He’s drinking cucumber lemonade. He looks a bit like Michael Rappaport, red hair and all, but with Eraserhead’s hairstyle. He wears rather tight jean shorts and a black tank top. Heavily freckled. Tall. About six-foot-three. He is Brian Dwyer, the 27-year-old part-owner of and spokesman for the world’s first ever Pizza Museum, called Pizza Brain (Brain being Brian’s nickname when he used to work at Trader Joe’s).
“It’s a thing that started out almost as a joke. It’s the kind of thing that you’re sitting on the couch with your friends … ” Brian takes a drag from an imaginary cigarette,1 “Aw man, wouldn’t it be great if we started a pizza museum?”
Brian has the energy of someone who is in the process of making a crazy dream come true. His enthusiasm is contagious, his conversations meander wildly in a way that only serve to make them more interesting, and his obsession with something as ubiquitous as pizza reminds you how wonderful the simplest things in life are.
He got the inspiration from an art show he helped put together in 2010. He had so much fun, and saw the people who attended enjoy the pizza-themed show so much, he decided to take it to the next level, and create a pizza museum. “I thought, ‘There’s got to be a pizza museum out there. I’m just going to model it after them.’ I was in the deepest rabbit holes of the Internet, and nothing. I was thinking, ‘Surely, I can’t be the first weirdo to come up with this.’”
Incredibly, he was. As a longtime fan of pizza, he had a few pieces of memorabilia, but if he was going to open this museum, “I wanted to brag that we had the largest collection on the Eastern seaboard or something.”
So he contacted the Guinness World Records people, and again was shocked to discover that there was no record for largest pizza collection.
“There were records for Coca-Cola memorabilia, and Santa Claus memorabilia, and I’m like, ‘But nobody’s done pizza?’”
They hadn’t. So Brian began scooping up pieces of pizza paraphernalia anywhere he found it, and what I saw of his collection (not even half of it) was astounding. Records, books, Noid action figures, the movie poster to Mystic Pizza … if it has to do with pizza, Brian’s probably got it. It is an embarrassment of absurd riches, and will be showcased in the next month or two (there is no definite opening date, though they are aiming for July) in an 1840s building on the 2300 block of Frankford Avenue in Fishtown. More than a museum, Pizza Brain will also be a pizza restaurant. In the same building, right next door, will be an ice cream shop from the guys at the equally eccentric Little Baby’s Ice Cream, known for offering flavors such as chipotle chocolate and balsamic banana.
While the pizza shop is little more than bones, boards and bricks, a bit more work has been completed in the ice cream portion of the facility, and if it gives you any indication as to what kind of museum this is going to be, the ice cream shop looks like a room in Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
“We don’t have the space to be just a white-walled gallery with pillars and a static kind of casing. It’s a restaurant too. You’re going to see the collection presented in very strange and unorthodox ways.”
A pizza museum in a restaurant that looks like something out of a Pee-wee Herman Show? It may sound ridiculous, but to Brian, it’s anything but. “I’m deadly serious about it.”
He is also, like all first-time restaurant owners, a bit anxious. “When you have all these eyes looking before it’s even open, that can lead to a tremendous amount of backlash. I am confident that we’re going to exceed people’s expectations, but I can’t control people’s expectations. I’m not LeBron James. I didn’t come out saying, ‘We’re going to be the best fucking thing ever. We’re going to win eight championships.’ I just wanted to open a pizza restaurant.”
But it’s obvious that this is much more than just a pizza restaurant. “What it really boils down to for me, why it’s so special, is the fact that I’ve been in lots of bands, been a film school dropout, the whole creative thing. Anytime I’ve done a show or made something, it’s a very self-serving feeling. You create something, and you let it go. And then people either like it or they don’t like it. But this project is so different because it’s a shared experience. It’s meaningful for everybody. All I’m doing is facilitating it.”
1We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it was a tobacco cigarette he was imagining. Return to post.