It’s been said that pizza, born in Italy and nurtured in America, is a food of the world, and few may know that better than chef Bartosz Wawrzyszak, owner of the Custom Pizza Truck.
Wawrzyszak — who goes by Chef Bart, for what are probably obvious reasons — was studying business in Chicago in 2014 when he was contacted by his brother, who owned a welding company in their homeland of Poland. His brother, Pawel, told Chef Bart that he had decided he wanted to build a food truck, but one like nobody else had conceived.
Pawel already had part of it worked out: In Atlanta, he said, there was a Freightliner truck cab with a Mercedes engine with European Union specifications, which Chef Bart said are “very rare” in the United States. Pawel wanted his brother to buy it and ship it to Poland so he could construct a state-of-the-art pizza semitrailer.
Why a pizza truck?
“We’re just crazy people,” said Chef Bart, 27. “There’s no other word for it. Because why not?”
Chef Bart drove to Atlanta overnight, bought the truck and had it shipped to Poland. Pawel went to work and spent the next 10 months building the trailer part.
“There were no reference points on the internet or anyplace else,” Chef Bart said.
It would have a two-ton, wood-burning pizza oven.
“That came from my brother’s hands,” he said. The trailer, which has more space than some brick-and-mortar restaurant kitchens, also has an oak butcher-block prep counter, walls lined with white subway tile and expansive glass doors that open wide.
“The whole vision was to give an experience,” he said. “To see the food from beginning to end.”
By early 2015, what Chef Bart prefers to call a “kitchen on wheels” was ready. A lifelong pizza enthusiast and self-taught chef, he returned to Poland and the brothers took their show on the road, in the next few years hitting all of the major festivals in Central Europe.
But by October 2018 Pawel was thinking of concentrating more on his welding business, and Chef Bart saw possibilities across the pond. He heard about a program for entrepreneurs sponsored by the Nevada governor’s office of economic development, to attract startups to Nevada.
“When I found out, I said, ‘This is me,’ ” he said.
His was one of 100 companies that applied, and one of 30 chosen to attend boot camp in Poland.
“That was the race to the finish,” he said. Twenty were chosen for pitching sessions before a panel of international judges. Ten were picked to come to Nevada for two weeks and see how they did.
“I was the only one to land an investor and open an office,” he said.
And a session at the London International Pizza Academy just polished his skills.
Now the Custom Food Truck has come to the streets of Las Vegas. Chef Bart points out that the kitchen on wheels had to cross the ocean, and his brother’s tiled oven never cracked, just as it never had on the rough streets of Poland. As for the Freightliner, it would be making its second trans-oceanic crossing. And Chef Bart, his wife, Gabbi, and their 8-month-old son, Julian, would relocate to Las Vegas.
But the kitchen would be nothing if not for good pizza, and Chef Bart makes excellent pizza. The dough is his main focus; he uses 00 flour and a minimum 24-hour fermentation to make the crust for his Neapolitan pies, topping them with sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and fine cured meats. What comes out of the 800-degree oven fired by almond wood is a pizza with a blistered bottom and charred edges, light and chewy and just divine.
He said the truck’s average capability is 100 pizzas per hour, although they once produced 128 in that period.
“It has nothing to do with fast food, other than the tempo,” he said.
His business plan is to focus on both the pizza and the truck creation, a model similar to that of Cousins Maine Lobster.
“I want to repeat that in every state,” he said.
Chef Bart said he has applied for the next First Friday and hopes to hear soon whether his application was accepted. On Jan. 31, he and the truck will be at the office of the Vegas Chamber, 575 W. Symphony Park Ave., for a ribbon-cutting and celebration with community officials from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and for the general public from 2 to 6 p.m. He can be contacted through his Instagram account, @custompizzatruck.
Chef Bart said he knew it was time to leave Poland because it is a smaller market and they’d exhausted the possibilities of the festivals. He also knew the United States was more open to an outdoor lifestyle.
“This is what America is all about,” he said. “I knew to drive the company, I had to be here.
“Basically, I’m building everything from scratch. In Las Vegas — because where else but Las Vegas?”