Ryan Ososky is the founder and owner of Dtown Pizzeria in, of all places, West Hollywood, Calif., which is a very long way from his roots in Macomb County. Ask him how he ended up there, and his explanation is perfectly reasonable.
“My parents got divorced when I was super young,” he explains. “I was probably 2 or 3, so living with a single mom, we moved around quite a bit.”
And ate a lot of pizza. “We would always order Jet’s because they originated nearby, in Sterling Heights,” Ososky recalls. “That was the Detroit square pizza that I grew up with.”
Ososky says that when he turned 6 or 7, the family moved in with his grandparents and lived there for a few years. Both of his grandparents were good cooks, with a repertoire extending far beyond pizza. “I was always helping Grandma bake and make Christmas cookies and candies and that kind of stuff, and I was always around the grill or the barbecue, wanting to cook and helping Grandpa grill some food,” he recalls.
Which sounds like Ososky was one of those kids who knew he had a special gift at a very early age, and was drawn to the kitchen. “Uh, not really,” Ososky drolly responds when the question is asked. “I was probably always in there just because I was a hungry little fat kid, if we’re honest.”
Maybe, but this wasn’t just any hungry little fat kid. Take, for instance, his favorite TV show. “I was 8 or 9, and I would watch the ‘Wok With Yan’ cooking show,” he says.
The program, which ran in the late 1970s and early ’80s, was hosted by Chef Stephen Yan and focused on Chinese food.
“I got a wok when I was 9,” Ososky says. “I was trying to make Chinese food and stuff. And then in my last year of elementary school, I took a life skills class and our little group made the best pineapple upside-down cake in the class. I took a lot of pride in that.”
Ososky’s father is a master mechanic, as well as a teacher at a vocational school, which explains why Ryan had an early infatuation with cars that matched his enthusiasm for food. Once he reached high school, a clash ensued between his conflicting passions.
“I was working in restaurants around town but I didn’t really like it,” he says. “I love food, but not restaurant work, and I thought I could shift into doing something revolving around cars — like working at an architecture firm or something like that.”
Which is when Ryan’s dad stepped in with some advice. “He would always tell me I was never really inclined to do those kind of things,” Ososky laughs. “I realized I wasn’t really smart enough to jump down that mechanical design rabbit hole, so I played my strong suit and decided, OK, I’m just going to do this culinary thing and go with the cooking.”
It turned out to be a smart decision. Ososky enrolled at Macomb Community College and enjoyed almost immediate success. “We did a couple of national and state-level cooking competitions through the Macomb culinary program,” he says. “I won two state competitions and I got a bronze at the national level for the hot food competition in 2000.”
By the time Ososky graduated in 2001, he knew what he wanted to do next, and where: “I was moving to Maui to try and further my culinary career.”
In Maui? Ososky readily admits there was also an ulterior motive behind the decision — Michigan’s harsh winters.
“We didn’t grow up with money, so we didn’t vacation a ton, and I’d always hear about all the families that were going to go to Florida. And I felt I needed to get out of Michigan to get into some better weather, sure. But I also needed to learn my craft, and get away to a place that I couldn’t exactly come running back from very quickly.”
Ososky lined up a job in the kitchen of one of Roy Yamaguchi’s restaurants, in Lahaina, where the emphasis was on Hawaiian Fusion cuisine — a blending of exotic flavors, spices, and local ingredients emphasizing seafood and fruit.
“I was obviously really young and fired up and eager to learn more culinary stuff,” Ososky shares, “but ultimately Maui wasn’t the place for that. And then 9/11 happened, so I was only out there for six months.”
He moved back to Michigan, but only long enough to pick up the rest of his belongings. In early 2002, he headed to his next destination — Las Vegas. Ososky worked at several restaurants before setting his sights on a restaurant at Caesars Palace operated by Bradley Ogden, a native of Traverse City. “I found out Bradley was a Michigan guy,” Ososky says, “and after some quick research, I staged for the job with him in Vegas.”
He was hired as a tournant — essentially a relief cook providing assistance wherever needed to other cooks in the kitchen. It took a year before he received a significant promotion.
He was the first tournant cook to be promoted to sous chef, making him second in command in the kitchen behind only the head chef. “I was there for seven years, honing my craft, and that had a big impact as far as the culinary things I wanted to do.”
Ososky figured he could accomplish the goals he had in mind in Los Angeles, which is where he headed in 2009. His first big break came at Michael Mina’s SBE XIV, where he was the head chef. But as he was creating unique, three-course meals for high-end customers, he kept thinking about his earliest days with his mother, ordering those deep-dish, square-cut pizzas from Jet’s.
Following his time in Mina’s kitchen, Ososky became the chef at a modern American dim-sum restaurant called The Church Key. “My first renditions of Detroit pizza were served on our dim sum carts,” he says. “After four years there, I began wondering why nobody in LA was doing Detroit-style pizza. Then Mina’s SBE XIV and Church Key closed, and it became what would I do with my own money in LA, you know? And that was make Detroit-style pizza.”
At the beginning of 2020, Ososky created a limited liability company for Dtown Pizzeria and took an interim gig as a chef at a vegan restaurant. “They had this very unique, wood-burning bread oven, and it was suitable for making a wood-fired, Detroit-style pizza,” he says. “So I created the wood-fired vegan, Detroit-style pizza. I did a couple of pop-ups with Dtown Pizzeria at another pizzeria, just to get my brand out there.”
From there, a friend of Ososky’s who owned a Vietnamese restaurant called Phorage in West Hollywood made him an enticing offer. “He tells me they have an extra oven and hood at the end of the bar,” Ososky says, “and he says, Hey, I have this space. Why don’t you come and try to figure out this pizza thing? But it never happened. Phorage opened in February, then COVID-19 hit in March, and everybody shut down.”
Ososky was able to get back in business at Phorage by the end of 2020.
“We were doing pop-ups, just borrowing the kitchen for the weekend,” he says. “We began taking Instagram orders for a few hours a day — scheduling weekend orders and pickup times. And then we were able to get on the delivery services.”
Gradually, as the pandemic restrictions were lifted, business picked up. Now it’s thriving.
“It’s Dtown Pizzeria at Phorage,” Ososky says. “We’re now full-on seven days a week. We share the same service staff and the same hours, except on weekends. We’re actually open later than Phorage on Fridays and Saturdays because I want to get the extra pizza business. And we share the menu. One side is mine, one side is theirs. So you can get Vietnamese food and our Detroit pizzas, and Phorage likes that because they get a higher check average.”
Speaking of a higher check average, is it true that there’s a pizza that costs a hundred bucks?
“It’s our base cheese pizza with our proprietary cheese blend,” a nonplussed Ososky explains. “Then we take Japanese A5 Wagyu — the legit, expensive, real deal stuff from Japan — and we make a carpaccio out of it. And so this carpaccio just literally melts over the hot pizza. And then we add our house-made black truffle oil, pickled red onions, and scallions. So it’s like beef carpaccio on a Detroit-style pizza.”
Sounds great, but again, a hundred bucks?
“I figured why don’t I just charged $100 for it?” he reasoned. “It’s obnoxious, but it’s also a premium product, right? And it’s something that’s Instagram-able — the home of the $100 pizza.”
Rest assured, the other pizzas on his menu are traditionally priced.
While Ososky has his long-term sights set on his own, stand-alone space for Dtown Pizzeria, he’s very comfortable with the current sharing situation at Phorage. “I’m cool with what we have now, because it works,” he says. “There’s some coolness to the whole operation. The pandemic meant people and business owners had to make things happen to survive, right? This particular situation helps everybody out, and I definitely know Dtown has a long-term home there.”
That said, the 42-year-old Ososky is excited about a looming opportunity to expand his business and brand beyond Phorage and West Hollywood.
“We signed a license deal for one of the outlets in the food hall of a social mall,” he says. “It’s called Topanga Social at the Westfield Topanga and The Village shopping mall, and is launching in January. A lot of restaurants are going to be in there, with a massive delivery radius on that side of town (Canoga Park).”
As the chef grows his business in LA, he has no plans to add locations in his home state. “I did it in LA because no one else was doing it out here,” he says. “And it made the most sense, because I was investing my own money. Also, because I’m a Detroit guy selling Detroit deep-dish pizzas out here, that’s a novelty. Not so much back home.”
But whenever Ososky does get back, he makes sure to make the obligatory rounds. “I do visit maybe once a year,” he says. “I scope out all the new hot pizza spots and make sure we’re staying on track. But we kind of do our own thing.”
Apart from his research trips, the self-described onetime “hungry little fat kid” is excited about the considerable shrinkage of his waistline.
“I started doing marathons 16 years ago, when I weighed about 215 pounds and felt like a tub. And then 10 years ago I started doing triathlons and have done 22 of the half-ironman races — 1.2 mile swim, 56 miles on the bike, and then a 13.1-mile half marathon. And for the full Ironman, you just double those numbers.”
Ososky already has one full Ironman under his belt, and is planning on more. He weighs in around 185 pounds these days. And while he made some significant adjustments to his diet and lifestyle, there’s one major exception. “If you’re going out for a four- or five-hour bike workout,” he says with another laugh, “nothing tastes better than pizza once you finish. So now I can work out longer and eat as much pizza as I want.”