By Rick Hynum
As a family-owned restaurant in a small Ohio town of just 300 people, Berwick Pizza doesn’t have to get too innovative with its menu. It’s safe to say the good folks of Green Camp would be happy with the standards—high-quality pepperoni, sausage, a tasty Margherita, a belly-busting meat lovers, maybe wings and a sandwich or two.
But co-owner Austin Buckland and his family, including mom and dad Brenda and Todd Buckland, aren’t willing to settle for the ordinary. Sure, if you’re looking for a pie topped with pepperoni, mushrooms and onions, they’ve got you covered—and an extra-large cheese pizza won’t set you back more than $18.99. You can also order up a personal-sized Mac and Cheese Pizza for $7.49 or a 14” Spaghetti Pizza—complete with noodles, sauce, cheese and sausage—for $19.29. And they’ve got pizzas topped with pulled pork or BBQ chicken, even a Taco Pizza and a Nashville Hot Chicken pie.
But Berwick Pizza is also a realm of whimsy and ingenuity, where every young kid’s dream pizza comes to life. Think Fruity Pebbles and Lucky Charms. Think Pumpkin Donut and Oreo Funnel Cakes. Think Death by Chocolate.
In short, the menu at Berwick Pizza will make your taste buds do a double take.
The Bucklands started offering a unique monthly specialty pizza in 2016 at the behest of Matt Meyer, Austin’s brother-in-law. “He would try unusual recipes with different sauces and combinations that always pushed the envelope,” Austin said. “We eventually realized that our customers might love them just as much as we did.”
The campaign brought its share of challenges, though, Austin noted. “Launching the program was something that we went back and forth on a little bit at the beginning, for the simple reasons of the time and money that went into creating them. Some of our hurdles were carrying special ingredients that we don’t typically stock and finding the right amount to source when we didn’t yet know how well a recipe would perform.”
“It was a grind to let people know about them, too,” he added. “Some customers would only be interested in a traditional tomato sauce and cheese pizza, which is great, of course. But if we put all of this time and money into it and then only sold a small quantity, the payback just couldn’t justify the efforts. We actually even took a two-month break from the promotion after the first two pizzas were released. But as we pushed through the first few months, they quickly found a place, becoming a staple of our business.”
By all rights, Green Camp shouldn’t be a pizza destination. It’s a full hour from the nearest major city, Columbus. And Ohio is a state with pizza aplenty, home to chains like Donatos, Marco’s and Master Pizza. But, Buckland explains, “The closest chain shops are about 20 minutes away, so we are out here all by ourselves. There are a few other independents about 10 minutes away, but it’s all very rural.”
Regardless, you won’t find the Bucklands’ off-the-wall dessert pizzas anywhere else.
“The pizzas, at the beginning, revolved more around typical food dishes that you might think of, such as our Spaghetti Pizza—which was the very first POTM—or the Philly Cheese Steak Pizza or the Sloppy Joe Pizza,” Austin said. “But since my family bought the shop in 2007, and well before the Pizzas of the Month began, we have been well-known for our dessert pizzas. So, with that in the back of our minds, we began to shift more towards the dessert pizzas. You could consider some of the early ones to even push the odd envelope, such as the Pumpkin Pie or the Gingerbread Dessert Pizzas we featured in 2017. We’ve never been afraid to think outside of the box.”
So which dessert pizzas have popped, and which ones have fizzled? “There have absolutely been clear winners and losers,” Austin said, with a laugh. “We can admit that on both ends of the scale. Our most popular pizzas have been the Cosmic Brownie, Death by Chocolate—which featured seven layers of chocolatey goodness—and Pumpkin Donut. Fruity Pebbles was also a bestseller, although it managed to spark a small controversy over whether it belonged on pizza or not. Nobody marched at us with pitchforks or anything, but it managed to get a few Facebook warriors quite upset. Sometimes that kind of discussion helps to promote us, though, so it’s all good.”
“With these successes also come the bombs,” he continued. “It happens. We know that some flavors are love-it-or-hate-it. Nerds, Key Lime Pie and Wild Poppin’ (Pop Rocks on pizza) apparently fall into that category. When you take risks, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t!”
Despite its small-town location, Berwick Pizza has amassed a following of nearly 4,000 fans on Facebook. So, naturally, social media is a crucial marketing channel for the specialty dessert pizzas. But the Bucklands believe in four-walls marketing, too, ensuring that every customer who steps inside the pizza shop’s doors will quickly realize they’re in for an unusual treat.
“There are two different ways that we let our customers know what is available,” Austin explained. “First of all, Matt has a background in digital design and started creating posters every month for every flavor. We have kept up the tradition and hang the posters in our shop every month. Secondly, we’ve also found that simply advertising them on the phone while taking orders has been extremely effective. It’s like the equivalent of ‘Would you like fries with that?’ Instead, it’s ‘Would you like to add a dessert to that?’ It has become one of our greatest selling strategies to customers who otherwise might not have known about them without coming into our shop before or without knowing we’re even on social media.”
Austin currently manages the monthly pizza specials, with input from Meyer and the Berwick Pizza team. “We have come up with pizza ideas about any way you could imagine,” Austin says. “We have a running list of ideas written on our walk-in cooler that we are constantly adding to. Our staff brainstorms ideas, and we try them out and taste-test them together. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. It adds to the fun of it; it might take several versions and tweaks to get a recipe just right.
“We also are very interactive with our followers on social media. We hold several different contests throughout the year to let our customers speak to what they want to see next. We’ll put different pizzas up to a vote. Sometimes it’s even as simple as walking down the grocery store aisle and thinking, ‘Hey, why haven’t we tried this on a pizza?’ All of this taste-testing is a hard job, but someone has to do it, and I’ll certainly sign up as tribute every time!”
But don’t get the wrong impression: Not every monthly special at Berwick Pizza is some novelty recipe straight outta the Twilight Zone. Austin was a finalist in the 2022 Real California Pizza Contest (RCPC), thanks to his more orthodox La Fiesta pizza. In other words, the young chef has legit pizza-making chops. That pizza, he says, “started off with fresh fire-roasted salsa on our homemade dough. We then added grilled chicken, grilled veggies, cilantro and tortilla strips. The contest was focused on Real California Cheese, so it also featured three of their amazing cheeses: oaxaca, cotija and a drizzle of queso blanco—a true fiesta of flavors!”
Earning a spot in the RCPC finals was an unforgettable experience for Austin. “It was such an impactful opportunity for both our business and myself personally,” he recalls. “Our customers rallied behind me the entire time, and our shop was packed as my family and customers watched the contest in our dining room. I was amazed by the quality of the event and their all-out effort—and success—at putting on a great contest. I came away with many great new friends in the pizza industry, who I otherwise never would’ve been put in contact with.”
The La Fiesta has also been spotlighted as a Pizza of the Month at Berwick Pizza. Still, it’s the sweet-treat specialties like the Apple Dumpling Pizza—a collaboration with the Green Camp Dairy Bar—and the splendidly odd Wendy’s Frosty Dessert Pizza that generate buzz for this small-town innovator. “We have a lot of fun with them, and our customers do as well,” Austin says. “The exciting new ideas really help to keep us on the map and drive business!”