Father and son Bob and Alex Ciciora of Downers Grove can stand the heat in the kitchen, but don't have to, thanks to the portable brick oven they designed to take on the road for a catering business they call The Pizza Via. Bob, an airline pilot by profession, built the oven himself brick by brick, and the traveling business he helms just went full-time under the wing of Alex, who completed advanced training in the venerable art of fine pizza.
What started as a hobby meant to entertain family and friends took off as Alex's passion for cooking developed. While still in high school, he enrolled in cooking classes at the Technology Center of DuPage in Addison. At 18, he'd already launched a catering business with a friend.
“I’ve always had a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit,” he said. “I was the kid who shoveled driveways in winter and made lemonade stands in summer.”
After graduating from the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn in 2012, he went on to receive certification as a pizzaiola (a pizza chef) from the San Francisco branch of the Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli pizza school of Italy. His specialty is Neapolitan and classic Italian style pizzas.
The Pizza Via brings its portable wood-fired brick oven to events between April and November. The Cicioras note the dough and sauce are handmade and paired with fresh ingredients for flavorful pizza served buffet style.
“I’ve worked in the restaurant business since I was 16,” said Alex, now 22. “While that was fun, I love the catering business. People are getting together to celebrate and have a good time. That energy is contagious, and it’s so much fun."
A typical menu for The Pizza Via includes salads, pizza and gelato from Gelati in Naperville for dessert. From a set menu of seven to eight pizzas, such as pesto, prosciutto olive, BBQ chicken and Margherita, pizzas are pre-selected by the party host.
The oven heats to 1,000 degrees, so it only takes 90 seconds to fully bake a pizza. The pre-chosen pizzas are cooked first, and guests can request to have their favorites remade.
Even after the fire is put out, the oven provides insulated warmth for up to two days. The heat is used to bake artisan breads they sell at farmer’s markets, including the one in Burr Ridge.
They also will be on-site at the Solemn Oath Brewery in Naperville twice a month all summer, cooking individual-sized pizzas for $10. Solemn Oath’s flagship beer is infused in the pizza's barbecue sauce.
“We’d like to get to a place where we can add a portable oven every year,” said Bob Ciciora, president. “Currently, we can only cater two events a day.”
To support surrounding communities, The Pizza Via recently catered a St. Francis benefit in Wheaton pro bono, and donated a pizza party to a charity auction for St. John of the Cross school in Western Springs.
Alex, named head chef of the operation, looks forward to taking The Pizza Via on the road across the suburbs, noting, "It’s a great feeling to be able to add to someone’s celebration."
Where's the pizza?