By Charlie Pogacar

Brian Rock and his wife, Kim, founded Elevated Pie Co. as a grassroots way to feed pizza to the hungry. Since 2020, their mobile disaster-relief kitchen has cooked over 4,500 wood-fired pizzas for folks feeling the after-effects of natural disasters.

Recently, Elevated Pie Co. became a part of Doughnate Pizza, a nonprofit in Chicago run by Angelo Corso, son of the pizza-making family behind Angie’s Sports Bar & Pizzeria. The two organizations have similar objectives—giving away high-quality pizza to those who might otherwise go hungry—and the partnership has allowed Elevated Pie Co. to take its mission even further.

Related: Doughnate Pizza feeds the homeless with Chicago’s best pies

“We really wanted to become a nonprofit,” Rock said. “It’s been our dream. But the cost to start one is prohibitive. Luckily for us, Angelo reached out and said, ‘Come join our team.’”

The origins of Elevated Pie Co. date back to Winter 2020. When the pandemic arrived and shut down businesses, Rock began seeing media coverage of long lines at local food banks in the Chicagoland area. Rock sprang into action: He bought an Ooni oven, showed up at food banks and homeless shelters and made pizza for hungry people.

Rock, a U.S. Army veteran who suffers from PTSD, had first made pizza working a gig in California at age 15. After serving in the Army and being deployed to Afghanistan, he came home and, after some trying years, eventually found himself back in the pizza business. He and a mentor would cook and sell pizzas to thousands of festival-goers all across the country—they were a pizza production on wheels.

This photo shows an unbaked pizza, ready for the oven, and topped with pepperoni, shredded mozzarella, mushrooms, sausage and roasted red peppers.

Elevated Pie Co.

So when Rock saw those long lines at the food bank, he decided to take a skillset he had built up over time and put it to good use. “I like helping people,” he said. “With my PTSD, helping people helps me. I don’t work [a traditional, fulltime job]—too much stress puts me into a downward spiral, so I’m on disability. It’s weird—if I tried to sell pizza, it would feel very different than when I’m making something from my heart and being able to help people. Being able to do it as a nonprofit and give it away is healing. It’s a lot better than dealing with stress all the time.”

Eventually, Rock upgraded from the Ooni oven to a bona fide, Italian wood-fired oven that was assembled in Texas. He wanted to feed more people. All the while, he was mastering the art of pizza making.

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“Looking back, I was trying to perfect my craft back then, where I was doing a few local events and serving these flappy little things that probably tasted like crap compared to what I’m doing now,” Rock said. “Over the years, we’ve stepped our game up.”

Rock truly found his calling, however, when he saw more bad news on television. In August 2020, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was devastated by a derecho. So he packed up his oven and said goodbye to Kim, then his fiancee, who helps him run the day-to-day, back-end operations of Elevated Pie Co. Rock was hitting the road, heading out to bake free pizzas for the people of Cedar Rapids.

While most of the relief effort was focused on certain parts of Cedar Rapids, Rock took a different approach: He headed straight for a mobile home park that had been decimated. He set up shop and began cooking pies—he estimates that he fired up about 400 pies in a single day.

This photo shows a small wood-fired oven mounted on a trailer attached to a red pick-up truck.

Elevated Pie Co.

“That really opened my eyes,” Rock said of his experience in Iowa. “The Red Cross was already in town helping people, but nobody was hitting up the trailer parks. All these people live on food stamps, but nobody had power or water or had anywhere to go and no way to eat. I was able to get in there and serve people who needed it more than a lot of other people. Getting to have a conversation and break bread with people and share a meal was an amazing experience.”

Just a few months later, Western Kentucky was devastated by an EF4 tornado. Off Rock went to Mayfield, Kentucky, to aid in another emergency relief effort. There, Rock encountered Operation BBQ, a nonprofit organization based in Missouri that cooks barbecue in relief efforts. Rock was in awe of what a well-oiled machine it was—Operation BBQ recently served its 10 millionth meal, a milestone he finds staggering.

“They have eight different smokers that they run all night long,” Rock said. “It’s a really impressive operation—they are able to produce 100,000 meals per day. I went there and learned a lot from them about logistics, operations on the ground and how to get in with emergency management services.” Operation BBQ taught Rock how to ensure he was showing up at the right locations and complying with on-the-ground logistics set up by local government entities.

Some day, Rock would like to buy a food truck, one that would make his operation that much more efficient in deploying to disaster areas and feeding large swaths of people. His partnership with Doughnate Pizza has opened up different types of possibilities—now part of a nonprofit, he can accept tax-deductible donations, for example. Doughnate Pizza also has sponsorships from companies like Dude Wipes and Matt’s Cookie Company, thus increasing Elevated Pie’s ability to help people in need.

In addition to his disaster relief efforts, Rock has also started offering pizza-cooking classes for underprivileged people. He wants to help teach the refined art of making great pizza—it’s a bit of a “teach a man to fish”-type of philosophy. It’s also an extension of what Rock believes pizza is capable of.

“I just want to build a community,” Rock said. “When I show up to disaster areas with pizza, people come out and hang out. It might just be a stupid, quick meal, but it’s more than that: It’s a way to bring people together.

“When you learn how to make pizza…you learn that the dough is a living thing,” Rock said. “You start to treat it with respect and not be too hard with it. Pizza is a way to bring on healing in many forms.”

Elevated Pie Co. and Dougnate Pizza are always looking for volunteers. More information can be found at the Doughnate Pizza site.

Charlie Pogacar is PMQ Pizza’s senior editor.

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