With the help of a new oven, Anaheim’s Focaccia Boi continues to rise
A pink industrial mixer stands against a peg board, where pans, tools and mixer attachments hang in neat rows. Stainless steel wire racks with loaves of focaccia bread line one side of the wall and stacks of 50-pound bags of King Arthur special patent flour line the other.
This is where Derek Bracho makes crispy-cornered Detroit-style focaccia-bread pizzas for his business, Focaccia Boi. Although it resembles a commercial restaurant kitchen, Bracho works out of his home in Anaheim, which he sometimes refers to as the “focaccia fortress.”
“Focaccia Boi is kind of like a pop-up that never moves,” said Bracho.
Each Monday Bracho posts time slots for pizza pickup on Wednesdays and Thursdays via Slotted on his Instagram. Fans sign up for a pickup time and pay in advance through Venmo, then pull up to the focaccia fortress at their scheduled time where Bracho’s wife, Shalene, runs pizzas out to the driveway on a small card table for contactless pickup.
Focaccia Boi pizza starts with a garlic rosemary focaccia bread dough, then Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes, a blend of mozzarella cheese and fresh basil. Pies are baked in deep, square pans, for edges that are decorated in a lace of crisp cheese. Cheese and pepperoni are always on the menu, but specials rotate. Like Peplooza, with calabrian chilis, pepperoni, pickled jalapenos, pickled banana peppers and parmesan or the Gonzo, with asiago, gorgonzola, fig jam and a balsamic glaze drizzle.
Since he is the only cook, and space is an issue, Bracho limits two pizzas per order, and any orders that aren’t paid for within 30 minutes of sign-up are canceled.
“I know that’s a lot of steps,” reads a tutorial about ordering on his Instagram, “I apologize BUT someday soon I will have a location and everything will be easier.”
Bracho didn’t plan to sell pizza out of his home. When he moved back to Southern California in 2018, he hoped to open a coffee shop and brewery with baked goods, a concept that was popular in the Pacific Northwest where he had been living and working in breweries.
“I thought it would be a really cool concept to do down here so I set on a journey to teach myself how to bake,” said Bracho. “The idea was to teach myself how to do everything, coffee, bread … just so I had a really good base understanding of everything.”
He started with garlic rosemary focaccia bread and gave loaves away to friends and neighbors who insisted he sell them.
Bracho built his brand on Instagram and had a small email list of customers who would place orders weekly.
“And at that point I felt like I was doing a lot, like 20 orders of bread a week,” said Bracho. “Then the pandemic hit.”
At the start of the lockdown, Bracho shuttered his small business.
“I took a layoff at my job and just hunkered down … just going to the store and trying get things was so chaotic.”
In the early days of the pandemic, yeast and flour were hard to come by. Bracho realized people needed bread but couldn’t leave their homes, so he started doing deliveries. He was able to secure ingredients through restaurant supply stores. Local restaurants he befriended were also able to order ingredients for him.
“It was crazy, I went from doing 20 orders a week to — probably at the height of that — close to 180 loaves a week,” said Bracho.
He spent seven days a week baking in the morning, running out and doing deliveries in the afternoon and coming back to bake more.
“And that took off, and it was great,” Bracho said, “But it burned me out really quick.”
Bracho knew he needed to switch gears. He always loved pizza and noticed some customers were buying his bread and making pizza out of it.
“And I was like, ‘Why am I not doing that?’”
After some R&D, Bracho gave the pizzas to his friends and neighbors, just like his original loaves. Again, they insisted he sell it.
“I thought ‘OK, maybe I will do it one day a week so I don’t have to go out and do deliveries.’ It’s pizza, it has to be served fresh. You have to come get it.”
It sold out immediately.
“I was like, ‘Oh crap, OK. This is what I am doing now.’ So slowly it just kind of transitioned over to the pizza.”
Bracho quit deliveries and just did pizza pickups and singlehandedly ran one of Orange County’s most popular pop-ups. Then, his oven broke.
“In the beginning of July 2021, I was baking, and the oven decided to just drop temp on me. I had called an actual repair person, and that person ghosted me.”
Bracho learned his oven issue was due to a faulty part that could only be replaced with that same part, which was doomed to fail again eventually. He ordered a new oven but was at the mercy of current appliance shortages, mostly attributed to stalls in manufacturing caused by the pandemic. He ordered an oven from Costco and was told it would arrive in two weeks. Delivery day came and went with no oven.
“I maybe spent six hours on the phone getting bounced around,” said Bracho.
A new delivery day was set, but again no oven arrived. After hours of negotiating, Bracho said Costco agreed to pay for the rental of an oven in the meantime.
“I go to schedule a rental oven and find out you cannot rent an oven,” Bracho said. “None were available to rent. So it just became another order, another oven.”
It finally arrived at the end of August.
On a Thursday evening, Bracho pulls pies out of his new Kitchen Aid double oven. Besides calling a repair guy out to fix a broken latch, his new appliance is now working fine. And after catching up on orders he wasn’t able to fill when the old oven broke, he’s back to selling out weekly.
Bracho’s goal is to open a brick-and-mortar shop so he won’t have to continue cooking out of his home kitchen, though he says he isn’t interested in going far.
“I think staying specifically in north O.C. is important. I have built such a community here,” said Bracho. “The neighborhood really embraced me ... Anaheim feels like home.”
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