Editor’s note: Last month, the Reporter featured several Issaquah families in business. Today, we give you a glimpse of two Plateau family businesses.
When all four Salmeri men are in the kitchen together at Pine Lake Pizzeria, it can get a little crazy, to say the least.
“It’s controlled havoc,” Andrew Salmeri said of working with his three sons, Joe, 28, Brandon, 26 and Drew, 18.
On many evenings, Andrew will be working with the dough, Drew will be on the “make” line and Joe and Brandon will be working the ovens.
“You’ve got four Italians in a little space,” Andrew said, and the four joked that their hectic kitchen would make a great reality show.
“If you didn’t know us, in the heat of battle — it might be a little scary,” Joe said, with a bit of a wicked grin.
Andrew was a fisherman in Alaska for 27 years, before helping launch the Tony Maroni pizza chain. Andrew was the landlord for the Kirkland Tony Maroni’s, then later opened his own location in Renton. When Joe was a sophomore at Issaquah, he worked at the Pine Lake Tony Maroni’s for several years, and the owner asked whether Andrew and his family would like to buy the restaurant.
“Joe said, ‘Dad, this is what I want to do,’” Andrew said, so the family decided to go for it. They purchased the store in 2000, and changed the name to Pine Lake Pizzeria.
“A lot of people said (changing the name) was a bad idea, but we took a chance and it’s made it for us,” Andrew said. “Our business has almost doubled since the name change.
The restaurant delivers to a five-mile radius. About 68 percent of orders are deliveries, with the rest as carry out.
Asked whether they ever get tired of pizza, the four men smile.
“When I’m hungry, I’ll always eat pizza,” Joe said.
They’ve helped develop specialties such as the Polynesian that Brandon came up with because he doesn’t like onions, cheesy bread and calzone offerings. Not everything works, they add — pastas were deemed a “flop,” and dropped from the menu.
The “baby” of the family, Drew, is headed off to study mechanical engineering at the University of Portland this week, so his departure will knock the family foursome to three.
“I really like the atmosphere here,” Drew said. “And, it’s better than having an actual boss.”
Aside from the fun vibe, dedicated employees and loyal customers, the family attributes their success to the fact that they refuse to skimp on quality ingredients.
“There are three things you need to make a great pizza: dough, sauce and cheese,” Andrew said. “The hardest one of the three to get right is dough.”
To tackle that problem, they worked with a Seattle company over the course of a year to develop “Pizza Perfect,” a product containing flour, spices and yeast. The premixed product cut their dough-making process significantly. Now, they add water, mix, and then let the dough rise in refrigerated trays for four days.
“There’s a lot more science in it than people realize,” Andrew said.
To bake their “perfect” dough, the Salmeris special-order gas deck ovens from an old Italian family in New York. Andrew says that’s a significant departure from the conveyor-style ovens that many pizzerias use today.
“It’s a real art working these ovens,” Joe said. All four men lifted their forearms to show off burns from the ovens, which burn at 600 degrees.
The family has talked about whether to add another store or expand someday, but haven’t made any definite decision, Andrew said.
“I’ve learned that more isn’t always better.”