One Fishtown man is serving up pizza topped with cheese, sauce and history at the world’s first pizza museum and restaurant.
Brian “Brain” Dwyer is the man behind Pizza Brain, located at 2313 Frankford Ave. In addition to serving pizza pies, the space will showcase Dwyer’s Guinness World Record-setting collection of pizza-related memorabilia — the largest such collection in the world.
“What I love about this project is that people are excited for it,” Dwyer said of his venture. “I didn’t invent pizza. I’m just doing this new twist on it.”
The idea for a pizza-inspired collection started when Dwyer was a college student. His first collectable was a music record that he thought would add a special touch to his music studio.
“The things that get me really excited and where the whole collection started was the music,” Dwyer said. “At this point, I have well over 200 vinyl records and 45s dedicated to pizza songs and lyrics.”
The inspiration for a full-time pizza museum came after a successful pizza-themed art show at Rocket Cat Café in May 2010. More than 300 people showed up to “Give Pizza Chance,” which featured about 25 artists. Dwyer said that’s where his idea for Pizza Brain was born.
“I didn’t want the show to alienate people, I wanted it to be a pizza party,” he said. “That night kind of changed us and made me wish there was a pizza shop that celebrated pizza culture like this.”
His collection started growing fast. Dwyer began finding pizza records and comic books at flea markets, thrift stores and online.
“It made sense that if we were going to have a place that feels the way I imagined it to feel, we would have the walls adorned with pizza ephemera,” he said.
Today, his diverse collection has everything from posters to pins and toys to stuffed slices of pizza. With more than 1,000 products devoted to pizza in his possession, Dwyer said he doesn’t plan on stopping his search for items honoring his favorite food.
“We keep waiting for some guy or gal from Dubai or Germany to call up and say, ‘Well I actually have the largest collection,’” Dwyer said. “But no one’s got at me yet, so we’re going to keep on going until someone tells us to stop.”
During construction, the majority of Dwyer’s collection is being stored in large plastic bins or in storage units. One of the biggest challenges facing the guys at Pizza Brain is how to attractively display all the items.
“We have so much to display it all in a tasteful way. The design is going to be constantly changing,” Dwyer said. “It’s going to be living, breathing. It’s going to change and rotate.”
While the design plans for the interior of the restaurant and museum are top secret, Dwyer said diners can expect to become engaged in their pizza experience through pop-culture references.
“Whether it’s movies, TV shows, music, you name it — we’ve got it,” Dwyer said. “So, in Pizza Brain, there’s going to be a really cool opportunity to show people that.”
Unlike many museums, Dwyer’s won’t feature many “do not touch” signs.
“I can say that the place is going to be very interactive and very tinkered with,” he said. “It’s not going to be a sterile museum environment with displays and cases.”
The project is being funded through investments from business partners, in addition to a Kickstarter campaign, which uses online crowd fundraising to raise money for new projects.
Dwyer said that individual “doughnations” from $10 to $2,000 have allowed the community to get involved in the revitalization of the 19th century building.
“It’s really a neighborhood that’s built this place,” he said. “By the time it opens, I can’t imagine how many people are going to feel like they have stock in it, and I want it to feel like that.”
In the world of pizza aficionados, every city vies to make theirs the place to dine. When it came to scouting locations for this pizza paradise, Fishtown was the perfect location.
“Fishtown? Why not Fishtown? This is the center of arts activity and there’s a lot of revitalization that’s going on,” said Michael Carter, business developer for Pizza Brain. “It has a tendency to really foster creativity.”
As the man in charge of day-to-day business operations, Carter said he expects their endeavor will be successful because pizza is always a common denominator.
“Pizza brings people together and it’s a universally loved food,” he said. “People have all of these really great memories associated with pizza.”
The minds behind Pizza Brain see their new venture as a project focused on benefiting Fishtown in multiple ways. Carter and Dwyer envision their location as a gathering place during community events, such as First Friday. Plans are also in the works to help educate students in nearby schools, even before the pizza ovens are fired up.
“We’d really like to see Pizza Brian take on farm-to-plate instruction with area kids,” he said. “That’s a real opportunity to take a favorite food and connect it with understanding how food is grown and how it gets from the ground to your plate in the form of pizza.”
While the dough still needs time to rise inside Pizza Brain, Dwyer said pizza lovers can expect the eatery and museum to be open for business this summer.
“I think we’re going to make the best pizza in Philly,” he said.