The Drop-Off: Z Food Farm & Nomad Pizza On 7th St. In Philadelphia

Brion:How many different farms are you currently buying from?
Stalin:Right now, we’re probably buying from maybe five or six different farms. From every farm, we buy something different. From Blue Moon Farm we buy mostly our spring mix and whatever seasonal they have and our microgreens. From David we’re just getting whatever he can get us before the end of the season. We started buying from David this year. We work our menu around what’s available.
Brion:What are some of the other farms?
Stalin:There’s Cherry Grove Organic Farm in Lawrenceville, New Jersey that we get our garlic from. There’s also a Philadelphia Urban farmer from whom our 13th St. store got all their produce from. We just got a full bounty through them. Also, Dunwald Farm, they provide all the tomatoes for our Hopewell location and they just supplied us ghost peppers for our ghost pepper special. There’s also our friend Mikey Azzara. He started a company called Zone 7. What he does is on Monday, he gathers all the produce from the local organic farmers and he goes out on Tuesday and distributes them. And so we do a lot of our buying from Zone 7 as well.

Hinona kabu turnips from Z Food Farm. by Jacki Philleo.

Hinona kabu turnips from Z Food Farm. by Jacki Philleo.

Brion:Alan mentioned that you drive the Nomad truck every year to an end of season party/bbq at Cherry Grove Organic Farm.
Stalin:I don’t think we’re doing it this year, but we used to do it every year. But we’ve always done farmer parties all the time. So that was Cherry Grove Organic Farm [which grows vegetables]. There’s also a creamery and dairy named Cherry Grove Farm that does cheeses. It’s run by separate people but the land is leased by the same people who own the land Cherry Grove Organic Farm leases. We get some of our cheeses from them for four or five of our pizzas.
Brion:What’s going on at these parties?
Stalin:It’s kind of shop talk about farming, you know, see how their year went. Drink some beers. And eat lots of pizza. It’s a fun thing to do. After a long season, it’s really great to see everyone. They supply us with a lot of our ingredients and like I said, it’s a win-win for all of us.
Brion:Do you guys bounce ideas off each other? For instance, can you  grow this…
Stalin: Yeah, for instance, I told the ladies at Dunwald Farm I need about 1,000 pounds of garlic for next year. They said, they’ll see what they can do. And actually, the garlic I get from Cherry Grove Organic Farm is set aside for me every year. The corn that we get from Kerrs Kornstand—it’s a yearly thing. We go to the same farmers for the same products. Basil, we’re getting out of Philadelphia from a really cool farmer which is totally unlike your regular organic farmer. It’s all grown inside with water. So, we can get it the whole year—fresh basil. They only use water and nutrients. It’s all done in a warehouse. It’s another good use of urban space.

Brion:Has their been anything weird or new that they just approached you with?
Stalin:I don’t know about a weird crop or different crop, but one of the things that happened one time is that one of the farmers had a whole bunch of green tomatoes. And I was like, man I’ve always heard about fried green tomatoes and I’ve never had ‘em. So, I bought a bunch of bushels from him and I just put out fried green tomatoes about threes ago. It was an instant success because I think it’s one of those dishes that everyone’s heard about but never had. That’s one of those cases where the farmer says, hey, I have this, and we turn it into that. And it happens all the time. That’s what happens when you buy seasonally. We’re not buying tomatoes in the middle of winter. We buy our tomatoes when they’re in season. That way, you get a better tasting product.

Arugula Pie at Nomad 7th St. in Philadelphia.

Arugula Pie at Nomad 7th St. in Philadelphia.

Brion:Dave was telling me how he would get invited to pizza parties that you and Tom would throw.
Stalin: We started our business out of Tom’s house. He had been to Italy and he had seen how—actually, that’s another reason why we love the local farmers. When he was in Italy, getting pizza, he noticed they were getting fresh vegetables everyday, delivered to the local pizzeria. And he wasn’t seeing that here. He put a wood fire oven in his house. Ten years ago, we didn’t have the choice of wood fired oven pizzeria that we have now. We started this about 8 years ago with a pizza truck. Once the oven was installed [in Tom’s house] we would have monthly parties where everyone would bring a topping or a few toppings. It was kinda like a hit and miss type of deal. We would make pizzas for fifty or sixty people and it was just a lot of fun. That’s one of the reasons why we thought, maybe we should take this on the road—it would be amazing to have a pizza party as a business. Eventually, we looked online and we found somebody that was doing it and we went and talked to them and decided to do it ourselves.

Tom Grim:What he’s referring to is, I went to Italy for the first time probably 20 years ago and I just remember watching all these small farmers come up to these restaurants and pizzarias and dropping off small amounts of vegetables to the places. And this was long before I was in the restaurant business. And I was thinking, you don’t see this in the United States with pizzarias. You see the Cisco truck pull up, dropping off cans of stuff. I just remember being struck by that the first time I went to Italy. That people locally grew the food and brought it to the restaurant fresh, the same day they picked it—in some cases perhaps from their home gardens. I wasn’t into the whole food thing then. That stuck with me though.

Brion: Were you involved in any other restaurants before Nomad?

Tom: There was no other restaurants other than the ice cream business. I started Thomas Sweet’s in Princeton in 1980 and stayed with that for 25 years. I sold that to do the Nomad pizza truck.

Brion:Why the change?
Tom:It’s too long to be in one business. I was baking bread at home just as a casual hobby. I was working this bread recipe and this little note at the bottom of the recipe said, you can use this to make 6 pizza doughs. I said wow, and I didn’t know anything about pizza. So I started on making pizzas and I became obsessed with it. I was reading pizza blogs and I was lining my oven with bricks and trying to get the temperature higher than 500. When an oven goes into self-clean, it goes up to 800 degrees and I was using that to figure out how to get it hotter. I ended up ruining my whole oven. When you open a door at 800 degrees, the glass shatters. And that happened because I realized early on—by reading and experimenting—that to make great pizza, you had to bake it at over 800 degrees. Then I eventually put a wood burning oven in my house and Stalin and I had a lot of great pizza parties before we went into business together.

Brion:When did you start experimenting with pizza dough?
Tom:Probably 2004/5, something like that. I’m guessing I installed the pizza oven in 2006. Pizza truck, we started in 2007. We said we need to turn this into a business, in regard to the parties. We invited about 50 people over, had salad and pizza, and everyone was blown away by the pizza. Nobody had wood fired pizza at that time. Nobody. We were talking, you know, bullshiting, and the next day Stalin calls me up and says dude, I found a pizza truck. Then it’s, I BOUGHT a pizza truck. I was so not prepared. He found this REO Speedwagon up in Canada and bought it impulsively. That was in 2006. We brought it down in 2007 and started the business. We opened the first location two years later. We opened it mostly because we needed a commissary. 7th St. in Philly followed in 2011 and we opened our location by 13th and Spruce two years later.

Brion:How is buying from Z Food a continuation of what was going on at the pizza parties?
Tom:The pizza parties, it was just pizza and salad, and I thought this is all I want to do with the business. That and beer and wine. Simplicity. Of course everyone should know that it’s better to buy local food that’s not shipped 3,000 miles from central California. And you know the farmers and they can grow things that relate to you. It’s better in so many ways. There’s less fuel consumed and you’re supporting the local economy and people know where it comes from. If it’s there locally, why wouldn’t you use it? When people notice it’s fresh, it helps your business.


More in farm to table:

The Drop-off: Ian Brendle of Green Meadow Farm & Taproom on 19th

A Perfect Pairing: Chef Jordan Miller Talks Helming The Kitchen At Soon-to-Open Heirloom in Delaware

How Harvesting Sea Salt Reflects A Deeper Approach For CDC Jordan Miller & LBI’S Black-Eyed Susans

Interview With PA Farmer Ian Brendle: How A Proposed Law Threatens America’s Small Farmers

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