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Hot off the grill

Startup brings grilled pizza to a farmers’ market near you

TOWNSHEND—Pizza Hippo, a new business that sells a grilled version of everyone’s favorite thing to eat, plans to sling pizzas in late May at five local farmers’ markets and at the farm stand at the Kindle Farm School in Townshend.

Amber O’Reilly, farm manager at Kindle Farm School, and her husband Malcolm Hood began the grilled-pizza business as a hobby at their rented house in Windham.

“It all started with love,” Hood said, referring to the couple’s recent marriage.

The couple became inspired to expand after inviting friends to their home and serving their pizza. When O’Reilly and Hood put out a sign welcoming the public, customers came.

Constructing the business began in earnest after the couple formed a partnership with the Kindle School’s farm, whose organic produce they will buy and whose kitchen they will lease for preparations.

Organic and local ingredients

Whenever possible, Pizza Hippo’s owners say, the food, including the dough, will be local and organic.

After rolling out the sourdough to what Hood calls “a cracker-thin crust,” he places it on the grill, fired with untreated charcoal and hard woods, until it is properly charred. Hood then flips the crust and tops it with a Hippo-made marinara sauce and local vegetables and cheese. Other pizza toppers include Creole grillades (New Orleans-style grilled spicy meat and vegetables), caramelized onion and sopressata (dry-cured Italian salami), and the more traditional ham and pineapple.

Speaking of the partnership between Pizza Hippo and Kindle Farm School, Kindle’s Assistant Director Drew Gradinger said he welcomes the new business. Having homemade pizza for sale will draw people to the school’s farm stand.

Gradinger said that are now no plans for hiring students to work at Pizza Hippo, but he sees that as a future possibility.

“In the meantime,” he said, the kitchen is “like an incubator.”

Kindle Farm School is a second-grade through 12th-grade state-supported institution for boys with learning impairments and disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, emotional disabilities, and other health impairments.

Putting Pizza Hippo at Kindle, O’Reilly said, “gives the farm stand more visibility and transforms the space into a community.”

Where to find Pizza Hippo

Pizza Hippo will be at The Putney School’s Earth Day festival on April 22.

Apart from their stint Wednesday through Sunday at Kindle Farm, the pair plans to grill at farmers’ markets in Brattleboro on Wednesdays, Townshend on Thursdays, Bellows Falls on Fridays, Londonderry on Saturdays, and Putney on Sundays. More information can be found at www.pizzahippo.com.

A certain whimsy accompanies the business: Pizza Hippo got its name from Hood’s wish to connect playfully with O’Reilly’s son Miles, 10, who was especially amused by all things hippopotamus, Hood said.

That whimsy is incorporated into slogans and menu items. Pizza “Hits the spottamus.” Patrons can choose “Blancopatamus Alfredo” and “Creole sweet potatopotamus.”

O’Reilly and Hood used the crowd-funding website Kickstarter to raise $5,625, surpassing their $5,000 goal. Kickstarter helps projects raise money from the general public, a model that circumvents traditional investment paths.

That grass-roots model goes well with Hood’s business philosophy. “My goal,” he said, “is to transform communities through the power of organic food.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #148 (Wednesday, April 18, 2012).

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