When they opened Salt Pizzeria in Parksville on the recent May long weekend, Marion and Howard Robertson had no previous experience running a pizza shop.
But they were already veterans and making and baking the product.
“We always made pizza at home,” Marion Robertson said. “That’s probably where it all started. Our son said, ‘We should be doing this.’”
Now, spurred in part by a medical crisis that led to the Robertsons’ relocation to the mid-Island from Smithers in April, they’ve moved not only their pizza-making operation, but most of the family to the new shop at 201-891 Island Hwy., just north of Wembley Centre.
Chris Robertson, the couple’s oldest son, is a chef who designed much of the menu of Salt’s hand-stretched, gourmet pizzas. He is currently the chef at Cluxewe Resort, just north of Port McNeill, said Marion, who hopes to have him back this fall when his seasonal contract is completed.
Another son, Jason, works at the Nanaimo airport, but drops in to help on days off or during other free time. Even Marion’s brother, Richard Kitsul of Nanaimo, has come on board after selling his own business in biohazard waste disposal.
Kitsul admits he has no background in food service — “No, just eating it,” he said — but believes he has all the qualifications neccesary to contribute to the family business.
“I love food,” Kitsul said. “A good cup of coffee in the morning, a good glass of wine at night, and good food in between. What could be more simple?”
The family’s pizza-making is far from simple. From the beginning, Marion said, they agreed to use fresh and natural ingredients. Each evening, they make up the next day’s batch of dough, using organic flour.
Before opening for business the next day, everyone on shift comes in to roll out and stretch the dough by hand.
“A couple of times we’ve run out, just because it got so busy,” Marion said. “We don’t freeze anything. We’ve sourced the best ingredients we can, high-end ingredients, and all our sauces are made in-house.”
She said Salt Pizzeria also avoids pre-shredded cheese, instead using high-fat cheeses including goat cheese, sheep’s feta, whipped ricotta and gorgonzola in addition to traditional mozzarella. While many of their pizza choices include familiar ingredients — there is a Hawaiian option with ham and pineapple — the offerings include vegetables like arugula, baby kale, basil and even cilantro, for the Mexican pizza.
Salt Pizzeria may be one of the only pizza shops around not offering pepperoni. But for those seeking a little spice in their life, try the Diavolo (that’s Italian for devil), with Italian sausage, the fiery Soppressata sausage, and chili flakes.
If there’s an area they truly keep it simple, it’s in offering only one size of pie, a “medium” that ranges from 12 to 14 inches in diametre, depending how the dough stretches.
Since their long weekend launch last month, the Robertsons have enjoyed a steady stream of traffic, with “really positive feedback” and word-of-mouth sharing, Marion said.
There is one large “party” table and a couple of smaller tables in the small diner, though much of the business has been take-out. Marion said they will look into the possibility of a liquor licence to be able to serve beer and wine with pizza.
The couple hail from the Okanagan Valley, where they ran a coffee shop for about eight years. “We like to think we were the inventors of breakfast bagels,” she said with a smile.
But Howard found work as an aircraft engineer, which led to a move north to Smithers for the past several years.
The two had visited Vancouver Island several times on vacation and had talked about retiring here. That timetable was moved up after Marion suffered a massive heart attack last October.
“That changed everything,” she said. “We decided we had to go now. The timing was right; we feel well-accepted in the community.”
Salt Pizzeria is open Thursday through Monday, 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., at 201-891 Island Hwy. in Parksville. Contact them by phone at 250-586-2121 or visit at www.facebook.com/saltpizzeria.