Lakeside, Ohio, is a little blip on the shore of Lake Erie, right across the Sandusky Bay from Cedar Point. But this waterfront hamlet has long been a secret getaway for the rich and famous, including Eric Clapton and Harry Drackett, the inventor of Windex. It’s also the home of Sloopy’s Sports Café, a local fixture since 1995. When U.S. Pizza Team (USPT) member Bradley Corbin bought Sloopy’s in 2010, he propelled it to the next level with great-tasting pies featuring outside-the-box topping combinations—and put Lakeside on the world pizza map. I paid Brad a visit to explore the mindset behind some of his award-winning, unique pizzas and to learn how thinking outside the box can help any pizzeria.
Hernandez: Tell me about your earliest pizza memory.
Corbin: I never grew up in a pizzeria, so my earliest memory would be how pizza brought our family together. We would have a weekly pizza night where we would all talk about our week and just be a family. Sometimes we would order in, or my mom would make a pizza. Back then, she used to make the pies. Now we make the pies. Pizza is just a great way to bring people together.
Hernandez: Since you weren’t from a pizza family, how did you get started in this business?
Corbin: In 2003, when I was 19, I was a broke college kid, and I started here [at Sloopy’s] as a delivery driver and dishwasher. I graduated and went into a flooded IT market, so I kept working in the pizza industry, because it was good money. I told the owner if there was ever a way for me to buy into what he had here, I was all about it. Come 2010, we were able to make that happen, and I took over as owner. Sloopy’s has been my one and only pizza job ever.
Hernandez: Lake Erie is very much a seasonal destination. What are some of the challenges of running a resort-area establishment?
Corbin: About 16 weeks a year, we’re jammin’. It’s mainly about being able to survive year-round. Our lease is for 12 months, but we really only make our bread and butter in those 16 weeks. I guess the biggest hurdle would be saving money. Don’t go spending it all when your pockets are fat. You have to stash those nuts away for the winter like a squirrel so you can get through it. The best thing to do is to set up a lease structure that allows you to pay more of your rent in the summer, when you’re making money, and less in the winter. It might take some negotiating, but landlords can be flexible about this if you show them it will benefit them.
Hernandez: Let’s jump over to your unique pizzas. You’re in the Midwest, a very meat-and-potatoes kind of place. How do you get customers to order items like your Korean BBQ and Hibachi pizzas?
Corbin: We design these unique pizzas for new competitions that we go to. We compete annually in Las Vegas, Columbus and Cleveland and in many other places, including Italy. The best way to bring the customers on board is to just put it in their mouths. We’ll make a big one, cut it into small pieces and hand out free samples. We’ll say, “Here, try our Hibachi Pizza or our Korean BBQ. Tell us what you think. Does it wow you?” We really go for the wow factor. We like you to get a new flavor in each bite, and we try to hit all the classics on your palate—you know, savory, sweet, spicy, sometimes sour. We strive to do things that are outside the box. I don’t want to be like every other pizzeria. We put fresh fruit on pizza. We do Asian flavors, Mexican flavors. I want to be the guy that is doing everything that the guy down the street isn’t.
Hernandez: Besides setting your pizzeria apart from competitors, what other benefits do these unique pizzas offer?
Corbin: Definitely the word-of-mouth factor. We have people who will drive for hours to try our new award winners or even just to get their favorite pizzas. No one else does what we do on a pizza, so they really have no choice. But that’s good for us. And they spread the word in their towns, and, before you know it, you have people asking you to ship them par-baked pies.
Hernandez: What advice would you give someone trying to think outside the box for recipes?
Corbin: Remember that pizza is a blank canvas. You need a good crust, and honestly, that’s it. If you are doing the everyday type of pizza, yes, you need a good sauce and cheese, too. But if you are trying to come up with something no one else has, start with the dough. You don’t need a red sauce for a pizza. Take flavors from other dishes that you like, even from other countries. Those will be the most exotic and unique flavors for pizza you will find. Throw a dart at a world map and come up with a pizza featuring a signature dish from wherever the dart lands. And know that not every pizza you try is going to be a winner. Some will be downright nasty! But don’t give up. Think of pizza as a vessel for flavor. The rest will fall into place. Finally, don’t be afraid of constructive criticism from people you trust, but also trust yourself and your own critiques. You tend to be your own harshest critic.
Hernandez: Do you test your competition pies on your customers before the event?
Corbin: We’ll test our pizzas on the regulars and get their honest feedback. After the competition, we will start incorporating all the other customers into the trials, especially after we win. There is no better marketing tool than being able to put the words “award-winning” on your menu, especially more than once. Our regulars trust us not to steer them wrong, especially after winning seven national awards. That’s one of the benefits of competing for a pizzeria, plus all the connections you make in the industry and ideas you can glean from other competitors, as well as the lifelong friendships you form.
Hernandez: For our Chef’s Corner recipe, you shared the Korean BBQ pie that you won a competition with in 2017. What’s going on with this unique pizza?
Corbin: We start it with our housemade dough that has cold-fermented for 48 hours. We put Galbani whole-milk mozzarella right on the dough, and then our seasoned and crumbled ground beef, which is flavored with some ginger, salt, pepper and garlic. Then we add our fried rice. We bake that off. Then, after the bake, we add some crispy fried onions, fresh shredded carrots, diagonally sliced scallions, and fresh cilantro. Then we drizzle a spiral of our Korean barbecue sauce and finish it with sesame seeds.
Hernandez: I tasted the Korean BBQ Pizza at your place, and I loved the different textures. A cross-section of a slice reminded me of a 7-layer dip, only better. The fried rice gave it some chew with a little firmness, and the fresh veggies and sesame seeds on top had a lot of crunch and flavor. I liked the fact that they were cool while the pie itself was hot. And, of course, the star of this unique pizza was the Korean barbecue sauce.
Corbin: This can be done on any crust, really. The version we won with used a Detroit-style crust. You just have to play around with it in your pizzeria and see what works best for you.
Brian Hernandez is PMQ’s test chef.
Korean BBQ Pizza
- 16-oz. dough ball (14” round)
- 5 oz. Galbani Whole-Milk Mozzarella
- 3-4 oz. crumbled ground beef, seasoned to taste with salt, pepper, garlic and ginger
- 2-3 oz. fried rice, fried to taste with sesame oil, oyster sauce, soy sauce, lemon juice, chopped onion, salt and pepper
- 1 oz. fried onions
- 1 oz. carrots, shredded
- ½ oz. fresh scallions, diagonally chopped
- ½ oz. fresh cilantro
- Korean barbecue sauce, drizzled
- Sprinkle of sesame seeds
Cook the rice, preferably the day before, and refrigerate (cold, dry rice gets crispier in the skillet). If you don’t want to wait, spread cooked rice evenly on a baking sheet and place in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Add sesame oil to a heated pan, then add rice and begin to fry. After 1-2 minutes, add oyster sauce, soy sauce, lemon juice, chopped onion, salt and pepper, all to taste. Continue to fry until the mixture has reduced and the desired texture is achieved.
Begin to brown your ground beef, then add salt, pepper, garlic (or garlic powder) and ginger to taste. Drain and set aside for later.
Stretch dough, then add mozzarella evenly. Add fried rice and ground beef, then bake at 525°F for about 7-10 minutes (for a deck oven). Once the dough is golden-brown and the cheese has melted, remove pizza from the oven and slice before adding the final toppings. Add fried onions, shredded carrots, sliced scallions and fresh cilantro. Drizzle Korean barbecue sauce over the pie, then sprinkle on the sesame seeds. Enjoy!