In mid-March, Kyle D. was assured by his job that he’d be fine, no matter what consequences the impact of COVID-19 had on his industry. As someone who worked in travel, and had been in his role for close to eight years, both tenure and this timely encouragement were enough to stave off any real worry. Facing a temporary pay cut at worst, he settled in for a long period of social distancing, as the rest of Los Angeles followed suit and shifted into lockdown mode. But, a week later his boss called. Whatever reassurances existed before had suddenly vanished. His job was gone.
“Welcome to the least exclusive club in America,” Kyle remembered a friend saying, upon hearing the news. “It’s not like you want to see other people losing their job, but there’s a sense of solidarity in this economic downturn, and that does help. But there wasn’t a lot of time for me to wallow in what had just happened.”
When we spoke by phone in late April, the pretty brazen betrayal of corporate America ditching their workforce wholecloth was weighing less heavily on his mind. In fact, that isn’t what he wants to talk about at all: He wants to talk about pizza, and more importantly, cheese. Detroit-style pizza, and Wisconsin brick cheese, to be exact. That’s what his quick, necessary pivot Dough Daddy LA is all about.
“I’m not sure if you have a lot of experience with the taste of caramelized cheese — but it’s one of the best tastes in the entire world,” he begins, after we’ve establish a few niceties and begun digging into his new side hustle slinging pizza to hungry, anxiously quarantined Angelenos.
“Around the edges, all the cheese and the olive oil that you put in the pan — and the structure of the pan itself — makes the cheese caramelize all around the crust,” he continued. “Think of when you’re making a grilled cheese sandwich, and some cheese leaks to the outside of the bread and fries in the pan, but around the whole edge of the pizza. It actually looks black, and sometimes people are like ‘oh no my pizza is burnt,’ but when you taste it…”
A few weeks later when I order my first pie, The Real Deal with pepperoni and the signature brick cheese, I did taste it. It’s like heaven in the midst of all this hell. It’s better than any crispy, melted or gooey cheese I’ve ever had. It’s umami and flow and serotonin and pleasure. When my slices of the pizza are gone, I regret sharing the rest with my roommate and my photographer. This pizza makes me feel selfish. But the cocktails quickly erase my self-absorption. On both fronts, Kyle is onto something.
There are a couple things that are signature about Detroit-style pizza. The crust itself is soft, doughy, and thick. The shape is a little different, not round but cooked in deep, rectangular pans that, legend has it, were initially engine oil disposal pans frequently used in the automobile mecca, and only later brought into the kitchen. The sauce is everywhere, laid down in three thick stripes down the ‘za, another subtle homage to race cars and the city that birthed this variation of Italy’s most beloved, highly-adaptable export.
Put onto the style by following a server’s recommendation at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco, Kyle immediately fell in love and quickly became determined to recreate it himself. “I was like, ‘this is incredible, this is my favorite pizza I’ve ever had,’” he remembered. “‘I don’t know why I don’t see this everywhere!’ So I kind of started looking into it a bit more.”
As chance, fate, luck, or whatever the fuck you want to call it goes, he’d assembled the necessary ingredients and was planning to bake his first Detroit-style pie at home the same night news about his layoff broke. “I’d been talking about doing this for legitimately a year or more, and wanting to do it,” he said. “I wanted to get a bunch of friends together. These pizzas are serious, so I thought it’d be great for a group. I’d ordered pans already, I’d ordered the cheese, I had all the stuff ready to go. Then, all of this happened, and the group was no longer a possibility. I was like ‘I’m going to make it anyway, this is as good a night as any to do this.’”
So that night, despite the disappointment — or maybe, partially, driven by it — Kyle made his first two pies. What has now become his signature: The classic Detroit-style with Wisconsin brick cheese he’d shipped himself from the midwest, and traditional pizza dough, topped with crispy pepperoni, and a gluten-free, dairy-free variation to suit the dietary needs of one of his partners. Both pizzas went over like a dream. Proud, happy, full, and a little buzzed, suddenly, the only way to fill the crushing emptiness of an unemployed quarantine seemed clear.
“I’d had a drink or two and was posting some photos of this pizza on my Instagram and people started really reacting,” he laughed. “Then I was like, ‘how would people feel if I… did this?’ I figured maybe a few of my close friends would buy some, like the ones that are still employed would be like ‘let’s help Kyle out a little bit.’ Then it just started taking off. It’s still nothing crazy, but I’ve been selling around 15 pizzas a week.”
And what goes better with pizza than the perfect at-home accompaniment, batched craft cocktails. Actually, among his friends, Kyle is better known for cocktails than pizza. He’s worked part-time in a bar near his apartment downtown for several years, and eventually became a part-owner of another cocktail spot in Las Vegas. Of course, both those places are now necessarily shut down indefinitely, and his at-home bar, the star of so many cocktail parties, was overstuffed with enough liquor to last him months on his own.
“I was sitting here, looking up at my bar like ‘ok I have a lot of alcohol here, more than I could ever drink by myself,” he said. “I can’t have people here anymore, so maybe I can put this to use? And I thought ‘hey why not do some batched cocktails right now when people can’t go to bars?’”
Thus the full scope of Dough Daddy LA’s offerings was born — Detroit-style pizza and expertly batched cocktails, both crafted with the utmost cleanliness and care at his apartment in downtown, both available three nights a week for donation to help keep him afloat, economically and mentally, during the crisis. Finally, with both his background as a bartender and a personal sense of responsibility for serving others, it’s important to note that all of Dough Daddy’s offerings are prepared with the utmost safety. “I just want to make sure that people understand how much care that I’m taking with this,” he explained. “ I’m being responsible and this food is being made in the safest way possible. All the pick-ups are no contact and there’s even the ability for people to stay in their cars. I’m just being really, really careful.”
As mentioned before, there are several styles of pizza to choose from, but if you eat meat and dairy, and you don’t get The Real Deal, you’re playing yourself. At $32, it includes cheese that’s been shipped here from Wisconsin — an extra cost — and is up there with the best pizza I’ve ever had (That includes the pies I ate in Italy, and the 2 Bros slices I regularly ate drunk after late-night Brooklyn rap shows in my twenties).
Next up is The Damn Close, which uses mozzarella and jack cheese instead of the imported stuff. If you really need to save $5, I guess it works? It’s a nice option. Then, because this is Los Angeles and we respect the hell out of alternate food lifestyles here, The Vegan and The Dairy-Free exist to give those with these restrictions the chance to partake. As for cocktails, they do rotate frequently but all the updated info each week can always be found on Instagram.
Kyle’s full menu is available here, with suggested donations listed for each entry. Dough Daddy LA isn’t a formal business venture at this point, so all exchanges are purely donation-based — that doesn’t mean pizza ingredients or fresh juices, syrups and top shelf liquor come cheap. Please remember this is a labor of love produced by an unemployed worker, and tips are greatly appreciated. As helpful as earning some extra money can be, it’s more the ability to have some structure and focus, to help other people and bring them some joy instead of spiraling alone, that makes the project truly worth it for Kyle.
“I think about the last time I was unemployed, it was one of the darkest times of my entire life,” he said. “If I didn’t have this right now, I don’t know where my mental health would be. It really does help to have something to drive me, and something to motivate me. Especially when I see that I’m bringing people something they want, and some joy, that’s been the best part for me.”
This profile first appeared in shortened form via LA streetwear company The Hundreds’ blog for our Hint of Cinnamon monthly collaboration.