Jay Jerrier trundled into my life in 2009, when he was still working in corporate America. After hours, he was dragging a mobile wood-fired pizza oven around town, chasing a doughy dream that his wife supported with less than wholehearted enthusiasm. He was a jovial fellow with a Boston accent and a foul mouth. His Neapolitan pizzas, named for his two young daughters, were a novelty in these parts. When his weekly rounds took him to the Green Spot gas station in East Dallas, I often met him there to score an Ella, with its fiery soppressata, while my wife ordered an Emma, with Luscher’s sausage.
Then Jay got serious. In 2011, he opened an actual restaurant called Cane Rosso in Deep Ellum. In a profile of him for D Magazine, I faithfully quoted his f-bombs, which upset his Irish Catholic father, and I described Jay as being covered in “flower,” which is a homophone for the stuff you’d expect to find on a pizzaiolo. Mistakes were made. But not by Jay. Today he has 11 restaurants (including Zoli’s) and employs more than 520 people.
I rang him up to ask what has changed in the last decade with him and with the city’s pizza scene. “I’m older and significantly fatter,” Jay said. Emma now attends college in North Carolina, and Ella goes to a California high school that focuses on filmmaking. Jay and his wife Karen spend a lot of time in airports.
On the pie front, he said a lot has changed there, too. “People now know what a well-thought-out wood-fired pizza is supposed to look and taste like,” he said. He mentioned some of the folks who’ve helped change our palates: Cavalli, Fireside Pies, Pizzeria Testa, Pie Tap. He said, “There are a lot of good places now that give a shazbot about making good pizza,” but he didn’t say the word “shazbot.” “We get fewer complaints about ‘soggy tortilla pizza’ these days. It’s more just, you know, ‘You promised me my pickup at 5:10, and it was 5:25. What the farfenugen?'”
I have matured and no longer get thrills from printing profanity. Beyond the added pounds, Jay seems pretty much the same. Oh, except for the ranch dressing. Jay famously used to refuse to serve ranch with his pizza. “I don’t know that we have an actual ranch dressing,” he said, “but there’s ranch-like substances like pesto farmhouse something, and if someone wants it, fine. If they want to dip stuff, go ahead and dip it. I don’t care. I’ve given up. The weight of the world has crushed me.”
I guess when it comes to ranch, you could say Jay has learned to chews his battles.
Jay helped put this city on the pizza map. This magazine has never dedicated more than a dozen pages in a single issue to pies and the people who make them. But it was time to do so.
We’ll be putting the February issue online this week, starting with the best pizzas in Dallas. You can find the other stories—a lesson on dough, takeout pizzas, creative pies, and plenty more—on this page. There has never been a better time to eat pizza in Dallas, thanks to Jay and others like him.