Fireside Pies is not an Italian restaurant, and despite its steady expansion, don't you dare call it a chain. That's right, the gourmet pizza joint in a rustic cottage on Henderson has expanded since its inception in 2004 to five different locations across the Metroplex, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Known for creative combinations and high-end ingredients, Fireside Pies offers unexpected options for meatatarians and their herbivore companions alike.
Each Fireside Pies location is headed by a managing partner who helps foster and support their respective store's distinguishing identity, one that arises from the particular neighborhood each store calls home. Fort Worth managing partner Amanda McFarland sat down with us at the Henderson store recently, and Henderson Avenue partner Heather Cary added a little pizzazz while working out her weekly inventory.
Would you say you are ... passionate about pizza?
Amanda McFarland: I eat pizza every single day. Absolutely! Whether we're trying new flavors or just having dinner, it's every day. I went on vacation not too long ago and was in San Francisco, so of course I hit up several different pizza places to give it a try. You can't leave it alone. Pizza can be so different, and so I never get tired of it.
There are now five locations since the original store opened on Henderson in 2004, but anyone who hasn't visited more than one Fireside Pies store might be surprised that each has its own "feel." Would you say is the biggest factor that makes them a cohesive brand?
AM: Each location does have a different feel — each location has a different managing partner, and they're each in very different neighborhoods. So this one is in Knox-Henderson, for instance, and it is what Knox-Henderson is. It's all about the particular identity of the respective neighborhoods that makes a Fireside Pies unique. All of our menus are slightly different, with Fort Worth being the most different because it's newest. But, our standards and our quality and our attention to detail in our product are cohesive. We never back away from quality — if it's going to cost us a little bit more, we go ahead and do it. That was a very hard mindset to get used to, coming from other places. For example, we're doing a lardo pie in Fort Worth right now. The first lardo I ordered was from Boccalone in San Francisco, and it was wonderful and beautiful — it's the top quality. We were having some problems getting it, and so I'd ordered some from different salami makers all over the U.S. and they just weren't as good, so we just didn't run it while we couldn't get the Boccalone. The others were even less expensive, but it's just not the same. If it's amazing and wonderful, then that's what we're going to use.
It's amazing that [Tristan Simon, owner of Consilient Restaurant Group] gives us so much responsibility as managing partners, because it really instills a sense of ownership. There's a real sense of trust and that we'll do whatever is best for the restaurant as if it were our own — it absolutely is.
But, even though we each have our own store, we're always working together and we all have special projects. Like, the Grapevine manager handles the wine list, and I oversee the cocktail menus for all the locations. We put together a list of pre-prohibition cocktails with modern twists and listen to our bartenders when they've created something new we see if it fits and if it's in our voice.
How would you describe that voice?
AM: Modern rustic. This restaurant [Henderson] will never change — it was our first location and it stays with the pies that were originally on the menu. It will stay this style. This store is a little different and it will always be. It's an intimate dining experience. But, any time you walk into a Consilient restaurant we want guests to be aware that they're in a Consilient restaurant based on the professionalism and atmosphere. Hibiscus is obviously going to be a little different from Fireside, but you should still recognize that signature level of quality and service.
Fort Worth, for example, is a little more reserved than Henderson. And, we had our architect out of LA create it — people walk in and think it's very different. But, every location should still have a very professional, knowledgeable, gracious staff. There will always be that bar we're raising.
Heather Cary: Henderson's a little more laid back. More urban, hip, young. Our Inwood location is super-family oriented with tons of kids that's busy from 5 to 8. Busy, busy, busy and then it slows down. [Henderson] is busy from 8 to midnight, go, go, go. We probably sell the most alcohol — well, Fort Worth sells a lot of alcohol as well. We sell only about $200 per month in sodas and teas. Plano tends to have more young professionals.
Is there a turf war among the neighborhoods?
HC: No, no. It's all just fun and play. We want our guests to visit all the Firesides and see every location because they're all a little different and you get a different feeling everywhere.
You don't take reservations — in general, what would you say is the wait on, say, Saturday night at 7:30?
AM: Each location differs. The Henderson and the Fort Worth locations are going to be the most challenging. In Fort Worth we have parking garages in the West 7th area that are dedicated to the shops. Here on Henderson, Consilient takes care of the valet so that parking is at its maximum.
HC: Average wait on a Saturday [at Henderson] is 45 minutes to an hour. Sometimes it goes up to an hour and fifteen, but not often.
AM: And, then in Fort Worth it's typically 45 to an hour and a half. We always tell our guests — the reason we don't take reservations is because our restaurants are so small. We accommodate as many guests as possible, so it's better for in the long run. It's hard because we always want to go out of our way to take care of our guests, and when I stared with Consilient they told me that "Your job is to protect the guests."
From the front door to the service side at the table to the quality of the food, absolutely, that's my job.
So, that's what makes it so hard to tell our guests they sometimes have to wait an hour. And, we don't seat incomplete parties. It's always a fine line and a gray area, making the judgment call in trying to run the restaurant efficiently while also keeping our guests happy. It really upsets me when I can't make someone happy.
So when would you say is the best time to avoid a long wait?
AM: Mondays and Tuesdays are great, and on the earlier side at 5 p.m. when we open. And, in Fort Worth we're opening for lunch in mid-June. That's something new, so they'll be able to come see us at midday as well and it will open up another opportunity.
What can you say about the expansion rumors?
AM: There are no official plans, but we have looked at places in Atlanta, Houston, Washington DC. It's exciting that we're growing. We have people come in all the time and say, "Can you please open one here or there."
You've said that the Fort Worth location is the model to replicate when Fireside Pies expands outside the Metroplex. How would you describe it and the direction in which the brand is moving?
AM: When we went to open that location, we decided to use all of the feedback our guests have ever given us and anything we've ever wanted to improve about Fireside Pies. We made our crusts lighter, thinner, crispier and just pushed everything forward. We started making all of our own sausages in-house. So we now make a lamb sausage and a chicken sausage. And it's worked out really well. Fort Worth is now our busiest location.
What is your favorite Fireside Pie?
AM: Ooh, that's a hard one. I have two, can I have two? My favorite that's currently on our menu is only available at the Fort Worth location right now is called the Iberian Pie and it's a soffritto base, rather than a typical ragu, and it has fennel salami, manchego, green olives, fresh yellow tomatoes. Something that other locations are trying as well is the lamb sausage pie. It's been very successful — fresh tomato ragu, smoked provolone from Italy, our house-made lamb sausage, julienne jalapenos and oven-dried tomatoes.
So, some ingredients come as far as Italy?
I'm always setting people straight that we're not an Italian restaurant; we're a modern American pizzeria. We source our ingredients from wherever they are best. So, yes, some come from Italy, like the smoked provolone, but our mozzarella comes from Paula's Mozzarella Company right here in Dallas. Same with the prosciutto — we used to use Italian, but for our purposes, La Quercia from Iowa was the best. It really just depends on what makes the best pizza.
Fireside Pies is known for offering creative, gourmet options. What do you say to folks who say pizza is just pizza and that it's just as good from ... Pizza Hut?
AM: [Sighs] I always tell people, the love is the difference.
I'd say there's a little more than that...
AM: [Laughs] When it comes down to it, it's the love. It's about the way that we make things. The time and the effort. It is about the ingredients, but it's so much more. We try to put everything together in a thoughtful way. We always want to offer things for different people. Some people don't want prosciutto on their pie, and that's fine, but let me tell you — our pork sausage is amazing. So, usually I can find something and they're like, "Okay, I understand." You just really have to find something that they're into and then they get it.
Well, on that note, there are a lot of vegetarian friendly options.
AM: Our vegetarian pies are some of our best-selling pies — not because of anything we've done to highlight them, but they're just what people love. Our Buratta mozzarella pie is always right behind our pepperoni pie [in sales]. There are so many options. I'm not vegetarian, but I have a tendency to lean toward the veggie pies simply because they're so good. We don't currently offer a vegan option, just because our dough has honey; however, we do offer a gluten-free dough now. Basically, we just love our customers and want to accommodate every need.