Emilie Springer - Profiling Finn's, home of a very well-travelled pizza oven
Bjorn Larsen and Sasha Raupp are owner/ operators of Finn’s Pizza on the Homer Spit. I talked to them a few days ago about how they met and how the operation got started. Bjorn lets Sasha tell most of the story but interjects a few points here and there.
We start by talking about how the two of them met. “We found a home in Oregon, just by going to Lewis and Clark there. “My sophomore year, I went to Italy on an exchange through the University and Bjorn moved back to Italy where he had been on an AFS exchange after high school,” Sasha begins. AFS is American Field Service, an intercultural exchange program. “So, Italy is actually where we first got to know each other. We did meet at Lewis and Clark, but it wasn’t until we were back from Italy that we really got to know each other,” Sasha explains. In Italy the second time, all of Bjorn’s high school exchange friends were either working or in university, he decided he need something to do and he got his job making pizza over there.”
After returning to Oregon, Bjorn continued making pizza with a regional chain called Pizzicato. Sasha completed her senior year of college and Bjorn was transitioning to the mathematics education program at Portland State University. They found out there was a baby in the future (Finn the person) and decided to go back to New York to visit with Sasha’s family for a while.
That trip to the city is when they found their Woodstone Corporation pizza oven in the New York Time’s classifieds. “It’s the most well-traveled pizza oven ever,” Larsen says, “it was made in Bellingham, Washington and then a brewpub in New York bought. It’s just a really well made product, it’s a good company. It speaks to the fact that can travel that far, be driven on the beach and the copula never collapsed. We’ve used it for 21 years at 600 degrees. It’s just a really good product.”
“Bjorn had fallen in love with pizza making. A lot of Homer folks know he grew up here, he’d been working for Coal Point for several years and when we found the oven he just thought it’d be a really cool thing to bring to the Homer Spit. So, we made a decision and started collecting restaurant equipment on the east coast. This was in 2000 to 2001,” she explains. “For awhile, the oven just sat in Sasha’s parent’s yard. We started using it and having pizza parties in the yard,” Larsen says.
In March of 2001, Bjorn and his father hauled all the gear up from New York and they started looking for a place on the spit to set up a shop. “We found our little building, but it didn’t have anything in it. There was no plumbing, obviously no bathrooms. It was just a little time share office. We had to add on another 50% to the building to get it functional,” she says. “The space hadn’t been a long-term business for a real long time and there definitely nothing in there that had used the space for a kitchen. It was definitely difficult to everything in there,” Larsen said.
So, what was the process: they had to take out the entire back wall of the building to put the oven in. That was step one. “We had to hire help get the oven from the beach into the shop, it’s 4,200 pounds to begin with,” she says. “Then, Sasha’s dad has a lot of design experience and he kind of knew the size and shape of the things we had purchased. He helped a lot with the original layout of where to put everything was his idea. One the biggest challenges was putting in the bathrooms. Plumbing code requires two bathrooms if you serve food,” Larsen said. It took half of the first summer just to get everything set up before they could open. They were able to open the Fourth of July weekend in 2001. “It was kind of a sprint to get open,” Larsen said.
We talk about some of the things that have changed since they started. “We’ve really refined some of the things we use. Like the flour, for example. We’ve always used really good, high quality, organic product. We order our flour and the company mills it to our preference, it’s a really fresh superior product. We don’t order anything through real major outlet shops, our products are really specific. There are about seven major spots we get food from and then we have to arrange for shipping, too,” Raupp says.
The core of the place now really comes down to the crew. The people who work at the shop now have been around for a long time. Originally, it mostly just the two of them with Sasha’s sister Anna working sometimes and young Finn would mostly just play on the beach below the shop. “Now, it seems like we have crew stick with us for about six years at a time. We have a great team. Maybe a team of 9 or so. People are taking on more and more responsibilities,” Raupp says.
Most of the rest of the crew are year-round Homer residents. Some have lived here a long time and one was born and raised in in town. We talk about how long Larsen and Raupp can or want to stay in town and it varies with life phases. It sounds like usually about six months; partially dependent on when their kids need (or needed) to be in school. In their off season, Larsen teaches math and Raupp isn’t necessarily working. “It still feels busy because we live between two places. In order to do it, we have to rent out our house in Portland it’s busy getting that set-up or packed up and ready for a renter each year. It’s almost essentially moving out of the house,” she says. “We move into our attic,” Larsen says, “It has it’s challenges but it’s pretty nice to be able to call both of these places home.”
Larsen concludes by saying, “Sasha’s unpaid labor in the wintertime really feeds into that home, comfort food feeling that Finn’s has. That’s been kind of a mainstay of the place that often goes unnoticed. Food prep is a really important component of our whole scene.” And Raupp returns to comments on where ingredients come from, “we use the same kind of ingredients as we do at home. We use local stuff when we can and organic stuff when we can. That’s really key. Family cooking is a tradition I come from and I think we maintain this in the restaurant, especially our soups and salads. We have local farmers with entire garden patches set up for Finn’s! It works really well for the second half of the summer,” Raupp concludes.
“Everybody likes pizza and when it’s done well, it’s not a junk food. It is a good family meal.”