You might have a memory of that slice you grew up on, the first one you can remember—in the pizza shop your parents took you to or the one you hung out at with friends.
Whatever that flashback looks like, you will always hold that pizza in high esteem, maybe knowing it can’t quite compare to the brick oven flatbreads you’ve tasted since, but still remembering it with fondness.
For Jennie O’Neill, it’s the memory of going to Pepe’s, the pizza shop near her grandparents’ house in New Haven, Conn.
“I loved it,” O’Neill said. “It was the whole family sitting around the table with pitchers of soda. That New Haven style is where I always go back to. But it’s funny because we don’t make that kind of pizza here.”
Three years ago, O’Neill and her husband Terry Hanley opened Knead Pizza in the Broad Street Market. O’Neill had wanted to open her own restaurant for a while. Working at another restaurant, she met cook Bow Phrachansiri and, over the years, they have consistently worked to tweak their recipes and make something customers want to keep coming back for.
For a lot of kids, Knead may become that “nostalgic idea of pizza,” as O’Neill calls it.
“There are kids that we’ve watched grow up since they were babies where we were their first bite of pizza and now they’re like 5 year olds,” O’Neill said. “I hope we are here 20 years from now when they are adults.”
The Knead team now has taken a step in that direction, a path that leads right down 3rd Street, in the direction of the Capitol complex.
In January, Knead Slice Shop opened on the corner of N. 3rd and Boas streets in Harrisburg, just a few blocks down from their market stand. Knead is housed in what was formerly Mercado’s Pizza, famous locally for its late-night hours satisfying cravings for a post-midnight snack.
Matt Caylor, a Midtown resident, frequented Mercado’s for years, as he lives just down the street.
“It’s tough to replace Mercado’s, but I think Knead is going to fill that same niche with this slice shop,” he said.
While O’Neill and the team set up shop in a building that housed a pizza restaurant for multiple decades, they were ready to make it their own.
“We were like—we would love to get in there and do the pizza shop thing, but our way,” she said.
The market and storefront locations may be in close proximity, but the pies served are as unique as the spaces they’re in. Each uses different flour to make a dough fit for the environment. O’Neill explained the market-style pizza as Neapolitan. It is hearth fired and has a thinner crust. The slice shop makes a classic New York-style pizza and “grandma pizza,” which has a thicker crust.
No matter the site, Knead cooks have a unique way of crafting their pies, starting from the bottom up.
“A question we get pretty often is what makes you different from any other pizzeria,” Phrachansiri said. “It starts right with the dough.”
For at least 48 hours, dough is fermented and aged to enhance flavor, Phrachansiri explained. Once the dough is made, they use fresh products for their sauce and toppings.
“We get excited about our pizza,” she said.
Last year, O’Neill and the team signed the papers and officially began work on the building. However, this would be no short process.
“It took a lot of time to clean 40 years of a business out of here,” O’Neill said.
They replaced windows and doors, painted and re-worked plumbing and electrical. The only things remaining from Mercado’s are the pizza oven and mixer.
Once a hole-in-the-wall shop that seemed to be lit primarily by the neon beer signs in the windows, the shop became bright and fresh with plenty of places to sit. You can even find a nod to Mercado’s as the marble bar is made from the old shop’s pizza prep station.
“I love the new location,” Caylor said. “It’s a nice addition to Midtown.”
The slice shop is open for lunch and dinner, but the real question on everyone’s mind is— will they open for late-night hours?
The answer is yes. Sometime this spring, those late-night munchers will have their way again.
“It should be a spot for everybody to mingle,” O’Neill said.
Over the years, there have been “dough explosions” and “mixer meltdowns,” a building in need of big renovations and many other challenges, but Knead’s team has stayed focused on their goal.
“We want to serve food to the masses,” O’Neill said. “Pizza is a pretty good way to do that.”
Knead Slice Shop is located at 937 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. The original Knead Pizza is located in the Broad Street Market. For more information, visit www.kneadhbg.com.