For Santa Cruzan Matt Driscoll, pizza is a way of life.
“I always say the pizza passion and craft found me,” he says. “To me it’s like artwork. I have this dough I want to make as round as possible and then add these great toppings. It feels like I’m doing a painting.”
And he’s not just tossing around hyperbole, either.
Take a scroll through his @The_Pizza_Series Instagram account, and it’s apparent these aren’t your “after the kids’ soccer game” pies: pepperoni with Meyer lemon. Fried chicken with honey glaze.Pies made to look like ghosts, pumpkins and American flag. Even breakfast pizzas with eggs and bacon all fill his posts, earning him over 11,500 followers in the past seven years.
Now, he is bringing his pizzas to the greater Santa Cruz County area with a series of pop-ups throughout the summer. The first one was held May 19 in Scotts Valley, and the pop-ups will continue the last two Fridays of the month in Midtown. The latter will be part of the new, ongoing series, Midtown Fridays, sponsored by Event Santa Cruz.
“Come June we’re going to do a lot,” Driscoll says. “About 10 to 15 pop-ups a month.”
Driscoll has been tossing dough and slathering the sauce for 24 years, ever since his first job at the old Domino’s in Aptos. But it wasn’t until 2004, when he started helping out at the Strawhat Pizza in Freedom—which his neighbor at the time had recently purchased—that Driscoll began to see pizza as more than just a tasty treat.
“We helped him with ideas on how to get better business, and all of our ideas really took off,” he remembers. “That’s when I realized. ‘Someday this is what I want to do.’”
Over the next several years he would continue creating unique, artisanal pizzas on his own for friends and family. The next layer in Driscoll’s deep-dish story would come in 2010, when he was hired for the pizza kitchen at Whole Foods. For eight years he perfected his recipes using the craft sauce, cheese and toppings found throughout the supermarket.
In 2014, Driscoll began The Pizza Series on Instagram. He originally started taking photos of his creations as a way to document his best recipes for later use. Little did he know the brand would go viral, garnering him followers from all over the globe.
And for all those vegans and vegetarians out there, don’t worry: Driscoll says he doesn’t discriminate when it comes to his passion for his product.
“If you scroll all the way to the beginning, the first 10 pizzas are vegan,” he says. “I got really into making vegan pizzas.”
He launched a YouTube channel for the brand in 2018. Surprisingly, he’s only posted one pizza-related video to the page so far, practicing his dough acrobatics skills while in Hawaii. The rest of the nearly 100 videos are devoted to Driscoll’s other passions: videography and music.
Longtime residents might already be aware of Driscoll from his label, S.A.F. Records, which stands for Strictly Amateur Films. Launched in 1998, S.A.F. Records began as a way for Driscoll to document the experimental music and hardcore scene, filming bands like The Locust, Blood Brothers and Cattle Decapitation. He went on to create two DVDS for Three One G, the label owned and operated by The Locust’s Justin Pearson.
“I shot everything in eight and 16 millimeter formats so it adds a raw energy to these live bands,” he says, adding that the Covid-19 pandemic has allowed him to go back and rediscover old footage he’s since premiered online through the popular music blog, Brooklyn Vegan. “We’ve probably done 10 premieres through them, which has brought a lot of attention to the YouTube channel. They’ve been great and super supportive.”
As his connections grew, S.A.F. Records released their own singles and albums from a variety of bands like Florida’s experimental electronic duo, Yip-Yip, to the legendary, all-woman British post-punk group, The Slits. Driscoll also helped release Santa Cruz’s Arsonists Get All the Girls first album, Hits From The Bow, on Process Records—owned by a longtime friend—before they hit success on Century Media. Of course, the S.A.F. Records also put out music by Driscoll’s hardcore groups, Makara and Ruhaeda, but he says when online piracy grew in the early 2000s it became harder for smaller labels to thrive.
Today, the label still exists, but Driscoll says he’s taken a break from it since 2009 to focus on his food. However, he believes his passions aren’t mutually exclusive. He sees the future full of possibilities to combine them all into one fully baked idea.
“We’re thinking of band names to tie in, like The Mohinder Special,” he laughs, referring to Cupertino’s post-hardcore act, Mohinder. “I want to incorporate S.A.F. and the Pizza Series side-by-side with each other.”
But for now, Driscoll will be focusing on this summer’s pop-ups while he continues to shop around for a food truck and even a possible brick-and-mortar location if the opportunity rises.
“It’s such an amazing industry and anyone can thrive in it as long as you’re passionate about your product,” he says. “It’s really driven home to me that pizza is meant to be my life.”