House-cured meats, garden-fresh veggies and homemade breads – in gourmet pizza
By Devany Vickery-Davidson
In a quiet little corner of Hilo something very special is going on. Not only are great pizzas with locally grown and made ingredients being created, but so are sausages, cured meats and an assortment of bread and rolls. House-made pastrami that takes one to a New York Deli with one bite. Corned beef which rivals Two Sister’s in Brooklyn and house-cured hams that evoke the flavors of Virginia can be found. Even authentic smoky Southern pulled pork is being made at Big Island Pizza. Spicy Italian sausages, Hawaiian Portagee, Filipino Longanisa sausages and Ragin’ Cajun sausages are emanating from the little yellow-and-white building across from the Judiciary building in Hilo.
When Jim King and his wife Joy moved to Hilo in 2005 they thought they were set for the next stage of their life. King had recently retired from a high-tech job with the military and had a new job waiting for him in Hilo. They sold everything, bought a home in Hilo and arrived to find that the job no longer existed. Now what? Jim had always wanted to own a pizza parlor, why not create one of the best ones in Hawai‘i? He bought a building that had been used for transient housing and had to find new homes for the residents before he could carry on with his remodeling. Much paint, stainless steel and a pizza oven later, in March of 2006, they began creating pies made by hand with local ingredients.
King knew what flavors & textures he wanted, he says, but he had never even made a pizza before. The highly motivated self-starter quickly found that he couldn’t find the kind of sausages and meats that he needed from the wholesalers on the island, so he set about learning how to make his own sausages, smoked wild salmon and cured meats. He set up a hydroponic greenhouse and started growing his own lettuces, tomatoes and herbs. He made pizza dough after pizza dough until he had it just right. When he could not find the right kind of breads and buns for his sandwiches, he made his own. He made samples of salad dressings and sauces and developed his own blends that rival anything you can find commercially. Now they not only sell great pizzas, sandwiches and salads, but Big Island Pizza is also selling many of his hand-crafted, cured meats, sausages and rolls to a growing group of fans.
With a handful of employees, King was a hands-on pizzeria owner, working seven days a week, 12-hour-plus days. It was too much. He suddenly found himself in the hospital with a heart attack, and then another and another in a matter of a few months, before he came to terms with his lifestyle and restaurant management practices. He found he needed to learn how to give more responsibility to each employee, King says, and make them a member of the family and not micro-manage. He found himself changing a few dietary habits and actually being able to take vacations. He has a staff now that has not changed much over the years. When an employee leaves now, it is usually because he or she is graduating from UH, and when the restauranteur does make a new hire, it is with much consideration for the ohana at Big Island Pizza. He does have some family working there, but everyone who works for Big Island Pizza is part of a larger family and they take their jobs seriously, giving 100 percent to the public they serve and the concept that Jim and Joy have established.
One person is in charge of making the cured meats, another for the sausages, and another for the breads and rolls. Grace, Joy’s sister, does all of the sandwiches and salads. Everyone chips in to make the enterprise work smoothly.
Big Island Pizza is also high tech—you can order your food online and have it delivered for free if you are within four miles of downtown Hilo, or pick it up if you are farther away. When an order is placed—whether online, on the phone or in person—the order pops up on a computerized ticket in the kitchen, and it is filled immediately.
Do you have a sausage that you cannot find locally? Jim offers to make any custom-made sausages for customers as long as they order a minimum of seven pounds, he says. He enjoys the challenge and can make over 300 different kinds of sausages, although he keeps the basic five kinds available for retail at all times.
They make over 50 pounds of Italian sausages a week just for their own pizzas, using choice, marbled pork butts. Their pastrami and corned beef are made from certified Black Angus choice beef. When they make Andouille sausages, before smoking the links they cook and taste the sausage to be sure that it is sufficiently spiced. Then they are cased and tied before going into the same smoker in which the house-smoked wild Alaskan Salmon and the Pastrami are smoked. You just cannot buy stuff like this anywhere else on the Big Island. Sausages are $6.50 per pound and house-cured meats are $8.99 per pound. King says he would like to start making cheeses and other cured meats like salami, sopressata, capicola and pepperoni, but his current walk-in cooler is filled with the varieties he now makes. Expansion is inevitable, but he is not under any pressure to do so, he says. It will happen eventually.
The restaurant is located at 760 Kilauea Avenue in Hilo. There is patio dining and it is dog friendly. There is no liquor license so BYOB if you want to have beer or wine on the patio. If you are coming from the West side of the island to buy sausages, meats or breads, give them a call at 934-8000 and let them know what you want to be sure that they have plenty in stock. They can package and Cryovac everything for you. You can order online at www.BigIslandPizza.com.
Always customer-friendly, they have even been known to open early or late if customers show up and want pizza for breakfast or something for late-night nibbling. The “regular hours” are from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and they accept all major credit cards. You will find something really special if you stop by Big Island Pizza. It does not get any more local than this. ❖
Photos by Devany Vickery-Davidson