Second Story Pizza: A New Chapter for Sasha Felikson

The restaurant industry was forced to take a pause in 2020. Owners, chefs, managers, servers, line cooks… everyone had to make decisions, assess risks, and determine how best to adapt to the mass upheaval brought on by the global pandemic. Each has a narrative that shapes where they are today, which is likely still evolving.

Sasha Felikson was a chef at the well-regarded Bresca in March 2020, working alongside the restaurant’s Executive Chef Ryan Ratino. He was laid off from Bresca as the team there reassessed how best to move forward during COVID.

Felikson, at age 33, has an impressive bio. He has served as executive chef at Julii in Rockville and Doi Moi in the District. For him, returning to work inside a restaurant wasn’t an option. He is among the millions of restaurant workers nationwide whose livelihoods have been affected by COVID-19.

“During COVID I want to be safe.  My partner works at a hospital, and she is unfortunately exposed to COVID every single day,” says Felikson. “I didn’t want to expose any other people nor do I want to expose myself any further.”

In September he launched Second Story Pizza out of his second-floor apartment in the Edgewood neighborhood of DC. The venture came about organically. The chef purchased an Ooni wood-fired pizza oven for his deck. He took advantage of his newfound free time to experiment with dough and toppings to create a  thin and crispy crust inspired by Puglia and Roman style pizza. He used a sourdough starter he developed years ago with Koji and fermented potato. The dough ferments for four to seven days for maximum flavor. As his product took shape, he shared the results with family and friends. The response was enthusiastic. Felikson eventually launched a website offering his pizza for pick-up or delivery.

Pizza is not exactly a novel idea. In fact, it has become ubiquitous in the DC area in recent months. There are pizza pop-ups, menus featuring pizza specials, and new pizza-centric restaurants.

I ask Felikson why pizza is the current it food.  “When you are doing to-go, there are very few foods that survive,” he says. “Pizza, fried chicken, Asian food, soup- they do well. Pizza is a survivor. It’s the thing that COVID brought out of the food world. During the day it’s sandwiches and at night it’s pizza.”

I have been a Felikson fan since I first met the gregarious chef at Doi Moi in 2017. I subsequently interviewed him for Jewish Food Experience and wrote about his cooking at Julii.  When I spot his Instagram post announcing Second Story Pizza, I peruse the menu offerings of four red and three white pizzas and plot a visit. I ultimately switch gears and opt for delivery.

This a home-based business run solely by Felikson, so if you choose to have your pizza delivered, it’s the chef who shows up at your door. I can’t see his signature grin behind the mask when he arrives with pizza boxes in hand, but his warmth  and enthusiasm shine through.

Spicy red pizza with Calabrian chili and tomato is a simple pleasure. It has tang, and pop, and once we toss it on the grill for a few minutes (pro-tip), the crispness of the thin crust is restored. The chef’s creativity is on display with a pizza topped with pineapple and guanciale. He sources the pork from Georgetown Butcher, and makes a jam by fermenting the pineapple and cooking it with jalapeno, garlic, and espelette pepper. It’s a compelling combination of sweet and salty with a hint of heat.

Second Story Pizza pineapple guanciale

Second Story Pizza pineapple guanciale

 

Second Story Pizza Garlic Lover

Second Story Pizza Garlic Lover

Prices for the pizzas, which are posted on the Second Story website, range from $16 to $19. Orders can be placed by email or Instagram direct message. When Felikson confirms the order he asks for a donation rather than a fixed amount, and suggests that satisfaction with the food be your guide.

It’s a novel approach, but he is enthusiastic about the outcome. “If something isn’t good, someone needs to know about it, “he says. “By paying for food ahead of time it almost completely eliminates that option. The point of this business isn’t to make a million dollars, nor is it to launch the greatest pizza company ever. The point is that I can’t work in kitchens right now… but I want to continue to cook and source ingredients, and make good food.”

Felikson has a major in psychology and it’s evident in this philosophy. “It’s 10,000 percent successful,” says Felikson. People want to give to something they believe in. If they feel like they are donating rather than paying, they may want to pay more to help me survive this thing, and maybe even open a pizza shop someday.”

The oven’s capacity is limited to one pizza at a time, so he can only put out about 15 pizzas a day. He may expand the menu in the spring when options for vegetables improve. Lasagna and meatballs may also appear in the future.

While he doesn’t know how his storyline will develop, Sasha Felikson is building a client base that he hopes will be there long-term. In the meantime, he’s working towards a happy ending for his current chapter, and hopefully a sequel.

 

Second Story Pizza, 711 Jackson Street, NE 4, Washington, DC

Instagram: @secondstorypizza

 

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