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There’s a Growing Fleet of Twin Cities Pizza Buses

Brick Oven Bus created the *real* magic school buses.

Em Cassel|

Jaunty awning, golden monkey—the Brick Oven Bus has it all. Including killer pies.

Your imagination, upon seeing a bright-yellow school bus parked outside a brewery, might start to get the better of you. What's this we have here? A teacher with a loose interpretation of the district's guidelines regarding appropriate school field trips? And is that... a brick chimney sticking out of the top? Man, these locally made THC seltzers are getting good.

Don't worry—you're not cut off just yet. What you're seeing is the Brick Oven Bus. Or, a Brick Oven Bus: There are five of these roving pizza-making machines patrolling the Twin Cities area, often setting up at local breweries like Black Stack and Bad Weather and Bald Man Brewing and Bauhaus. (And that's just some of the B's!)

The Brick Oven Bus story starts at an old house near the High Bridge in St. Paul, where, in a tiny kitchen, owner Paris Rosen and his buddies would crank the oven to 500 degrees, adding fire bricks to increase the heat. They'd warm themselves around the oven, swapping stories over fresh dough, fresh ingredients, and bottles of wine and whiskey.

"It's kind of like a tiny home," says Paris Rosen of the Brick Oven Bus's setup.Em Cassel

Rosen wanted to bring that experience to people outside of this tiny, toasty kitchen. "Not the pizza, but the experience," he emphasizes. Brick Oven Bus is as much about the pies as it is the places where you enjoy them and the folks you share them with: "It's about sitting around, connecting with people, talking about food, and enjoying some amazing breads," he says.

To do that, he needed a mobile oven, and he just so happened to have a school bus sitting around in his driveway taking up space. Like so many of the best ideas, it started almost as a joke—what if we put a pizza oven inside a school bus? Not long after, a brick oven was on its way from California, and Rosen and his friends were clambering around inside the bus in an attempt to engineer a workable kitchen.

“It’s like a ship in a bottle," Rosen says. Every single piece has to come in through the narrow front door and up the stairs, and then the oven is constructed inside of the bus itself. It's not exactly an easy or straightforward process. 

“I hate doing it,” he laughs. “But you have, like—you have an ex, you know, and you break up, and then months later you’re like, ‘I’ll give such and such a call, we had a good time.' And once you get into it again you’re like, ‘I know why I left this.’ It’s the same thing with the buses.”

Do it. Pull the monkey.Em Cassel

We're lucky Rosen's memory is so short, because the resulting experience—from the time to place your order until you're chowing down on topping-heavy pies—is a ton of fun. It begins with a golden monkey; pull him back to open the school bus doors and climb aboard. Inside, you'll see that the retrofitted buses work surprisingly well as a food truck, with long stainless-steel counters lining the windows: one side with a tablet for taking orders, the other for prepping the pies.

"Every square inch—every square inch of space—has been extremely well thought-out," Rosen says. It has to be, as there are plenty of nights when 300 or more pizzas come flying outta the oven. "It's kind of like a tiny home, where you open drawers and it's like, 'This is where my TV is! It comes out of here!'" And the pizzas do come flying out of there; on a recent Thursday at Venn, our trio of pies were ready four minutes from the time I swiped my credit card.

The delight of pulling a monkey and ordering inside a bus would be enough to make the experience memorable, but the pizzas (all $17) are what put Brick Oven Bus firmly in A+ territory—forget any preconceived notions you have of the words "school" and "pizza." The Angry Hawaiian was a personal favorite, peppered with salty, salty bacon and big chunks of juicy pineapple. There was sweet heat in every bite, with an extra jolt from the rings of banana pepper.

Cafeteria grade it ain't.Em Cassel

A sprinkle of flaky salt elevates the classically perfect Margherita pizza, while the Lionheart is, well, hearty, especially for a vegetarian pie. Piled with artichokes and olives, it's a garlicky delight, and a drizzle of balsamic makes the whole thing sing. The crust, though—that's what'll have you coming back for more. What a crust! Chewy, yeasty, crispy, airy, and blackened just so. It would make a lovely breadstick. 

Rosen says that while the Brick Oven Bus business will celebrate its sixth anniversary this April 1, he only got licensed to serve Minneapolis last fall, which could help explain why, in a Baader-Meinhofian sense, it suddenly seemed like these buses were following me everywhere. But they also kind of are everywhere; they're at local breweries seven nights a week, and there are plenty of nights when all five of 'em hit the road.

Thanks, Brick Oven Bus worker!

“It’s a gimmick, and gimmicks can backfire,” Rosen chuckles of the success of his pizza bus fleet, which rests at a retired fire station in Eagan when not slingin' pies.

It's why he says they put so much work into it, from the dough to the company culture. The chunks of fruit on that Angry Hawaiian pizza are cut by hand daily from whole pineapples, and every employee is as happy to be there as you are. If you ask if you can take a picture of them working, for example, they might do you one better and offer to photograph your pizzas while they're in the oven (see above).

It all goes back to that old house in St. Paul, and the days Rosen and his friends whiled away over delicious pizzas. "We aim to put smiles on peoples' faces," he says simply.

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