Atlanta’s food scene is known mainly for our wings! Hot, lemon pepper (extra wet), hot lemon pepper. But, every now and again we have another cuisine come in and change the game. The latest spot to come in and flip the script is Phew’s Pies. This relatively new pizzeria has made waves since its opening three years ago. Phew’s Pies was just recently on Good Morning America this past Monday competing in the semi-finals for “The Best Pizza” to see which pizzeria is the best in the A.
Phew’s Pies snagged the win and is now headed to New York this Friday, February 17 to compete with other finalists to win the ultimate title of Best Pizza in the US. Secret Atlanta had to get in the mix and find out more about this amazing pizzeria. What’s the magic sauce and how did Phew’s Pies land among the stars? Read our interview below to see why Phew’s Pies is a must-try for new foods this year.
Matthew Foster is an Atlanta native, so naturally, lemon pepper wings became an instant part of his menu, but not in the way, you may think. He puts them on top of the pizza! Foster’s favorite food since childhood has always been pizza. He says “he could eat pizza every day” and used to at one point. We sat down with Matthew and learned more about Phew’s Pies origin and where they hope to be one day!
SMA: When did you first realize that out of all the foods, that pizza was just your thing?
Matthew Foster: During the pandemic, friends knew how much I liked pizza and asked me if I had started making some. By the time a tenth person had asked me I said, alright let me try my hand at pizza. Every day I would try new recipes and research. I would take my brother’s gallon zip-lock bags of pizza. I would ask him to tell me what he thought. And over the months I got better and started expanding on other recipes.
SMA: We can’t not talk about it…LEMON PEPPER WINGS?! I mean it’s very ATL and all, but how did it come about? It’s giving very much munchies combo.
Matthew Foster: My favorite TV show is on YouTube called The Pizza Show. Frank Pinello teamed up with Munchies to host a pizza show and travel all around to different states, tasting and judging different pizzas. He never made it to the south so I was thinking if I had to create a pizza representing where I’m from, what would it look like? Instantly, lemon pepper wings came to my mind. Atlanta is known for our lemon pepper wings and lemon pepper period. It was a no brainer
SMA: What is one of your fav dishes to make (pizza aside)?
Matthew Foster: Pasta! Specifically, Cacio Pepe is super good and simple, and if not that, then Tagliatelle.
SMA: Who has inspired and supported you on this journey?
Matthew Foster: It’s been family and friends and of course customers. My parents my mom and dad have instilled in me a drive to go get what I want out of life and work hard. My mom is a big dreamer and she’s the biggest optimist. My dad is the hardest-working person I know. Good work is more work” so don’t shy away from it. My girlfriend has been amazing and supportive with any and everything I need in the business.
SMA: What do you hope to show others watching your journey?
Matthew Foster: I would say as long as you don’t quit you will be successful. You can do things that you might necessarily can. Being a black man from the south we’re not known for making pizza. So being able to be recognized and compete on a national level, means you can step outside the normal boundaries that you see every day and be successful. You need to be what success is for you and not let others tell you what it is. outside forces, other people, society, and social media. Whatever you think is success that’s what it’s going to be.
SMA: I’ve read that you categorize your style of cooking as metropolitan, (a riff on the Neapolitan influence and his urban roots) what led to that?
Matthew Foster: My style is Neopolitan in the root. So the traditions of neo are still used (double zero flour, fresh ingredients, and the cooking style in a brick oven). But I’m not Italian. I’m black, I’m from the south, Atlanta specifically. So all the pizza flavors are inspired by that. That’s how you get lemon pepper pizza, oxtail, ricotta, and jive turkey pizza. It still gives the preparation of Neopolitan, but its essence is that of the inner city and Atlanta.
SMA: Did you study under anyone?
Matthew Foster: No, I worked at a Pizzaria – Ammazza. I was working in front of the house. I was a food runner but I always stared into the window of the kitchen. They saw I took an interest and I had two ppl who took me under their wing while I was there. They put me on Mondays (since it’s restaurant slow days). From there I moved on to work for Wildin Out. From there I used a lot of trial and error, watched YouTube, and read some books. I’m not completely self-taught, but I would say 90%.
SMA: How long were you on Wildin Out?
Matthew Foster: I was there for 2 months before the pandemic shut that down. I started in February. By March 8 they shut down the world.
SMA: Do you plan on rejoining or are interested in rejoining Wildin Out?
Matthew Foster: No, I think I found my lane and my niche for pizza.
SMA: (It says you do popups currently) do you plan on planting your brick-and-mortar location and if so when?
Matthew Foster: Not yet, still in the works! Patience is a virtue. I could have jumped to a few different spots, but I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. But everything is aligned right now. Had I had a brick-and-mortar right now, I don’t know if I would have made it to Good Morning America. I do popups every Tuesday and Wednesday, but we’ll be adding more to the schedule, as the weather gets warmer. A brick-and-mortar will be ready in about a year
SMA: Where do you see Phew Pies in a few years?
Matthew Foster: A brick-and-mortar. I don’t wanna stop the mobile aspect of my business. Being able to go to your consumers on a side of town that you’re not normally, located in definitely adds another layer to the business. I want to have a fleet of food trucks to serve different communities in the area or take it on the road.
SMA: How do you feel about the competition coming up on Friday?
Matthew Foster: I’m cool. I thought I would nervous but I am ok. I feel like Bradley Cooper’s character in Burnt (a great movie by the way) where he’s going after his third Michelin star. When the Michelin guests finally arrived at the restaurant, he said “we’re gonna do what we do”. All that to say I feel the same way. We got this far and we don’t need to switch anything up. It’s an honor just to be on the platform competing against 5 other pizzerias. Especially since I’m going into my third year ever doing pizza and doing business.
SMA: Did you ever see yourself here in this space and season doing what you love?
Matthew Foster: I never saw this. I said after I was done in the entertainment world I would open a pizzeria but not for any purpose to have a watering hole for myself. I never saw this as a viral career. I think it is divine. Anytime I wasn’t working in the entertainment industry I would find myself working in hospitality. Servicing others.
SMA: What more can we expect to see from Phew’s Pies?
SMA: Hopefully see more of me on Tv. I definitely want to make the effort to pay more attention to the marketing and branding aspect. Grow the business as much as possible. I have three more concepts for the business: family-oriented sit-down, fast-paced slice shop, and fancy white tablecloth called Push Pie because we will push the boundaries of what you consider pizzas.