Peace, love and pizza. Peace of the Pie brings a new touch to an old favorite

By on March 7, 2020

 

 

 

The Terminator

Pizza. It’s already a crowded field on the Outer Banks.  One might think opening a new pizza restaurant would give the new entrants some pause.

But if the new team consists of veteran Outer Banks restaurateurs Kevin Cherry and Kwan Gray of Mama Kwans (and Mexicali Brews), it’s a good bet they’ve found an angle to carve out a niche.

Add to the mix two young and energetic partners — Lance and Fran Marler — lately of the Kill Devil Grill and one can rest easy. We’re going to have a must-visit venue in our midst.

The story begins forty-five years ago. That’s when Pizza Hut became the first national chain to open a store on the Outer Banks, a location Cherry said was one of their busiest summer outlets in the entire country.

Over the years, locals and visitors likely noticed a decline in the store — both in terms of service and the general upkeep of the property.

Cherry said the opportunity of an adjacent parcel becoming available was something he and Gray couldn’t pass up. Kwans’ has long enjoyed what many would see as a good problem to have — a shortage of parking spaces due to its popularity. The Pizza Hut location would alleviate that problem.

However, their accountant told them zoning rules would require they run a business there. It couldn’t just become a huge parking lot.

“So we decided it had to be a pizza place since that location had been associated with pizza for forty-five years. That part was a no-brainer. It made no sense to try to duplicate the Kwans experience. But we needed to lease it out so Kwan and I wouldn’t be running two locations. Preferably we wanted someone we knew who wanted a shot to run their own restaurant down here and needed some help. It’s difficult to break into the business on the Outer Banks,” Cherry noted.

Enter Lance and Fran Marler.

“They had become close friends with Kwan and he suggested them to me when we decided to take on the Pizza Hut property. He was heading to Thailand so I told him I’d contact them. Kwan was pleased and responded it would provide an opportunity for the couple to “get a piece of the pie. Which is how the restaurant came by its name,” he added.

Cherry’s story begins as a high school dropout who became a machinist at the Naval Air Rework Facility in Norfolk. He then got into bartending and teaching karate while working in a dive bar in Portsmouth. He visited Japan and then migrated to the Outer Banks. He found work with Mike Kelly, whom he considers a mentor and who is someone he still goes to for advice.

Cherry still wanted to explore life a bit more so he left the Outer Banks after a year and landed in the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York City. He enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts to pursue an acting career and even did some off-Broadway gigs. But he found there were two types of actors — starving and successful. He wasn’t making it as an actor but was doing well managing restaurants so he chose not to starve and returned to the Outer Banks, working for several successful restaurants.

Kwan Gray has a similar story — growing up in Elizabeth City and getting into surfing and restaurant work in Virginia Beach and the Outer Banks. At one time he worked at the Secret Spot Surf Shop. He then found his way into the world of restaurants and discovered he had a knack for the culinary side of the business.

Cherry and Gray knew of each other in the restaurant field, but didn’t actually work together until a stint at the old Quagmire’s under John Kirchmier. They got along well and began planning their own adventure.

As a duo they follow different paths. Cherry is the one you’ll see out front and is the ‘face’ of Kwans. Gray works his magic in the kitchen where locals have come to rely on his tantalizing menu offerings that make Mama Kwans fans some of the most loyal you’ll find anywhere.

Lance and Fran Marler followed a similar circuitous route to these shores. They met in South Carolina where Fran was a student at Coastal Carolina University and Lance was in the U.S. Navy. Both worked in restaurants, given their proximity to Myrtle Beach.

Fourteen years ago, Fran had finished college and Lance was out of the Navy. They made a decision to come to the Outer Banks.

Fran landed at Whalebone Surf Shop and Lance decided to try his hand at boat building. She missed the restaurant side of things and Lance decided building boats wasn’t his cup of tea. They found themselves back in the restaurant sector.

The couple met Cherry and Gray when the duo opened Mexicali Blues (later Mexicali Brewz) on the Beach Road and the Marlers came on board. A friendship between the four developed and Fran Marler relates they had many discussions about the foursome doing something together one day.

Eventually Chery and Gray sold Mexicali’s (it’s now The Bonzer Shack owned by their old Quagmire’s boss John Kirchmier) and the Marlers moved on to Kill Devil Grill, where they both spent the last 10  years.

Lance was in the kitchen and worked under chefs with culinary school backgrounds, allowing him to learn and hone his own culinary skills. Fran bartended, waited tables and did whatever work was needed — a front of the store role.

All of which makes for a perfect combination for the new venture — two partners who shy away from the spotlight and prefer to let their talents shine in creating incredible menu items and two partners who focus on the business and the dining room experience.

Cherry also noted that the Marler’s “youth, ingenuity, and spark’ were needed to bring a younger perspective to the restaurant. This is immediately evident when Fran begins to speak to how they plan to create their own niche in the Outer Banks pizza wars.

“We wanted to offer gourmet pizzas with unusual items. Lance has already taken fine dining ingredients such as sautéed mushrooms and smoked brisket and found a way to incorporate them into a pizza one can enjoy with a beer. We’re deconstructing ingredients found in salads and adding them to pizza, “she relates.

Gluten free Bohemian.

“Our gluten free crust, which I think is excellent, is also diary free — no eggs or milk. It’s entirely plant based. With our ingredients, many of which are fresh, hand cut and hand washed by us, one can have an entire meal from salad to pizza and make it a vegan, vegetarian, or meat-lovers night out,” she continues.

Cherry notes Fran was also instrumental in smaller details. She decided the craft beers would all be North Carolina made. Twelve taps pour local and regional home state beers.

The wine list is small, but perfect for this venue. Fran tasted “a lot of wine” and found four reds to pair with pizza and four whites for salads. The Prosecco on tap is a big hit and comes across as “a party in your mouth,” Fran notes.

The gourmet concept is important, but Cherry points out they serve traditional pizza and their goal was to offer everything from a cheese pizza to their more exotic offerings fitting most any budget.

“You can come in here with a family of four, order a large cheese pizza and soft drinks or even water and get out for under $10 a head. Or you can ramp it up with gourmet pizzas and wine or craft beer,” he adds.

The gourmet pizzas also differentiate Peace of the Pie from the rest of the local pizza scene.

The Shredder.

They are offering smaller personal pizzas so individuals can experience different menu items on each visit. Anything on the pizza menu, whether gourmet or ‘traditional’ can be ordered in these 8” smaller sizes and run $10-$12. Large pizzas are 16” and start around $15.99 and Gluten Free crusts check in at 12”  with a $13.99 starting price.

Gourmet pizzas include more traditional offerings like The Terminator with ground beef, Italian sausage, pepperoni, bacon and smoked Gouda to the ‘The Bohemian,’ a pesto sauce base with mozzarella, sundried tomato, spinach, artichokes, provolone and chevre.

The Dirty South includes smoked brisket and roasted sweet corn (trust me, it works!) along with yellow onion, red sauce, mozzarella and smoked gouda.

The Three Mushkateers, a rotating special, features sauteéd exotic mushrooms more often found in pricey appetizers or high end entrees.

The salads are equally creative. For example, oven-roasted chicken in one add on. The homemade dressings, such as the Green Goddess that complimented our Greek Salad are top-of-the-line.

Appetizers bring new takes on old favorites—like a ‘fiery’ pimento cheese dip served warm or  pepper-lemon calamari. Wings are also proving popular with some offered only as specials- such as the already famous Korean BBQ wings as well as regular offerings like the Dough Boy Wings—smoked, baked crispy wings tossed in your choice of a  Carolina mustard BBQ sauce, a chimi-verde or traditional Buffalo style.

The Bandito.

Cherry and Fran Marler are thrilled the gourmet pizzas are flying off the shelf and the homemade doughs, which took Lance six months to develop offer an alternative to the New York-style crust many competitors are feature.

Patrons are trying the gourmet items with the individual pizzas and then ordering a 16” for takeout when they decide which one appeal to them. A fun night could include a party of four ordering four different small pizzas and trading slices.

The passion exhibited among the four owners is contagious and it reflects not only in the menu but in every detail of Peace of the Pie.

The interior will shock and surprise anyone who ventured inside the Pizza Hut at the end of its life. The dark and dilapidated booths and fixtures have been replaced with light wood and new lighting with sconce accents that is inviting and modern. The floor is a dark blue and the interior brick displays red and white colors to further lighten the mood. Cherry and Lance Marler did much of the work themselves—wielding concrete saws and jackhammers as they transformed the run down shell into the modern venue you’ll experience when you visit.

A large U-shaped bar now occupies the front–  where once can enjoy a craft beer or wine with an appetizer, salad or pizza. The exterior was also completely revamped, including a new exterior paint job and beautiful landscaping and plantings.

Currently the restaurant is open for dinner only and any expansion of hours will come “as we grow into the process”, Cherry says. Fran adds “Like our food, it’s an organic model and we don’t want to run or trot before we can stand and walk.”

Hours: Wednesday through Monday: 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. They are closed on Tuesday’s at present.

Phone: 252-480-0055.

Peace of the Pie Facebook page lists specials daily: https://www.facebook.com/peaceofthepiekdh/

The menu can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/peaceofthepiekdh/menu/

 


Recent posts in this category

Recent posts in this category

Comments are closed.