Fire pizza kitchen makes a difference by giving back to Douglas County community
Donnie Hopkins has been making pizza in Northern Nevada since he was 19 years old. Today, he is a 32-year-old father of two young children and one of the owners of FIRE Pizza Kitchen, the only fully self-contained mobile pizza kitchen in Carson Valley.
Hopkins, a South Lake Tahoe native, had worked with a number of pizza start-up businesses, but had never tried opening one of his own. One day he decided to build FIRE Pizza Kitchen from the ground up.
“I started looking on Craigslist for different pizza ovens. Initially, I thought I would just use an oven on a trailer that you pull behind, but I came across this partially completed concession trailer that a guy on Craigslist was making,” Hopkins said. “He wasn’t into having it anymore and he had to move away, so I just watched the price of it drop and drop until it was in my price range and then I just went and scooped it up.“
From there Hopkins installed sinks, counter tops, flooring and the ceiling.
Holly Hopkins, Donnie’s wife and co-owner of the pizza kitchen, said she had her doubts when her husband said he wanted to start a mobile pizza kitchen.
“He had a toddler and a newborn during this (process), so he was out in the yard building this thing while I was juggling the toddler and the infant, it was so stressful,” Holly, who also is from South Lake Tahoe, said.
Donnie said building his own pizza kitchen made him appreciate people’s compliments much more.
“There was a time when I thought, ‘will anyone like this? Is it just weird? Are people going to come to our little shack and buy a pizza?’” Donnie said.
Aside from feeding hungry customers, FIRE Pizza Kitchen also donates a meal to different local food banks.
While volunteering for Christmas Cheer in South Lake Tahoe, a nonprofit food pantry, Donnie learned that food banks like Christmas Cheer prefer people donate money rather than food items because they can purchase more food than an individual using their nonprofit status.
“It sparked an idea,” he said. “I took their invoices and I looked through all of the numbers and I averaged out the price for each food group. I added the numbers and thought, ‘this is doable.’ It definitely affects our cost of making a pizza but the pizza is still relatively low cost to produce. It is a little extra thing, but it works.”
Hopkins has a special connection to local food banks. Growing up in South Lake Tahoe, Hopkins said his family was very poor and could not always afford a meal, so they used the Northern Nevada Food Bank and other local food banks often.
“I’ve always wanted to give back,” said Hopkins. “I’ve always thought, ‘one day I am going to go out and buy 100 loaves of bread and bring it to them, and then I realized if I just donated $100 to them, they could buy a lot of food.”
FIRE Pizza Kitchen travels throughout Douglas and El Dorado counties, as well as South Lake Tahoe and Carson City for special events.
For local farmers markets, Hopkins said he sticks to a simple menu that includes one cheese pizza, one pepperoni pizza and one creative pizza that changes from time to time. However, the couple said they would change their menu depending on the event they are catering.
The Hopkins’ ultimate goal is to open up a brick and mortar pizza shop someday soon in Gardnerville.
“People aren’t always willing to take the risk of opening up a shop in this area because of the low population,” Hopkins said. “But, I see that as a slot we can fill. There is really not that much good pizza here and there is no wood-fired and no one who has a real wood fire pizza oven.”
Hopkins said the response to his mobile pizza creation has been positive. He said he believes people feel an emotional connection to the food because of the donation policy and people like the brand.
FIRE Pizza Kitchen sells at local farmers markets and can be booked for special events at its website firepizzakitchen.com.