When Marc Schechter moved to Berkeley in 2016, he had no idea he’d soon become the “Pizzaman.” That’s the name of his pizza pop-up that he now runs Thursday and Friday nights at Vinyl Bar in San Francisco. But before that, he was just a native New Yorker with a fanatical love for eating pizza, the kind of diehard who collects pizza t-shirts and plans trips around pizza restaurants he has to check out.
It didn’t happen until Schechter, who works full-time at a start-up selling scheduling software for restaurants, discovered a pizza cookbook amid his chef-friend’s belongings and decided to give cooking pizza a try. That was in March 2017 and, since then, Schechter had found a new passion that has consumed him. He started small, throwing pizza parties for friends, usually making up to 10 pizzas in a night, and once making 25 pizzas during an epic “stoner pizza party.” After that, Schechter was ready to get serious about making pies.
He picked up shifts learning from some of the best local pizzaiolos on weekends, first at Pizza Hacker, then he staged at Del Popolo and Casey’s in San Francisco. In January, at Delfina in Burlingame, he worked two 10-hour days on weekends, on top of his regular full-time job. It was at Delfina that Schechter says he went from “a pretty good home cook to professional-level” pizza maker. In January, he made a new-year’s resolution to open his own business, and that’s when Pizzaman was born. While Schechter still works his day job in sales in Redwood City, he now has that two-day-a-week gig at Vinyl and hopes to soon transition to full-time pizza chef.
Although Schechter currently lives in San Francisco, his time in the East Bay made a real impression on him. While in Berkeley, he lived on the border of Oakland, at 66th Street and Shattuck Avenue, where he noticed a growing number of people experiencing homelessness in the area. Last summer, he reached out to the Berkeley office of the Homeless Action Center on Shattuck to partner on an event where he could make pizzas for the people living at nearby encampments. It didn’t work out at the time because Schechter didn’t have the right oven to make it happen. A year later, with two new Roccbox portable propane pizza ovens (that can get as hot as 1000ºF and cook pizzas in about 90 seconds) and with a lot more pizza-making experience under his belt, Schechter has decided to return to the East Bay to pick up his plan.
On July 30, Schechter took to Facebook to announce his project. He set up “Feeding the hungry – Pizza for Eastbay’s [sic] homeless camps,” a two-part campaign, where Schechter could fundraise for Homeless Action Center and Spirit of Oakland (All the money raised, Schechter said, will be distributed 50/50 to each of the groups). The campaign also was a way to spread the word about an upcoming event, where Schechter plans to cook pizzas in his portable ovens for residents of an Oakland homeless encampment.
Sometimes weird coincidences happen in the food world, and such is the case with the concept of making pizzas to feed unhoused people. I first learned about Schechter’s plan a day after he posted his Facebook campaign and was still ironing out details about when and where his pizza-cooking event would happen. While he was conferring with his partners at the Homeless Action Center, another man named Miguel Elliott, who had come up with a remarkably similar idea was out making it happen. Earlier this week, the East Bay Express reported that Elliott, a member of the Occupy movement and the owner of Living Earth Structures, brought a cob pizza oven to the homeless encampment at The Village in Oakland to make fresh, hot pizzas on the spot for the approximately 80 residents that lived there. I brought the article to Schechter’s attention and not only did he not know about Elliott, but he was blown away by the coincidence that two people had come up with the same idea to do basically the same event. “This is awesome,” Schechter said. “I’m genuinely glad I’m not alone in thinking that pizza has a unifying effect on the community.”
Since launching his fundraising campaign nine days ago, Schechter has raised almost $5,000 (more than $2k on Facebook, but more offline too) for Homeless Action Center and Spirit of Oakland, and hopes that others will continue to contribute up until his event, which has now been scheduled for Sept. 2 (rescheduled from Aug. 12). Schechter plans to serve 100 pizzas (Margherita, pepperoni, and one with just marinara sauce, for those who can’t eat cheese) between the hours of noon and 5 p.m. that day. At the request of the organizations he’s working with, to protect the privacy and safety of the communities he’ll be serving, Schechter will not release the exact location to the public, but can say that he will be somewhere in East Oakland.
People who are interested in helping Schechter on Sept. 2 to make and serve pizzas can get in touch with him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org; volunteers will be given the location after they sign up.