Andy Hamm was born with one arm, but that didn’t stop him from becoming a sought-after pizza manufacturer, writes Mina Kerr-Lazenby.
In a sea of competitors, what does it take to make a takeout restaurant memorable? Amazing food? Impeccable service? A caring leader?
Stumpy’s Pizza, arguably one of Auckland’s busiest takeaway restaurants, pulls off this trifecta despite adversity.
Bavarian-born chef Andy Hamm only has one arm, but don’t be fooled into thinking that gets in the way of his pizza-making process. With crispy edges and toppings for the meat lovers, seafood fanatics, vegans and foodies among us (nutella and banana on pizza are a game changer), his wood-fired creations have long been making talk about Auckland.
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“I have no problem making pizza,” Hamm says with a chuckle.
“In fact, I’m probably the fastest pizza maker of any staff I’ve ever had.”
Owning and running a joint like Stumpy’s Pizza had been a dream for Hamm since childhood.
Growing up in the German state of Bavaria, on the outskirts of Italy, Hamm often looked longingly at the place of pizza and pasta and fantasized about a world where he could eat and make his own.
“It all started just being fascinated by wood-fired pizza,” Hamm says.
“The idea of more natural cooking with a wood fire has always fascinated me, of being able to get these amazing flavor profiles from the fire and into the food.”
Hamm’s career had begun with a hands-on role in the kitchen – not making pizzas, but making the ovens designed to house them.
It wasn’t until he moved to New Zealand over 20 years ago that he turned his dough-making hobby into a full-fledged business idea – in part because of the poor choices of the country when it comes to authentic Italian dishes.
“At that time, we didn’t have good pizza in New Zealand yet,” he laughs, “there was very little.”
And so Hamm bought a truck, applied his building skills to create the kitchen interior, harnessed his culinary prowess for wood-fired products, and took his show on the road.
“It’s had a really, really positive reception,” Hamm says, thinking back to the truck’s first debut at a festival in Auckland.
“People thought it was great, just having the pizza oven on a truck and cooking pizzas next to a fire. They were blown away and it became a real magnet at festivals.
An exotic addition to New Zealand’s vanilla-era culinary scene, it wasn’t long before word of the Stumpy spread far and wide.
The evolution from the food truck to brick-and-mortar restaurants is unusual because the success of this one is a rarity. Sometimes the fare isn’t desired enough to warrant a full-time assignment, other times the concept doesn’t translate well to a sitting situation.
For Hamm, his accommodations on Dominion Rd have become as well-known as the Stumpy name itself, both synonymous with great food.
Two decades on from that festival debut and Hamm not only has the success of the takeaway shop in Mount Eden, but he recently opened another one. The food truck still remains, but you’re more likely to catch it at weddings or high-end private events these days.
If further proof of Hamm’s success is needed, it’s worth bearing in mind that his latest venture was established in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We have been extremely blessed to be able to open our Titirangi store in the midst of the Covid saga,” says Hamm, saying the outpost “really took off” and weathered the coronavirus storm in such an unhelpful way. ‘other new hotel companies have be able to.
He even plans to open another store in the near future.
Arguably, much of the appeal, success and ability to manage Covid is due to the take-out nature of the product.
While bar stools and a small bench are set up in every store, a Stumpy wood-fired pizza is undeniably best eaten in the comfort of one’s own home. That, or, if you visit the Mount Eden store, take it to nearby One Tree Hill for a picnic in the park in the summer.
The only factor that outweighs the convenience is the price, for pizza of such a high standard the cost is cheap (starting at $10) compared to its nerd contemporaries.
With Hamm planning to incorporate more local herbs and vegetables into its creation – and with the homemade gelato soon to be added to the menu – one can only assume that the quality of the produce on offer will only improve as well.
Not a bad success story, for a man who technically works at a disadvantage to others in his field.
Hamm insists on his disability, the one he was born with, which does not hinder his life but only makes it worse – the only thing he hinders is his ability to teach others, a job that has been delegated to his wife (he’d have to ask the staff to “cut their hands off” otherwise, he laughs).
“I hope it can inspire other people to do things they didn’t think they could do,” Hamm says.
“Technically speaking, I shouldn’t be able to do all these things I do because of my disability, but I do everything anyway. I transform it and use it for something good, and others can do the same.