It started as a neighbourhood pizza night and grew into an underground culinary hit, but for now Brooklyn Alley Pizza has served its last pie.
Craig Horning has stopped his community pizza night in Toronto's east end after neighbourhood complaints and an investigation by the city’s Municipal Licensing and Standards Division.
Horning, who otherwise works in advertising, was serving pizzas every Friday night this summer in his backyard. People could pick up the pizzas in the alley at the end of Brighton Avenue in Toronto's east side.
The idea came from his weekly pizza nights with other families in the area. He eventually had a pizza oven installed in his backyard, where he planned to make pizza for guests.
Two days after the oven was built, he lost his job.
So he decided to "dabble in pizza-making" a little more, and started Brooklyn Alley Pizza. He told anyone looking for his clandestine pizza place to "follow the smoke" to his backyard down Brooklyn Avenue.
"I make pretty good pizza," he says, "and this was a fun, unique way to meet neighbours."
He thought he would be serving 10-15 of his friends. But within a month, he had more than 350 people interested in his version of the Neapolitan. He baked a maximum of 20 pizzas every Friday, and people came to his backyard to pick them up. He announced the toppings on Facebook every Thursday, and then posted again when he was sold out.
The city initially accused him of running an unlicensed business.
"The issue is zoning. It’s a residential community and if he’s operating a business from his property then that would constitute a violation of the city’s bylaws," says Joe Magalhaes, acting manager of investigive services for the Licensing and Standards Division.
Making or preparing food and selling it to the public also raises food safety issues. But the initial complaint, which came from a neighbour, was whether offering pizzas from his backyard was actually operating as a business.
Horning argues he didn’t charge for the pizzas — though he asks for a suggested tip of $15 to cover the costs of making the pie — and that he never made any money.
"It was more a creative outlet than a business idea," he says. "Not wishing to create unnecessary friction, I agreed to suspend operations of Brooklyn Alley Pizza immediately and indefinitely." (He says there may be a chance for a comeback in the future.)
Horning says he understands the city’s position with the complaints, but he's saddened that his pizza-making experiment couldn't continue. "It seemed like the right environment for a community-style pizza night," he says.