It takes quite a lot to convince New Yorkers to eat anything but New York-style pizza, let alone enjoy it. So who would have thought that the namesake slices from Detroit would make such a statement in the Hudson Valley.
For Detroit-style pizza company Hudson & Packard, it all started with a pop-up. Owner Charlie Webb quietly rolled out his signature ‘za at the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory back in September 2019, shortly after graduating from Hyde Park’s Culinary Institute of America. For Webb, his operation wasn’t a big one – at least, not at first. With a few helping hands and a fair bit of dough – the flour and water kind, that is – he began serving his hometown pizza on Monday nights in Queen City.
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If his pizza didn’t tip you off already, Webb is not a New Yorker. Well, he is now (and a Hudson Valleyite, too!). Before that, he spent his formative years in Michigan, where he first sampled the hybridized wonder that is Detroit pizza.
“It’s like a Sicilian hybrid,” he explains. “When you look at a Detroit pizza from the side, you have this bricklike shape, but then you bite into it and the inside is very light, very fluffy.”
After joining the military in 2009, Webb traveled across the nation before making his way to Syracuse as a staff sergeant and recruiter. During that time, he realized he needed to decide whether to continue in the army or retire and switch fields. He was already working nights at a local restaurant to supplement his income, and he quickly fell in love with the pace and energy of the food and drink industry.
“I was an army recruiter by day [and] I started as a dishwasher,” he recalls. As he worked his way up the ranks in the kitchen, he began experimenting with Detroit-style pizza recipes in 2014 after his search for a comparable slice in the region proved fruitless. By 2017, he knew that culinary school – The Culinary Institute of America, to be exact – was the right next step for his career.
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Fast-forward to 2019, and Webb was ready to debut the pizza concept he first latched onto five years prior. With the help of a friend from home, he launched Hudson & Packard as a pop-up eatery in Poughkeepsie, with an eventual plan to turn it into a full brick-and-mortar destination. The duo named the brand after automotive icons Hudson Motor Car Company and Packard Motor Car Company, both of which had strong roots in Detroit. Although Webb’s friend stepped out of the business soon after launching it, Webb charged ahead as Hudson & Packard developed its very own cult following in Poughkeepsie.
So what’s the deal with Hudson & Packard? The short story is it started as a pop-up pizza company inside the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory on Monday nights from 5:30-8:30 p.m. or until it sold out. And sell out it did. Depending on the day, Hudson & Packard could go through its 100 pies by 7 or 7:30 p.m.
And the pizza? It’s exactly as Webb describes. With a shape similar to a Sicilian pie, the ‘za differentiates itself with a layer of cheese that extends all the way to the edges to create the covetable crispy corners for which it’s known. The slices are thick, but the dough itself is featherlight. Even so, it’s still sturdy enough to support the mouthwatering medley of toppings that Webb and team scatter atop it.
On the talk of toppings, Hudson & Packard has two mainstay creations. The bestseller is the Hudson Hornet, a sweet and spicy fusion of pepperoni, house-pickled jalapeños, Wisconsin blend cheese, Mike’s Hot Honey, and the eatery’s signature tomato sauce. Following close behind it is the Ford Funghi, a veggie-packed rectangle of roasted cremini, oyster, and shiitake mushrooms with caramelized onions, goat cheese, lemon zest, and truffle oil. Alongside those two, Hudson & Packard debuted two specials, one with meat and one without, every month. With names like Tokyo Drift and Packard Parmigiana, many of them payed ode to the brand’s automotive theme.
Of course, the pop-up was just the start. Coming later this year, Hudson & Packard prepares to move into its new home on 29 Academy Street in Poughkeepsie. R.L. Baxter Building Corp. is the construction firm behind the space, which it hopes to have ready for business by late-summer 2020. The pizzeria will reside next to a cocktail bar set to open at 27 Academy around that time and right around the corner from 40 Cannon’s live-work-play attractions. Webb wrapped his residency at the Underwear Factory around the time of the COVID-19 closures, so he’s been putting all his efforts into bring his eatery to life.
As far as the vibe inside the brick-and-mortar goes, it will be a little Detroit, a little Hudson Valley, and 100-percent open to all. Community is priority number one for Webb, so he plans to make everyone feel comfortable whether they’re dining at one of the smattering of indoor seats or grabbing a pie for the road. His kitchen will be an open concept, with a bar with seating out front to allow diners to watch the pie-making action firsthand.
“I always liked the idea of having an open kitchen because people find it interesting to watch us do what we do,” he explains. “It’s transparency between you and the guests. Here I am, here you are.”
Until the Academy Street buildout wraps, Webb and his team will continue to work on those finishing touches and keep their pie-making skills in tip-top shape. The pizza might be a little funny looking by New York standards – it’s square and at least an inch high – but one taste is all it takes to convince you that maybe Detroiters are onto something after all.