PALMER — If the early reviews are any indication, Gordon Fletcher makes one humdinger of a pizza.
Less than six weeks after opening his doors at 173 S. Valley Way in Palmer, Fletcher’s new pizza restaurant Humdinger’s Gourmet Pizza Co. is the talk of the Valley. The unique wood-fired oven and gourmet recipes have eager customers packing the joint.
“It’s been crazy,” Fletcher said of the response. “I couldn’t have imagined. My original business plan I had budgeted my sales forecast at, like, $12,000 gross sales a month. Our first month we did $35,000.”
While Palmer seems to be hungry for unique, wood-fired pizza, the early success of Humdinger’s isn’t just a happy accident, Fletcher said. He and wife Simone, who both grew up in Big Lake, began fleshing out a business plan nearly 10 years ago. That Simone’s father, Jerome Crandall, is a former restaurateur from Milwaukee, Wisc., also has been a bonus, Fletcher said.
“He was about 30 years ahead of his time,” he said of his father-in-law. “He had deck ovens, but he was doing gourmet pizzas, putting all kinds of combinations on his pizzas back in the ’80s. We’re trying to have the legacy live on a little bit here. A couple things we have on our menu we borrowed from him.”
It’s that menu that has Fletcher’s customers buzzing. It includes 14 signature gourmet pies that all start with a unique base of his twice-baked crust. He starts with fresh-made dough, hand rolls it, then bakes it once in the birch-fired oven. Then he builds the pizza and bakes it again.
“That’s the method we use,” he said. “It’s hard to compare pizzas (from a regular oven and his wood-burning one). It really is. Our method is to par-bake it, take it out and build it. That ensures that the pizza’s crisp, that it’s not going to be soggy or limp and it really stands up on its own.”
The flavor combinations at Humdinger’s are also outstanding, Fletcher’s customers rave on the restaurant’s Facebook page.
“Wow. Wanda and I just got back from our first visit to Humdinger’s and I believe the One Mean Jamaican we just had was the BEST pizza I’ve ever had in Alaska,” writes Jay Jennings. “There are a couple pieces sitting in the fridge right now and I’m trying to decide whether to sneak one now or make myself wait until tomorrow.”
The pie that impressed Jennings, the One Mean Jamaican, features chicken, red onions and pineapple on a base of sweet jerk chutney and mozzarella cheese. Another unique offering is the Hanging Ten, which features Fletcher’s homemade pineapple-habanera sauce topped with pulled barbecue pork, red onion, pineapple and coconut.
Chicken, shredded carrot, fresh cucumber and bean sprouts with a sweet chili sauce make up the Thai Chick pizza that wowed Erin Kessler.
“Your Thai Chick pizza is AMAZING!” she writes. “Best thing ever!”
Other unique offerings include the T-Rex (a meaty mountain), Super Gyro, Pizza of Brotherly Love (a Philly cheesesteak-inspired creation), Shovin’ Off to Buffalo and the Surfin’ Rancher. The Tour de Wisconsin is an ultimate cheese pizza Fletcher created in his home kitchen while making pizza for a school function for one of his three children. That puts Parmesan, mozzarella, Colby jack, feta and cream cheeses with a garlic butter sauce.
“I have one lady who said her goal is to try every pizza,” Fletcher said. “She comes in all the time. There’s another guy, Rob, who brings his colleagues in. We’re getting a lot of return customers.”
While the unique creations are tantalizing to the palette, they don’t mean anything without delivering on taste, Fletcher said. That’s why Humdinger’s uses only fresh, homemade ingredients, including sauces, pizza dough, sausage and even making the restaurant’s gyro meat mixture.
“We make our own gyro blend. It’s not the little strips of lamb you see sometimes,” he said. “We use a hamburger-lamb mix and I season it up.”
The place is also a one-of-a-kind joint that’s family-driven, Fletcher said. He and his wife planned for years to open their own restaurant, then converted a former garage bay into Humdinger’s over about eight months. Fletcher did most of the work himself, including building all the tables and chairs, and created an open kitchen where customers can see the wood-burning oven and their pizzas being made.
“It’s an open, nothing-to-hide format,” he said. “It keeps us honest. We don’t have a lot of cooler space, so we’re always buying fresh. We have no spoilage.”
The recent wet weather hasn’t dampened Palmer’s appetite for pizza, either. On Friday, the rain didn’t keep Humdinger’s from doing record business, Fletcher said, selling $2,500 worth of pizza. A typical day’s sales are about $1,200.
“I had no idea it would take off like this,” he said. “I started with two employees and now I have 13.”
With a name like Humdinger’s, though, Fletcher said the food has to be good.
“Humdinger’s is an expression that’s in the dictionary and it means something that basically wows you or leaves a lasting impression,” he said. When people eat his pizza, he wants them to say, “That’s a humdinger, there.”
Contact reporter Greg Johnson at email@example.com or 352-2269.