy’s first venture. In fact, he has been well known as the neighborhood pizza guy for a decade, when he first opened Marty’s Pizza at 2804 Fairfield Avenue. He operated that business, which was primarily take-out and delivery, for nine years, building a loyal following. He sought to expand to include a bar and sit-down tables.
So, in February 2011, McCarthy officially opened Marty’s Brick Oven of Black Rock Restaurant and wine bar at 2914 Fairfield Ave., two blocks down the road from the original business.
The business had a promising start and the neighborhood was welcoming. All seemed bright moving forward.
Then the unthinkable happened. On the morning of Saturday, March 19, Marty got a phone call from the chef at the time saying there was smoke coming from the basement.
“I rushed right over, knocked on the doors of the apartments above the shop first, to clear out any residents, and then came down, just as the fire department arrived,” he said.
The fire department set up, went in and did what they could in the tight space. Unfortunately, it was all for naught.
“It burned all damn day,” said McCarthy, with disgust. “There was tons of smoke. It was a total loss, only six weeks after we’d opened -- $200,000 in damage for me, another $500,000 for the building, residents in eight units suddenly homeless. It was complete devestation. It was my dream, and I was done before I’d even gotten out of the box.”
The so-called “Luck of the Irish” had visited McCarthy before and, actually, was what steered him into pizza-making in the first place. “I was a volunteer firefighter for six years before starting the pizza business, and the only reason I did that was because I couldn’t pursue a career as a firefighter, due to a severe motorcycle accident in which I snapped my left femur,” he said. “That was days before my agility test, one of the last steps to being a full-fledged paid Fairfield firefighter.”
With the fire disaster, McCarthy was left to think about how he was going to keep his name out there – as well as keep food on the table. “I was recently married and had a nine-month-old new baby daughter,” he said. “Mobile food isn’t anything new, so the challenge was to come up with something unique and that incorporated the pizza.”
Talk about irony: McCarthy hatched the idea to buy a firetruck – a 1985 International from Vernon, CT, through Craig’s List – and outfit it with a brick oven. “I worked closely with my oven importer, Tuscany Fire, out of New Haven,” he said. “It was a first for them. They’d already done a couple mobile units, for other types of businesses. The conversion process took two months.”
The opening gig with the truck was on Black Rock Day this past June. “It was great for me and a great day for Black Rock, showing the resiliency of the community to bounce back from tragedy,” he said. “Congressman Jim Himes had one of the first slices of pizza… other councilmen and Mayor Bill Finch were also there. There was a lot of support.”
At present, McCarthy and his Fire Engine Pizza truck maintain a presence in Black Rock a couple weekend nights every week, as well as do private parties and festivals, like the MTK Music Fest in the Hamptons August 13 & 14, as requested.
Looking to the future, McCarthy says he hopes to be back in his space in three to four months. Monday, August 1 was the scheduled demolition start date, to rip out all the burned interior and ruined equipment. Then an engineer will visit to see about reestablishing the floors, and the landlord will deliver “four walls and ceiling in September.”
Optimistically, McCarthy said, “We’re looking at a potential grand re-opening end of October, which will include the debut of an added 50-seat party room.”
Reflecting on all that has transpired, McCarthy said, “You can’t lie down and die. They say moss doesn’t grow on a rolling stone. You’ve just got to keep fighting.”
To order a pie or inquire about private party services or support for an event function, visit www.FireEnginePizza.com or call 203-257-8007 – “anytime” says Marty.