By Charlie Pogacar
Woodbelly Pizza in Montpelier, Vermont, believes in community. A cooperatively owned business, perhaps it’s no surprise Woodbelly was the site of a therapeutic gathering of service-industry workers recovering from devastating flooding that rocked the small capital city the week of July 10.
Most businesses in downtown Montpelier were ravaged with water damage and have yet to reopen some six weeks later. Woodbelly was relatively fortunate, but the pizzeria’s basement flooded after a drain in the parking lot clogged outside the shop. Co-owner Kes Marcel estimated the pizzeria incurred over $40,000 worth of damage to equipment, and the whole team—plus some intrepid volunteers—spent an entire week cleaning up after the flood.
While outlying repairs were still needed a week later, like drywall in the basement to be redone, city officials approved the business to reopen on Monday, July 17. As one of the first restaurant businesses to open after the flooding, Woodbelly offered a 20% discount to those in the service industry on its first night back in business. It was promoted as Service Industry Night—playfully dubbed “SIN Night,” redundancy and all.
The initial Service Industry Night, Marcel said, was nothing short of magical. “It was amazing,” Marcel said. “We had so much fun. There was a line out the door—it was as busy as any Friday night gets, and this was on a Monday. People were coming through with their families….It was just great to come together in that way at a time when I think we all really needed it.”
Having been so successful, Service Industry Night became a weekly event. The move has transformed Monday from the pizzeria’s slowest day into one of its busiest. In many ways, the promotion’s success is the story of Woodbelly Pizza in a nutshell: an experiment that went so well it became a permanent fixture.
Woodbelly Pizza was founded on a CSA farm in Morrisville, Vermont, in 2008, when two friends, Jonah Bourne and Jeremiah Church, decided to sell their pizza at the local market. Every Friday night, the duo would prepare dough on a friend’s porch for the farmers market held in Montpelier each Saturday morning, where they’d set up their mobile wood-fired oven and cook pies.
Another eventual Woodbelly Pizza owner, Dave Dickson, introduced a 100-plus-year-old Italian sourdough strain into the mix to make a unique, crowd-pleasing crust that the cooperative still relies upon to this day. Woodbelly takes great care in sourcing its ingredients—most everything is from local farms, from the milled flour that helps create the dough to the summer produce that goes into salads.
Woodbelly has always been cooperatively run, and all employees are eligible to become owners. The current stipulations are 2,500 hours of service, a $2,000 buy-in, and the worker must be knowledgeable about all aspects of the business and show a desire to be an owner. While there are just three owners at the moment, Marcel said the business aims to bolster that number, with goals of reaching five owners in the near future.
Woodbelly has had quite a journey since becoming a farmers market staple. The cooperative spent time establishing itself as a local caterer, which eventually became its main revenue source. When the world shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, business dried up and Woodbelly was left in an unenviable position. The group moved to find a brick-and-mortar location that could service takeout orders and, eventually, be a place where folks could sit down and eat, as well as serve as a home base for its catering services.
“The dream of opening a restaurant had been something we’d talked about for a while,” Marcel said. “When the pandemic came, we lost 90% of our business, as our catering clients had to reschedule weddings. We were able to secure a lease at a former auto parts store and opened in March 2021.”
The location that opened in spring 2021, at 79 Barre Street, is where the Service Industry Night was held. Attendees from area businesses gathered, and Woodbelly’s own Ross Patten was behind the bar mixing up new and signature cocktails to help lighten the mood. After all that had happened in Montpelier, Woodbelly Pizza was the perfect place to be.
“I do think pizza is a food people come to when they gather,” Marcel said. “It’s a format that can be adapted and riffed on in beautiful and artful ways—it’s also humble, whether you’re making ricotta pizza with caramelized onions and blueberries and sausage, or just a simple pepperoni pizza. There are so many different directions you can go.”
“There’s nothing that warms my heart more than when we have kids come in,” Marcel continued. “And you see the sheer joy they have for pizza, of this humble food we all love so much.”