From fine dining to artisan pizza, a family team brings high-quality casual dining to Los Gatos.
When people are passionate about what they do, it comes out clearly in the final product, whether they are making music, art, or pizza. The family behind the Los Gatos pizzeria Oak & Rye is a team of four dedicated individuals who have come together to craft a unique dining experience.
Not everyone can go into business with family, but this family has found balance in a division of labor that plays to each member’s strengths. Siblings Ross Hanson and Dana Bunker handle the small plates on the menu and front of house service, respectively, while Hanson’s wife, Bree, manages the administration and Bunker’s fiancé, Angelo Womack, focuses on the pizza.
“Because we’re all family, I think we understand each other a little bit better, and sort of understand how to talk to each other,” says Bunker. Business relationships are always challenging, and “there are problems that will come up in the restaurant—you’ll have to deal with it—but I think what’s nice about working with your family is that they…know where you’re coming from.”
One of the joys of walking into a family-owned business is the personality, and this family’s personalities shine through in quirky touches, like the ’80s-themed bathroom décor and pop culture–inspired pizza and cocktail names, like the vintage album covers adorning one wall and roughly hewn wooden shark sculpture (by local artist Abel Gonzalez) looming out of another.
A recent addition to the family, so to speak, is the mobile pizza oven, which allows the Oak & Rye catering crew to head out into the community for events ranging from beer walks to weddings. Having recently participated in a downtown San Jose beer walk, Bunker points out the common sense of this new direction: “What goes great with beer? Pizza.”
One particularly harrowing catering experience involved hauling the mobile pizza oven up into the Santa Cruz mountains for a rustic wedding. Watching her brother navigate the narrow mountain passes with the 20-foot wide mobile pizza oven in tow “was one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen,” recalls Bunker. Despite a few skipped heartbeats on the way there, the event was a success. The lesson? “The oven really can go anywhere. As long as you have a wide, level place to plop it down, you can make pizza anywhere.”
That’s great news for pizza fans, because Oak & Rye wants to participate in even more community events. They are also more than willing to venture outside the box, and recently participated in a taco pop-up event with Hanson as a guest chef. “Ross has always, always wanted to makes tacos and burritos—you know, we’re from California.”
Oak & Rye wants to bring their pizza to the people, and the people to their pizza. For those looking to get a little closer to the action, Oak & Rye is considering offering pizza-making classes. DIY makers could gather with friends to learn about why the dough is made the way it is, how to properly lay it out, and other tricks of the trade. Womack taught similar classes in New York, where participants were able to cook and eat a pizza during class and take home an extra ball of dough to make a pizza at home.
If it sounds as though Oak & Rye is still growing and experimenting, that’s because it is. The restaurant opened in its current iteration in October 2014, when Bunker and Womack moved back to the Bay Area from New York. Womack had been working at Roberta’s in Brooklyn and was able to see firsthand the growth of a successful pizza restaurant. After a few years of playful banter at family gatherings, the four decide to go for it.
Chef Ross agreed to flip the family’s successful fine-dining spot, Restaurant James Randall. And the four pulled together to redesign the space with a modern aesthetic of wood and bare bulbed light, distressing the wood for the paneling and painstakingly covering the pizza oven with a hundred dollars’ worth of pennies. “We opened with nothing on the wall except that mirror,” Ross reminisces. After about a year and a half, the restaurant is well-established, but still propelled by the excitement and agility of a new venture.
Interested in keeping the menu fresh, Oak & Rye works with GreenLeaf to offer seasonal selections with fresh-at-market, locally sourced produce. In addition to the creative seasonal items on the menu, you’ll find unique year-round offerings, such as the popular Scotty 2 Hottie pizza, which features a sweet and savory mix of tomato, basil, mozzarella, sopressata salami, Tim’s Honey, and pepperoncini oil.
But all of the pizzas are worth giving a try. What makes Oak & Rye pizza different is the perfectly toasted (never burnt) bottom crust, which gives it an earthy smoked flavor that combines delightfully with the slightly soured tone in the dough. Mix that thin, always-crispy crust with their signature Oak and Rye cocktail (Slow & Low whiskey, Aperol, and dry vermouth, bottled in-house and served over ice with a slice of orange), and you have just discovered the unique flavors of this recent and impressive South Bay contemporary pizzeria.
Written by Julia Canavese
Images by Daniel Garcia
Entire Article originally appeared in Issue 7.1 “Sight and Sound”
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