The Salt
2:52 pm
Wed July 25, 2012

New Pizza Museum Offers A Slice Of American Food And Culture

Originally published on Mon October 15, 2012 10:23 am

Many foods have their own dedicated museums — like burnt food and mustard — so why not pizza? That's what Brian Dwyer, the owner of the world's largest collection of pizza memorabilia, has wondered for a long time.

Dwyer is so into pizza that he has a tattoo on his back of a drawing of himself holding a slice and saying "Totally Saucesome." A tall guy with a shock of wavy red hair, Dwyer owns more than 1,000 toys, knickknacks and other pizza-themed items, like a troll doll in an "I Love Pizza" apron, and a human face made of rubber, trapped inside a pepperoni pizza.

To address what he thinks is a public lack of pizza love and to display his eclectic collection, Dwyer plans to open a museum and restaurant in Philadelphia next month called Pizza Brain.

Dwyer has enlisted his pals to help him design and build Pizza Brain in Philadelphia's Fishtown neighborhood. Dressed to work, Ryan Anderson wears suspenders over a paint-splattered T-shirt. A tape measure hangs from his jeans.

"We're trying to incorporate this collection into a limited space that is a restaurant," Anderson explains. "All that I want is to not make this place look like an Applebee's or a Hard Rock Cafe or a Cracker Barrel with ephemera just stapled to the walls."

Anderson wants visitors to keep discovering new pieces. He's helped build a wall of window boxes that display some of the museum's pizza memorabilia.

"[The window boxes] will be lit internally, and you'll be able to look through these tiny little peepholes and see other things hidden in there," he explains.

Joe Sulimay, another friend of Dwyer's, says the business has already generated buzz in the neighborhood.

"Everybody's excited about having somebody who's so passionate about having pizza in the neighborhood here [because] pizza's important," Sulimay says. "I eat pizza every week, and it's important to me."

Philadelphia is not an obvious location choice for a pizza museum. The City of Brotherly Love is better known as the home of the Philly cheesesteak. Still, Dwyer believes the city is a perfect match for his eccentric collection full of surprises.

"We want this place to feel like [an] interactive art installation," Dwyer says. "Instead of just putting it all in a bunch of cases that are very linear and sterile, where you just kind of stare at it and say 'There's a thing' and walk away, this is like, 'Oh! What's this little thing? ... There's a pizza face!' "

Dwyer knows some might think he's odd for collecting all this stuff, but he points out he didn't make the memorabilia. He's only giving it a home.

There's been a lot of buzz about the museum opening, but what about the real pizza that will be served in the restaurant? Pizza Brain's website promises it will be "artisan" and that the shop will do things in a "socially, ethically and environmentally responsible fashion."

I guess we'll have to wait and see what it tastes like.

Copyright 2013 WHYY, Inc.. To see more, visit http://www.whyy.org.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Many other foods have their own museums, so why not pizza? In Philadelphia, that museum may soon exist. From member station WHYY, Elizabeth Fiedler has this story about the creators of Pizza Brain and their hopes for the museum.

ELIZABETH FIEDLER, BYLINE: Brian Dwyer is so into pizza he has a tattoo on his back of a drawing of himself holding a slice of pizza with the words: totally saucesome. The pizza lover enthusiastically shows off a few of his more than 1,000 toys, knickknacks and other pizza-themed items.

BRIAN DWYER: You got a troll that says I love pizza on his or her apron. This is Nightmare Pizza. He's a - it's a human's face trapped inside a pepperoni pizza. Yeah. It's made of rubber, which has actually been melting in the sun.

FIEDLER: Dwyer is a tall guy with a shock of wavy red hair. He holds "The Guinness Book of World Record's" title for the world's largest pizza memorabilia collection, and some of it will be on display at the pizza museum and restaurant.

DWYER: There's museums out there for everything from burnt food to mustard to toothpicks to Spam, and I think it's a shame, it's a crime almost that there isn't a pizza church built yet for, you know, to hold all this stuff.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION)

FIEDLER: Dwyer has helped building his church.

RYAN ANDERSON: Here is the first case that we've started to build.

FIEDLER: Ryan Anderson is here dressed to work. He's wearing suspenders over a paint-splattered T-shirt, and a tape measure hangs from his jeans.

ANDERSON: We're trying to incorporate this collection into a limited space, you know, that is a restaurant. And my - all that I want is to not make this place look like an Applebee's or a Hard Rock Cafe or a Cracker Barrel with, yeah, ephemera just like stapled to the walls.

FIEDLER: Anderson wants visitors to keep discovering new pieces.

ANDERSON: We're going to have little peepholes that you can look through, and those window boxes that are going through it on the inside turn into shelves to display memorabilia. So it will be lit internally, and you'll be able to look through these tiny little peepholes and see other things hidden in there.

FIEDLER: Dwyer's friend Joe Sulimay says the business has already generated buzz in the neighborhood.

JOE SULIMAY: Everybody's excited about having somebody who's so passionate about having pizza, you know, in the neighborhood here because pizza's important. I eat pizza every week, and it's important to me.

FIEDLER: OK, a pizza museum. But why in Philadelphia? Dwyer believes the city is a perfect match for his eccentric collection full of surprises.

DWYER: We want this place to feel like an interactive art installation. It's going to change. It's a living breathing thing. Instead of just putting it all in a bunch of cases that are very linear and sterile where you just - you kind of stare at it and say, oh, there's a thing and walk away. This is like, ooh, what's this little thing? Whoa. You know? There's a pizza face.

(LAUGHTER)

FIEDLER: Dwyer knows some might think he's odd for collecting all this stuff, but he points out he didn't make the memorabilia. He's only giving it a home. For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Fiedler in Philadelphia.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANGELINA")

LOUIS PRIMA: (Singing) I eat antipasto twice just because she is so nice. Angelina. Angelina, the waitress at the pizzeria. I eat zoop-ing minestrone just to be with her alone. Angelina. Angelina, the waitress at the pizzeria. Ti volglio bene.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Ti volglio bene.

PRIMA: (Singing) Angelina, I adore you. Ti volglio bene.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Ti volglio bene.

PRIMA: (Singing) Angelina, I live for you. E un passione.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) E un passione.

PRIMA: (Singing) You have set my heart on fire. But, Angelina...

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Angelina.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.