Pizza / South Philadelphia

Meet Joe Betzala of Dough Head Pizza in South Philly

A new artisan pizza restaurant has opened in South Philly, ready to make a splash on Philly’s pizza scene. 

Dough Head Pizza is now open at 833 Wharton Street in South Philadelphia

Local owner/operator Joe Betzala received special training from renowned pizza expert Gregorio Fierro and opened the doors to Dough Head Pizza in the middle of September. 

Joe Betzala of Dough Head Pizza in South Philly

Betzala, who has more than 35 years of culinary and catering experience, is now focused on pizza. His culinary journey has taken quite the route to where he is now.

He started in the food service industry at Louis’s Restaurant in Clifton Heights as a dishwasher & busboy at age 13. Then he waited tables at September’s Place throughout high school. After he graduated in 1989, he went to the Philadelphia Restaurant School, now known as the Walnut Hill College, for their Culinary Arts Chef Training program and graduated in 1990. 

Then he went to work at various restaurants in and around the city honing his skills: Rose Tattoo Cafe at 18th & Callowhill, The Pyrenees at 2nd & Bainbridge, Radnor Hotel, American Bistro, Scampi’s, Central Park, Horace P. Jerky’s, LaPadella, and others.

In 1997, he created and opened Java Joe’s, a 55-seat breakfast & lunch café in Ridley Township, Delaware County. The menu offered the standard American classics, homemade soups, quiches, sandwiches, and elevated brunch fare like smoked crabmeat, asparagus & Emmental omelet, Morning Glory Pancakes, Stuffed French Toast, Creole omelet with Tasso ham, alligator sausage, crawfish, peppers, onions & pepper jack cheese.

In 2004, he sold Java Joe’s and started Joseph’s Catering. It won the contract to run the food service for Penn State University’s Brandywine Campus in Media, PA, from 2004-2013, where it ran the daily food preparation for the Lion’s Den Cafeteria for PSU students, faculty, and staff. The business catered campus events for 5 to 500 people and off-site private & corporate catered events until 2013, when he sold this company, too.

Fast forward to 2015, he started research & development for Crisp Kitchen. A fast-casual concept focusing on fresh, healthy, made-to-order salads and stir fry options. It opened its first location in the heart of Temple University in 2016, then came locations at 19th & Market St and Marlton, NJ. But like so many of our fellow restauranteurs, the pandemic shut it down permanently.

“During the pandemic, I built a wood-fired pizza oven in my backyard,” Betzala told Philly Grub. “The outdoorsman in me loved cooking over a fire, the chef loved experimenting with pizza, and the businessman in me saw pizzeria businesses go through the roof. Pizza was next, and the universe answered with a serendipitous moment dropping the South Philly 9th & Wharton location in my lap.”

Joe Betzala of Dough Head Pizza tossing pizza dough.

So his focus is now Dough Head Pizza, where the pizza features naturally fermented slow-age craft dough, the finest local ingredients, and made with equipment imported from Italy. And it will only be pizza for the foreseeable future.

“I’ve got plenty of ideas for expanding the menu, but after 35 years in the food industry, the “KISS” method rules the day (Keep It Simple, Stupid),” Betzala said. “Our focus in on quality, starting with the dough first and foremost, then the cheese & local NJ tomatoes. Toppings are always fresh, cooked, and seasoned perfectly. “Pizza Made with Love” is our slogan!”

Dough Head Pizza is now open at 833 Wharton Street in South Philly.

There are 14 pizzas on the menu, and each pizza is large at 16″ with prices including tax ranging from $22-$25.

“We hope people recognize that we’re working hard to produce quality pizza,” Betzala explained. “Pizza is tricky; the dough is a living thing that changes minute by minute. Thankfully with the expert teachings and training of our pizza guru Gregorio Fierro, a South Philly native, a product that we are proud to make and serve was created. My team and I now carry and maintain the torch that Chef Fierro lit into the future.”

October is National Pizza Month, so check out this new pizza shop in South Philly, and let me know what you think!

Pizza Made with LOVE: Dough Head Pizza in South Philly

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