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Scott Riebling spent much of his childhood making pizza, dreaming of someday opening his own pizzeria. He also focused on his other passion: music and playing in bands.
The Pittsburgh native moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music. His music career took off while he placed his pizza dreams on the backburner. Riebling toured the world playing bass for bands like Weezer and Letters to Cleo (an alt rock band remembered for their presence in 10 Things I Hate About You)starring Julia Stiles. Riebling also carved out a niche music recording business and engineered numerous hits, including some Grammy-nominated songs.
Many people dream of turning a passion into a successful business or career, but Riebling has done it twice. He finally achieved his first career dream in 2014 when, along with business partner and fellow musician Toirm Miller, he opened Boston-based Stoked Wood Fired Pizza Company. A popular food truck and now a household name among Beantown pizza lovers, Stoked was awarded “Best Pizza” in Boston by Boston Magazine in 2015.
Riebling credits his success in the music business for inspiring him to follow his culinary dream.
“While I had my music career and was traveling, I was always researching pizza,” says Riebling, who spent hours on the road working on his pizza recipes. During his touring years, he even wrote for a website called pizzamaking.com to help people pick the right ovens and fine-tune their recipes. Eventually, Riebling started consulting with pizzerias.
“I guess I had always been prepping for this career move. I just didn’t know it yet.”
Riebling will be the first to tell you that running a food truck is a tough business. And opening his own food truck business wasn’t something he planned on, but things just sort of fell into place.
In 2011, Boston jumped onto the nationwide food truck bandwagon and launched a citywide program to award spots to vendors through a lottery. After hearing his friend talk about wanting a pizza business for years, Miller, who had a restaurant business background, took Riebling to Boston to check out the food truck scene.
Riebling knew this was the perfect way to launch his pizza business. A restaurant would be too expensive and risky to start from scratch, but a food truck wouldn’t take as much dough. (Pun intended.) Riebling and Miller decided to open a truck with a wood-fired pizza oven. This way, they could make pizza to order—a unique concept in the Boston food truck scene. They borrowed seed capital from Miller’s grandfather and Riebling’s sister. Riebling also sold some guitars to raise money for the truck.
By Boston’s fourth food truck season, Stoked was one of the hottest newcomers.
Stoked isn’t your ordinary pizza food truck, serving up pre-made slices to a hungry, indiscriminate crowd. Stoked cooks each pie from scratch using Riebling’s own recipes and handpicked ingredients. This all happens inside the truck, in its Pavesi wood-burning oven, which takes up about 8 of the total 20 feet of cramped space. Each pizza is cooked in only one to two minutes, coming out soft and light on the inside with a crispy outer shell. “Our pizzas are a cross between Naples and New York. We bridge the best of two styles,” says Riebling.
At first, people flocked to Stoked to check out the novelty of the fresh cooked wood-fired pizza right on a truck. “But once people got over the novelty, they realized the pizza was really good. We delivered.”
“Toirm and I are both musicians. We’re not fancy hoity-toity people and we’re not about making pretentious pizza. We’re about making the best pizza with the highest quality cheese, flour, pepperoni, and all that.”
Another reason for Stoked’s success? Good timing. All eyes were on food trucks during the initial year or two in Boston, and Stoked got in on the game early enough when food trucks were still the coolest way to eat dinner out, says Riebling.
Stoked also considers itself fortunate to have a great spot on Boston’s greenway, right near the main commuter train station. “It’s only for an elite few, and we had to do a cooking audition to get the spot,” recalls Riebling.
In fact, Stoked didn’t have its truck or wood-fired oven yet at the time of the audition, so Riebling had to attempt to cook a pizza in 10 degrees outside on a propane-powered pizza oven. He was supposed to prepare a few pizzas, including gluten-free and vegetarian pies. But it was a frigid windy day, and ingredients were blowing all over the place. He managed to cook one pizza before the propane oven literally melted down. It seemed like game over—but luckily, the pie was a winner. Stoked gained their coveted parking spot.
Miller came up with the name Stoked, and Riebling instantly knew it was the perfect name. To him, Stoked conjures up images of stoking a fire, but he also knows it’s retro slang that many remember from movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Regardless, it’s a fun name—and everyone remembers it. That’s what counts, he says.
The great company name, along with fun social media campaigns, stoked even more interest in Stoked. And you just can’t help but notice the bright red truck with the name “Stoked” on the streets of Boston.
Stoked is, well, pretty stoked for their next move. In the spring of 2016, Riebling and Miller will open a brick and mortar Stoked restaurant in Brookline’s Washington Square. It’s a dream come true for Riebling.
Stoked currently rents a commissary space in an industrial kitchen to do its prep work. Last spring, the owner of the commissary introduced Riebling and Miller to a friend of his who, along with a group of investors, was looking for a pizza company to invest in. One thing led to another, and the investors decided to invest in Stoked. The group found a space to lease, and plans for the new restaurant are now in full force.
The restaurant is the next evolution for Stoked and something Riebling never thought would happen so soon. He was thinking Stoked would have three to four food trucks at some point, but now he realizes just how challenging it is to run one truck with a wood-burning oven. Cooking pizza to order with temperature fluctuations on a truck with moving equipment is no easy feat. “A restaurant is a much better next move, especially since now we’ll have a home base to work out of.”
Come spring, Stoked will no longer need to rent preparation space, and the one truck will also become a giant moving billboard for the new restaurant.
Riebling is looking forward to having a real home for his pies. Plus, he’s excited to expand the menu to include sandwiches, salads, and appetizers. Plans also call for brunch on weekends.
The next food truck season officially kicks off on April 1st, the date Stoked hits the road again and around the time the new restaurant opens. This will indeed be a challenging year, but Riebling and Miller are ready to divide and conquer. “Luckily there are two of us, and Toirm knows how to operate a restaurant, so we can split up our time between the restaurant and truck.”
All told, Riebling is ready to embrace new challenges, especially since he’s having so much fun. If he could do it all again, he wouldn’t change a thing. If you ask Riebling, playing bass in a rock band was a blast—but nothing beats running your own successful pizza business.