Getting one of Ben Arrona's Detroit-style pizzas is sort of like finding the trench-coated guy selling hot watches in a dark alleyway. You've got to know the right people. Even the right people might say, "You can't get there from here."
The only way to get a Benny's is to join the Benny's Pizza Facebook group and direct message Benny as soon as he posts he's going to bake. Does he have any plans to make it easier?
"No plans at all of making it easier," Arrona said matter-of-factly. "I want the business to be word of mouth. When a customer messages me, I feel that I'm making a personal connection. I'm not only selling pizzas, I'm making friends. I also don't want to expand at the moment, as I don't want to sacrifice quality for quantity."
For the uninitiated, how would Arrona describe a Benny's Detroit-style pizza?
"First off, the dough process is unique," the Cuesta College history teacher explained. "I use high protein and gluten bread flour and put the dough through multiple rest/knead cycles. This allows for a bread-like sponginess in the dough. After the first rise in the dough pans, the second rise (after de-gas ) is in the actual pizza pan. The dough then rises again. The entire dough process is between four to six hours, so prep time is all-consuming!
"When the dough is ready for toppings, the cheese goes in first, then sauce—20 ounces!—then toppings. This is different than a traditional Detroit that has sauce on the top of the cheese and toppings. I use mozzarella—the traditional Detroit is brick cheese—not available here—and cut it in small squares. I put 13 ounces of cheese on each pizza. Starting with the edges of the dough, I put cheese right up next to the pan. This allows for the formation of the famous caramelized cheese crust. Each pie comes out close to 5 pounds of rectangular crust, cheese, and sauce deliciousness."
Arrona spent years perfecting Chicago-style, thin crust, and Detroit-style pizzas at home and for friends at parties. In February, he made the move into a commercial kitchen, which he also rents out to others since he only bakes a few days week, currently Fridays and Sundays because of his summer teaching schedule.
Benny's Pizza group has nearly 1,300 members, and when he announces a bake, you've got to direct message him quick. He always sells out. If you get a spot, you need to show up at your assigned time to his storefront, 977 Foothill Blvd., No. 109, next to Kona's Deli.
Once you've had a Benny's, you'll measure time as B.B. and A.B.—Before Benny's and After Benny's. Oh, and the headline above is an abbreviation of Benny's unofficial motto: "God damn, bro!" The pizza's that good!
"I've spent the last 10 years of my life in grad school and teaching but also have over 25 years in the restaurant business," Arrona noted. "I'm happy doing both, as I get to intellectually stimulate as well as fill SLO County bellies!" Δ