The Rocketing Might of Metal Pizza
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because pizza’s one of the better junk foods. And good metal ain’t too bad for you either.
By Eugene S. Robinson
Big, at 6-foot-2, bespectacled and bearded, with a touch of gray around the chops, record-label head Matt Jacobson doesn’t look all that different from the heaviest metal bands around these days — or their fans. Bands like Cephalic Carnage, Dillinger Escape Plan, Dying Fetus and Red Fang. That is, metal you could comfortably call, um, extreme.
Ever heard of him? OK, probably not. But he has pulled off some impressive successes. Over the course of 25 years, Jacobson and crew, put out 120-plus bands. There have also been festivals, record stores, spinoff labels, acquisitions of other smaller labels, offices in Berlin, a staff of 33 at their peak, a major metal resource guide and occasional appearances on the Billboard 200. After all that, maybe it’s no surprise that someone would seek new fields of play.
One buzzed night, Jacobson and Mikey McKennedy came up with the idea and started the deep dig for cash. “We decided we wanted to do something really close to New York-style pizzerias,” said Jacobson by phone, as he rushed from doing label stuff for Relapse Records to doing pizza stuff. But from there, he’d do everything other pizza companies wouldn’t — or didn’t — do. Jacobson’s Sizzle Pie pizza pies come in vegan, veggie, omnivore, gluten-free, single slice and whole pie. And Sizzle Pie sells single slices. “When we got here to Portland,” he says, “like, nothing stayed open past 10.” So Sizzle Pie lets you order until about 3 a.m. during the week and 4 a.m. on weekends.
Jacobson, now 43, freely mentions he barely graduated from high school. It wasn’t a good time — he was a shy, largely friendless kid, “too metal for the nerds and too nerdy for the metal kids,” he says. And the school counselors, he says, described him as “either on drugs or depressed.” But that was a long time ago, and the same nerd powers that doomed you in high school sometimes become adulthood salvation. After the first Sizzle Pie opened, he kept a careful eye on other areas of Portland. One corner caught his eye — an unusually large number of people tended to gather there to cross the street. Six months after Jacobson and McKennedy started the first Sizzle Pie, they opened up a second one there.
More big thinking: Jacobson had the idea that he should market Sizzle Pie like he had marketed bands: T-shirts, posters, a great jukebox. Before too long, he had sold 5,000 Sizzle Pie T-shirts. Not just in Oregon but in remote places where getting a slice of his pizza wasn’t even an option: Australia, Canada, Italy and Sweden. And those were just the shirts. In the first year, after accounting had had its way with the books, Jacobson and McKennedy discovered that they’d sold $1 million of pizza.
“Soul-sucking, ball-crushing and heartrending.” Former San Francisco Bay Area multiple pizza parlor owner Perry Mosdromos pauses every couple of words for maximum effect. “Owning a pizza parlor almost destroyed me in total. He [Jacobson] is crazy,” he says. “Good luck to him.” And with future horizons that see the costs connected to running a parlor rising on account of everything including increasing commodity prices, hikes in minimum wage and even the Affordable Care Act, maybe seeing yourself moving millions of dollars of pizza is just wishful thinking.
Until you learn that the research firms that pay attention to pizza don’t necessarily think so. Companies like Technomic, CHD Expert, Mintel, Euromonitor and the National Restaurant Association all point to 2015 sales up over last year’s $38,524,732,336 we spent on pizza. Almost 41 percent of that was from independent, non-chain parlors like Jacobson’s, according to PMQ Pizza Magazine. So now with more than 200 employees, a business model with a centralized infrastructure hub that handles both the parlors and the label and the competition knowing that not only has Jacobson arrived but he’s there, what now?
“Well, we wanted to be real thoughtful about this all,” Jacobson says. “We give a lot to charity, schools and tree groups, and we really love pizza too. And metal. Still.” From a friendless kid who barely graduated high school, this is probably not, in total, a bad place to be.