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Wednesday, January 7,2009

Grab a ’Fat’ slice

East Lansing pizza maker does it his way

by ALLAN I. ROSS
If your New Year’s resolution was to cut back on pizza, then you should stop reading right now. This story could seriously damage your newfound resolve.

Since May, Fat Matt’s Pizza in East Lansing has been serving up gourmet pizza pies to the student population and a growing segment of Greater Lansing using nothing more than the freshest ingredients and a tongue-in-cheek approach to marketing. “People just love the name — I’ve got people here every day taking pictures of our sign,” says owner/operator “Fat” Matt Eyer. “I named it because it’s easy to remember, and because it’s just me. I’m a big eater, and I make pizzas the way I would want someone to make them for me.”

Eyer says his customized style is simple: You put a thin layer of sauce on the crust, you load it up with cheese until you can’t see the sauce anymore, you load up the first topping until you can’t see the cheese anymore, and continue through all the toppings this way. It makes for quite a pile in the end.

“I just hate it when I get a pizza and it’s got, like, two pieces of pepperoni on each slice, as if someone sat there and counted it out,” he says. “This is a style I came up with all on my own, and it seems to be working just fine so far.”

Eyer used to make the pizzas at a party store he owned in Brooklyn, Mich. He decided he enjoyed that aspect of the job best, and he had a real knack for it. Eyer’s wife Tami, who works side-by-side with him, says he also does all the cooking at home. Their location in the Trowbridge Plaza (home of Goodrich’s Shop-Rite) is the prototype for what they hope will eventually be about eight stores throughout mid-Michigan.

“I’ve got a built-in workforce in my four children,” he says. “The goal would be for each of them to have two stores by the time Tami retires. We’re already looking for the next location.”

Every great chain is based on a great concept, and Eyer is predicating his success on his ingredients. Of course, every pizza is built from the dough up, and Eyer says he refuses to use frozen crust. Instead, he gets his dough from Mik’s Pizza Supply in Lansing, which arrives at his store within minutes after it’s finished rising. The bread for the subs comes from Pizza Crust Co. in Lansing’s Old Town. All of the meat comes from Dr. Beef, inside Goodrich’s. And the potato chips used for toppings are all Kettle brand. Um, potato chips?  “The Potato Chip Pizza came to me, of all places, in the shower,” Eyer says. “I was in there thinking, ‘Well, I love potato chips on my tuna sandwiches, why not try them on a pizza?’ It was that easy.”

To make the potato chip pizza, Eyer first loads up a crust with sauce, cheese and toppings as usual and slides it into the oven. After several minutes, he takes it out, pops the air bubbles and crushes a couple of good-sized fistfuls of Kettle Potato Chips (“They’re the best for making this because of their crispiness,” he says), adds more cheese, and then it goes back in the oven for the final step.

The result is a gooey, cheesy, crispy pie loaded with ham, sausage and bacon that is sure to satisfy meat lovers and junk food connoisseurs alike. But the potato chip pizza is only the beginning. Fat Matt’s serves calzones, oven-baked subs, bread sticks, chicken wings, sliders (White Castle-style mini-burgers), and salads in addition to an ever-growing list of specialty pizzas.

“We came up with a fried chicken pizza around Thanksgiving, where we used chicken gravy instead of pizza sauce on a double crust, and then loaded it up with mashed potatoes and fried chicken,” he says, all but licking his chops. “We made one, and it was absolutely delicious. Now we just have to figure out how we could incorporate it onto our menu.”

Seeing as how he’s “idiot-proofed” his work stations, providing that built-in workforce with a streamlined pizza assembly line, Eyer says he’s going to have to think about how such a pizza could play out. Right now he’s got his hands full selling the pies he’s already got, including the taco pizza, the chicken alfredo pizza and the BBQ chicken pizza, which all use (mostly) traditional toppings. Fat Matt’s sells pizza slices at lunchtime, and he says what they don’t sell they eat.

“Yep, and I guess that’s where the name comes in,” he says, patting his belly and grinning from ear to ear. “You don’t think you ever get sick of something like pizza, but when you eat it every day you start to get used to it really fast.”

Fat Matt’s Pizza, 986 Trowbridge Road, East Lansing. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday – Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday & Saturday, and 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday. (517) 324-7000.

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