My dogs always know when the pizza guy is coming. They go crazy when the door buzzer rings and run around the house in a frenzy. Pizza is their favourite food and they believe it is their dog-given right to the uneaten crusts. They are less happy when the pizza comes from Magic Oven, though, since their share of the crust is minimal indeed. I love my dogs, but when I’m having a healthy pizza with organic ingredients, my pups are outta luck because I’m eating the whole thing.
Which is to say, this ain’t your average pizza.
The concept behind Magic Oven’s gourmet pizza was developed when owners Tony and Abby Sabherwal took a trip to California and visited over 100 pizza restaurants in 16 days. They were enthralled with the use of fresh, high-end ingredients and were determined to recreate the delicious pizzas they had tried in Carmel By the Sea back in Toronto.
Originally from India, Tony came to Canada 20 years ago to work in a cousin’s restaurant. With his wife Abby, they tried to open a pasta restaurant, called Antonio’s Mostly Pasta, which failed. Tony went to work at a Pizza Hut as an assistant manager where he learned the business end of the industry, from costing to recipes, and observed the trend of customers wanting more toppings and less grease on their pies. At this point, he and Abby planned on opening an Indian restaurant, slated to be called “Magic Pot”, but found it difficult to get trained workers from India due to immigration rules. With no one skilled to run the tandoor, they asked themselves what else they knew how to do. When the answer was pizza, they headed to California to do research.
With no demographic studies or market research, the couple opened their first location on Broadview Avenue in 1997. Advertising money was non-existent (2008 is the first year Magic Oven has advertised in any medium), but a couple of pizzas dropped off at the nearby NOW magazine offices scored them a review by restaurant critic Steven Davey, and they’ve been busy ever since.
From the beginning, they knew that their use of superior ingredients would require higher than average prices, so they looked at other ways of making their product worthwhile. “People didn’t take us seriously when it was inexpensive,” says Tony, over a lunch of pizza and sandwiches at the Wellesley Street location. Instead they looked to customer feedback and untapped demographics that were not being served. By creating vegan pizzas with soy or rice-based cheeses, Magic Oven opened up the world of pizza to a group of people who had previously not been able to enjoy this treat. A variety of crust options allowed customers with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities to once again enjoy a tasty ‘za.
All the items on the menu are developed by Tony and Abby, with inspiration from all over, including staff, customers, other restaurants and even developments in health and nutrition. Their line of “Pizza-ceuticals” include ingredients known for their anti-oxidant properties, which range from spelt flour and tofu to blueberries and pecans.
Creativity is also very much at play on the Magic Oven menu. With 40 options to choose from, plus a customized pizza selection, there’s something for everyone here beyond meat lovers, vegetarian and Hawaiian. From traditional items such as pepperoni and pesto to potatoes, nuts, tandoori chicken and green-tea infused tofu, the variety is truly endless.
Pretty much everything on the menu is healthy and environmentally-friendly, as well. Magic Oven doesn’t really promote their slow food tendencies, but most items are organic, GMO-free, and preservative-free. Meats are all free-range and even the soy cheese is organic. This philosophy carries over to their packaging, with bio-degradable bags and post-consumer cardboard boxes. Tony says they’re even looking into doing deliveries by bicycle or scooter to cut down on fuel consumption and pollution.
With 5 locations to oversee, Tony explains they’re not looking to become a corporate entity. He likes the idea of taking older existing sites and working with that space, using recycled furniture and fixtures and ensuring that each location has its own personality. He won’t rule out further expansion, but wants to ensure that he and Abby still have control of the business. Expansion has helped in terms of dealing with suppliers however, as it gives him more influence in terms of product. His supplier for the ciabatta buns for the sandwiches normally only bakes white bread, but Magic Oven is able to order enough to demand a healthier whole wheat version.
Yes, Magic Oven maybe be slightly more spendy than the average “30 minutes or free” chain pizza, but knowing that the ingredients are top notch and that the food is coming from a family-run establishment that puts an emphasis on health, environment and customer satisfaction makes it well worthwhile. In a time when we’re putting more and more emphasis on supporting local businesses, as well as organic and local suppliers, Magic Oven is a magical solution that we can all feel good about. The dogs are just going to have to settle for kibble tonight.
Magic Oven has five locations across the city – for contact info and ordering details, please visit their web site.
Photos by Laura Sutula.