To the brothers Hunt—the siblings behind Via 313, Austin’s mini-chain of extremely popular Detroit-style pizza joints—pizza equals community. “It’s inclusive, that’s what it’s about,” says Zane, the older of the two brothers. “We want people to feel like pizza represents community, gathering, a pitcher of beer after a softball game. That’s the sort of stuff we grew up with,” he adds, recalling the pizza places in and around their hometown of Riverview, Michigan, a southern suburb of Detroit.
But it’s not just about Detroit—the city from which the brothers’ sauce-on-top, chewy-cheesy deep-pan pizza takes its inspiration. “Pizza, as a whole, is like that, no matter what style,” says Brandon, whose demeanor, at first, seems slightly more severe than that of his energetic, talkative older brother Zane. But despite a strong brow, armloads of tattoos and a big red-brown beard, Brandon speaks in a calm, metered, almost self-amused way. Zane describes Brandon as having “a great eye for detail” and as someone who’s “always been super entrepreneurial,” so their collaboration was a no-brainer to him. Plus, he adds, “Brandon and I have always been close.”
Zane and his family moved to Austin in 2009 because he and his wife wanted to find “a little more open-minded, little more forward-thinking” environment in which to raise their kids. Soon after, he admits he was trying to “grease it a little bit” to get Brandon down here, too. Zane was working a day job in radio-frequency identification (RFID) at the time, but says he “wanted to stop working for someone, essentially.” He and Brandon, combined, “had this desire to do something,” he recalls. “Pizza was just the most comfortable entry point for us.”
Why? Probably because, as Zane puts it, they “grew up eating an obscene amount of pizza.” And, he notes, “It was really good pizza.” Brandon agrees, saying other cities are “all underserved pizza communities compared to where we grew up.”
The Hunts cite a few favorite pizza haunts—Buddy’s and Cloverleaf, in particular—from their home in Detroit’s “very industrial, very blue collar” south suburb. But they also note that, where they’re from, people don’t tend to venture outside of their neighborhoods much, so they eat what’s around. Austinites, on the other hand, will travel for a craving, but the Hunts don’t want them to have to. “That’s why we chose Oak Hill and now North Campus—not being downtown—so we can have a little more sense of community,” says Brandon.
In addition to their two brick-and-mortar locations and their two trucks at Sixth and Rainey Streets, the Hunts recently opened Nickel City bar with Javelina’s Craig Primozich, and Travis Tober and J.R. Mocanu, both formerly of VOX Table. It’s in the location of the historic Longbranch Inn on East 11th Street and includes a food truck out back—Delray Cafe—dishing out Detroit junk food, essentially: Coney dogs, cheese fries…what Brandon calls “recession-proof shit.”
But what Via 313 is exceedingly well-known for is pizza. Imagine a thick cushion of savory dough crisped all around with delicious, browned cheese. Top that with traditional offerings, such as meatballs and green peppers or the kind of pepperoni that curls around the edges to form delightful, crisp little grease cups, and ladle the whole shebang with stripes of perfectly sweet, fresh-tasting tomato sauce. More sophisticated combos—like Gorgonzola, fig preserves, prosciutto di Parma and Parmesan topped with a balsamic glaze (“The Cadillac”)—are available, as well.
It’s a base recipe many would call perfect, and it took the Hunts about a year of experimenting to get it just right. “We had to reverse-engineer the things we liked about all these different places back home,” says Zane. He describes a period of time when Brandon was still living in Michigan and the two of them collaborated by constantly revising and emailing a Word document full of recipes back and forth.
Brandon’s quick to note, “It’s not called ‘Detroit-style’ in Detroit, you know. You either get round pizza or square pizza. At the time, it was just ‘square pizza’—and it’s not even f*$#ing square,” he says with a laugh. “It’s a rectangle.”
“They call it ‘Detroit-style’ now,” Zane interjects. “Everybody’s jumped on that.” Regardless of what you call it, it’s delicious, and boy, was Austin ready for it. “Everything just seems to catch on [here],” says Brandon, “and people are excited about it and support it.”
Then, in what almost seems like a setup, a customer approaches the brothers at their Oak Hill location and says, “You guys are the owners, right?” They confirm it to be true, and the customer, a youngish dad, relays a story of how he used to live by the Texas State Cemetery and would walk to Sixth Street “every freakin’ night” to get pizza. “It’s crazy,” the customer continues. “My wife and I got pregnant, so we moved down south to have our baby and then like six months later you guys moved in here.”
“I followed you, man,” says Zane, only half-joking—after all, Via 313 really wants to be your neighborhood pizza joint. “We’re here for you,” adds Brandon with a jovial vibe. And they are.
What’s Detroit-Style Pizza?
The Hunt brothers suspect that Detroit-style pizza got its start thanks to Sicilian families settling in the Detroit area after World War II and bringing their family recipes with them. It’s a feasible theory, considering sfincione, or Sicilian-style pizza, has a similarly spongy crust to Detroit-style pies and cuts a four-sided figure. But it was the switch from baking sheets to automotive pans that made this dish an American original. This wonder-cookware was originally used to hold small machine and car parts along assembly lines in (where else?) Motor City. “The pans are what really make Detroit-style pizza its own thing,” says Zane. They’re made of blue (or tempered) steel that “conducts heat perfectly for a balanced bake of both the cheese and crust,” he says. And the shape of the pans, along with their raised and tapered edges, allows for cheese to be built up along the walls—an important feature.
By Amy McCullough • Photography by Dustin Meyer
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