By TONY WITTKOWSKI - Herald Palladium Staff Writer Jun 27, 2019
Photos by Don Campbell
BENTON HARBOR — Coated in flour and remnants of pizza dough, Steve Zieverink couldn’t help but smile.
It had only been a week since Zieverink opened Emma Hearth & Market in downtown Benton Harbor, but it felt like a multi-year effort.
Having spent the past three years operating out of a food truck at several farmer’s markets and breweries, Zieverink and his wife, Wendy Uhlman, were able to open the pizzeria on June 20 to coincide with Art Hop.
“There’s been overwhelming support from the Benton Harbor community,” Zieverink said. “I like feeding people. There’s a health component to it.”
Located at 225 E. Main St., Emma Hearth & Market uses a wood-fired oven that cooks pizzas in 90 seconds. The low-dome oven reaches 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which puts the flame right over the pizza – giving it a charred and rustic look.
The name “Emma” stems from Zieverink’s grandmother, who taught him how to make pizzas.
The business produces two styles of pizza – Roman and al taglio. The menu has 10 different pizzas listed, but there will be one to two specials that would rotate depending on what ingredients are seasonal.
Zieverink said he feels their farm-to-table pizzas fit well with the identify of the Benton Harbor Arts District.
“The goal is to have this old world with a new modern twist of modern Italian food,” Zieverink said. “There’s a lot of creativity to it.”
From the farm
Zieverink and Uhlman uses ingredients and toppings that are grown from their Coloma farm.
Uhlman and Zieverink have owned the farm since 2013, which has since become a certified organic farm. Zieverink said they’ve been selling vegetables to other businesses including Mason Jar Cafe and the incoming Houndstooth.
Once the farm was up and running, they began making pizzas on the farm for guests. That’s when the idea clicked to open a food truck.
“We were just figuring out how to farm at that point,” Zieverink said. “We also needed a way to sell our produce. We decided to take it to the people at markets.”
They were ambitious at first and tried their hand at being traveling pizza makers. However, Zieverink said they were burned out after the first year and limited their stops to farmer’s markets.
In the end, they chose to go after a brick-and-mortar location because their inefficiencies were in traveling costs and the set-up-and-break-down process.
Uhlman said the most appealing part is not having to be mobile and set up everyday.
Finding a space to settling in that was only 15 minutes away from the farm was an added bonus.
“We were actually supposed to open a month ago, but due to construction delays we focused on opening in time for Art Hop,” she said.
Future growth - Zieverink and Uhlman are essentially running their food truck out of the garage portion of the building.
However, the second phase of construction includes cleaning up the front for a traditional seating area, adding a larger oven in the back, and creating a patio behind the building.
With the help of Greenspace Construction, the next phase of the building is within sight.
While the pizzeria has a small sign out front for the time being, Zieverink and Uhlman do have a large neon art piece fastened to a brick wall. Created by Chicago artist Erik Peterson, the pink neon light can be seen from the roundabout and oncoming traffic through the sliding garage door.
“We’re excited to build out with our signage through this,” Uhlman said. “It’s beautiful at night. Plus, with the amount of smoke that comes out of the oven, it almost works like a smoke signal.”
The business is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. On their “off days,” Zieverink said they can be found at their farm.
Uhlman said they plan to introduce salads next week, and will eventually serve Italian sandwiches and gelato.
Zieverink said they are focused on expanding their customer base, but have high hopes for the final version of the business.
“The next few years I want to see a full-scale Italian market,” he said, “with maybe even a wine bar.”
Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski