SLICE OF SOUTHLAKE: Couple launches food truck using recipes from years of Friday night scratch-pizza dates
By Natalie Lozano Trimble
Photography by Jill Johnson
They sound like an overnight success — Gary and Kristine Kemp launched their 1956 Pizza truck in October and in March won a Best Pizza award — but the couple’s commitment to making pizza from scratch every Friday night for 33 years tells a different story.
The Kemps, whose business is based in Southlake, have wanted to be in the restaurant industry for years. They almost launched a catering company with a business partner in California and came close to opening a commissary kitchen, but “then a child would come or a move would happen,” says Kristine Kemp, and the dream went on hold. Now in their 50s and not ready for retirement, the couple says the timing felt right. Plus, their homemade pizza reminded them weekly that North Texas was missing something.
The catalyst was a party at Southlake Mayor John Huffman’s home last March. Their pizza was such a hit, attendees encouraged the Kemps to start a business. By May, Gary Kemp had quit his job to focus on it full time.
Perfecting the crust was the first step and not something he took lightly. “I was trying to get the best flavor without it feeling like sourdough bread,” he says. “So you taste it, but it’s not overwhelming.”
In addition to tweaking hydration and rise time for flavor, Kemp had to cultivate a starter that could handle Texas’ varying temperatures. His dedication paid off: “We never see crust left on plates,” Kristine Kemp says.
Although they bought the truck in September, their first time using the 800-pound oven was at their soft launch in October. The delivery and installation left just enough time for the slow rise and complete cooldown required to season it. One week later, they officially debuted at Somos Southlake, a nonprofit formed to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in the city.
This spring, 1956 Pizza is heading Southlake’s MasterWorks Concert Series, which runs through May at Southlake Town Square.
The Kemps’ New York-style pizza is an homage to Gary Kemp’s upbringing. Kristine Kemp hails from Chicago. The couple love their adopted hometown, and the community’s strong response indicates the feeling is mutual. “We’ve had so many people say that’s the best they’ve ever had or best they’ve had in Texas,” Kristine Kemp says. “We’re kind of blown away.”
Everything is made inhouse, which means chopping vegetables by hand, draining the ricotta for cannoli, and rolling crusts late at night. With a record of 110 pizzas in 2.5 hours, the small space has not limited their capacity. It has even fostered their creativity. Gary Kemp’s new ricotta pizza with hot honey and basil was inspired by the ricotta left over from desserts.
Being a family business plays to their strengths. “Kristine is focused on awareness of us, and I’m focused on the food,” says Gary Kemp, who went to culinary school before his career in healthcare human resources. His wife also works part time as an event planner and volunteers for the Southlake Police and Fire departments. All three of their teenage daughters help out, too.
The 1956 in the business’s name is a tribute to the year Southlake was founded. While the Kemps would love to have a brick-and-mortar in the city someday, they plan to keep the truck for events. Says Gary Kemp: “I love being out in the community.”