It’s never too late to make a dream come true or start a new career. It may sound cliché, but in this case, the story justifies the risk. Example: Steve Taylor, owner of Pyra Pizzeria in Norwalk.
After spending nearly three decades working for United Airlines, Taylor began dreaming of what else he would do with his life while laid off after 9/11. “I did a little self-reflection and decided that I didn’t just want to look for another career by working for another company if my current career ended permanently,” Taylor said. “So I thought about what I had enjoyed in life and fondly remembered working at a pizza place in Ames during college.”
After being recalled to his position at United, he spent the next 12 years working on pizza recipes whenever he got the chance. And when his layoff became permanent after a merger, he finally decided to take the first step to owning his own business.
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“I decided to approach the owner of the Norwalk hardware store and ask if he was interested in selling the building. I had my eye on it for years,” Taylor said. Fortunately the owner was interested and Taylor and another former United colleague spent the next year and a half gutting and renovating the 120-year-old brick-and-mortar building.
“I always thought this would make a great restaurant in line with so many others you find in towns where you find old warehouse districts full of quaint shops and restaurants. The kind with bare brick walls and kitschy interiors,” Taylor said. “I think it worked well for that. We didn’t really have a plan. We just cleared it. And reconstruct it as you see it. I tell people we’re out of money and that’s why it stays in the “unfinished” state it seems to be in. I get reactions of “Oh wow, you wouldn’t want to change that”. He added, “I let them know I was joking. Oh why? Because I’m a little crazy.
Mad? Maybe. Keen? Undoubtedly.
Taylor originally planned to serve American-style thin-crust pizza, but he knew the building called for something unique. So he and his wife decided to take a little trip to Phoenix, Arizona to visit a place called Pizzeria Bianco.
“Chris Bianco is a James Beard award-winning chef,” Taylor said. “It was named America’s Best Pizza by Peter Reinhart, author of ‘The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread,’ in his subsequent book ‘American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza.’ if this was the best pizza in America, we better try it.
After determining that it was indeed a great pizza, Taylor knew that was what he needed to serve. “On the way home, I leaned over to my wife and said, ‘It was just Neapolitan pizza. I know how to do that.'”
The decision was made that day to import an open flame wood-fired oven from Italy, from where they also import their flour and tomatoes.
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Neapolitan pizza is known as the “father of all pizzas” and has its origin story in Naples, Italy, where legend says King Umberto I and Queen Margherita enjoyed their first slice of pizza there in 1889. The queen preferred her pizza with the simple combination of mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, which is why it is now called Margherita pizza. It also represents the colors of the Italian flag, with its red sauce, white cheese and green basil.
“Believe it or not, the Margherita is our most popular [pizza]”, explains Taylor. “After that, of course, comes the pepperoni. Then, anything with Graziano sausage is always popular. We have a wonderful house white sauce that is also very popular. alfredo that you often find on white pizzas. It’s loaded with garlic and onion, and that’s all I can say about it. We had another pizzeria who tried, ahem, “d’ acquire” the recipe. We keep it closely monitored.
Pyra Pizzeria has been named the winner of the 2022 Des Moines Radio Group Des Moines Best Gold Pizza, showing that it’s never too late to start (or perfect) a new career.
Address: 729 Main Street, Norwalk
Call: (515) 981-5353
Distance from downtown Des Moines: 8 miles
Hours: 4.30pm-8pm Tuesday to Wednesday; 11am-8pm Thursday; 11am-9pm Friday to Saturday; 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sunday. It is closed between 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday.
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In addition to pizza: Pizza isn’t the only thing they serve (although trying it is an absolute must). “We also serve an assortment of baked sandwiches, artisan salads, and a homemade lasagna that we make with Graziano sausage,” says Taylor. “We also have a very popular gluten-free crust as well as something we call our ‘keto bowl’ – a crustless pizza. Homemade apple crisp, brownies and a little something we call our “grasshopper” dessert. I won’t try to describe it. We go through a lot!
The name: The original name of the settlement now known as Norwalk was Pyra. “We didn’t really choose a name until very late in the process. A close friend of mine suggested calling it Pyra because of its historical value. I wasn’t crazy about the name at first, but another person messaged me on Facebook suggesting the same name. We decided to go for it,” Taylor said.
Drinks : Pyra offers 10 beers on tap, including a few local brews like Firetrucker’s Burnout Brown and Peace Tree’s Red Rambler. They also serve beer by the bottle or glass and an assortment of wines by the glass or bottle.
While you’re there: With gas prices, Pyra Pizzeria is a perfect “getaway” that won’t even cost you a full tank of gas. Norwalk is close to Des Moines amenities like the Blank Park Zoo and a short distance from downtown, but also has its own lures. Get away from city life and head to Rose Farm on 25 sprawling acres. Take a class, pick a bouquet of flowers, do some yoga, taste some fresh honey or bring home some farm-fresh eggs. Find everything Rose Farm has to offer at rosefarmstead.com.