Power to the Pizza

Pizza Nea’s Mike Sherwood fuels his excellent “Minneapolitan” pizzeria with sober pedaling

Photo courtesy of Mike Sherwood

Photo courtesy of Mike Sherwood

Mike Sherwood does his own thing.

It’s why he’s waiting for an afternoon interview with Food & Wine Magazine to discuss food and politics. His outspoken ways on Twitter have garnered him a certain reputation. Whether you dig that reputation or not will depend on your political leanings, but suffice to say his restaurant Pizza Nea’s Twitter handle is not what you might expect, but instead: “Pizza de Résistance.” Tweets, like recent ones highlighting an “Impeach-za” special (with "Colorado peaches, goat cheese, prosecute—err prosciutto—and Herbs dé Provence") or offering discounts to customers wearing Pink Pussyhats, have earned him quite a following of likeminded pizza lovers.

It’s also lost him a few as well, but again, he does his own thing.

“I might piss some people off in this world, but they’ll get over it,” he told me in an article I wrote for City Pages back in January. If anything, he’s only gotten more political over time. “Businesses are individuals now, right? So, businesses are a perfect place to get political.”

Sherwood is a guy who threw off the shackles (and the suits) of corporate America after trying to follow in his father’s footsteps buying merchandise for J.C.Penney: “I spent seven miserable years that way.” While his dad loved it, he definitely did not, and he dreamed of a life about as far away from the beige confines of the department store cubicle as one can possibly dream: a New York–style deli.

After living in the big city, he got hooked on the sandwiches, the meats, the bagels of the East Coast.

“Do you know what a Sloppy Joe in New Jersey is?”

I didn’t.

“It’s a piece of bread, coleslaw, a thin slice of meat, coleslaw, and another thin slice of meat, then more coleslaw.” He talks about it the way some people talk about sex, and it becomes clear: Sherwood was a man destined to have a deli.

I might piss some people off in this world, but they’ll get over it,

And so he did. He opened St. Paul Bagelry in Roseville (still open under new ownership), but not before spending some super weird, super frigid time in Fargo learning the art of the bagel from a Jewish teacher who somehow also ended up in Fargo teaching people how to make bagels for $10,000 a pop.

“I lived in a Holiday Inn and people were smoking all over the place. It was the most awful thing. I was getting up at two and three o’clock in the morning in the middle of winter to go and make bagels. I hear that Fargo is cool now, but this was way, way before it was anything cool. [You could actually imagine people] going through wood chippers all over the place!” (à la the famous scene in Fargo’s eponymous film)

But it worked. Dara Moskowitz, a big name in food journalism and a native New Yorker, noticed his handiwork. She told everyone about Mike and his astounding bagels, and the rest is history.

Sort of.

First, he started making Neapolitan pizza by night in his bagelry, another thing almost nobody had heard of at the time —“This was all so out there, so quirky and awesome back then”—and soon, it was time to open a pizzeria. Like, for real this time.

Photo courtesy of Pizza Nea

Photo courtesy of Pizza Nea

So Pizza Nea was born out of an abbreviation of the name of his favorite book, Pizza Napoletana!, somewhat of a pizza bible, and then the rest was really and truly history.

Well, kinda. He lost a $600,000 second location in Uptown to chapter 13, and then came some deep, drinking days. Some of them dark. Somewhere along the way, he picked up a bike.

When he decided to go completely sober 14 months ago, a friend said, “Why don’t you start biking to work every day?” So he did. And he hasn’t looked back.

Plenty of ink has been spent on the by now indisputable relationship between alcohol and the culinary industry. In more than one way, alcohol fuels many (most?) restaurants. The on-the-line shots to celebrate a successful dinner rush, the post-work beers for camaraderie, the post-beer cocktails for winding down, the bloodies to make the whole cycle possible again the next day and the next night.

But for Sherwood, and others like him, the bike has taken up where the shots have left off. He calls his bike a “sub-addiction” that’s replaced the alcohol as fuel.

“It’s a lot safer,” burns up to 700 calories an hour, and through cycling, he’s met his people. “The camaraderie, the acceptance; black, white, GLBT, sober, drunk, there’s no snobbery. You just start making friends. It’s just the greatest.”

Enter the bike-fueled restaurant. And, he’s serious about it.

Sherwood is planning an upcoming second restaurant of “light Italian fare for cyclists,” possibly with some burgers, because people love burgers, you can’t deny it. And, if the location he’s scouting works out, he’s planning 100 parking spots for bikes, and none for cars. Plus beer. Lots and lots of local beer.

From a sober guy? Definitely.

“It’s such a natural thing to be out having a beautiful day and you find a place to park your bike and sit outside and have a sandwich or a pizza and have a cold beer. And, these are my people.”

See? He’s not such an outlier after all. He’s about pizza, for the people.

Viva, la pizza de resistance!


Pizza Nea

306 E Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis

Mecca Bos