Last spring, while quarantined with his family at his Connecticut home, Wylie Dufresne decided to put his pizza oven to use. He’d been responsible for feeding the four adults and four kids in the house, isolated and relying on delivered ingredients or efficient trips to the supermarket to keep everyone satiated.
“It was a full blown lockdown, and I was cooking for eight every night. I was trying to think of fun things to do,” Dufresne recalls. After shutting the doors at his most recent venture, Du’s Donuts, early into the COVID-19 crisis, he wasn’t necessarily looking for a new business concept, but that’s exactly what he got. His unused pizza oven became a source of joy, inspiration, and eventually, entrepreneurship: Dufresne launched his first-ever pizza venture, Stretch Pizza, out of Manhattan’s Breads Bakery this April.
“Pizza saved me mentally in this last year. It was something to wrap my head around” Dufresne says. “From a work and creativity perspective, I didn’t have a lot to do.” Rather than scrolling through TikTok endlessly, Dufresne fell down a different rabbit hole: Pizza making. As a father, he felt a responsibility to feed his family, and also bring some joy in the food that was sustaining his loved ones day after quarantined day. He started by using the King Arthur pizza crust recipe, and wove in his own technique and various research, from there. Like doughnuts, he says pizza is deceptively simple, but hard to perfect.
“It became an obsession pretty quickly,” Dufresne says. “There was always opportunity to keep learning.” This intense focus kept Dufresne sane in the craziest period of the twenty-first century. He started trying to understand pizza from a very technical level, focusing on the details to keep his brain occupied. Being most familiar with New York-style pies, that’s the style he chose to focus on. He estimates he has photos of over 700 pizzas he baked during quarantine, and is now ready to share the highlights with New Yorkers.
“It’s a dangerous business getting into pizza in New York City,” Dufresne says. “You’re putting a target on your back.” Dufresne is just one of many, many acclaimed chefs who have pivoted to pizza and comfort food in our time of takeout-friendly need. Near Breads Bakery, Dan Kluger recently launched Washington Squares Pizza in the West Village.
The relationship with Bread Bakery helped Dufresne further strengthen the pizza program and get his menu for Stretch Pizza ready to distribute. “They have a great knowledge of dough,” Dufresne says.
Those who are familiar with Dufresene’s edible repertoire won’t be disappointed by the way he melds humor and deliciousness on a classic 12-inch New York pie. Stretch, named for the technique of stretching dough to craft the pie on, is inspired by local Greenmarket incredients and city flavors. An Everything Bagel Pizza is topped with cream cheese, aged mozzarella, everything bagel spice and chives and a calzone is stuffed with scrambled eggs, muenster cheese, american cheese and scallions,
“Pizzas are both a nod to New York City in a traditional sense and an acknowledgement of my culinary past and the high art of dough making,” Dufresne says. “Hats off to the pizzaiolos who came before us and make it look easy.
Stretch Pizza is open for takeout at Breads Bakery, 18 East 16th Street (between 5th Avenue & Union Square West), from Tuesday – Thursday, 5 – 8 p.m. Pre-order via Tock.