“If you build it, they will come.” Dan Wilder says drily, raising his eyebrows in a way that suggests he really knows what he’s talking about. Three years ago, fueled by a childhood passion for making pizzas with his father, Dan spent a month building a wood fired oven in his Midtown Phillips backyard. Just a day after he laid the final brick, he and his wife, Kelly, hosted the Midtown Greenway Progressive Dinner fundraiser, inviting over 100 people to dine and donate. Cranking out pies using maple syrup tapped from his own trees, a homemade sourdough starter, and a bunch of local produce and sausages, Dan gave a new twist to the fundraiser, and generated a buzz that extended beyond the biking community. “It was really a hit… people were raving about it, and we raised a lot of money for a really good cause.”
The success of this large-scale bash led to informal backyard dinners for family, friends, and curious, kind-of-acquaintances. That summer, while perfecting his maple sourdough crust and experimenting with different flavor combinations, Dan had no shortage of taste-testers. His original recipes were met with huge enthusiasm, and he felt his childhood passion turning into a viable career. “I guess I just got a lot of encouragement from random people in my backyard to somehow do this for a living,” Dan shrugs.
Around that same time, Dan found himself splitting time between Minnesota and Virginia. His wife had accepted a position at UVA, and he had reached out to a kindred spirit, Chris Bullard, a man who’d built a business around making pizzas on the back of a truck. After learning and working with Chris, Dan found himself back home in Minneapolis, launching a Kickstarter to fund a pizza trailer of his own. In just three days, the project beat its goal of $6,000, raising $8,875 total, and Dan began obtaining the necessary resources and licensures to open up WildEarth WoodFired Pizza.
Soon after, Dan and his trailer popped up at the Midtown Farmer’s Market, catered private events, and hit smaller music festivals around the Midwest. After incredibly positive experiences at the Eat for Equity Wild Things Festival, City Pages Beer Fest, and James J. Hills Days, Dan is especially excited about expanding his festival presence. “I’d love to be more of a festival company … It’s been awesome going to small town music festivals, making pizzas, listening to great music and meeting people.”
This winter, while his pizza trailer hibernates in the woods near Lake Minnetonka, Dan’s been spending a good deal of time experimenting with pasta, and working on a gluten-free crust to add to his menu. He’s also paying a lot of attention to the ingredients he’ll use this season. Partnering with a variety of purveyors like Stone’s Throw Urban Farm, Cherry Treehouse Mushrooms, and You Betcha Kimchi, Dan does his best to keep his pies tasting local. “I also can’t say enough about the Seward Co-Op’s sausages,” he notes, “They make awesome stuff…often with really interesting flavor combinations.”
In talking about his local connections and support networks, Dan seems humbled and grateful to live in a community that’s helped him turn a childhood passion into something great. “This is the best community I’ve ever been a part of,” Dan says confidently, “if you find someone you like or something you’re interested in, and you want to get involved, it’s always, ‘the more the merrier.’” He holds the beer he’s sipping in two hands and quickly adds, “You’ll have to come to a backyard party sometime.”