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East West Lifestyle

Hang & Eat: From Pizza Joint to Community Market During the Pandemic

June 26, 2020
Khachapuri from Wood, and Italian restaurant in Silver Laker

How a mom-and-pop restaurant pivoted to survive and serve the community during COVID-19

Before the pandemic, business was booming at Wood, an Italian restaurant located in Silver Lake, Los Angeles. Owner Erik Martirosyan, whose family owns the Big Mama and Papa's Pizzeria franchise in Hollywood, serves up some of the best pizza, veggies and charred dishes in the city. His wood-fired oven is his secret to making everything taste better. It not only boosts the food’s flavor from the even heat distribution, but also helps retain nutrients. In the last few years, Martirosyan’s restaurant has become a neighborhood favorite and has also solidified its must-visit status among social media influencers who want to post an Insta-worthy cheesy-pull photo.

But everything changed when the pandemic struck. Previously, Martirosyan was looking for a possible expansion to another location. His focus was on adding more farm-to-table options, as well as more local organic and biodynamic wines onto Wood’s menu. Those concerns seem like a lifetime ago. When the pandemic struck, Martirosyan's main concern was the local community and making sure Wood was a place that could provide groceries and fresh food to his customers. He quickly turned Wood into a mini marketplace for diners to get much needed pantry items such as bread, pasta, dairy, fruits and veggies, at a time when supermarkets were left with empty shelves.

“When Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that all the bars and restaurants needed to shut down due to the pandemic, I was shocked, and just like in any other critical times of my life, things start falling apart in front of my eyes,” Martirosyan said.

Wood' restaurant location in Silver Lake

Taking it day-by-day

In the third quarter of March alone, Martirosyan lost 80 percent of his business. He has since implemented a slew of deals since the pandemic started, such as 50 percent off wine and beer, as well as $10 margarita pizzas available from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. There’s also been a $60 takeout special that includes two pizzas, two small plates and a salad of your choice.

Martirosyan is taking it day-by-day by placing his focus on the community and his food. Pizza, vegetables, sandwiches—you name it, the wood-fired oven makes everything taste better. The star at Wood is their wood-fired pizza, and Chef Erik’s wood-burning oven stays at a constant 800-900 degrees Fahrenheit. His Neapolitan pizza gets rave reviews, but the must-order “pizza” on the menu is the “gondola pizza,” a spin on khachapuri. Although not technically a pizza, khachapuri is a traditional cheese bread that originated in the Republic of Georgia.

“What more could you want other than cheesy, soft-while-pillowy hot bread dipped in its own bed of runny egg yolk and lava-molten cheese?” says Martirosyan.

Specialty khachapuri pizza with a personal spin

There are a number of different varieties of khachapuri, but Martirosyan does his own modern take using cheeses like mozzarella and feta. Diners can watch Martirosyan mold the khachapuri into the shape of a boat and make each order fresh from scratch. Not only is the “gondola pizza” delicious, but it’s also very photo-worthy. The trick is getting the timing correct.

“You don’t want the skin to get too crispy, so I put it in just to give it some color and immediately take it out. This keeps the softness to it. Then, I add in the cheese and throw it in the oven for about eight minutes. I use sous vide eggs,” he says.

When it’s ready to serve, diners break up the runny egg and then tear off pieces of freshly baked bread to dip in the dish’s own juices. The cheese with its subtle tang and creaminess was evidently cheese-pull Insta-worthy.

Wood’s noteworthy dishes

Martirosyan taught himself how to make pizza without any formal training. He makes his Neapolitan pizzas using recipes that have been passed down for generations. He swears that the secret is in the high-quality flour he imports from Italy. "You can taste the difference," he said. He uses an organic, GMO-free stone-ground flour.

Wood’s pizza crust is on the thinner side. It has a nice, sourdough tang with a touch of saltiness. Aside from the Neapolitan-style pizzas, Martirosyan also bakes and cooks plenty of other foods in his oven. Wood’s wood-fired oven manages to make their diners crave vegetables. Diners come in asking for their spaghetti squash, charred broccoli, roasted cauliflower and crispy Brussels sprouts. The Brussels sprouts are topped with pomegranate gastrique, tahini and toasted sesame. The pomegranate gastrique adds a burst of flavor to your mouth.

Wood's spaghetti squash

Wood's roasted spaghetti squash with taleggio cheese and rosemary brown butter sauce is also delicious. Vegetarians and vegans have a number of choices at Wood. There’s a grilled eggplant sandwich made with mozzarella, tomato pesto, oven-dried tomato and basil aioli. There’s also a grilled escarole Caesar salad, a light salad, but the char from the wood-fired oven gives it an extra oomph. You can sub vegan cheese on your orders too.

Pastas, lamb chops, branzino, dry-aged ribeye steak and a number of sandwiches are also available for those who are not interested in pizza. The bread at Wood is made in-house every day with the same organic, GMO-free, stone-ground flour as the pizza dough. Everything is organic and made from scratch.

Wood’s desserts should not be overlooked either. Their banana cream pie is made in-house and tastes exactly as if you were eating fresh banana slices. It looks like a cheesecake with a crumbled graham cracker crust, and the pie filling is flavored with vanilla bean and has the consistency of flan. There’s also a panna cotta topped with a layer of fresh strawberries and Nutella.

Wood's panna cotta topped with a layer of fresh strawberries and Nutella

Getting back on track

Since the pandemic struck, Martirosyan has been hard at work, barely taking any time off and running Wood with a skeleton crew. Despite setback after setback, Martirosyan has chosen to remain positive during these uncertain times. Wood just restarted its dine-in service on June 11 and Martirosyan hopes that his customers will continue to support the restaurant with their patronage, either from physically going and ordering from the restaurant or by using delivery apps as it is available on all major platforms.

“There’s always a way out from any critical situation,” he says. “All we have to do is, firstly, stay focused; secondly, keep the panic away; and thirdly, and most importantly, search for solutions.”

Wood: 2861 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026

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