When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that’s amore. But apparently when you suffer business setbacks due to COVID, wildfires, apocalyptic smoke and equipment failures, that’s 2021. And in a year when Methow Valley residents most wanted Americans’ favorite comfort food, pizza, comfort was at times elusive.
“We’ve had to be closed more in the past 12 months than ever before,” says East 20 Pizza owner Lindsay Evans. “We got through early COVID OK in 2020, once we transitioned to takeout only, but 2021 just wouldn’t give us a break.”
In June 2021, Lindsay, who bought East 20 from her brother Ryan Clement in late 2018, invested in three new ovens for the pizzeria. “We got the industry standard, Bakers Pride,” Lindsay says of the ovens, which cost more than the cars that many of us drive. “They’re top-of-the-line, with stone bottoms. These ovens were going to last us for years to come. We were so excited. And within six months, they all died.”
The ovens couldn’t have quit at a worse time: Dec. 21, 2021, the peak of the busy holiday season. “We were so prepared to be cranking out hundreds of pizzas for two weeks straight,” Lindsay says. “We had hired extra staff to get through the holidays, we had inside and outdoor dining options, we were just ready to rock it.”
And then suddenly, in the middle of a shift crowded with skiers, visitors, hockey players and parents who could not face cooking dinner yet again, Lindsay’s kitchen staff delivered the unwelcome news: the ovens were not reaching optimal temperatures. With no other solutions immediately available to them, the East 20 staff quickly transitioned to providing take-and-bake pizzas, popping them in the 300-degree ovens until the crusts set, before boxing them for takeout customers.
Eventually electrician Pat Norwil and Lindsay’s husband, Luke Evans, owner of Methow Valley Builders, jury-rigged one oven to make fully-baked pizzas, but “we were just limping along, with two dead ovens just sitting there,” Lindsay says.
In the meantime, Lindsay was working frantically to try to get her nearly-new ovens serviced, but she was (and still is) being given the runaround by the warranty department. “We were calling all over the country, trying to get parts and service and some resolution,” she says, “but it was all dead ends.”
“We’re so remote here,” Lindsay says, “and the nearest technicians live in Seattle. They don’t want to come here in the middle of winter to service the ovens. And the supply-chain issues with parts just made it harder.”
Finally, Lindsay says, she located three new ovens that got rave reviews from high-end pizzerias in pizza-savvy places like New York and Chicago. “Let’s do it,” she said, and arranged to have the ovens shipped halfway across the country.
In order to remove the old ovens and bring in new ones, Luke had to dismantle the bar running the length of the pizzeria’s lobby, as well as remodeling other parts of the building to accommodate the move of large pieces of equipment. “I was so overwhelmed dealing with the ovens, it was great to have Luke visualize things differently,” Lindsay says. “He focused on the opportunity to change things up and make them better, while I focused on equipment.”
The oven purchase includes a service technician, who flew up from California to shepherd Luke and Lindsay through the installation and to train the kitchen staff. “I can’t say enough good things about Michael,” Lindsay says. “He walked Ben [kitchen manager] and me through the new ovens, and helped us dial in heat settings that were right for our product. We tinkered until we got the product quality as high as we wanted it to be.”
Currently, the old ovens are under covered storage in the north end of the parking area at the pizzeria, while the new ovens keep up the business of baking pizzas. “We just want to be dependably open for the community,’ Lindsay says. “We just want to put great food on the table reliably.”