Dough Head Pizza joining cheesesteak hotspot

A new pizzeria is carving out its slice of South Philadelphia’s biggest cheesesteak destination.

The common question for years has been Pat’s or Geno’s when it came time for a late-night food run. Now Dough Head’s Pizza is offering hungry people an alternative.

Owned by Joe Betzala, Dough Head Pizza opened up in September on Wharton Street across the street from the famous cheesesteak attractions. Although there are many other pizza places in South Philly, the new 1,800-square-foot shop offers an alternative, or maybe even the perfect complement to a cheesesteak.

“When they built this building with the idea of being three commercial spots, we thought this would be a home run location with the amount of foot traffic that Pat’s and Geno’s produces,” Betzala said. “I don’t know if it’s true but I’m told more people come to this spot than the Liberty Bell.”

That seems to be the only thing Betzala doesn’t know when it comes to his new business. Originating from South and Southwest Philly, Betzala mostly grew up in Delaware County and now lives in Thornbury Township. He got into the food industry at a young age, about 35 years ago, and has owned multiple culinary ventures, including a breakfast/lunch place called Java Joe’s, and a catering company called Joseph’s Catering, which served food at Penn State Brandywine’s campus.

He then started up Crisp Kitchen with locations in North Philly, Center City and Marlton, New Jersey but had trouble once the pandemic hit. Coming out of the pandemic, he decided on pizza.

“I always kept my eye on the pizza business,” Betzala said. “I said, ‘All right, I got one more in me. Let’s do pizza.’ I did my homework and this opportunity fell in my lap.”

The decision wasn’t rushed. In fact, Betzala consulted pizza expert Gregorio Fierro and carefully crafted his idea of the perfect pizza.

A certified master instructor, Fierro helped guide Betzala, a graduate of the Philadelphia Restaurant School (now the Restaurant School at Walnut Street College), and the two began cooking up their ideas.

“He’s phenomenal when it comes to knowledge about pizza and dough,” Betzala said of Fierro. “I’ve been in food service for 35 years and the more I read about pizza and dough, I literally had a stack of books. To shorten that learning curve, I ran into Greg and we brought him on as a consultant chef. He steered us in a lot of the right directions. Mentally we knew the pie we wanted to create, and he helped us get there.”

Dough Head Pizza uses light Italian flour in its dough that is a 72-hour process, developing strong flavors and proteins along the way. Due to its light dough, the pizza is the best of both worlds. It fills you up without making you feel sick an hour later.

“The standard of which they test this flour through is very high so it’s very clean,” Betzala said. “It’s very easily digested. But it’s too light for American-style pies so we have to add another brand to give it a little backbone as well.”

Add in some authentic Italian grande cheese, and Betzala said he found the perfect New Jersey tomatoes after sampling 70 different types. All ingredients were carefully considered.

“We knew we were just doing pizzas so we really wanted to put our heart and soul into it and make the best pizza we could,” Betzala said. “And it’s tricky. Pizza is a living thing, the dough is a living thing that changes minute by minute so we’re learning to dance with it and dial it in. I think we’ve just about nailed it down.

Early reviews have been very positive as Dough Head Pizza rounded out its first full month. And Betzala said he wanted to become a fixture in the Italian Market and Bella Vista neighborhoods — not only as a place to grab a good slice of pizza — but as a valued member of the community.

He’s already participated in neighborhood cleanups, offering free pizza to volunteers, and he plans to get involved with youth sports at nearby Capitola Playground.

Dough Head Pizza has already been welcomed with open arms by its neighbors that include the two cheesesteak giants and Insomnia Cookies. The area is becoming a one-stop shop for all delights.

“So far, so good, we’re getting good reviews and a lot of people came back saying it’s really good pizza,” Betzala said. “And we have some great neighbors. Everyone has been really supportive of us.”