Revival Pizza Co.
article by VANELIS RIVERA / photography by KELLY MOORE CLARK
Opening up a pizzeria isn’t just a business venture when your love of pizza comes from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and your Nana. At least, that’s the case with Zack Howse, co-owner of Revival Pizza Co. in Sterlington, Louisiana. Not just content to serve up iconic pies fresh from their woodfired oven, Zack has created something more. He has revived all things he holds dear in the new establishment—family, faith, community, pop culture staples of the 90s, and fun and tasty twists on his favorite foods.
Like most kids, Zack grew up with pizza. “After a ball game, where are you going? Johnny’s! Birthday party, what are we having? Let’s get pizza!” Every end-of-year party for baseball, basketball, every special event, Zack can recall pizza being served. But, ultimately, it’s his family ties that contributed the strongest to his relationship with food and community. “We were kind of those weird families that ate out a couple times a week. We’re kind of inseparable.” From his parents down to his own kids, the family still visits grandma’s house for lunch, a ritual they’ve carried out for about thirty years. “That is probably at the heart of it—the inspiration, my grandmother always cooking, eating over there, playing with cousins.” The influx of people in his life inspired him to seek services that better people. He considers the restaurant business one of those avenues. “I just loved the idea of people gathered around over a common cause.” A servant at heart, Zack hopes that through the restaurant he can spread that spirit of giving.
Alongside his father Darrell, Zack began the grueling process of conceptualizing the business. Zack went the route of pouring through his hobbies for inspiration, and most notably focused on his affection for movies. He recalled that revival houses (cinemas where “golden oldies” were often screened) popped up in many American cities back in the 1960s and 1970s. The phrase “revival house” had a ring to it, and his parents were especially keen on using their surname as a pun, but Zack didn’t want the establishment to be about him, especially since they already own The Playhowse Learning Center. “I wanted to have the restaurant and the people running it represent the name. And I don’t want to ever make myself more important than anybody else.” So, they dropped the “house” and kept “revival,” which would come into play given the establishment’s interior.
“Really, I wanted it to be a grungy, dirty New York alley,” said Zack, wanting to give a nod to his childhood love of the “heroes in a half-shell.” Though initial plans included using brick paneling for tabletops so they looked like graffiti-accented walls, design concepts ended up tying into a different theme as the duo progressed with finalizing details. The result is a spunky and artistic atmosphere that strives to put customers smack dab in the middle of Zack’s nostalgia fever dream. “It felt like we hopped in a time machine and went back to our childhood,” writes one Facebook reviewer, commenting on the VHS tapes haphazardly stacked on shelves and the impressive panoramic mural conceptualized by Zack and painted by his wife Jenny. The mural, which I’d love to own in the form of a poster or graphic tee, features twenty-two notable pop culture figures of the era with an Eastern Orthodox-style gold halo around their head and catchphrase. My favorites include Rocko from Rocko’s Modern Life, Forrest Gump (wearing a mask that says “But, I know what love is”), and Captain Planet. Though some characters will be a little obscure to much older and younger generations, the mural acts as a ministry of culture, reinvigorating the charms of the ‘80s and ‘90s. For instance, when they first opened the restaurant the son of their manager (and soon to be business partner), Erica Gross, began asking questions about all the strange faces smiling at him from the mural. E.T. caught his eye, but he had never seen the movie. Once introduced, Erica informed the team he had watched it for four days in a row. That exact moment validates the revival.
Revival Pizza’s slogan, which lines the circumference of the arch-shaped logo, is “Survival of the fittest, revival of the sickest.” Zack wanted to play on the Darwinian motto “only the strong survive,” which to Zack seems to imply that the “weak,” usually considered to be “artsy, nerdy, loving, less adaptable,” die off. He wanted to bring them back to the conversation. “We’re all valuable in our own way. Even if someone can’t fit in, adapt, or fit a certain skill set, we’re still inherently valuable,” he says, regarding them as “sickest” in a “gnarly, rad ‘90s kind of way.” As for the mulleted “saint” on the logo with pizza cutter in one hand, rosemary on the other, and a pizza pie for a halo, that’s Zack’s dad circa 1992. The eyes are intentionally blocked out because Zack suggests his pseudo-saint of pizza could actually be anyone.
“I’m not an artist by any means, but I did go to school for graphic design for a minute,” mentioned Zack, adding, “and it’s a really cool thing to view pizza as a piece of art.” For Zack, each pizza starts as a blank canvas in the form of a piece of dough. Choosing the toppings is like selecting colors, and the placement of them, well, that’s the equivalent of brush strokes. The combinations are endless, which is the beauty of pizza. And, while Zack doesn’t agree with some of the more eccentric combinations, it doesn’t take away from the fact that a slice of pizza is the “perfect vehicle for flavor,” regardless of whether you go Roman, Detroit, Chicago, New York, or tavern-style. Revival pizzas fall between the New York and Neapolitan variety, and they also offer whole Detroits from 5 PM to close. Either way, cheesiness is their virtue, and flavor a gift from the pizza gods. “I always picture Michelangelo from the Ninja Turtles with a big cheesy slice of pizza after he had just gone out and fought the Foot Clan or Shredder, and that’s what I want to create,” said Zack whose signature pies are whimsically named and described. He takes pride in formulating his dough and sauce recipes, and it has been thrilling for him to see customers keep choosing The Macgyver option, which is Revival’s version of “build your own.” In a way, this intimate interaction with the product suggests to Zack and Darrell that customers are feeling at home in a place whose interior design inherently fosters fellowship and comfort.
Their highest seller by far is the Barry Pepperoni (pepperoni, mozzarella, and their provolone blend), “Enough pepperoni to save Private Ryan.” Right behind that is the Graham Hess (“Swing away Merrill!”), one of my favorites, which I put away in one sitting (because… ricotta). The pie starts with a red sauce and is topped with pepperoni, Italian sausage, mozzarella, provolone blend, ricotta, and Mike’s Hot Honey (bottles also sold at the establishment). A close second is the Meat Sweats, inspired by one of Joey Tribbiani’s famous lines from the NBC hit Friends: Red sauce, Italian sausage, bacon, pepperoni, ground beef, Canadian bacon, mozzarella, provolone blend, and jalapenos. Zack’s favorite pizza, which has been picking up steam, is Gandalf The White. Lord of the Rings fans, unite! This white sauce pizza is simply mozzarella, provolone blend, and parmesan cheese: “You shall not pass… this pizza up.”
Not to be outdone by dough and sauce, the front of the Revival menu features some unforgettable items that keep customers’ hearts and stomachs happy, even after hours. “Will probably dream about those egg rolls tonight lol,” claims a Facebook review. The notorious egg rolls come in two flavors: buffalo chicken, cheese, and pickles with ranch or Monte Cristo style with raspberry rhubarb sauce. The “Between the Bread” side of the menu features their burgers and sandwiches. We are blessed in Northeast Louisiana to have so many establishments making one-of-a-kind burgers, and Revival is joining the fray with some pretty far-out combinations. The Barbara Nell, named after Zack’s grandmother, features her superb pepper jelly sauce. A scroll down the Revival Pizza Facebook page reveals pictures of an attentive Zack being taught Ms. Barbara’s recipe. “That was one of those moments where it was hard not to be emotional. And it was. I got to be the luckiest person on the planet,” revealed Zack. The Big Kahuna Burger, inspired from a cult classic (cue in Jules Winnfield confidently uttering “This is a tasty burger”), is another favorite. Between the bread, a ⅓ lb Certified Angus beef is assembled with bacon, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, Mike’s Hot Honey, and a slice of grilled pineapple. Unconventional? Perhaps. But, Zack alleges that it’s probably one of the best burgers they have.
“Neither one of us have any experience in the restaurant business,” admitted Zack. Nevertheless, lack of experience didn’t phase the Revival team because Zack was searching for a bit more than a substantial résumé. He tried to surround himself with people that believed in moving mountains, particularly referring to his father: “My dad is always the best encourager and promoter. He’s just been behind me. You know, anything I do.” Consequently, when Zack approached his father about opening a pizzeria, Darrell’s response was one of faith much like that proverbial mustard seed: “Let’s just do it. If we succeed, we succeed together. I didn’t want to put pressure on him. If we fail, we fail together.” Guided by his own Christian faith, Zack believes the best way to share the gospel is to build lasting relationships whether it’s having conversations with customers or aiding in people-driven mission projects. If you look above the woodfire oven, you will see a royal blue, white, and red flag and the word “vakning” spelled out in tiles. The flag is that of Iceland and the word is Icelandic for “awakening.” An unlikely fit in Northeast Louisiana, but Zack originally planned the pairing when he discovered the Iceland Project, an organization that funds church planting and mission work in the Nordic island nation. “It just really was a natural fit for me to pair pizza, and Iceland, and the gospel.”
Revival Pizza Co. may just be two months old, but they are powered by the things they want to improve and make important again like community, pizza, individualism, and love. They seek to “be excellent to each other” and ask the same of their customers, all while celebrating culture-defining people and some totally radical pizza.
Revival Pizza Co. is open Tuesday through Thursday between 11 AM and 9 PM, as well as Friday and Saturday between 11 AM to 10 PM (or later). Find them at 8707 Hwy 165, Monroe, LA 71203. Follow them on Instagram and Facebook to find out about their expanding menu, which will soon include calzones!