It’s awfully difficult to come up with new specials every week. Iechyd Da owner Summer Lewis says she wasn’t entirely serious when she first suggested handing that responsibility over to brewery employees for a few weeks and letting them see who could come up with the best new dish.
But the more she thought about it, the better her off-hand idea sounded.
“I needed a break from coming up with the specials every week, so I was going to divvy it out to other people,” Lewis said. “And I was like, how do we make it fair? Because people want their hand in it a little bit.”
And what’s more fair than a food fight? The first competition began last spring with just a few simple rules: the staff was split into teams of two, and each week two teams would put their own specials on the menu and see which one got more orders. At the end of the week, the winning team would get a cash prize, and the best-selling item from the entire competition would stay on the menu all summer.
“It was surprising how into it our employees got,” Lewis said. “They trashed talked, they were so competitive. And then our customers really got into it. It’s really funny. They’re like, ‘What’s next week?’”
The contest was so successful that the Iechyd Da staff is bringing the idea back for fall. But this time, there are special parameters: every team must design a pizza using the signature fall ingredient assigned to their week.
“Last time when we did it, it was a free-for-all, and it was such a wide net that it was hard for people to get narrowed in,” Lewis said. “And I said, ‘All right, we’re going to do it with a fall harvest theme,’ because we wanted to use some local ingredients.”
But even in those strict guidelines, there is plenty of room for delicious creativity. In the first week, the “Beet Your Heart Out Pizza” (made with beet pesto, kale, goat cheese, portobello mushrooms and mozzarella cheese) defeated the “Downtown Beet Down Pizza” (an egg frittata of roasted beets, Parmesan, goat cheese, red pepper, wasabi arugula and a porter reduction baked on a pizza) by six orders. Lewis said both pizzas were ordered more than 40 times despite beets’ reputation as an unappetizing ingredient.
“Beet week was tough — it was the first week of competition, and beets are a hard sell,” Lewis said. “I was surprised; you couldn’t have had two more different pizzas. And it was good! I was very impressed.”
Alyse Hansel said she and her partner, Corey Patterson, ran through numerous savory options before deciding to go with a brunch-inspired frittata pizza.
“I was excited. A lot of people don’t really like beets, but me and Corey both really like them, so we were pumped right out of the gate,” Hansel said. “But we knew it was going to be difficult — I don’t see beets on pizza too often. We knew it was going to be challenging for customers.”
Last week, apples took center stage, as an apple-barbecue-chicken creation titled “How Do You Like Those BBQ Apples” beat out the “Apple of My Pie” pizza, which was topped with onions, gorgonzola, candied bacon and pecans alongside chunks of apple.
Butternut squash-infused pizzas are on the menu this week, one featuring roasted chicken and bacon and another incorporating apple sage chicken sausage and a cider vinegar and beer drizzle.
“They’re using similar ingredients but changing the flavor profile, so it’s going to be similar but different enough that that’s going to be an interesting week to watch,” Lewis said.
Lewis and Hansel said they’re excited to see how the final two groups handle their secret ingredients, which are cauliflower and cabbage.
“I’m amazed that people are using the exact same ingredients and they’re coming up with such great different pizzas,” Lewis said. “It’s really in spicing it and the way you cook it, the way you prepare it, and they’re having a blast.”
And while Hansel was a little disappointed her pizza lost in Week 1, she said she wants each team’s creation to go over well with customers.
“We definitely have some competitive energy in the building,” Hansel said. “But we want all of our customers to like all of our food and be happy, so we really want all of the pizzas to do well.”