Pizza is a magical food. Eat it hot, cold, meaty or with veggies only. It still tastes good. And a place like The Original Sgt. Pepperoni's Pizza Store has been feeding locals for nearly 40 years over in Newport. So I had a chat with the guy who knows his dough, Trevor Kotchek.
Can you explain why you chose a career path in the restaurant industry, despite learning from previous jobs that it is a stressful and tedious road to go down?
I just couldn't deny my love for it. Whenever I found myself working outside of it, all I wanted was to be back. It's a special industry, and if you do it right, you can have a really positive effect on people.
Where were you born, and how did you end up in Orange County?
I was born in New York, moved around a bunch as a kid, and back to New York when I was 10. Moved out to San Diego at 23. Now I call Newport home. Orange County was never a destination of mine, but I've had two opportunities to open shops up here, and it's starting to grow on me.
Tell me about your first restaurant in Fullerton?
It's a long story, but an ex-girlfriend and I opened up a true mom-and-pop pizzeria in Fullerton about six years ago. It's still there and doing well, some may notice some similar menu items.
What is the story behind the name of the restaurant?
Sgt Pepp's is 40 years old! It was named in the heyday of the cheesy themed restaurant. Honestly, when I first heard the name, I wasn't very excited to keep it. But when I learned the history of the restaurant and what it meant to the community over the years, we couldn't change it. We had to to honor it.
Strangest customer request (and did you do it?):
Pizzas with no cheese; I laugh every time. I will make the cheese-less pizzas for customer satisfaction, but one day I'll say no. Probably not at Sgt. Pepp's, but a more “soup Nazi”-like concept.
What do you recommend for first-timers?
Meatball ricotta. It will change your life.
Must undervalued ingredient:
Worcestershire. I use it in a few things on our menu, and it usually adds a surprising depth to things it doesn't belong in.
What is your philosophy on pizza and the East Coast attitude? How does it differ from local pizza joints?
I grew up in New York, where pizza is a cultural staple. And there is at least one pizza shop in every neighborhood that's been there for 20 years. These shops are heavily supported by the neighborhood, and a chain restaurant wouldn't stand a chance if it moved in. Orange County loves its big corporate restaurants, and you can see that in its restaurant culture.
We had to educate our customers a bit, and now we have an amazing customer base that's super loyal and reminds me of back East. That was our goal with Sgt. Pepp's. Bring back the neighborhood spot with a heart and soul. Serve high quality food with great service, and make sure it doesn't go anywhere. It's more than just a restaurant; it's a community center.
One stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true:
I've heard some of us are hot heads and short-tempered, but I've never experienced that.
Last thing you looked up online:
I'll plead the fifth on that. My Google app gets a lot of work.
Favorite places to eat (besides your own).
I like to eat at Mozza or Arc for date night. Black Trumpet in Huntington Beach has become a favorite, and In-N-Out at least twice a week to keep up with my figure.
You have a whole day to yourself; what would you do?
Eat, sleep, clean.
Your favorite childhood memory.
Sneaking chocolate malts with my mom.
Tell us something most people don't know about you.
I won my third grade spelling bee.
You're making breakfast; what are you having?
Still trying to perfect my mother's pancakes, and I have a long way to go.
Looking back on past work experience, is there anything that you do differently now than in your 20s?
I'm a lot more patient. I can hear my partners and my employees chuckling while reading this, but seriously, I was a nightmare in my 20s.
Hardest life lesson you've learned:
Not to have expectations.
What profession would you like to try if you weren't in this business?
I'd go back into the mental health field or construction. I still love to build things.
Tell us about your guilty pleasure food.
Bread and butter. A little ratchet, but so simple and so satisfying. Carbs and fat, carbs and fat.
I hear you're about to turn 40 (Well, the restaurant!). How do you plan to celebrate?
Ohhhhhhh, shit! We're having an all-day rager October 22 with live music, beer garden, bouncey castles, a dunk tank and all sorts of shenanigans.
Anything else we can look forward to?
We'll be starting a pizza of the month, and I'm super stoked for you guys to dig in. I'll be bringing back some old school stuff from New York and mixing in some more refined recipes as well. Stay tuned!