January 2020

Pizza to Go

Author: Barry Kaufman | Photographer: Rob Kaufman

Deliriously tasty and dizzyingly fast, the pies at Pizza Co. might just be the next big thing in pie.

Trying to join a conversation between Pizza Co. co-founders Billy Watterson and Marshall Sampson is a bit like stepping into a hurricane. Like complementary currents of creativity, the pair feed off of each other as the inspiration flies back and forth—new menu items, slight tweaks to the décor of the Hilton Head Island location, ideas for the forthcoming Bluffton location, new options for their food truck, the logistics of installing new equipment for a menu item they’re looking to roll out.

“This is literally what the conversation was like where this whole thing was born,” Sampson said. The conversation took place during a school field trip where each were chaperoning their young children. Sampson, the longtime owner of Santa Fe Café, and Watterson, a serial entrepreneur with a laundry list of successful businesses, hit it off immediately, and the long car ride back from Kennedy Space Center gave them plenty of opportunity to vision board their shared pizza restaurant.

“When we came back, our wives were like, ‘You two can never ride in a car together again,’” Watterson said. “But from that point it was game on.”

Just 10 months separated that first explosive brainstorm session and the grand opening of Pizza Co., but the basic premise had already been cemented before they arrived home. Pizza Co. was going to be, and ultimately became, completely different from other pizza restaurants. Chief among those difference is the revolving (and revolutionary) oven which allows a Pizza Co. pie to go from ingredients to plate in 130 seconds.

“The Grubhub driver is used to it by now,” Sampson laughed. “We don’t even put the pizza in the oven until he shows up.”

For Watterson, that quick turnaround accomplishes that most elusive of pizza goals: instant gratification. “That craving inspires us. Usually you have to call ahead, you have to give them 30 minutes … it’s miserable. When I get that craving, I want to execute on that craving.” (Although if you do want to order ahead, the Heartland Guest app allows you to do just that, earning points for every pie).

But it’s not all about the speed with which that craving is executed. If you’ve dined at Santa Fe Café, you’ll know that Sampson and his team pursue quality with almost fanatical devotion. That same devotion goes into the offerings at his decidedly more casual venture at Pizza Co. It goes into the chopped salads, whoopie pies, craft beer and wine selection, but a double helping goes into the pizza.

Before they opened, Sampson spent a week at “Pizza University,” enhancing his culinary skills with a deep dive into the art and science of dough and sauce. That knowledge base informs a pizza that fills every bite with satisfying crispiness and vibrant flavor.

“Our goal was always doing very few things very well,” said Sampson. “What we do, we want to knock out of the park.”

And they’re knocking it way out of the park—further still once their food truck rolls out in March.

“We have this location now, but we want to take the pizza to the people,” Watterson said. The food truck will mirror the offerings at the shop, served out of a non-rotating version of the oven, which will hang off the back.

Look for it crisscrossing the Lowcountry soon and possibly enjoying a semi-permanent spot at the site of Burnt Church Distillery, where the Bluffton location of Pizza Co. will reside. 

To see the next big thing in pizza, stop by Pizza Co. at 1201 Main St. or visit www.yourpizzaco.com.

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