Glenn Eames retrieves a freshly cooked pizza from his wood-fired mobile oven. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — What could have been a traumatic day for Glenn Eames may turn out to be a day of opportunity, thanks to a unique mobile wood-fired pizza oven that Eames and his restaurateur sister Stacey researched and purchased together.
The head baseball coach at Darton State College for 16 years and the architect/builder of the two-year school’s gem of a baseball field, Eames will leave his position at the school July 31, forced out by budgetary cuts. Rather than lament the end of his two decades at Darton, though, Eames is looking into options that will bring him back to the food industry that was a family staple years ago.
One of those options involves the mobile pizza oven that Eames has taken to some 15 events since Stacey Eames decided in April it might be a beneficial complement to her seven restaurants in metro Atlanta.
“Stacey and I went out to Boulder, Colo., where we purchased the oven, for a seminar on the nuts and bolts of how to use it,” Glenn Eames said. “They took us through everything from business operations to health department licensing to how to make the pizzas. Stacey and I kind of had different ideas for the oven. She saw it as a complement to her existing restaurants, and I saw it as a mobile operation that we could take from event to event.
“I’ve been to around 15 so far and have had varying degrees of success. But, without a doubt, it’s been worth it.”
Albany pizza-lovers will have an opportunity to check out Eames’ homemade pies Saturday at the inaugural Friends of Tift Park Community Market, which will feature as many as 55 vendors and a number of entertainment opportunities. The Community Market, to be held under the oak-tree canopy in historic Tift Park, kicks off at 9 a.m. and runs to 2 p.m.
While Eames inherited his love for baseball from his legendary father, Paul Eames, he and Stacey also got a heaping dose of another family passion: cooking.
“It runs in our family,” Glenn Eames said of his and his sister’s culinary skills. “My mom and her mom always loved cooking, and both Stacey and I have great memories from our family restaurant, the Hit and Run, which we operated for 10 years before selling it.”
Stacey Eames managed marketing projects for an apartment complex after graduating college, a job that took her all over the country. On a trip to Seattle, she fell in love with the simple coffee carts that were everywhere in the city.
“Mom and dad about went nuts when Stacey came home and told them she was going to quit her job and run a coffee cart,” Glenn Eames said. “But she was determined. She set one up at Piedmont Hospital (in Atlanta) and a few months later at another hospital and then another one. Not long after that, she had enough money to open her own restaurant.”
Stacey Eames’ Highland Bakery has five Atlanta locations and was recently named one of the country’s 10 best bakeries by the Travel Channel. She also has two sandwich/smoothie shops on the Georgia Tech campus.
Glenn Eames, meanwhile, has been the primary user of the wood-fired pizza oven, which utilizes an ancient heated masonry technology that’s been updated and perfected. He makes his own dough — “Making bread is something else I really enjoy doing.” — and uses ingredients such as his own sauce made from crushed tomatoes. He’ll have pepperoni, sausage, probably hamburger, sliced onion, green peppers and mushrooms at Tift Park.
“With a mobile unit like this, it’s best to limit the choices to favorites,” he said. “When you don’t, you usually end up with a lot of excess.”
The 7- to 8-inch personal pizzas Eames makes are generally done in 4 to 5 minutes. That concept also figures into his future options.
“I’ve talked with the health department, and they asked me to write up a program on bringing the mobile pizza to a location in Albany,” he said. “The thing is, the oven doesn’t fall under the ‘food truck’ category, and it’s not a push cart, which both are covered by city ordinances. But because the pizzas cook quickly and are so inexpensive, I think there would be a market for them.”
Eames says he is also in negotiations to start a “bricks-and-mortar” restaurant in Albany, and he and Stacey are talking about operating a mobile pizza business around Lake Burton in North Georgia, where they cooked pizzas to an appreciative crowd last weekend.
“I’m going to miss being at Darton, and there will probably be days that I just go out there and cut the grass on the baseball field because that’s my baby,” he said. “But I have options that will allow me to do some other things that I love to do.
“We’ve tweaked things with the pizza oven, figured out some of the little things that make the pizzas better. It’s always going to be trial-and-error; it’s not like a controlled environment of a restaurant where things are pretty much the same (temperature wise) every day. I think we’ve about got it figured out.”
Community Market-goers will have an opportunity to decide that for themselves Saturday.