The art of the pizza
Mar 28, 2018 01:52PM ● Published by J. Chambless
Brian Clossen has been enjoying more than 15 minutes of fame for his custom-made pizzas at the Little Italy Pizzeria in Townsend.
Gallery: Pizza portraits [6 Images] Click any image to expand.
By John Chambless
“I look at it this way,” Brian
Clossen said, leaning forward at his table at Little Italy Pizzeria
in Townsend. “Everybody's favorite food is usually pizza, right? So
to take that and turn it into something else they really love, it's
Clossen has been making pizzas and sandwiches since he got his first job at 16. But last April, he got a request to make a Mickey Mouse-shaped pizza. “I figured that was easy – three circles, a pizza with ears,” Clossen said. “So I looked online and there was one that had the ears made with olives, so they were black. Well, no kid wants to eat that.”
So Clossen sketched out his own design, using only the natural colors of a pizza maker's palette – red, yellow and brown, pretty much.
“So the customer posted it on the MOT Residents page on Facebook, and it went nuts,” Clossen said. “That thing got 1,000 likes in its first week. So everybody ordered Mickeys, all the time. Eventually, I made a white pizza octopus for my sister. The head of it was white pizza, and the tentacles were breadsticks. She posted that on MOT, and people started calling about other things. The thing just snowballed.”
Now marking the one-year anniversary of his rise to fame as the Picasso of pizza, Clossen has been featured in a full-page article in The News Journal, and in two different TV spots. He is, as far as anyone can tell, the only pizza maker who can turn out pies in any shape a customer wants, using only things that taste good. His boss, Anthony Elentrio, who also owns Little Italy locations in New Castle and Middletown with his brother Michael, said happily that he's thinking about expanding Clossen's work station in Townsend so that he has more room to grow the operation.
The restaurant still turns out plenty of regular-shaped pizzas, subs and sandwiches, but Clossen's specialty pies (priced at about $20) are a big attraction.
Clossen is a Delaware native whose family grew up in the New Castle and Newark areas. He went to Glasgow High School and took a turn into pizza at 16, when he applied for a job at Valle Pizza, which used to be on Route 4 in Newark.
“I had worked maybe two weeks at a Little Caesars before that,” Clossen recalled. “The owner asked me if I could make pizza. Well, you don't make pizza at all at Little Caesars. Your dough is already panned. But I said, 'Yeah, sure.'”
The owner showed young Clossen a tray with eight balls of refrigerated dough, throwing him for a moment until he was shown how to roll them out. “Luckily I was a fast learner,” he said.
There were a couple of detours into construction and carpentry, but even then, Clossen was working part-time as a pizza maker. “I worked at Gino's Pizza on Main Street, which is no longer there. It was in a little strip mall between the Broadway Diner and Valero. I worked weekend nights there, I worked at Grotto's for a few summers, and I made pizzas at Delaware Park,” he recalled.
He started working at Little Italy in Middletown in 2007, and in the Townsend restaurant in 2013 because he knew the pizza was already good. He got a job on the grill at first, but then graduated to pizzas. His days of turning out only standard small, medium and large pies are now at an end, with special orders coming in almost every day.
“Who would have thought there would be a desire for these?” he asked. “This past year has just been amazing. It's a lot of fun, but it's a challenge.”
And it's all been fueled only by word of mouth and social media. Clossen takes a photo of the special pizzas before he hands them over to customers, some of whom have told him the pies are too great to eat. He tells them to go ahead and enjoy. The restaurant hasn't done anything special to promote Clossen's work. Customers are coming on their own.
After the newspaper article featured an Eagles helmet pizza made by Clossen, Tim Furlong, a news reporter for NBC-10, friended Clossen on Facebook. Then, with every station looking for stories about the Eagles in the run-up to the Super Bowl, Clossen got a short TV segment for NBC, and then another one for ABC.
Since he wants to give customers what they want, Clossen even turned out a Dallas Cowboys helmet pizza, “But it was made with less love than a lot of the rest of them,” he said, grinning.
After Clossen thinks about what he can use to convey colors without using dyes, he sketches out his idea and then goes to work. Extra dough is used to form features or borders, and sauce and pepperoni are used to make the colored areas. He has refined his designs, tweaking them to be more realistic or cook better. There was one pizza he made for a precocious 5-year-old fan of the “Friday the 13th” movies that was intended to be a hockey mask, “but it ended up looking more like Gonzo” the Muppet, Clossen admitted. The young customer was thrilled, nevertheless.
Each pie takes about 45 minutes to make, so Clossen has to limit the number of special requests. During Super Bowl week, he said, he was fully booked making Eagles helmet pizzas. The pace at the shop has picked up, with most customers saying they would like some special shape, but leaving it up to Clossen as to how he does it. “That gives me the option to make some cool stuff,” he said.
Clossen has turned out five Darth Vader pizzas so far, with pepperoni standing in for the black of the helmet. He made a bust of “Batman” star Adam West just for his own amusement.
He also created a hamster pizza for a mom who was holding a tenth birthday party for her daughter. “The lady wanted a hamster pizza, so I Googled that and came up with a photo of a hamster on a plate, eating some pizza,” Clossen said. “So I created that. It's a pizza, holding a piece of pizza, getting ready to eat a piece of pizza, so there's a lot going on. Mind blowing, right?” he said, laughing.
Along the way, Clossen has made a “Jaws” pizza with the huge shark's head and a tiny swimmer made of dough. “I got to put a naked lady on a 10-year-old's pizza,” he said. Elmo is a natural since he's already pizza-sauce red.
But Clossen, a Middletown resident who is a diehard Eagles fan, said he's dreaming about doing something along the “Underdog” theme for the team, as well as a portrait of team star Nick Foles.
The orders keep coming in, and Clossen has recently figured out how to create a unicorn pizza, possibly with some edible glitter for that special touch. “I want to do what anybody wants me to do,” he said. “It's all about the joy.
“You would have thought I've had my 15 minutes of fame,” he said, “But it's cool that people still care about this. My niece and nephew saw me on the news and they were having a field day with it: 'Uncle B's on TV!' Hey, if I can be famous for making cool pizzas, that's fun.”
Little Italy Pizzeria is at 325 Main St., Townsend. Find the restaurant on Facebook or call 302-378-9494.
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.