Photography by Kathy Tran.

THE OPPORTUNITY TO GO ON AN ALL-EXPENSES-PAID EUROPEAN CRUISE led Jay Jerrier and his fiancee to change their wedding plans and get married by a justice of the peace. 

It was 1995, and the company Jerrier worked for, GE Capital, awarded him the trip because of his contributions to the business. But GE Capital only allowed employees to bring spouses on trips, not fiancees or other partners. 

So after their nuptials, Jerrier and Karen Smith headed to Europe for a 14-day cruise around France and Italy. 

“That was the first time I ever really had true, Italian, wood-burning pizza,” Jerrier says. “And I was living near New York at the time, so everyone was like, ‘Oh you’re going to hate the pizza up there in Italy.’ But I just fell in love with it. And after that trip, I became obsessed with how am I going to make this pizza at home.”

Jerrier and his family moved to Lucas, Texas, and had a lot of space in the backyard. And that’s when Jerrier got a wood-burning oven and started experimenting with making pizza. At first he was terrible, he says, but he eventually improved. 

In 2010, Jerrier took his mobile wood-burning pizza oven to do pop-ups at Times Ten Cellars and the old Chocolate Angel at Preston-Forest. He named the pop-up Cane Rosso after his vizslas, which have red fur.

Once they attracted a fanbase, they found a restaurant space in Deep Ellum and founded the first Cane Rosso in 2011. 

In March 2020, Jerrier was sitting at his New York-style pizzeria in Fort Worth, Zoli’s. He watched the news and saw the NBA had started canceling games because of the coronavirus. Over the next couple of weeks, he and his team worked to pivot from dine-in to takeout. 

“As a way to try to keep the staff busy and employed, like most people, we started playing around with, OK, now we have all this time in the kitchen — what have we always wanted to work on?” he says. 

The answer was Detroit-style pizza. Zoli’s had the right kind of ovens, and the staff worked to get the dough just right. 

Detroit-style pizza is crispy on the bottom, lighter in the middle, heavy on toppings and has a caramelized cheese crust around the edge. The sauce is poured on top after the pizza is baked.

Thunderbird Pies launched as a ghost kitchen with only about 30 pizzas available each day. They sold out in minutes. As they increased the supply, the demand followed.

So as pandemic-related restrictions loosened, the landlord of Cane Rosso’s White Rock location approached Jerrier with a deal. The brewery next door was moving, leaving the space open. After some back-and-forth, Jerrier took the spot. 

Originally, they expected the restaurant to offer only delivery and takeout. But they had enough room for a counter, some tables and their ice cream concept, Cow Tipping Creamery.

Jerrier says he wasn’t worried about putting two pizza places right next to each other because they offer different styles and experiences. He hasn’t seen a dip in sales since Thunderbird Pies opened last year. 

“It all goes into the same bank account,” Jerrier says.

Thunderbird’s pizzas include the staples, cheese and pepperoni, specials like the chicken parm pizza, combos with different meats and veggies, and some borrowed from Cane Rosso, like the honey bastard.

Appetizers, sandwiches, burgers and other non-pizza items were developed by executive chef Jeff Bekavak, who used to work for Neighborhood Services. 

At Thunderbird, customers order at the counter, and food is brought to tables. It’s casual, and there’s a mural by Dallas-based artist Ripman and funny pictures on the wall. Arcade games are at the front. Garage doors open up to the patio when the weather’s nice.

“So it’s just like all of my places,” Jerrier says. “I just wanted it to be a place where I feel like I would be comfortable hanging out in my shorts and my hoodie.”

Thunderbird Pies, 7328 Gaston Ave., 469.577.1077