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Kevin Reynolds and Tanya Mayhew, native Midwesterners who have been living in Portland for more than 10 years, felt homesick. But it wasn't the weather, the geography or even the people that they missed — it was the pizza.
To a Midwesterner, Chicago-style pizza can be as serious a subject as politics. And although Reynolds and Mayhew found many good pizza places in Portland, they didn't encounter slices that reminded them of the deep-dish Chicago-style pies that they were craving.
So the proprietors of Via Chicago decided to take matters into their own hands and open a food cart-style operation at the PSU Farmers Market. And when they did so, the deep-dish skeptics came out in force.
"We would get people coming up to us saying, 'Yeah, we'll see,' all the time. There would be this challenge, every time someone from the Midwest would come by. We were very, very cognizant of that mentality right away when we first started," says Reynolds.
"There's a lot of Midwesterners here, and just in general they want [their pizza] a certain way, and if they feel like they are getting, kind of, 'swindled,' people get angry about it," he adds.
A few weeks ago, Reynolds and Mayhew opened their first brick-and-mortar restaurant on Alberta Street in Portland.
The transition has not been without its challenges. The duo had to rework some of their recipes to take into account their brand-new oven that can accommodate 16 pies at one time, as opposed to the mere four at a time they can cook at their food cart. And even though the oven is more efficient, baking made-to-order pies requires a significant investment of time. Customers need to allow nearly 40 minutes from the time they place their orders until the pizzas reach their tables.
Mayhew is ready to manage expectations.
"We definitely have to go through this process of training customers who aren't used to waiting, but eventually they'll get it," she explains.
And if you just want to grab a quick bite, many of the restaurant's options are available by the slice.
"I think we have a good product," continues a confident Mayhew. "I think we really satisfy that niche for people who are from the Midwest who are looking for it. A lot of times it's not going to be like your UNO's or Lou Malnati's or whatever you're looking for, but it's unique to Portland."
"There's a huge market of people here who miss this pizza like we do," adds Reynolds. "Let's see what we can do with that."