Restaurant owners have been struggling during the pandemic as health regulations and social distancing measures have shut down dining rooms, but the owners of the Three Boars restaurant group have found innovative ways to survive and thrive.
Three Boars on 109th Street was a small restaurant serving small plates, craft cocktails and beer when COVID-19 hit. Co-owner and chef Brayden Kozak says that, as the pandemic took hold in March of 2020, he and co-owner Brian Welch made the decision to close the restaurant’s doors the same day as the government mandated a shutdown.
“We closed down… kind of anticipating a much longer shutdown,” Kozak says. “We initially closed Three Boars with the intentions of providing a Three Boars-at-home experience.”
But Kozak and Welch quickly decided offering small plates to go might not pay the bills. As it happened, Kozak had been experimenting with square, thick-crust Detroit-style pizza at home with the possibility of a pop-up night at the restaurant somewhere down the road. They decided to start slinging pizzas out of the Three Boars kitchen and High Dough was born.
The turnaround was tight. The Three Boars dining room closed on March 17 and the first pizzas went out on April 1 — impressive considering Kozak’s at-home tinkering hadn’t yet yielded a dough recipe he was happy with.
“[In the] two weeks or a week and a half leading up to our first day open up to the public, I made two different dough recipes a day at home,” Kozak says with a laugh. “My wife was very supportive.”
Eventually he found the dough he was happy with. Kozak started making Detroit-style pizzas at home in the first place because he likes thicker crust pizzas — a preference he credits to his dad, who would make rectangular pizza. But that wasn’t all that attracted him to the rectangular pizza.
“I liked the squared edges. I really enjoy pizza that has cheese all the way to the crust and you get that really crispy, super cooked, caramelized cheese,” Kozak says, also pointing out that very few restaurants in Edmonton serve Detroit-style pizza.
Despite that — or maybe because of it — Edmontonians have had a strong positive response to the chef’s pies. High Dough started with only 13 or 14 pizza pans, but Kozak says he has had to order many more, and while the restaurant started with 30 or 40 balls of dough a night, it now goes through 100 — and that’s only because it’s the maximum number that can be accommodated in a single pizza oven.
“If it’s packed — and we try not to pack it just because it drops the temperature and it really kind of hurts the cook on the pizzas — you can fit 12 pans,” Kozak explains.
To accommodate as many orders as possible each night, High Dough’s staff use a spreadsheet to schedule the pizzas to go through the oven as efficiently as possible. Kozak says that means there’s no point showing up early for your order. If your order is for 5:15 p.m., it will be ready at 5:15 p.m.
With the pandemic dragging on and no idea when the Three Boars dining room might safely reopen, Kozak says he and Welch are now focused on High Dough and Farrow (see sidebar) and their futures. They’d like to be able to fill more orders and turn their Uber on for delivery more often than they currently do, but also need to think about what High Dough’s success will mean for Three Boars.
“We can’t just close High Dough because we can host people in our restaurant and reopen Three Boars. I mean, we have a very viable business already functioning out of it and, without having a space to move High Dough, we can’t reopen Three Boars without killing High Dough,” Kozak says.
With High Dough successfully turning out pizzas, Kozak and Welch turned their attention to yet another challenge. Their downtown gourmet burger restaurant, Wishbone, was not doing as well as they’d hoped.
“We tried staying open after the pandemic had hit and doing some takeout and stuff with that restaurant, but we were just finding that it was a tough sell restaurant to begin with,” Kozak says.
Specifically, Kozak says the restaurant’s second-floor location didn’t work. Customers told them that it was hard to find.
In the summer of 2020, they made the decision to shut the restaurant down, but the closure also represented an opportunity. Along with two other partners, Kozak and Welch also own the small chain of Farrow restaurants. The Ritchie location on 76th Avenue was, until recently, where all of the production was done, including pastries, sandwiches and catering. Kozak says that after they opened a third Farrow location on 124th Street, that kitchen became too small for the amount of food it was producing.
Rather than dwelling on what they’d lost, the partners seized the opportunity to relocate their pastry production and opened a fourth Farrow location in the old Wishbone space.
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This article appears in the May 2021 issue of Edify