Chris is definitely a down to earth guy, and he appreciates people who appreciate what he's doing. A couple years back, I was so blown away by my first visit to Pane Bianco and so affected by the atmosphere and obvious care and passion that was being put into a simple sandwich shop that I wrote him a letter. A few days later, I got a voicemail on my phone from Chris telling me how great it is to see people enjoying and understanding what he's trying to do.
A year later, before another trip to Phoenix, I wrote to him again telling him I would be visiting and if he might have some time to sit down and talk. Once again, I get a call from him telling me to give him a call when I get into town to figure out a time. As soon as we got off of our flight, we headed straight to Pane for lunch, and of course Chris was there. I introduced myself, and we arranged to meet back here for coffee the following morning. I spent an hour with him at the cafe next door talking about things, his philosophies about why he does what he does, what he hopes to do in the future, and what drives him. He's an extremely thoughtful and artistic guy, and he can definitely talk. In fact, I think I spoke about 10 sentences the entire time. I felt it would be sort of silly to ask him specific pizza-making questions, because it wasn't really about that.
He talked of how he opened Pane not to make money, which it doesn't, but to give him something more to do, something more to give to people, and had his brother to thank for his hard work back at the pizzeria in the mornings that allowed him the time to do it. He pointed out that every piece of equipment and furniture at Pane was on casters, to remind himself and everyone else that they are just temporary inhabitants of the space, and that the building would live on and change long after they were gone. He told me how envious he was of me for having a wife and family, as it was something that he hoped for someday. He talked about the idea of opening a mozzarella bar, where fresh cheese is produced all day long, so you're always eating it still warm, with whatever local produce, meats, and products he could find and support. He talked of wanting to open a music club, where people from all walks of life could meet and form a community.
He sounded more like a old jazz musician and artist than a pizzaiolo. I think this artistry comes through in his food, and knowing a little more about the man behind the pie makes it that much more meaningful and special. He is truly a unique man, and we're very lucky that he decided to channel that energy into the art of pizza.