PizzaMoto at John Grace Bakery
Well we just cooked pizza in this oven we found and restored for the first time. Mark it: 4:45 August 22, 2015. I’m going to be real honest and tell you all I have goosebumps all over my body. This has been almost three years in the making since we signed the lease in 2013. Although, really, it has been around 150 years in the making…
It all starts with the very first mention of a bakery on these premises in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1860 – in which Thomas Stanford testifies in open court to being robbed upon leaving his place of employment: a bakery at 338 Hamilton Avenue owned by an Irish immigrant to the neighborhood named John Grace. The next thing we know about the bakery is that there is a fire in 1871 and it had to be rebuilt. Another cause for goosebumps was the day almost 2 years ago when we ripped the last plaster and dry wall down to reveal the exterior brick walls of the building. Embedded within them were very old beams and wooden supports marked with the char of an old fire – maybe the 1871 fire, maybe not. But maybe. Our research told us that the type of oven that lives on this property is a Scotch Oven – this describes, among other things, the mechanical details of how the oven works, including how air is vented, damped, and cycled. Our pal and pizza expert Scott Weiner at Scott’s Pizza Tours tells us that the style of oven and materials used suggests it was built around the turn of the century. So we anecdotally say that the oven we have on the premises now is about 100 years old. It’s likely that sometime between the mid- 1800s when the bakery was built and the turn of the century the oven was moved from the basement to the first floor, where it lives now.
The only other thing we know about John Grace is that his lands were sold at public auction in 1881, including his bakery. And by 1891 he was dead and his lawyer, John R. Kuhn at 26 Court Street, was fielding claims against his estate to settle the debts he left behind. We hope it wasn’t too rough an ending for poor John Grace – what he left behind has been the proud center of our lives and we are very grateful to him.
We know nothing about who bought the land in 1881 and bakery (if anyone has any leads send them our way!) but we do know that by 1947 it was the proud home of a now Italian establishment: Bruno’s Sandwiches and Spaghetti, seen here in the tax photo, bathed in light without the shadow of the as yet unbuilt BQE.
And today, me and Davey, two nice Jewish kids from New York and Philly cooked some pizza and sourdough in an oven that took us 3 years to restore. Everything changes and everything stays the same. We’re proud and grateful to be a chapter in this resilient oven’s history even as we are sure we will not be her last.
For your consideration…