For seven years, Long Beach chef and pizzaiolo Jason Winters has been slinging out fine sourdough pies from both popups and his oven-on-wheels, long before the sourdough crust craze began to take over the Southland.
Shortly after branding said van into Speak Cheezy (formerly Urban Pies) during the pandemic, the pizzas of Winters grew even more popular—and with it, came the possibility of a brick-and-mortar.Now, across the street from the very elementary school his two children attend, Winters will dive into the world of owning a restaurant after he takes over the former Scratch bakery space at the southwest corner of 4th and Ximeno in the heart of Belmont Heights.
“For years, I had always my eye on the bakery and I always thought it would make an amazing pizzeria,” Winters said. “So I decided to just walk in and by pure circumstance it happened to be the owner’s last day.”
That serendipitous moment turned into a fruitful one: While the owner said the place wasn’t formally listed, Winters discovered a contact number was on the window a couple days later.
“It was kismet,” Winters said. “This whole ride has been. Man, for the past decade, I’ve been hustling on the streets, working out of these ovens and bouncing from place to place. This has always been the goal.”
The deep sense of humility and down-to-earth-ness that Winters exudes is infectious—and it is why, even after having left, his former employees still follow his endeavors and still express love for his work. All the while, customers have remained loyal to Winters’ quality-focused, ingredient-driven mini-pizza empire.
“To think it started by some customers writing a check is a bit surreal but that is the actual reality of it,” Winters aid. “Some of them handing me a check and saying, ‘Pay us back later,’ while I literally worked out of my garage. Illegally. With a pregnant wife,” he said, laughing.
His wife, Merly, has been a key cog in the Speak Cheezy adventure: Born in the Phillipines but bringing a work ethic that traverses every culture, Merly has, in one way or another, always been involved. But with the kids a bit more grown now, she is involved in the family business almost every day.
“Merly will be making the pastas,” Winters said. “And I am so happy for her involvement because she is a beast. Her work ethic is amazing: Faster and cleaner than everyone I know, even those with experience in the kitchen.”
While the menu will, of course, highlight the sourdough wonder rounds that has made Winters a catering hit—the catering side of his business is a regional powerhouse—you can also expect the pastas from Merly (likely a baked pasta of some sort), house-pulled mozzarella, dry-aged beef meatballs, a sandwich or two, farmers market-driven salads…
And expect some more fun stuff: Tapping into the talents of Brassica & Brine’s Jordan Laio, Speak Cheezy will be offering fermented chiles, chile honey with fermented Fresnos, and the possibility of a house-fermented kombucha and fermented soda as they await to score a beer-and-wine license.
But it is actually the business model itself that proves most fascinating. Front and center is the aforementioned catering side of Speak Cheezy: Already wildly successful, the brick-and-mortar will serve as a conduit to expand catering. Winters said he expects his crew to come in at the wee-hours of the morning, bake for catering, par-bake for those who want to take home, and then have fresh pizza for the patrons throughout the day. 930 degrees electric oven going into Scratch.
“The reality is that is that we’re able to do a party of 50, 80, 100 people in one day out of a single one of our oven vans,” Winters said. “But we wanted to figure out how to scale that down to a more home-based type of entertainment so we will be renting ovens out.”
That’s right: You can order a handful of par-baked pizzas, rent an oven for $75 to $100 and much like a keg, pick it up along with your pizzas and whenever the family and crew is ready for hot pizzas, pop ’em in and return the oven.
“Wait for the family to get home instead of a getting a soggy pizza delivered,” Winters said. “Or if you’re having a party, you can have it done for $450 without the need for full on catering.”
This is the aspect of the business that will be open first. After that, Winters hopes to open from 4PM to 9PM for dinner and the segue into lunch as the reputation of the space build up around the neighborhood. Well, looks like it’s time to get my pizza party planning skills honed.
Speak Cheezy is expected to open next year and will be located at 3950 E 4th St.