Featuring pulled pork, barbecue sauce, smoked mozzarella cheese and freshly sliced jalapenos, the Smokey Bear is one “slice of the week” standout
Story by Justin Franz | Photography by Hunter D’AntuonoAccording to a recent survey, 52 percent of Americans list pepperoni as one of their top three pizza toppings. Up next is sausage at 34 percent, closely followed by mushrooms at 31 percent. Even putting pineapple on a pizza — a controversial move in some parts of the country — is an accepted practice these days (although people out West ages 18 to 34 are more likely to put the tasty tropical fruit on a pie than their older Eastern counterparts).
Regardless of their age or residency, most people would argue that peanut butter and jelly are not normal pizza toppings.
But don’t tell that to Jersey Boys Pizzeria co-owner Jelisa Byl or general manager Becky Ojennes, who have been whipping up new and interesting pizzas every week in an effort to push people into trying something other than the old reliables.
“Every week, we’re trying to do something new,” says Ojennes, who hatched the idea for a “slice of the week” back in December 2018 with a roasted garlic, bacon, basil, feta and balsamic drizzle pizza.
Jersey Boys has been a Whitefish staple since it opened on the corner of First and Spokane in 2010. Five years ago, Jelisa purchased the business with her husband, Pete, and it has been growing ever since. The pizzeria employs about 30 people in the winter and more than doubles that roster during the summer when it produces upwards of 400 pizzas every day. Ojennes manages day-to-day operations.
Ojennes grew up in Colorado and is no stranger to the restaurant business, or pizzerias. When she was a child, her mother managed a pizza shop, and she recalls spending many afternoons after school helping fold pizza boxes. When it came time to get a job, Ojennes knew she wanted to be in the restaurant business and over the years has worked in eateries in Colorado, California, Alaska and Idaho. She’s had experience in places ranging from steakhouses to trendy Asian-American fusion restaurants, but she says her favorite atmosphere is found at casual family eateries like Jersey Boys.
“I feel like you can have much more real experiences and more real interactions with customers in a place like this,” she says. “At a fine dining establishment, you’re putting on a show for the customers.”
Since Ojennes started “slice of the week” in the winter of 2018, Jersey Boys has concocted dozens of different slices. Among the favorite slices have been the jalapeno popper, the Thai peanut, the chicken and waffles, and the Reuben with corned beef, sauerkraut, swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing, which was so popular it was added to the regular menu.
Sometimes the slices coincide with holidays: turkey and stuffing around Thanksgiving, a corned beef and cabbage slice for St. Patrick’s Day and a Star Wars-themed slice for the week of May 4 (this year’s will be C-3PO themed). Ojennes and Byl occasionally ask the pizzeria’s fans on social media for ideas, which recently resulted in a “Smokey Bear” slice with pulled pork, barbecue sauce, smoked mozzarella cheese and freshly sliced jalapenos.
Byl says the pizzeria also loves to collaborate with other local restaurants on slices. In the past, it’s worked with Piggyback BBQ on a brisket slice and GreenGo’s on a spinach, bacon and vodka sauce slice.
Without question, though, the most unique slice has been the peanut butter and jelly slice. Ojennes says it was surprisingly good.
Byl says her favorite part of slice of the week is that it brings regulars in to try something new every time and pushes the boundaries of what can be put on top of a pizza.
Suddenly, pineapple isn’t so risky.