The Laurel District of East Oakland is dotted with taquerias, fast food chains and martial arts studios. After the closing of Roma Pizza, a fixture in the area for 16 years, this diverse neighborhood was lacking a truly great pizza spot. James Whitehead’s Fist of Flour Doughjo is filling that void.
“There was nothing really to eat in this neighborhood,” Whitehead said. “I’ve lived just down the street, basically off High Street, for 16 years. That’s why I started this whole thing. This is home.”
Fist of Flour’s pizza crust is in one word, amazing. It is Whitehead’s take on classic neapolitan pizza: thin and tender, with crispy-bubbled edges and the perfect amount of charring; the crust is the perfect base for the fresh toppings made in-house weekly. It has more salt and better olive oil than traditional neapolitan crusts but, as Whitehead says, it gives the crust a better body.
Whitehead has been perfecting his dough recipe for the past four years when he started hosting all you can eat pizza parties for friends at his house. He built a wood-fire oven in his backyard after taking a pizza oven building class.
“Back then we were just getting started and it was a BYOB affair,” Whitehead said. “We couldn’t sell to the public legally, so it was bring your own on the down low. I think we made 18 pizzas that first night.”
A self-proclaimed home pizza enthusiast with no culinary background — he had previously been a graphic designer for 12 years — Whitehead created Fist of Flour in 2010 after realizing that pizza makers are like martial artists. They use their fists and wrists in a rapid pace to spin, stretch and throw the dough to make pizzas. With the abundance of martial arts studios in the Oakland area — not to mention that Bruce Lee, Mr. Fists of Fury himself, lived in Oakland for a time — Fist of Flour seemed like the perfect name for his brand.
“I’m very punny,” Whitehead said. “ I like puns.”
Whitehead’s humorous side is shown through other aspects of his company as well. The converted school bus that Fist of Flour uses, pulls the 56 inch wood-fire pizza oven to events and spots around the city like Drake’s Barrel House, Bay Area Derby Roller Girls, and Oakland Art Murmur, where they debuted in 2011. The oven is the largest in the immediate area and has the fist logo on its body with a rain gutter that resembles Whitehead’s signature handlebar mustache.
The new “Doughjo” is their permanent home at 4166 MacArthur Blvd. and pumps out hot, delicious pizzas every day except Monday from 4:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m. on the weekends. When summer comes, they will have expanded hours and two-top tables on the sidewalk. Right now, the shop only has two bar tables and is primarily a take-out operation.
The menu includes classics, like the Classico for $17 — a pie built with tomato sauce, fresh aged mozzarella, pepperoni from Molinary salami company in San Francisco, crimini mushrooms, chopped garlic and crowned with fresh basil. The best-selling pizza is the Italiano for $17. It has house-made, cruelty-free fennel sausage, chopped shallots, tomato sauce and fresh aged mozzarella.
Guests can build their own pizzas with toppings like Yukon gold potatoes, mediterranean olives, goat cheese and house-made arugula pesto sauce. For a quick grab-and-go option the Doughjo offers 18 inch long to-go slices that range from plain cheese, mushroom, pepperoni and daily specials. Rounding off the menu are salads: one a mixed green with red onion, cherry tomatoes, goat cheese and house-made blueberry vinaigrette, and the other the Doughjo caesar with romaine lettuce, parmesan, garlic croutons and a house-made caesar dressing “with a kick.” Each pizza is skillfully prepared, and the simple, organic ingredients allow for the flavors to work together and
After a year of not attending Art Murmur, Fist of Flour will return and bring their popular pizza this coming March to the “Bites on 25th” location at 478 25th Street.
“It’s a great event for Oakland,” Whitehead said.
From participating under the radar at the Laurel Village Farmers Market in the parking lot of the Giant Burger across the street from the Doughjo, James Whitehead has come back to where he belongs.
“It feels right,” Whitehead said. “I feel like I’ve come full circle.”