Edible Food Finds: Vesta Mobile Pizza
Photos by Katie Noble
Pizzaiolo. Translated from the Italian, the word means “pizza maker,” but it connotes much more than cookery. It calls up notions of the neighborhood pizza joint, one where the chef is familiar with the regular customers that come in for a pie and a chat, and can carry on a lively conversation all while prepping dough, doling out toppings, and keeping track of what’s going into the oven and what needs to come out. At Vesta Mobile Pizza, Louis and Rhonda Caissie have put that tradition on wheels, and are bringing it to pizza lovers across Eastern Massachusetts.
Pizzaiolo Lou and Pizzaiola Rhonda, as they call each other, are longtime residents of Shirley, MA, where Louis runs a drywall business and Rhonda has worked for 22 years in the local water district. As they contemplated their upcoming retirement, they knew they wanted to do something fun, and they kept coming back to their shared love of wood-fired, thin crust pizza, which they seek out whenever they travel. “We decided, hey, why can’t we do that for a business?” says Louis. Certainly not the average relaxed retirement plan, but for Louis and Rhonda, it’s all about following their passion.
With Louis’ skills as a craftsman and Rhonda’s background in design, they drew up a plan for a mobile wood fired pizza unit, one that would be protected from the elements and could cook in any weather. “I wanted something done right,” says Louis. The end result is a carefully conceived trailer that maximizes space, creating room for storage, prep, and the oven, all with an artistic touch. Louis did all the construction and woodwork, including the copper tiled ceiling and decorative circles of white birch trunk in the wall behind the oven. When Louis cut into the trunk, he found a heart shape in the center, so those pieces are spaced throughout, an apt symbol for the love that went into the whole endeavor. Indeed, every aspect of the business feels thoughtful and heartfelt. The name, Vesta, comes from the Roman goddess of hearth, and the red-headed logo features an image of Louis and Rhonda’s daughter, Wesley, a rocket scientist who, on occasion, has been known to jump in as back up pizzaiola. After a year’s worth of planning and building, the pair of pizzaioli brought their custom-built oven, nicknamed Penny, to the Wayland Winter Farmers Market, where you can find them each week from January to mid-March.
Penny, the copper-covered star of the Vesta mobile unit, earned her nickname on two fronts, says Rhonda. “She’s as pretty as a penny and costs a pretty penny, too!” Weighing in at 4,000 pounds, the dome-shaped oven was made in Provence from a white clay unique to the region known as terre blanche, or white earth. The clay has particularly good properties for retaining high, even heat and is also very durable—two essential qualities for a roadworthy oven that can stay piping hot throughout the New England winter and survive the resulting pot holes. Indeed, it retains a remarkable amount of heat after the two hours required to bring it to cooking temperature, between 680-720 degrees, a range that Louis monitors constantly with a laser pointer thermometer. In the summer, says Louis, it takes five days to cool back down. “We’ll roast vegetables in there,” he says, “like beets from Winter Moon Farm, because the next day it’s still around 350-400 degrees. We can cook turkeys, make bread. I’d like to find a way to heat my home with it,” he jokes. With that level of heat, a thin crust, and fresh ingredients, the pizzas are cooked in a flash—just 90 seconds and they’re done. “It takes longer to prep them,” says Rhonda.
Fresh is what it’s all about at Vesta. “We do everything fresh on site,” says Rhonda. Nothing is pre-made or par-baked, and they getingredients from many area farms, including Gove Farm, Stillman’s, and Hollis Hills Farm where they get their maple syrup. Yes, they are putting maple syrup on pizza, and “people just go nuts for it,” says Rhonda. Paired with a simple cheese blend and crumbled bacon, it strikesnotes of both savory and sweet. The menu is packed with other creative creations, including The Beetza, which came about by chance when Michael Docter, of Winter Moon Farm, asked if they wanted to put some beets on a pizza. Sure, said Louis and Rhonda, eventually perfecting the recipe with roasted beets, pesto, garlic, Gorgonzola, and banana peppers for a little zing. The menu also has classics like Margherita and Veggie, all on a crispy, chewy, thin crust canvas. “When it comes right out of the oven there’s nothing like it,” says Rhonda. At the end of each
shift, they’ll make a pizza for themselves and eat it in the truck on the way home. Even now, after doling out thousands of pizzas to many happy customers, it’s still their favorite thing to eat.
In addition to their love for pizza and the excitement of opening a new business, it’s those happy customers that make the whole endeavor so rewarding for Rhonda and Louis. They have plenty of repeat customers in Wayland, including a father and son who come by every week.
“They order four pizzas and I cook that first one right away,” says Louis. “They like it on the crispy side. They’ll eat that one pizza while I’m cooking the other three. They never fail, they’re there all the time.”
Louis and Rhonda have also been thrilled at the overwhelming support of friends, family, and the catering clients who come back to them again and again. From weddings, to apple orchards, to the Harley dealership where they’ve served several events for the local biker crowd, Louis and Rhonda both enjoy the connections that are formed through their food. “One guy said it brought him right back to Naples, the look of the oven and the taste of the pizza,” says Rhonda. “It’s been really special to us.” Louis adds, “they always include us in the party,” though Rhonda is quick to note that they and their staff are sure to stay on task, even as they’re joining in the fun. It’s that true pizzaiolo spirit: serving up a healthy portion of laughter, fun, and conversation, all while turning out the best pizza in their neighborhood, wherever that may be.