Nahua Pizza Shares a Piece of the Family Pie
Savannah Kuang, CUESA Staff
August 16, 2019
While working as a program coordinator with students at Laney College, Kimberly Gonzalez never dreamed she would one day be running her own pizza business. But when her uncle, Carlos Lopez, approached her to start Nahua Pizza, something clicked. “The drive for entrepreneurship was always in my mind,” says Kimberly. “But I never had the access or opportunity to start a business until Carlos, who had been making pizza for about 25 years, presented the idea.”
Today, Kimberly and her family make deliciously handcrafted, hot-from-the-wood-fired-oven pizzas at CUESA’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market every Tuesday and Thursday, using seasonal ingredients sourced from local farms.
Starting a Family Business
Kimberly learned the art of making pizza from Carlos, while they worked together on the operations side to get the business up and running. Although Carlos stepped away in December 2018, Nahua Pizza continues to be a family affair. “When we first got started, my sister was cashiering and my parents were helping us out, too,” says Kimberly.
Though pizza has Italian origins, Nahua Pizza also pays homage to her family’s Mexican roots: the name is inspired by the “Nahuas,” which are the largest indigenous group in Mexico and the second largest in El Salvador. “Now that Nahua has grown a bit, we have lots of team collaboration and teamwork on researching indigenous culture and food. For example, we found out that tomatoes, which we use in our pizza, are native to the Inca Empire.”
Even with family, Kimberly has found that there’s a lot to learn when it comes to working as a team, such as project management, leadership development, and understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses. As part of her business development, she attended workshops and received support from the Oakland branch of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
“It’s one thing to hang out with your family and spend time together,” says Kimberly. “But it’s completely different when you’re working together as a business since there’s a higher level of accountability. However, the experience has made us a lot closer as a family.” Kimberly works with her mother the most since she’s in charge of making the pizza dough, which needs to be prepared at least 48 to 72 hours in advance of the farmers market.
Making Specialty Pizzas by the Season
Depending on the season, Nahua sources fresh ingredients such as basil, tomatoes, pears, arugula, and spigarello kale directly from local farms like Everything Under the Sun and K&J Orchards. They have also sourced berries from Yerena Farms to create experimental pies, such as their four-cheese berry pizza.
For a dramatic twist, Nahua sparked the curiosity of weekend market shoppers by offering a pizza crust covered with food-grade activated charcoal (carbonized coconut shells and processed into a powder). But Kimberly will always be proud of her classics like the Margarita. “We get praised the most for our classic pizzas because that’s what we started with,” says Kimberly.
Connecting with Farmers
Kimberly feels that sourcing directly from the farmers market is not only about using the freshest ingredients, but it’s also a way to connect with the community.
“Having that collaboration with different farmers provides me a great opportunity to make specialty pizzas and receive feedback from market shoppers,” she says. “Even when we’re catering at events, people ask us if we have a brick-and-mortar location. Since we don’t, we tell them to come visit us at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.”
Recalling growing up in Oakland with limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables, Kimberly also appreciates the creativity and experimentation that being at the farmers market inspires.
“Growing up, it was hard to gain access to grocery stores,” she says. “I didn’t know much about different veggie varieties until I started working at the farmers market. I wasn’t aware of varieties like the mustard plant. But now that I’m in the market, having that personal connection with the farmers is important to me because I’m learning so much about the different ingredients I can test out in my pizzas.”
Visit Nahua Pizza at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Tuesdays and Thursdays.