BERRIEN SPRINGS — Pizza, exotic toppings, ice cream, sandwiches, salads and in-town delivery.
The Uptown Pizza Co. will be offering that and more at its new location in downtown Berrien Springs.
Owners Keith Hauch and Roger Johnson opened the new pizza parlor Feb. 11 at 100 East Ferry St., next door to Johnson’s existing restaurant called AJ’s Uptown Bar and Grill. Uptown Pizza is open seven days a week and offers eat-in and takeout options. Johnson previously operated Wolf’s Prairie Grill and Bar in the Uptown Pizza location. It closed in 2015.
Hauch said the new restaurant has proved popular with residents in its first few weeks of business including a couple of days where they sold close to 100 pizzas.
“The response has been awesome,” he said.
He credits in large part the ingredients they use including the pizza dough. “We make our own dough,” he said. “People say that our crusts are light and airy.”
The secret behind their pizza crusts is the brick-fired oven they use to bake their 14-inch pizzas.
Hauch said he and Johnson had been thinking about opening a pizza place for about a year and began seriously working on getting everything ready last summer. While Johnson has a background as a contractor and restaurant owner, Hauch’s main food experience came from operating a hot dog cart for a couple of years at area breweries and wineries.
They also credit local resident Willard Gustavsen for lending his expertise. He ran a pizza parlor/coffee shop in Buchanan several years ago and also invented a pizza oven that uses two baking stones.
“It’s been a learning and growing experience to find the right dough and right sauce,” Hauch said. “We trained for a month, but it’s still different to make the pizzas while people are watching and staring. Overall, it’s been a lot of fun getting to know more people in the community.”
Right now, the restaurant is concentrating on offering homemade pizza and six flavors of Hudsonville ice cream, including Superman, cookie dough, chocolate and vanilla. Their goal is to add salads and sandwiches in the future. The sandwiches will use the same pizza dough baked in pita shapes for the bread.
They’re experimenting as well with specialty items such as taco pizzas, dessert apple, cherry and peach pizzas and breakfast pizzas. “We continue to experiment with new flavors,” he said. “We also plan to offer gluten free pizzas.”
People can choose marinara, creamy alfredo, garlic and olive oil and ranch dressing as the base for their pizza and then add toppings. Toppings include a wide variety of vegetables, mushrooms, olives, pineapple, Italian sausage, pepperoni, bacon, ham and chicken.
They hope to add delivery service in coming weeks and months. “We’ll likely do Berrien Springs and the surrounding area,” he said. “It will be around 5 miles out or as far as we can go and keep the pizza hot.”
Johnson said they chose the “Uptown Pizza Co.” name to connect branding with his restaurant next door, which has become a destination place for many in the area. “When we named AJ’s after our grandson, people would say ‘let’s go uptown to AJ’s’ so we decided to keep with the Uptown theme,” he said.
The two restaurants are open to each other and people can order menu items from Uptown Pizza when they’re in AJ’s, and vice versa. “There are some who won’t go into a bar but will come in here (Uptown Pizza) and then they peek in to AJ’s,” he said.
“Creating different options is the secret to being successful,” he said. “We opened Uptown Pizza because we felt it was something the town needed.”
Johnson’s future plans include opening up an open air, rooftop higher-end restaurant above AJ’s, and expanding the vintage themed decorations inside Uptown Pizza. While AJ’s features a vintage car theme, Uptown Pizza will have a bicycle and wheel theme and décor. He also plans to use iPads so servers can swipe people’s cards at their table.