During the downtown Santa Cruz witching hour, Rockers Pizza Kitchen was a comforting beacon for late nighters. The mega-slices filled the holes in stomachs and hearts of post-partiers; the only concern was getting enough parmesan and chili flakes to absorb the thick oil slick before it reached the flimsy paper plate. Rockers never promised gourmet-fancy pies, but it didn’t need to.
Since the new Catalyst Kitchen took over, however, the menu features quality ingredients like San Marzano tomatoes and fresh basil, and a different dough recipe that drops the onion and garlic and is more reminiscent of a New York-style pizza. They did keep some Rockers souvenirs, including the industrial guillotine-like rotating oven from the ’70s, and the Angry Samoan (jalapeños, pepperoni, pineapple, and barbecue sauce) pizza.
When the Catalyst approached their head bouncer Ivan Garcia about taking over the kitchen, he said no for months. When he finally agreed, he searched YouTube for how to make a pizza, added fried food to the menu (including deep-fried oreos and twinkies) and opened the doors for business. He is joined by Merek Teja, who worked at Rockers for 12 years and now works at Catalyst Kitchen.
Are you still going to have dollar slice Tuesdays?
IVAN GARCIA: No. It costs too much now to do that because of all of the fresh ingredients that we use. Everything is different, it’s all made fresh. We use cleaner ingredients now and even though the price went up very slightly, it’s still cheaper than any other slice in town—other than Little Caesars. You can’t compete with that.
MEREK TEJA: We’ve been trying to come up with a way to have a discounted pizza, maybe half-slices for a dollar. Dollar Tuesday was extraordinarily popular, like nonstop for hours. We didn’t make a lot of money, but people are just too poor to afford to go out and do anything in this town anymore.
Why did Rockers close?
GARCIA: The owner, Paul Gerhart, just got tired of it. He’s still an owner of the Catalyst though—one of a few.
TEJA: It was a separate business before, now it’s part of the Catalyst itself. I think it might make it easier for the employees; it always felt like there was a weird buffer between us when it was separate because we were here and part of it, but also not.
That oven is terrifying.
TEJA: Yeah it’s a rotary oven. You have to be really quick, like a ninja. I have a few burns from it from working over the years.
GARCIA: That’s the hardest part about making the pizza, throwing it in that oven. It takes some practice.