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A 'hot' new commodity: Wood-fired pizza oven available to community

Volunteer Gary Brink cuts a pizza for a community member. The wood-fired oven relies on volunteers to keep it running smoothly. (Beth Leipholtz | Echo Press)1 / 3
Keven Jansen (left) and John Heydt (right) headed up the Community Wood-Fired Oven project. The oven is available for community use and events when scheduled ahead of time. (Beth Leipholtz | Echo Press)2 / 3
The wood-fired was used during Butterfly Hill Nature Preschool’s celebration of International Mud Day. At 900 degrees, a pizza can be cooked in about 90 seconds. (Beth Leipholtz | Echo Press)3 / 3

Though the line was long, the wait for pizza during Butterfly Hill Nature Preschool's event was a short one — the pizza was put into a 900-degree wood-fired oven, taking only 90 seconds to cook.

The community wood-fired oven used at the event was spearheaded by John Heydt and Keven Jansen, both members of the Alexandria United Methodist Church, which is where the outdoor oven is located. A number of volunteers also assisted in the building process.

The idea for the wood-fired oven came about after Heydt attended a conference in St. Cloud and saw a display about a church in White Bear Lake that had a similar setup.

"Another friend and I thought, 'Well why don't we do that?'" Heydt said. "So we went and talked to this group, and they had quite a thing going. They asked me, 'Why do you want to do this?' And I said, 'Well, I want to make the community more neighborly.'"

From there, Heydt got the OK from the church to build the oven on the property. He and Jansen began researching and putting together a plan. Jansen got information from a man in Thunder Bay, Ontario, who uses a wood-fire pizza oven and from the church in White Bear Lake.

"From that point we just were crazy enough to start," he said.

In May 2015, they began construction on the oven. First they build the oven part of the structure, then the outer part.

"It's like Russian dolls," Heydt said. "There's a building within a building with a gap between so they don't touch."

The reason the two structures cannot touch is because the inner structure heats up to 900 degrees and is made of special materials that can withstand that heat. The space keeps the intense heat from being conducted to the outer structure.

To determine what ingredients would work best, the men tried a plethora of different combinations.

"The first time (we used it) we made 12 different types of pizza, used six different types of sauce, and had homemade dough and frozen dough," Jansen said. "We did everything and then started tasting it. It just came back to the frozen pizza dough being really good."

Since the idea behind the oven is to bring the community together, the oven is available for public use — whether a small family gathering or a larger event. The volunteers who run the oven will bring all the supplies and cook the pizzas.

"(If people are interested), they contact the church office, the office contacts us, we negotiate," Jansen said.

The price to use the oven simply depends on the size of the event and the amount of pizzas cooked. The church does not profit, as the price simply covers the materials used.

"The reason we started this was not to fundraise, it was to be welcoming," Heydt said. "We're trying to find as many ways to get community involved as possible."

Though the oven is usable, there are still some finishing touches to be made.

"We're adding a stained glass insert," Jansen said. "It will be solar-powered so it will be lit at night. One of the former members of the church does stained glass so she built it and gave it to us."

Though the men have cooked many pizzas in the oven, they are still learning and expanding on ideas each time.

"Every time we do it, we figure out something new or different," Jansen said. "It's been a very fun project, very interesting."

To reserve a time to use the wood-fired oven, contact the church office at (320) 763-4624.

Beth Leipholtz

Beth is a reporter at the Echo Press. She graduated from the College of Saint Benedict in May 2015 with a degree in Communication and Hispanic Studies. Journalism has always been her passion, but she also enjoys blogging and graphic design. In her spare time, she's most likely at Crossfit or at home with her boyfriend and three dogs.

(320) 763-1233