Josh Schainbaum, an Orthodox Jew, wears a double head covering when he’s working inside his food truck, Fire Eaters. But the hat and white towel are not for God or the food inspectors — at least not entirely.
“I need a couple layers of baffling” to avoid heat stroke from the wood-fired oven that can reach 1,000˚, said Schainbaum, a 46-year-old from Northeast Philadelphia.
Schainbaum battles the heat in order to bring pizzas to fellow observant Jews who otherwise might be stranded in a kosher food desert like Yardley.
But the beauty of pizza, he said, is that it’s also “the type of food product that I could sell to anyone.” Contrast that to a concept like Burger.org, a kosher chain in Philadelphia and New Jersey, where, he asserted, “you run into the obvious problem of ‘Where’s my cheeseburger?’ ”
Schainbaum, an entrepreneur who previously had been involved with tech startups and a sunglasses import business, opened Fire Eaters in May 2013 under the supervision of Community Kashrus of Greater Philadelphia.
So far, he’s spent most of his time vending and catering out of the truck. But eventually, he said, he expects most of his business to come from selling frozen pizzas in grocery stores. Currently, Fire Eaters pizza can be found at the Creekside (Elkins Park), Weaver’s Way (Chestnut Hill and West Mount Airy) and Mariposa (West Philly) Co-ops.
“My biggest payoff is when someone is eating the product and I can see they enjoy it,” he said, speaking between a steady flow of customers.
Before opening Fire Eaters, Schainbaum built a small wood-fired oven in his backyard, first baking European-style hearth breads, then moving on to pizzas and hosting parties with friends.
“I built that oven and then I didn’t want to come in the house anymore; I just wanted to be out there,” said Schainbaum, a father of four.
So he built a commercial version covered in mosaic tiles for his newest venture. Inside the trailer attached to his truck, he works like a craftsman, stoking the fire and shaping the dough just right. He carefully extracts the finished pies from the oven, making sure that the only blisters are the ones around the edges of the soft crust.
His 12-inch pizzas, which rely on traditional ingredients like basil, garlic and mozzarella, are more commercially viable than breads, he said, but he’d like to sell those one day, too.
For now, he has been offering the pies a few days a week in Cherry Hill and Yardley. (You can follow the truck on its Facebook page or Fireeaters.mobi.) While having a truck allows greater flexibility, he said, he still “can’t go wherever” he wants with it. He has run into ordinance issues in parts of Philadelphia, and his truck and trailer take up more space than many others.
Rabbi Binyomin Mermelstein of Bensalem Jewish Outreach Center stopped by the truck, stationed at a Yardley farmers’ market, on a recent afternoon. He had just found out about it in an email and wanted to try the pizza before recommending it to his community.
“It’s great for Jewish people to have kosher pizza in Bucks County because we don’t have many establishments here,” he said. “Judaism should always be associated with pleasant and good, that’s what it’s about, that’s what kosher products are about, and that’s what I think they are trying to do here.”
Linda Greenberg, a pediatrician, and her 6-year-old daughter Abigail, drove from their Yardley home to pick up a pie, which are made to order. Abigail said she likes that she can get “a only white pizza with no tomato sauce.”
Other speciality offerings include a baby spinach and roasted portobello pizza and a marinara pizza sans cheese.
“Neapolitans say a pizza is like a sunny day, and a pizza with cheese is like a sunny day with a few clouds,” Schainbaum said.
Aside from accommodating dietary needs, Greenberg said, the fact that Schainbaum’s food is kosher brings people together.
“A kosher food truck is inclusive of everyone in the community,” said Greenberg, who belongs to the Conservative Congregation Beth El in Yardley and keeps kosher herself. “If it is not kosher, it excludes some Jews.”