If you ever need anyone to support a good cause, all you need to do is provide the pizza. And while that’s maybe not the exact theory behind the Fountain of Life Covenant Church’s West Long Beach take-out food counter 5000 Pies, the utterly addictive Chicago-inspired deep-dish pizzas it serves do help to transform lives of local young adults, one culinary employment job at a time.
5000 Pies is one of the region’s few food-based social enterprises, a burgeoning type of for-profit business created exclusively to tackle a social problem. In this case, the social enterprise is owned by the decade-old church, which meets at Stephens Middle School and opened the kitchen in 2014 as part of a mission to create positive change in their community.
With youth unemployment rates higher in Long Beach than the state or national average and few resources for job training, Fountain of Life saw a need to help its neighbors and congregation members improve their own lives (nevermind that the food scene in West Long Beach could also use a contemporary concept or two).
Inspired by the story in the Bible where Jesus fed 5,000 people with just a few loaves of bread and fish, the answer was clear — affordable pies.
In their midst was a sweet pie expert, who turned her award-winning tinned creations—like maple dark chocolate pecan, double apple, toasted coconut with banana cream and more—into whole pies available for pre-order ($18-$25) and hand pies to grab and go (two for $5).
Also in their arsenal is executive chef and trainer Michael Martinez, who attended Le Cordon Bleu after a rough-and-tumble childhood in SanTana and worked in restaurant catering for decades. His “Long Beach-style” deep dish pizzas (around $20 each) are the core of 5000 Pies’ business and require a 45-60 minute wait for the inches-high sweet yellow crust loaded with toppings, cheese and the requisite chunky tomato sauce. Even when not ordered “loaded style” (all the meat and all the veggies), each slice is like a piece of lasagna, a hearty knife-and-fork meal in itself.
Because of its location on Santa Fe directly across the street from Cabrillo High School, 5000 Pies also serves food that doesn’t necessitate phoning ahead. For the hungry teens (or City Hall workers or longshoremen or anyone else with a lunch break near the Westside), there are quick-cooked $5 personal-sized regular-crust pizzas (two toppings, a bubbly crust and lots of fresh herbs), $6 calzones (pick your fillings), $6 deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (served with ice cold milk for dunking), $5 build your own salads (with ingredients from Long Beach farms) and a house invention called Jaguar Fries. Topped with buffalo sauce, melted blue cheese and a handful of boneless chicken wings, it’s chili cheese fries for the hot-wing generation.
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There are no tables inside—just a few benches where you can sit as you wait for the staff (currently a mix of trainees and program graduates) to prepare your order. Grab a few 50-cent cookies or whatever other dessert treats are in the case seasonally while you hang out, or head to the snack shop next door for a wide selection of drinks (and a few chairs).
Despite its location in the hard-to-access sliver between the 710 Freeway and the Port of L.A., its unconventional advance ordering and its take-out-only setup, at the end of last month, the social enterprise hit a significant milestone: it sold its 5000th pie. That translates to numerous job opportunities, dozens of people given culinary workforce training, and multiple lives transformed in the process. Finally, there's pizza we can feel good about eating.
5000 Pies, 2064 Santa Fe Ave. Long Beach; (562) 901-0615; 5000pies.com