Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of interviews with local chefs.
Tom Edwards isn’t the kind of guy who does anything halfway.
Perhaps more importantly, he isn’t the kind of guy who is content to rest on his laurels, either. And the fact he spent 20 years of his professional life as a business consultant might make it easy for someone to pigeonhole him as a numbers guy.
That someone would be extraordinarily wrong.
Edwards, 48, is not just the owner and chef of MozzaPi, the bakery-meets-pizzeria in Anchorage, he’s the mastermind and developer. The builder. The grain miller, the dough maker, the pizzaiolo behind the pie. He’s the frontiersman of the flavors.
He’s the kind of guy who, when he decides he wants to do something, goes all the way. When he decided he wanted to be a wood worker when he was in his 20s, he trained with experts and worked as much as he could until he was every bit as much the expert as those he trained with.
“If you want to master something, you’ve got to do a lot of it,” he says. “I wanted to get to a point where I could make anything out of wood.”
The evidence is in MozzaPi. The centerpiece is a giant grandfather clock, flanked by two enormous wooded doors.
A pair of giant chairs stand out along one wall, as wood lighting fixtures, a cathedral wood ceiling and loft look on. Edwards designed the place and did most of the work himself.
“If I doesn’t have a motor on it, I probably did it,” says Edwards, a slender, thoughtful man with light brown eyes.
And when Edwards decided he wanted to make food, he traveled, learned, experimented in much the same way. He became a certified pizzaiolo and opened a food truck, which he operated for some six years.
It was a precursor to the gorgeous and delicious MozzaPi that opened in 2017 and still retains a loyal audience, thanks to pizzas with fresh ingredients and vibrant flavors and baked goods made fresh daily.
“I really did some work before I opened this place to make sure that I not only had an understanding of what I was doing but had a higher probability of success,” he says. “I was being pragmatic about it and nobody told me to stop, so here we are.”
He did it right. At MozzaPi, the food is scratch-made right down to milling their own grains. Try the signature whole-grain chocolate chip cookie, each one of which is a “holy crap” moment waiting to happen. They’re that good.
For Edwards, MozzaPi is about having that kind of experience.
“I wanted to understand it,” he says of experiencing food. “It’s such a complex part of our lives. It brings so many different emotions. It’s a great way to have a human experience. It brings a lot of joy.”
Edwards’ love of food was a big part of his inspiration for the restaurant. He sees a “growing gap” between what food is perceived to be and what it actually is. Making fresh food with fresh ingredients and exploring flavors is a way to, as he puts it, “interrupt” someone with a unique experience.
“Maybe it will spark a question,” he says. “Why is this different? Why is this good?”
Try the signature Sweet Onion Marmalade pizza and you’ll understand. This pie combines the sharpness of blue cheese with the sweetness of caramelized onions, adding savory house-made sausage and bright-tasting cherries steeped in bourbon.
Of course, customers experience the same sort of sensory interruption when they first walk into the restaurant and see the space. All this was by Edwards’ design.
It has worked well enough that he is in the process of building out another MozzaPi in Distillery Commons.
Possibly his biggest goal with MozzaPi, however, is to teach his daughter Megan, 14, how to run a business.
A baker herself — “She has tasty hands,” her dad says — Megan sometimes will come in on a Saturday and do all the baking for the restaurant. She’s been her dad’s business sidekick since she was 8 years old and MozzaPi was getting its start as a food truck.
The business is multi-faceted, as MozzaPi does catering. Edwards, once per month, also hosts five-day courses on baking, drawing future bakers from around the country and even the world.
Part of his learning all he could about food and baking now comes full circle through his teaching. And he hopes it goes even farther.
“If I teach people, they will go back to their respective communities and share their gifts with other people,” Edwards says. “When I looked at the economy of that, it can be impactful, which is pretty cool.”
He says the second version of MozzaPi “will be done when it’s done,” but notes it will not be a carbon copy. It will be unique. After that? Who knows.
He is a self-professed “serial entrepreneur.” He plans carefully when he sets his sights on something, but doesn’t necessarily plan out what he’s going to do next.
“This could be my retirement, it really could, but what I recognize is that I have a lot more to give,” he says. “I still have a lot to offer. I think I have a knack and talent for working with my hands. I’m always thinking, always doing. My philosophy is to try as hard as I can every day. I go to bed pretty much worn out, and I wake up excited. That’s why I don’t really see this as the end game.”
MozzaPi is located at 12102 Lagrange Road.