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Dec 13, 2017

The Slice of Life

With four decades of "Super Pizza" under its belt, Brick Oven Pizza has amassed a die-hard following of pizza lovers on Kaua'i and O'ahu. With two restaurants on the Garden Isle and four on O'ahu, regulars know that pizza is merely where the love affairs begins.

The menu is loaded with specialty pizzas, appetizers, pasta dishes, and hot sandwiches. Owner Corey Aguano welcomes locals and visitors to his newest restaurant on the second floor of the Ward Village South Shore Marketplace. Whether you cut your pizza with a fork and knife or opt for the hold-and-fold style, Aguano is sure you'll find the authentic flavors are worth another bite.

Tell us about the history of Brick Oven Pizza.

It was started by Earl Demas in 1977. The first restaurant was on Kaua'i, in Kalaheo. Brick Oven was his concept. Thirty years later, in 2007, we met up and got things rolling. We started running operations in March 2008, with the original store in Kalaheo. That store is 40 years old this year. We've been running it ever since. It's family owned with no affiliation to any chain or mainland companies.

Over the years you've expanded from the original restaurant in Kalaheo to six restaurants on two islands. Were multiple locations always part of your plan for a Brick Oven Pizza empire in Hawai'i?

Definitely. We were going to expand and build up to a certain point and see how things worked out. We tested the waters after each restaurant, but I wanted to get up to 10 stores. I'm at six and I think that's enough. I can be happy with that.

What was your relationship with pizza before Brick Oven Pizza?

None. We were taught by Mr. Demas. He stayed on board, which was nice of him. He trained us—how to make pizzas and how to run the restaurant. He ran it really well for 30 years. My wife had the restaurant background for many years. I was actually in law enforcement.

Did you move over from Kaua'i to make this happen?

Initially, we were commuting and decided it was too hard. I moved my family up here around four or five years ago and my partner stayed back in Kaua'i.

Apart from the original recipes, what have you added to the menu?

We added some things as the years went on, including customer requests, and added some of our own appetizers, but overall we haven't changed the restaurant a bit. We haven't even changed the brand of the cheese. We kept it the same way he did for 40 years. Mr. Demas was from the East Coast. All the recipes are his and we weren't going to change it.

What do your customers think about the pizza and the atmosphere at the restaurants?

We get really good responses from most of our customers that come in. People that are from Kaua'i or have ties to Kaua'i know Brick Oven Pizza pretty well. People have their own tastes, which is great, but we have a loyal following. We have four locations on O'ahu now.

The newest restaurant is in the South Shore Market in Ward Village. Why did you select that location?

I like the fact that it was growing, and the ways that Ward Village was working to revitalizing the area. That was a selling point. It's been a good experience. Normally, we were staying out of town, but decided to give it a shot and come into town. There are a lot of people around here. We're on the second floor of the South Shore Market, but we're the only people on the second floor. It is a much more modern restaurant than the other locations, but the menus are the same. It has a nice bar.

What is your business mantra? What do you think you're doing right that has allowed you to stay in business for four decades?

It's your employees—you got to get the right ones. Right now, everyone knows how difficult it is to get good employees. Having the key ones makes things a lot easier to expand. But it's still hard work no matter what you do. One restaurant, six restaurants, you still have to work your butt off.

What are your favorite toppings on a pizza?

I love pizza, but I can't eat it every day. I like the Italian sausage. We make everything from scratch. We make our own sauces, our Italian sausage, our meatballs, and our salad dressings. We do all of that at our Dillingham location for consistency.

What toppings do you think should not be on a pizza?

I don't know. Everything we try on it tastes pretty good. I know there's a debate about putting pineapple on pizza. But people love it. It's sweeter. I wouldn't know what should not be on pizza. What I do know is that pizza and beer go real well together. But wine goes well, too.

How about eating pizza with a fork? Go for it or don't do it, ever?

I don't think it matters in Hawai'i. Some of our customers eat it with a fork, some squeeze it in half. It's there preference. I don't like eating it with a fork, though.

So what makes the "Super Pizza" so super?

It's by far the most popular pizza that we sell. It's has a little of everything on it. Mr. Demas designed it. The flavors blend together really well.

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