Neapolitan pizza is a simple thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get right.
At Pizza Campania in Bozeman, Albert McDonald and his sister, Yvonne McDonald, have it down to a science.
They start with 00 Caputo flour from the General Mills flour mill in Great Falls. They add a little olive oil, a little salt and the right amount of water at the right temperature. Then it rises for four hours — not three and a half hours or four hours and 15 minutes. Four hours. The temperature has to be monitored as it’s cooled and warmed.
“It took us two months to figure out,” Albert said. “Along with the simplicity comes the necessary attention to detail. There’s a blister thin crust on the outside and a chewy interior. It isn’t thick, and it isn’t a cracker.”
“It’s about pizza done really well,” he added.
Albert and Yvonne took over Pizza Campania in May after its founder, Bill Butler, died of heart failure almost two years after he opened the restaurant.
Albert and Yvonne managed the restaurant for Butler’s widow for several months while they waited for their own liquor license. In October, the sale was final.
Pizza Campania’s customers were tremendously supportive of Albert and Yvonne’s efforts to keep the restaurant open after Butler’s passing.
“They are even more supportive now that we are putting our own twist on it,” Albert said.
While keeping to the roots of Pizza Campania with Neapolitan wood-fired pizza, Albert and Yvonne have made a few changes.
“We’ve kept (the menu items) that were working, freshened it up a little bit, and added a European beer program,” Yvonne said. “We’ll keep rejuvenating the menu.”
Their beer program is focused on European, century-old beers to keep with the restaurant’s Old World theme. The age-worthy beer and wine, along with wood for the pizza oven, are kept below the restaurant floor.
The 70-foot tall building that houses Pizza Campania was once a granary. It was refurbished and preserved as part of the Cannery District project. The 30-foot ceilings expose hoppers, and the wood hole (and beer/wine cellar) is in the scale room where trucks or train cars were weighed and filled with grain.
“I love this location,” Albert said. “This kind of adaptive reconstruction keeps landmarks like this from being torn down. It’s a unique atmosphere that creates and evokes a feeling that I couldn’t create, even with a designer.”
Not being downtown is a challenge because there’s less foot traffic, but that hasn’t slowed the new owners.
“We knew we’d have to grow,” Albert said. “But there weren’t any 70-foot buildings with 30-foot ceilings downtown.”
Yvonne added that they see a lot of local traffic, as well as destination traffic from hotels in the summer. And many families stop by after gymnastics classes in the building across the parking lot.
Much as the location is both a blessing and a challenge, so is working with a sibling.
When the opportunity to buy Pizza Campania arose, Albert immediately called Yvonne in Los Angeles, where she managed and was the chef in a cafe. She agreed to move to Bozeman and manage the restaurant.
“We have four decades of relationship that comes into play,” Albert said. “There has to be a large level of respect. This business is about the long haul, and we want to make it work.”
Albert started his first pizza business in his dad’s diner while in college. After two summers, his sister took over. Now they are back together again.
In the ensuing decades, Albert worked in, and managed, restaurants.
“If I take care of the business, I’m taking care of her,” Albert said. “I need to do what’s best for the business and respect the contribution of the people who are here every day.”
While Albert takes care of the business, Yvonne cooks and manages the restaurant’s daily doings. She serves up favorite pizzas, including the Gladitore (pepperoni, fennel sausage, Serrano chile, chile oil, pepperoncini and oregano) and the Molta Carne (fennel sausage, ham, pepperoni, and basil).
Along with pizzas, the menu includes antipastos, salads, pasta, soup and traditional Italian desserts. For lunch, sandwiches are available.
“We want to keep it simple, approachable and affordable,” Albert said. “All our entrees are between $10 and $15. We want to stay true to our market.”
Pizza Campania is open for lunch Monday through Friday, and dinner seven nights a week. Call 406-404-1270 or visit www.pizzacampania.net/.
The restaurant is located at 1285 North Rouse Ave.
From the Great Falls Tribune, January 3, 2015