A Slice of Life with Thank You Pizza’s Devon Towler

Thank You Pizza is a recognizable spot, even if, technically speaking, it’s mobile. First there’s the big red container truck parked at the corner of Gore and Union in Vancouver. If you’re wondering if you’ve got the right red truck, look out for a smiling green mushroom man holding a pizza nearby. That’s the one. But before you even see any of that, you’ll probably smell campfire smoke from a few blocks away, from the wood-fired pizza oven inside the truck. You’ll hear the chatter coming from one of Vancouver’s most beloved patios, bustling from the first mild spring day to the first (or even second) cold snap in fall.

While it’s known for pizza and a wide selection of natural wines, Thank You’s tables increasingly hold non-alcoholic options, too. Including Nonnys, of course.

We caught up with Thank You’s co-founder, Devon Towler, to learn more about Thank You and his take on the growth of non-alcoholic options.

Before launching his own thing Devon came up through several beloved Vancouver institutions, slinging beers at 33 Acres and Brassneck, serving as the opening General Manager of The Magnet, pulling coffee at Birds and the Beets and Bows x Arrows, among others.

After years working in the Vancouver food scene, Devon was feeling burnt out and seeking a change, considering a move to Toronto. Then Covid hit, most of the service industry got laid off, and moving across the country suddenly seemed less appealing.

Matt Senecal-Junkeer, owner of The Birds and The Beets and Hunnybee, heard about Devon’s deliberations and floated him another option. He’d found a truck in Las Vegas with a pizza oven in the back on a restaurant foreclosure auction. He’d convinced Lee Kellough, former chef at Pizzeria Farina, to buy it. He wondered if Devon would be interested in running the front of house (or, well, truck)? They could use the Hunnybee space in the evenings.

It’s a unique arrangement that Matt has pioneered at Birds and Beets as well: a cafe by day, then a restaurant at night. In a place as expensive as Vancouver, it makes sense to maximise the use of a space. Why leave it dark and empty all night when someone else could do something in there?

Thank You Pizza launched in 2020 (Lee has since moved on, handing the reins to Chef Erin Lee).

As iconic as the big red truck is, working out of a shipping container brings challenges. Space is tight. It’s impossible to insulate, so it’s frigid in winter and sweltering in summer. On the first day of their week, Wednesday, they typically start warming the oven around 1 PM for a 5 PM service. But once it’s hot, it’ll hold for the rest of the week, needing only about two hours lead time the following days to get back to temperature. Considering the oven lives in an ancient Peterbilt truck with a few hundred thousand kilometres on it, every annual budget includes flour, wine, and toppings, but also some cash set aside for repairs.

Despite the challenges, Thank You is known for putting out some of the city’s best slices. They have a regular stable traditional flavours, but also routinely concoct unique, limited-run ones, too, often through unorthodox collaborations with other restaurants in the city—past favourites have included a kimchi pizza and, recently, a Jalapeno Smokie-inspired pizza.

Thank You is also known for its tight lineup of natural wine and beer. But alongside those staples they’re serving more and more non-alcoholic options, as well.

“In the last year and a half we've noticed an uptick in people that came year one, year two that were drinkers, and now they’re looking for something else, like a non-alcoholic beer, soda waters, ginger beer, stuff like that,” Devon says.

Many factors come into play here: financial, health, growing older. “A lot of my peers as well are drinking a lot less, if not completely sober. I think people in Vancouver in general are trying to survive. Rent is expensive, food is expensive.” Cutting down on alcohol is an easy way to save a buck, and you can’t put a price on not having a hangover “Also not wanting to feel gross anymore,” Devon laughs. “To be stronger and healthier and wake up feeling good.”

While some people may detect a difference between NA beers and regular ones, Devon expects that gap to close soon. “Real beer has been made for thousands of years,” he points out. Non-alcoholic options are new, and already progressing fast. Soon, he thinks, they’ll be impossible to tell apart.

“People are trying to live healthier lives, myself being one of them,” he says, noting his developing obsession with rock climbing. Cutting out a drink or two is a good place to start. But a healthy life doesn’t need to be a boring one. A beer and a slice of pizza is one of life’s great pleasures. Cutting back on alcohol and wanting to save a little coin doesn’t mean you should deprive yourself. Thankfully, Thank You (and Nonny) are here.

Blog written and photographed by Grady Mitchell - @gradymitchell, www.gradycmitchell.com

Special thanks to Devon Towler and the Thank You Pizza team - @typizza.ca