Daniel Gutter never set out to be a chef, but pizza happened when he was making other plans.
Once a criminal justice scholar at Temple University, Gutter went to work after college at the Delaware County Courthouse, where he studied inmate databases as a consultant. But pizza, at first a hobby, loomed larger as years went by. It was something he did on weekends, then it was his day job, then he was making pies for friends in a wood-fired oven in his parents' Springfield backyard. Last fall, he started offering pizzas at pop-ups in Philadelphia, and, riding a word-of-mouth wave on Instagram and other social media platforms, he sold out week after week.
In August, he found a home for the business he had christened Pizza Gutt: the kitchen of W/N W/N Coffee Bar, a cooperatively owned cafe on the 900 block of Spring Garden Street. From Wednesdays through Saturdays, Gutter bakes 50 pies a night: half for reservations, half for walk-ups. He sells most, though he doesn't always want to. On nights when there are concerts at Union Transfer, for example, he'd prefer to keep a few on hand for late-night eaters.
"I never wanted this to be super-exclusive," said Gutter, 29, who lives in South Philadelphia. "I wanted it to be accessible."
At first glance, the business model for Pizza Gutt, which Gutter calls "Instagram's first pizza shop," bears a passing resemblance to that of Fishtown's Pizzeria Beddia. There, four days a week, customers line up hours before the shop opens in hopes of snagging some of the 40 pies made each night by local legend Beddia. But Pizza Gutt offers a different kind of pie, one more commonly associated with Detroit or Chicago.
In a thin-crust town, Gutter's pizzas stand out. Baked in 10-by-10-inch square pans and covered with fresh toppings, like shiitake mushrooms, spinach, pepperoni, and pesto, his deep-dish pies are lined with a crispy, buttery crust. There's something nostalgic about the taste and soft texture, which Gutter said is intentional.
"This is supposed to be the best '90s pizza you've ever had," he said.
Pizza Gutt's reservation system offers time slots for customers to claim their pies. Those preorders, which allow customers to choose from a selection of toppings, help Gutter shop for the week. He sources ingredients from places like Reading Terminal and Fishtown's Riverwards Produce. He makes the dough in the kitchen of W/N W/N (pronounced Win Win), and customers sign up on Slotted.co after the menu is posted on Pizza Gutt's Instagram page each week.
Gutter makes the pizzas as customers come in, and diners can eat in or take them home, sipping coffee, tea, or craft cocktails while they wait at the bar. The pizzas range in price depending on the toppings: this week, tomato pies cost $13, and a Buffalo chicken pizza with buffalo sauce and mozzarella was $25.
Gutter has a built-in connection to the building where he slings his pies. On the night he was born, his parents had eaten dinner in the room where his customers now sit down over pizzas. Then it was the Thai restaurant Siam Lotus, near where they lived at the time.
Gutter got his first pizza-related job at 14 at Cocco's Pizza, where he worked on and off until after he went to work at the courthouse. But his courthouse work wasn't as fulfilling as he'd hoped. He felt stifled by the culture, and frustrated by the bureaucracy.
He started making pizzas as a creative outlet, and when he heard about Pizza Brain, the quirky shop opening on the edge of Kensington, Gutter befriended the owners and talked himself into a job. He worked there for several years and also trained briefly with Beddia, who also started by making pies in a home kitchen.
"All the businesses I respect have one thing in common, which is quality control," said Gutter. "You have to want to be there 70, 80 hours a week."
His hobby, which by then had become his day job, grew into pizza parties and pop-ups around his parents' wood-fired oven last year. Then he was making round pizzas. When the season changed, driving him indoors, he switched to pans because he could use them to cook pizzas in any oven. His deep-dish style, so incongruous with much of Philly's pizza, evolved from there.
"It didn't cross my mind at the time to think about whether people would eat deep-dish," he said. "I just knew my family and friends liked it."
Gutter's first restaurant pop-up was last year at the South Philly bakery Stargazy. He sold out, and the event sparked interest that went far beyond his expectations. The pop-ups became a regular occurrence, and Gutter added nights at Kensington's Martha, a bar known for hosting food and drink events on its closed days.
Gutter intends to stay at W/N W/N for at least a year as he plans events and partnerships, like a recent collaboration with Brewerytown's Crime & Punishment Brewing Co., which released a saison meant to be paired with pizza.