The Trade Institute of Pittsburgh wants to build pizza ovens — and community

The nonprofit, which offers masonry training, wants to expand on an idea that started in Braddock.

The Braddock oven in action

The Braddock oven in action

Courtesy Trade Institute of Pittsburgh
Sarah Anne Hughes

Communal pizza ovens in underserved neighborhoods?

That’s the idea behind TIPizza, a project of the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh that aims to build pizza ovens in Western Pa. communities while creating employment for the training program’s graduates and opportunities for local entrepreneurs. (The nonprofit offers training in masonry and other construction skills primarily to people who have just been released from prison.)

The inspiration for the community ovens can be traced to Braddock, where TIP helped construct one that was completed last year.

“You can do so much in a training context,” said Kit Mueller, director of strategic and community development for TIP, of the oven’s construction, “but actually having the experience of our students going out there in the real world and working on the project hand-in-hand with community members out there … was really powerful.”

The original community oven in Braddock was started by baker Ray Werner in 2008 “with support from Mayor John Fetterman and the Braddock community,” according to a website for the project. Baker Shauna Kearns coordinates the baking of bread that’s sold at the Braddock Farm Stand, per the site, and residents are able to use the oven during “events like pizza nights and open bakes.”

Mueller said the nonprofit wants to take the model behind the Braddock oven and “do it on a smaller scale for underserved communities to provide healthy food options and community spaces.”

These smaller ovens will be designed with help from Carnegie Mellon’s Urban Design Build Studio, which is part of Project RE_ with TIP and Construction Junction. Together, the groups work on products and prototypes designed and built with reused materials

The Trade Institute of Pittsburgh submitted TIPizza to the UpPrize Social Innovation Challenge, which seeks to reward the best technology and healthy food ideas and projects in Southwestern Pa. Ten finalists will receive up to $10,000 in grant money each, and the winner or winners of the two challenges will receive up to $300,000.

Mueller said TIP came up with the idea for TIPizza before it was submitted to UpPrize for consideration. Winning the money would allow the nonprofit to move forward with hiring one or two of its graduates to build the ovens, he said, and to “advance the partnership” with the Urban Design Build Studio.

There are already plans to build the next oven at the Holy Family Institute, which Mueller said recently “stepped up their entrepreneurial efforts.”

“We are a job training program,” Mueller said, “and we want to start to show the opportunity of entrepreneurship out there.”

These ovens, he added, can be self-sustaining through events like pizza sales and serve as a community space.

“It checks all the boxes of all the things we hope bring benefit to the community.”