Larry’s Giant Subs has been a Jacksonville institution since 1982, when brothers Larry and Mitch Raikes opened their first sandwich shop. The local favorite soon became an interstate franchise with dozens of locations up the I-95 and I-75 corridors and beyond.
Now the Raikes brothers are expanding in an unexpected direction. They’re adding pizza to the menu—at least at one brand-new hybrid location. Their Wood Fired Up Pizza launched in Murray Hill on May 1, and it’s operated by a new generation of Raikes brothers: Larry’s sons, Max and David.
“Being from New York, my dad and my uncle, we all love pizza,” Max Raikes told Folio Weekly. The 33-year-old submarine sandwich scion is the elder of the two brothers, and serves as general manager. “We noticed that one thing missing in Jacksonville was really good, really authentic pizza. Dad decided, ‘Let’s do it.’ We always wanted to open our own bar, too. We just wanted to do something different, with a sports-bar atmosphere.”
Wood Fired Up Pizza, FU Pizza for short (get it?), features a classic Larry’s Giant Subs counter on one side of the space and a sit-down dining room in the middle. The Raikes family installed a bar on the far side, which serves the interior as well as a pet-friendly patio. The walls are hung with pop art and photographs of New York City street scenes. Yes, Larry’s Giant Subs’ official mascot is present, too, in the form of an oversized gorilla bursting from a wall.
The focus, however, is squarely on the pizza. Early on, Larry and Mitch agreed that FU Pizza would be all about Neapolitan-style pies. First baked in Naples, Italy and later exported to the U.S. in the hearts of the southern Italians who emigrated in the late 19th century, Neapolitan is the old-world forebear of New York-style pizza. No deep dishes, no square shapes, no stuffed crusts, just thin, simple and eminently edible pies.
The keys to Neapolitan pizza, according to Max Raikes, are the freshness of the ingredients, the quality of the dough and the art of the bake. For the ingredients, Larry turned to Ernesto De Luca of Central Florida-based distributor Epicurean Food Brokers. A culinary matchmaker with deep transatlantic connections, De Luca delivered San Marzano tomatoes for Larry’s sauce and Italian flour for the crust. He also called in a friend to initiate Larry’s boys, who were tapped to run the joint.
Enter Attilio Albachiara, an award-winning pizzaiolo from Naples (and he’s got the Adidas track pants to prove it). Pizzaiolo, you ask? That’s the fancy Italian name for pizza-maker—an indication of how serious the business is in the Old Country. De Luca flew Albachiara to Jacksonville to show Max and David the ways of the dough.
“Attilio taught me and my brother a lot,” said Max, “from making the dough to putting together the pizza and how to use that particular oven. It’s a whole skill set that we weren’t used to. We’ve been making subs all our lives!”
The oven in question is an imported Italian wood-burning apparatus. It burns extremely hot—upwards of 800°F—and cooks pies quickly, in about 90 seconds.
But not everything is Italian-made here. In keeping with the nostalgic New York City décor, Larry wanted to give diners at least a little taste of the Big Apple. And it comes via the water supply. Larry made a few phone calls and his people brought down a water replication system called New York WaterMaker. On one end, Jacksonville water enters a series of tubes, filters and basins; what comes out is, scientifically speaking, the same water used by every New York pizzeria.
In theory, the system can replicate water from anywhere, but as New Yorkers, its makers reckon Manhattan water is the only H2O worth imitating. They’ve parsed their water in terms of hardness, pH and—most important—mineral content. When they enter a market, their technicians run diagnostics on the local water supply and adjust the unit to compensate. As in most of Florida, water in Jacksonville is unduly hard. Larry’s system—the only one of its kind in Northeast Florida—works out the kinks.
“It’s not something you’ll necessarily taste,” explained Gary Lane, the company’s vice president of sales. “But water is so basic to the cooking process—it’s in everything—that you would notice the difference if it wasn’t there.”
Opening their unique restaurant concept on the blossoming Edgewood Avenue strip, the Raikes brothers hope their new pizzeria and bar becomes a hub for both diners and drinkers.
“We love the Murray Hill neighborhood,” Max said. “We know it’s an up-and-coming area and we love the people here.”
Naturally, one wonders if this new concept is a taste of things to come. Will Wood Fired Up Pizza one day become as ubiquitous as Larry’s Giant Subs? We asked. And Max Raikes guarded the answer like a family secret.
“We haven’t discussed it too much yet, but maybe,” he said coyly. “I don’t know if we’d franchise out, but we might [grow it] within the family. I mean, no one knows how to make the dough except me and my brother.”