Neapolitan wood-fired oven arrives in Lynchburg; solidifies the Jack Daniel Distillery experience
Imagine taking a bite of pizza that’s crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside. The wood-fired oven has gently charred the bottom of the pizza, with ash adding to the flavors of cheese, pepperoni and sausage.
While the trip of the pizza at Stave and Stone Pizzeria and Bakery in Lynchburg, from entering the oven to the customer, takes less than two minutes, the journey of the wood-fired oven was much longer and began in Italy, said owner James Clinton.
“That’s a Neapolitan oven,” Clinton said. “The components for the oven were created in Italy and shipped to and assembled in California.”
The dome makes the oven unique.
“Some ovens have a conical shape, some have barrel shape, some are square,” Clinton said, adding that Stave and Stone Pizzeria uses the traditional Neapolitan oven.
“The pizza usually is thin crust, airy on the inside with a little bit of crisp on the outside,” Clinton said. “The closest thing is probably New York-style pizza, but that’s usually cooked in a gas or electric oven. I wanted to go as authentic as I possibly could, and I wanted to do 100% wood-fired oven. You get moisture from the wood in the oven, so the dough doesn’t dry out. I like that. And I like the ash at the bottom. You get a little bit of the ash from the wood, and it gives it a little bit of a different flavor profile.”
The pizza takes about 90 seconds in the Neapolitan oven.
“Ultimately, I want to touch the pizza three times – when I put it in the oven, turn it 180 degrees about 45 seconds in, and when I take it out,” Clinton said.
The oven has the capacity to bake 12 12-inch pizzas at the same time.
“I can juggle about six when I’m by myself,” he said. “It has the capacity to do other things, too. I do wings, Thanksgiving Day turkeys, shrimp and grits. You name it, I’ve done it.”
The high temperature of the oven ensures the combination of softness and crunch.
“The temperature of the oven at the bottom is 750 degrees,” Clinton said. “Higher temperature than that on the surface of the oven would start scorching the pizza. And the temperature of the top is about 900 degrees. What makes wood-fired ovens special is that you’re cooking at the top and bottom at extremely high temperatures. I put a little cornmeal on the bottom, and that stops the pizza from sticking. The oven steams the pizza, and it sears it. Any moisture that was in that dough is steamed, and the oven sears the pizza on the top and on the bottom.”
That process results in a bit of chewiness on the inside and crunch on the outside.
Clinton also cooks wings and plans to add Cajun food to the menu.
“It takes about six minutes to cook wings. I do wings on an iron skillet with dry rub,” he said. “We are going to add po’boys, gumbo, etouffee. We are doing beignets and coffee. I’ve already experimented with those. We are going to add salads, too.”
He manages the growth of his business to make sure Stave and Stone Pizzeria offers excellent service to customers.
“I always wanted to grow slowly and work on my craft,” he said. “Sometimes, when you get too busy too fast, you’re not able to do all the things you need to do correctly. I didn’t want to lose customers.”
Clinton strives to earn the trust and respect of visitors.
“I wanted to slowly build up,” he said. “We have a pretty good reputation and feel very proud of that.”
Stave and Stone Pizzeria opened its doors in 2019.
Clinton also owns the Lynchburg Cigar Company adjacent to the pizzeria.
“We added the pizzeria in August 2019 in addition to the cigar shop, which opened its doors March 2019,” he said.
Clinton’s journey to Lynchburg began in Mississippi and was affected by Hurricane Katrina. The hurricane, which destroyed homes, lives and businesses when it struck in 2005, “wiped out” Clinton’s stores in Mississippi. He moved to Tennessee in 2006.
“I had two cigar shops, one in Biloxi, Mississippi, and one in Gulfport, Mississippi,” he said. “Katrina wiped those out, but it ended up working out. I lived in Mississippi for 20 years.”
He operated the cigar shops as his “side hustle,” said Clinton.
“I was in health care for 35 years and retired in January 2019,” he said.
“I knew, years and years ago, that I would do something else for another career, and I started making plans.”
In 2018, he purchased the building in Lynchburg.
“I researched for a couple of years about the wood-fired pizzas before I retired,” he said. “I never cooked professionally. I cooked for friends and family.”
When he had the opportunity to purchase the building in Lynchburg, his plan became clearer.
Now that he is part of the Lynchburg community, he enjoys adding to the experience of visitors to Jack Daniel Distillery.
“Our philosophy here is to promote everyone in the area,” Clinton said. “We all do better if we all do better. The folks at Jack Daniel Distillery are very good about promoting us and other businesses. Visitors have a good experience at the distillery, and when they come here to get something good to eat, it solidifies their whole experience and becomes a life-long memory.”
Owners of businesses in downtown Lynchburg have become friends.
“The community here is great,” he said. “Lynchburg is a really nice town. I’ve visited many distilleries, and not many distilleries are located next to a town. Usually, they are out by the water source, which is away from the population. There are very few distilleries with a town next to the distillery. Having Jack Daniel Distillery here has been a great blessing. The distillery brings a lot of tourism here. We meet people from all over the world, which is so, so cool. We have had people from every continent. We have had people from at least 50 countries. We have had people who barely spoke English, and we used Google Translate to communicate.”
Clinton plans to expand his business and add an outdoor event space soon.
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