Derek Lucchese started by baking bread in a conventional oven, a friend of a friend recommended a book about how to bake in a brick oven. He was baking for friends and delivering it around town, where they lived at the time in Thompson Man.
When Derek and his wife moved to Thunder Bay, they heard of the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minn., — a school that teaches traditional crafts.
“The guy who wrote the book was teaching a workshop there, and we had just moved here so I thought, I’ve got to take this workshop,” he says.
When he returned from the course he was inspired to build his own brick oven on his rural property. So he started baking bread in his newly built brick oven for the Thunder Bay Country Market.
“After about four years of doing that, I built the portable brick oven and I started doing pizzas at the market as well,” he says.
The pizzas were popular but Lucchese found the market was a bit early in the day for people to eat a fresh baked pizza.
The book, “Wheat Belly” came out around 2010, which he cites for the bread sales at the market dropping a little. They decided to take the business in a different direction and started their own restaurant. They opened Both Hands Wood-Fired Pizzeria & Bakery in 2014.
“Bread was how I built the business, but really the pizza was how we kept going," he says. "The bread was an anchor that brought my customer base in.”
Customer feedback for the brick oven pizzas has been very positive. Both Hands uses local flour and about a third of the cheese used comes from Thunder Oak. In the summer, when they are in season, they get DeBruins famous tomatoes. Certain topping like olives and artichokes have to be sourced from elsewhere but they are mostly purchased through Agostino's Deli and their sausages are made from Sandy Acres Farm pork.
“The things we can locally get year round, we do,” he says.
They recently launched a pizza of the month feature, where people can vote online for their favourite flavour combinations. They’ve also launched a membership program, where people can buy a membership to get either six months of the special pizza or a year's worth, called “Pizza out of the Box.” They also have contests in Facebook where customers can suggest toppings and they will test them out. Both Hands is also now available for local delivery on Skip the Dishes.
Their frozen pizzas are quick and easy to bake at home. Available at specialty food shops all over Thunder Bay and beyond including: The Cheese Encounter, Maltese, George’s Market, Kelly’s Nutrition, Agostino’s Deli, West Fort Foods, Superior Seasons in Good’s and Co, (also available to order online with Superior Seasons weekly delivery service) Dawson General Store, Odena Foods in Kakabeka Falls, Zechner’s Food in Nipigon and in the summer time the Silver Islet Store in Sibley — great for local cottagers looking for a quick, easy and healthy dinner.
Lucchese also wants to highlight their pay-what-you-can-for-a-slice program, something that is close to their heart and reflects the spirit of their business.
“Anyone can come in, with no questions asked, and have a slice of pizza and choose how much they want to pay. They can get a fresh slice in a way that doesn’t challenge their dignity and makes them feel welcome.”
Both Hands Wood-Fired Pizzeria & Bakery was recently named Thunder Bay’s No. 1 place for a pizza by the Walleye Magazine. Their eatery is located at 297 Park Avenue in Thunder Bay. They are open Wednesday from noon to 8 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday from noon to 9 p.m.
Check out their website for more details, and be sure to go to their Facebook page for updates on their promotions and delectable pizza varieties, including gluten free options and plain frozen pizza crusts to make your own creation at home.