Check out more photos of Boot and Shoe Service here.
DINE Interviewing a pizza guy: predictable banter about perfect crusts and luscious tomatoes, right? But restaurant owner Charlie Hallowell completely caught me off guard with a mouthful about life and the oven that sustains it. His new Boot and Shoe Service joint is a short walk from Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater and a neighborhood away from his other popular pizza hub, Pizzaiolo. Hallowell loves pizza, like, really loves it, and now he’s going to use it to love you.
“I want to love the shit out of [customers],” he says, chomping on his lunch amid tables covered with chairs, as the dinner-only resto fires up its oven.
Two dozen tables and bar seats and a first-come, first-served, no reservation policy, means the place has been continually packed since it opened in December. The 800-degree oven toasts the fluffy, handmade crusts a crisp golden brown with a little doughy squish in the middle. Toppings like wild arugula, Monterey Bay squid, calabrian peppers, rosemary, mint, and pancetta (all 100 percent organic) make each of the fluctuating menu choices a full-on pleasure.
The peculiar name pays homage to the building’s former shoe repair tenants and ink drawings on the walls show leggy slices wearing kicky boots. Hallowell’s intentions for the new place were pretty simple: employ some talented young cooks, hang friends’ art, sell Bourbon, play Otis Redding, and hire hot girls with tattoos to run the food. And make damn good pies.
“It’s a fucking pizza — a circle of dough with shit on top of it. But there’s something beautiful about doing something over and over again,” he says of the process of slinging pies day in and day out. Spin a little dough lasso-style, smear on the sauce, throw on some cheese … um, not quite. Hallowell says it’s about building a special relationship with the oven and the fire.
“If you’ve had a fight with your girlfriend, or you haven’t been laid in awhile, or your mom’s dying from cancer and you try to throw in a log — the log will roll off the fire, maybe it won’t catch, or it lands on a pizza,” he says. “When you’re not there and you’re not present, the pizza burns.”
Hallowell has dedicated his life to pizza — and sometimes that freaks him out. Making pizzas may feel mundane at times, but he believes that the three most important things in life — fucking, eating, and sleeping — can all have a tendency to feel that way. So he kneads in a little extra love and hopes it comes through.
“I feed people. I fuel people. I cook with love so people can keep living. They can go home after dinner and make love to their wife and look after their children. They can wake up a happy human being.”
His main concern is helping his customers relax. He tells me he’s tired of how insecure this world makes people feel and he points the blame at the male anatomy.
“It’s all about your dick. It’s all about the size of your dick,” he starts shouting at me. “Your dick isn’t big enough.” He repeats the phrase about six times, louder and louder, and when I look around to see if anyone else is put off by the phrase and the sheer volume of his voice, not one of the chefs looks up from their work.
All this insecurity, Hallowell says, is what make people question if they’re truly lovable.
“Are you lovable?” he shouts to one of his chefs.
“Hell yeah, I’m lovable!” the chef shouts back.
Hallowell turns back to me. “Your mom doesn’t love you. Your dad doesn’t love you. Your friends … ” He lists off more people in my life, locking his eyes on mine. I put my notebook over my head and jokingly mutter to the chefs, “I’m getting a little nervous and maybe this interview isn’t going as planned.”
“And this is all why I promise to love the shit out of people,” Hallowell calms down. “They deserve love and respect. The business part is for the birds.”
BOOT AND SHOE SERVICE
3308 Grand Ave., Oakl.
(510) 763 2668