Fox Pizza Bus
On an overcast Thursday late morning in a corner of downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District, the streets begin to tremble. Plaid-clad patrons in fedoras look up from their Handsome Coffee Roasters’ lattes and pause mid-conversation. A shaggy gray dog lifts his head from the sidewalk. Event planner Jordan Hieshetter sets her iced coffee on the sleek birch bench and stands.
“…Yes, he’s going to move his car,” the bubbly redhead speaks into her cell phone.
The vibrations magnify as a crimson double decker bus–all 25,000-plus pounds of it–shuttles down Mateo Street and angles a left onto Willow. It hisses and sputters as Hieshetter places wooden levels on the pavement, shouting at the driver, her boyfriend chef Mike Fox, to back up and pull into them.
“They help keep a flat surface so the ingredients don’t shift around,” she says cheerfully.
The detail is one of the many that comes with owning a mobile food business, much less one on a thirteen-ton double-decker vehicle. Hieshetter and Fox, co-founders of the city’s first mobile wood-fired pizza bus, take it in stride. Earlier that morning, the Fox Pizza Bus (after Fox’s last name, not the movie studio, NBC clarified in a segment) caught a nail in its tire–another technical difficulty brick-and-mortar restaurants are spared. But the mobile restaurant owners mended the casualty with a patch and managed to make it to their typical Tuesday-Thursday morning spot only a few hours late and just in time for lunch.
Hieshetter excuses herself to help Fox fire up the oven and explains the situation to the group of twelve or so customers who have walked over from a nearby business hungry for the farm-to-table pizza. She tells them to come back in 30 minutes and gets to work. She opens the sliding glass window on a wide red panel that hugs the sidewalk and emerges from the bus once again to attach a silverware and menu holder to the bus’s facade. One by one, the flavors of the day appear in chalk on a freshly-wiped chalkboard: Marinara/Garlic Oregano, Marinara/Mozzarella & Basil, Brunch Pizza (ricotta, roasted onions, baked potatoes, arugula, fresh orange), Salame/Mozzarella/Smoked Olive/Pistachio.
Menu items depend on the ingredients Hieshetter and Fox have culled from local farmers markets that week. The two begin every Wednesday with a buying trip to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, usually stopping by one or two more throughout the week. They are fiercely loyal customers to a variety of local vendors: they buy cheese from Angelo & Franco Mozzarella, who use centuries-old cheese recipes from Bagnoli, Italy, meat from LA’s only whole-animal butcher shop, Lindy and Grundy, tomatoes from Munak Farms when in-season and canned organic tomatoes from Northern California in the off-season, potatoes, onions, carrots and applewood from Wesier Farms, root veggies, garlic, cippollinis and arugula from Schaner farms, apples, carrots, greens, and spicy bush basil from Windrose Farms, and greens, basil and herbs from Coleman Farms and Maggie’s Farm.
“The farthest we go for our ingredients is Northern California,” Hieshetter tells me in a moment of respite later.
Emphasis on local ingredients is one of the properties on which she and Fox built the business. Fox is a born-and-raised Angeleno who wanted to both support local agriculture and deliver only the most pristine of ingredients to his customers (Fox refuses to serve a dish he doesn’t believe perfect, preferring a customer to wait ten extra minutes for high quality). These two core values are evident in every aspect of Hieshetter and Fox’s work, from the choice to focus on freshly-prepared wood-fired pizzas to Fox Pizza Bus’s collaboration with the local community, some of whose products it hopes to begin selling straight off the bus.
“We believe that ingredients are the single most important factor in making food taste good and in Southern California we are spoiled with so much local, good food it would be a shame not to use it!” Hieshetter said. “We believe in supporting local farmers and encouraging the local agricultural landscape. You should know where your food comes from.”
The two’s care for detail and quality is part of the reason it’s taken them nearly three years to finally get Fox Pizza Bus on the road. Hieshetter and Fox first conceived of the idea while living in Phoenix, where the two moved after meeting in Santa Barbara and where Fox was finishing up his degree at Le Cordon Bleu. After many dinners at one of their favorite local eateries, Pizzeria Bianco–a wood-fired pizza joint–the idea to create the first custom-built, commercially-operated mobile wood burning oven in the country took shape. Owning a mobile eatery was a dream for Fox, who grew up savoring LA’s street food dining culture from stands and hole-in-the-walls. He wanted to serve a modernized take on the fare he loved. They settled on pizza because of its flexibility as a vehicle for fresh ingredients and because it’s a favorite.
“I never get sick of eating pizza,” Fox said.
And the bus?
“Why not,” he deadpanned and when I laughed, he repeated, “Seriously, why not?”
When the two moved to Los Angeles, they contacted a local bus company who located a 1984 transit bus from Scotland (the United States government does not permit overseas buses less than 25 years old to operate in the country). It arrived in 2009 with a bright yellow exterior and an orange plaid interior. Hieshetter and Fox ripped out the insides, custom-designed and built the kitchen, and wrapped it in red. Determined to get the permits specific to a privately owned vehicle and restaurant, they waited two years for the California government to process them. They opened briefly for private catering in 2010 on a temporary permit, a costly endeavor. Then they went back to waiting, doing private catering–sans bus–in the meantime. They’re thrilled the wait is over.
“I didn’t buy a house. I didn’t have kids. I got a bus,” Fox smiles. His expression mimics the weary but euphoric face of a parent raising a newborn. His and Hieshetter’s schedule doesn’t stray far from that. The two were up at 1 a.m. the night before to make a 4 a.m. call time at NBC. A day at the farmer’s market and a late-night event provided little rest before the events that transpired this morning. After their shift at Handsome Coffee Roasters ends at 2 p.m., they’re driving the bus to the commissary to prepare for an evening event. But they’re doing what they love.
“We love the bus because it allows us the opportunity to do something different on a daily basis while meeting all different members of the community. Our lives are crazy & chaotic but it also keeps things fun and interesting,” Hieshetter said.
Hieshetter emphasizes Fox Pizza Bus is primarily a vehicle for private catering, in which she and Fox specialize. The co-founders currently use the bus as means for serving parties of no more than 100 and plan to open up the top section of the bus for small private dinners later in the summer. While pizza is their main focus, Hieshetter says they work with clients who prefer different cuisines–like seafood for a beach party. In the future, they envision Fox Pizza Bus at schools and in communities, educating students and communities about where vegetables come from and the importance of caring and knowing the origins of the ingredients in their meals.
“The bus stands out and we want to use it as a positive platform to encourage healthy eating. This includes the Chefs That Move Program and Wooly School Gardens,” Hieshetter said.
As the shift draws to a close, Hieshetter and Fox load up the bus with friend and chef Michaele Musel, who helps the two with the business. Hieshetter packs a cooler of Handsome Coffee Roasters’ drinks for the event that evening.
“Thank you,” a Handsome Coffee Roaster worker smiles and hugs Hieshetter.
Hieshetter hands Fox an iced latte before he coaxes the engine to life and navigates it in reverse. Hieshetter and I watch it go, its thirteen-foot-eight stature disappearing after a right-hand turn. In a moment, the streets are silent.