Walking into Pizza Brain
is like walking into a dream. In 19 months from conception to grand opening, the combination museum and slice shop went from an idea in Brian Dwyer's head to multifaceted reality. "We want people to come in and have an otherworldly experience," says Dwyer, who hopes patrons feel grateful and confused, or perhaps the other way around. "You can't walk in and say these guys just phoned it in."
The public grand opening is tonight (Friday, Sept. 7) and at least a thousand people are expected, but earlier this week, we were treated to an intimate press preview. Located in the East Kensington section of Philadelphia on Frankford Avenue, Dwyer insists he doesn't care about the hype. But the New York Times has already been down three times, and there's a dedicated Wikipedia
page. Dwyer's pizza collection is listed in the Guiness Book of World Records. "The second we got attention, we knew we had to deliver," says Dwyer.
Both Dwyer and co-founder Mike Carter say that while the neighborhood has a lot on offer, good pizza has been sorely lacking until now. Joe Hunter and Ryan Anderson are also partners. Pizza Brain's toppings range from standard to unusual, and it is a sweet potato, apple and goat cheese variety that is both one of the most unusual combinations and the tastiest.
Dwyer, by nature an artist, says his collection of pizza memorabilia includes album covers, cartoons, comics, memorabilia and images. "When you look at the photos on the wall, you see America."
The custom built bar is fabricated from old pianos found on Craigslist. In the courtyard of what Dwyer describes as a weird hippie pizza commune, encompassing the pizza shop, Little Baby's Ice Cream
and a number of residences, a large mural by Hawk Krall depicts famous Philadelphians like Ben Franklin and Tina Fey enjoying a slice.
Dwyer is a yarn spinner, a larger than life persona bursting with energy. The son of a schoolbus driver and a foreman at an air conditioning plant, he moved to Philadelphia from Syracuse to attend Temple University's film program.
"There's tremendous freedom in putting your roots down," says Dwyer, who attributes the rapid success of the business in part to Circle of Hope
, a community based non-denominational church. Additionally, people have simply shown up to pitch in, out of the blue, driving from as far away as New Orleans.
"A dream is typically up here and it's safe," says Dwyer, pointing to a head of fiery red hair. This dream has gone viral. And it's coming to a mind near you.
: Brian Dwyer, Pizza Brain
: Sue Spolan (with help from David Greenberg)