That does not exist lots of space to wander around inside Holy Cross Pizzeria Futuro. Not that that matters at the moment. A chic, red-tiled counter greets you at the entrance, and instead of tables and chairs, the “WAIT HERE” signs on the polished concrete floor, large on bumper stickers, instruct customers to stand half a meter apart and do the uncomfortable coronavirus shuffle while they wait for their cake. Finally, Futuro (among Indy’s 2021 class restaurants that opened during a global pandemic) will be adding some indoor seating, as well as an upper level dining room and new picnic tables behind the two roller doors. An extended menu will come later and maybe a beer program. But let’s not get any further.
Owners Luke Tobias and Sarah St. Aubin understand the value of a meticulously slow restaurant opening versus the eye-catching variety. Tobias has worked in the kitchen all his life and remains a minority partner in the burger bar Kuma’s Corner on Fountain Square. St. Aubin runs a hair salon in their south side home, a business that was completely closed for 13 weeks at the start of the COVID-19 closings last year. They had no income, a new daughter and teenage twin sons to raise, and an affinity for cheese trains.
First, they made pizzas for people they knew as a sideline that took up a few hours of their day. People would come over and pick them up, or St. Aubin would hand them over and enjoy the rare mid-quarantine opportunity to socialize from their car. “It just became this thing. People told us to do something with our pizzas, ”says St. Aubin, who had worked in the restaurant as a teenager and while attending cosmetology school to pay the bills. “My husband and I sat on it for a few months. I went back to work in my salon and he stayed home to watch the baby. “They crunched a few numbers, mixed up some batter and finally decided to actually open their own restaurant when the opportunity presented itself. “And it did,” says St. Aubin.
In particular, they ended up in a cute place – a small, angular two-story building in a brick alley that cuts through the former Angie’s List campus east of downtown. Employees of the once sprawling internet company used the building as a dining room and work area before Angie’s list got into tough times a few years ago. After the couple cleaned the space – mopped the floor, scraped grease off the walls, and removed unnecessary equipment – they bought a 50-liter blender and found two refurbished Bakers Pride ovens at a dealer in Florida and asked (successfully ) to a pair of chunky Instagram followers to help them get those stainless steel monsters into the bowels of the kitchen.
Then they made more pizzas, focusing mostly on Detroit-style pies, a hefty Motor City import that was baked in rectangular steel pans with a thick and porous crust that lined the edges with the style’s iconic fringe caramelized cheese was crispy. Racing strips with extra chunky tomato sauce cover a layer of Wisconsin cheese, buttery and robust with a sexy stretch – the stuff for endless money shots from influencers. Each 10 by 14 inch creation supports a calibrated combination of meat, vegetables and sauces. The Chicken Limo features a ranch dressing-based sauce and buffalo toss chicken, while the garlicky Veglord drips with spinach, mushrooms and banana peppers. The spotted pig is a heavenly combination of apple wood-smoked bacon, jalapeños, goat cheese and silk ricotta drops, all drizzled with hot honey. Early prototypes had a thicker, denser crust that was later tamed on a more springy, inch-thick base that can still support the tonnage of the ingredients while somehow delivering a tender crunch, like a large-shouldered focaccia.
Futuros chic-crowned zas make America’s comeback city proud, but it’s not the only place in town currently making fat-bottomed cakes, all of which are square. (See also: Sam’s Square Pie and Edges Detroit-esque Pizza, both local pop-ups.) And Tobias and St. Aubin have also mastered equally impressive thin-crust tavern-style pizzas as well as a deep-dish Chicago cake there there is such a high wall of tomato sauce lava that customers are advised to let it cool down a bit before cutting.
None of these delicious alchemies would have happened if Tobias and St. Aubin hadn’t spent weeks training their staff in the nuances of running a neighborhood store and the art of pizza making, a delicious research and development phase that required a lot of experimentation with ingredients like ground hot peppers, homemade meatballs, pulled chicken, vegan cheese and crushed garlic. The team baked cake after cake, many of which were given away as samples. In late February, Futuro started bringing out dozen of specialty pizzas and handing them out hot from the oven, first come first served. All they asked for in return was a bit of constructive criticism. “Because what should we do with all these pizzas?” Ask St. Aubin. “We didn’t want to eat them.”
Instead, Futuro announced the giveaway on social media, along with months of construction photos, job postings, menu teasing, and incredibly cute photos of her toddler Luci. It proved to be a brilliant marketing strategy, especially during the past pandemic winter of mutual isolation when smartphones served as lifelines for the outside world and users were constantly searching for puppies, succulents, latte art, and some sort of connection. “People are looking for transparency right now,” says St. Aubin. “We were very open to what we’re doing here and it made a huge difference.”