‘Delancey,’ the book, tells the restaurant’s not-so-easy story
From almost broke to crowds at the door, Molly Wizenberg now says, “What continues to deepen for me and for my feelings about the restaurant is just this real gratitude for all these people that I didn’t think would ever be a part of my life or my child’s life.”
Special to The Seattle Times
FIRST CAME love, then marriage. Then Molly Wizenberg’s husband, a musician pursuing a graduate degree, decided to create a pizza restaurant.
To the outside world, the opening of Delancey in 2009 seemed a sunny continuation of a fairy-tale romance. Wizenberg had met Brandon Pettit through her online site Orangette, a massively popular combination of storytelling and recipes named the world’s best food blog by the Times of London. Pettit had worked at restaurants for years, most recently at the Boat Street Cafe.
As Wizenberg chronicles in her new book, “Delancey” (Simon & Schuster, $25), though, the deeper story was not so easy.
“I know from the outside it could look like, how could she be looking at anything besides how wonderful it is to (build) this successful business? But it’s not at all the life I thought I would have, and it is a life that is way outside my comfort zone,” Wizenberg said recently from Essex, the Ballard cocktail bar the couple opened next to Delancey in 2012.
It seemed naive for a quiet couple to think they could succeed in a hard-charging world where so many people “are all about sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll . . . I just thought we were such an anomaly in this industry there would be nobody else like us and the restaurant would just run us over.”
Wizenberg, who calls herself “the villain, if anything” of the love story, signed off on the plans not expecting them to ever become a reality. Her perfectionist husband had thrown himself into other passions and then abandoned them, from boatbuilding to ice-cream making, and she figured the pizza quest would be no different.
“There were a lot of ways in which I underestimated him,” she says now.
Even when Pettit’s planned business partner, Carla Leonardi of Café Lago, realized she couldn’t move ahead with a new business, Pettit and Wizenberg decided to become sole proprietors despite her doubts. He dissected — literally, at times — favored pizza crusts from around the country until he had developed the low-yeast, slow-rise version he preferred and mastered the wood-burning oven they painstakingly assembled. Friends and relatives helped with the crushing work of cleaning and building the restaurant space; it was DIY down to refashioning pickling jars as lights.
By opening week the couple was almost broke, patching together money for each day’s ingredients through the previous night’s sales.
Then it happened: Delancey turned out to be not only good, but great.
Crowds lined up before the doors opened each night, drawn by shishito pepper pizzas and plum crumbles from the menus Wizenberg wrote by hand each night. Orangette readers heard only occasional restaurant updates. She didn’t want to hide anything, she said, but “I knew that I knew nothing about what I was doing.”
Once, she told Pettit she wanted to close the business. At one low point, he wanted that, too. Eventually she found balance, trading her pantry-cook position for the role of restaurant manager. Slowly they worked their way through it all, feeling they could no longer imagine their lives without Delancey.
Contributing to that sense of completion was the birth of daughter June, now 1, who has Brandon’s black curls.
“What continues to deepen for me and for my feelings about the restaurant is just this real gratitude for all these people that I didn’t think would ever be a part of my life or my child’s life,” Wizenberg says. “When I step back now and I think about how fully and happily interwoven our lives and the life of this restaurant are, that’s just something I never expected.”
Food writer Rebekah Denn is a major contributor to The Seattle Times food blog, All You Can Eat. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.