Darth Vader is now making pizzas in Edina.
That’s it. That’s the whole story.
…Okay, not the whole story.
For the past three and a half years, DeLeo Bros. Pizza has served Southdale Mall shoppers and fellow mall employees homemade pizzas, calzones, and meatballs while they stare at an authentic Speak & Spell drilled to the wall. So when restaurants were forced to close their dining rooms last month, owner Nathaniel Dahlman had to think fast.
“I’ve always been one to tackle a situation in the most creative and fun way possible,” says Dahlman. While Southdale itself is closed to the public, DeLeo Bros. has been allowed to continue operating via “DeLivery” (directly through DeLeo’s and through third party services) and curbside pickup (located between P.F. Chang’s and Cheesecake Factory).
“It’s been something of an opportunity for us to get to know the area here in Edina and Bloomington instead of just handling the mall traffic,” he continues.
But besides offering handmade Italian specialties with fresh ingredients, Dahlman knew he needed to find and deliver fun to customers.
Enter: Darth Vader.
“A lot of places were doing pizza spinning kits, so I started thinking about what we could do to make it more unique.”
For $10, customers get everything they need to make their own pizza at home: dough for the crust, olive oil, sauce, cheese, and pepperoni. But they also get their very own pizza spinning class to boot. As part of the experience, Dahlman schedules a Zoom session where he demonstrates the art of throwing dough and crafting the perfect pizza, while sharing some very important safety rules applicable to pizza as well as everything else in the world right now.
“Before we begin, we go through all of the rules,” he explains. “Wash your hands, don’t lick your fingers, no tasting the cheese while you’re putting the pizza together. Stuff like that.”
And the motivation to add the Master of the Dark Side to the mix? His son, naturally.
“My son was with me in the restaurant one day doing his school online, and I told him to turn on the webcam and I put on the Darth Vader mask and did a little tutorial for the kids,” Dahlman says. “I showed them how to make pizza using The Force and decided that would be pretty fun to do for customers too.”
Dahlman was right. In the past few weeks, he’s already hosted several personal Zoom sessions for individual families, and kids of all ages. But his toughest test will happen later this week.
“We’ve got a nursing home signed up for one this week,” he says. “It’ll be about 30 seniors and they all have their own apartments, so the staff is going to deliver the pizza kits and they’re all going to sign in at the same time [for] a class.”
Fortunately for those who would be distracted by his evil presence and awesome powers, Vader is an optional part of the experience.
“I start off by going to get ‘The Master’ to show people how to spin the pizza at the beginning, but it’s kind of hard to see through the mask so then I take it off and do the rest of the class myself.”
Wow, thanks for the spoiler, Nathaniel.
While Dahlman has been holding Zoom classes for just a few weeks, the idea of pizza spinning classes is something DeLeo Bros. has been “tossing” around for a while.
“Before all of this [Coronavirus! Quarantine! Animal Crossing!] I was doing pizza spinning birthday parties,” Dahlman says. “The child gets a chef’s hat and an apron, and then we take the kids five at a time and show them how to spin their own pizzas.”
Dahlman thinks that once the stay-at-home order ends, his added exposure and additional emphasis on takeout and delivery may actually help grow the business even more. He might even pull in some other famous friends to help him keep up with the demand.
“I’ve been getting a lot of comments and questions, so maybe I’ll have to add some new characters,” he says. “Cookie Monster, the Swedish Chef from the Muppets, I’ll even dress up as Belle from Beauty and the Beast if that’s who kids want to see making pizzas.”
Proof once again that not all heroes wear capes. But some do, and they might also make pizza.