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Like a lot of New Mexicans, Shawn Medlock suddenly had a lot of time at home after the COVID-19 pandemic reached the state in March 2020.
Local business restrictions kept the tattoo parlor, High Hands Tattoo in Los Ranchos where he worked with his wife, closed for a chunk of the year. And even during periods it was able to operate, Medlock felt like he was ready for a new challenge.
“Even before the pandemic, I was already … trying to envision something else I wanted to do,” Medlock said.
A home baker for much of the past decade, Medlock decided he wanted to start making pizzas. It began as a hobby, but, after he got a portable oven in November 2020, gradually evolved into an on-demand business out of the back of Medlock’s garage where in-the-know New Mexicans could order and pick up pies. Rumor Pizza – so called because of the company’s speakeasy-like origins – was born.
Don’t be fooled by the shop’s bare-bones menu: Rumor is bringing a novel approach to taking orders and making pizza, one he believes may be a small slice of what’s to come.
“It’s just a different kind of pizza and a different kind of outlook on it than a lot of other local places,” Medlock said.
Medlock had reserved a business license by that point, but acknowledged that the operation wouldn’t receive health licensing until later. After two or three weekends making pizzas on his own out of his garage, Medlock realized he needed help. He linked up with Nick Vacca, a business partner whose family worked in food distribution in Chicago, and the concept took off.
“We work well together, and we feed off each other,” Medlock said. “He has a lot of big-city experience when it comes to pizza, and that’s something that I lack.”
Initially, the company spread through social media, hosting pop-ups at local breweries like Ex Novo and Gravity Bound. Medlock said they would deliver pizzas in his van and set up under a canopy. It was fun, but not a permanent solution.
In August, the company began making pizza out of a brick-and-mortar location just north of Downtown. The small shop, in a building at 724 Mountain NW that Medlock said dates back to the 1940s, doesn’t offer table service, though it has a seating area outside where customers can linger over an 18-inch pizza.
“It gives people a nice little space to hang out, but not to where it’s a formal setting,” he said.
Building a businesses from the ground up is almost always a team effort, and Medlock credited support from a pair of outside organizations for helping the company transition from a mobile operation to a brick-and-mortar one. Medlock said the company worked with the Albuquerque-based economic development organization WESST to secure a $30,000 loan that allowed the company to buy new ovens, a necessity to become more of a full-blown pizzeria.
The same week in late summer, Rumor received a $10,000 restaurant grant from the city of Albuquerque that facilitated power upgrades for the new storefront.
“It all happened at the perfect time for us to get completely up and going,” he said.
So what can working as a tattoo artist teach you about running a pizza restaurant? More than you might think.
Medlock said his time doing tattoos helped him bring creativity – and a bit of an edge – into his new business model.
You won’t find green chile on the menu when it isn’t in season, and unlike more traditional pizzerias, the company encourages customers to order online and pick up rather than calling or ordering in the store. It’s a model born from operating with a small staff during a pandemic, but Medlock said it fits with where he sees the restaurant industry moving in the future, as the pandemic prompts restaurateurs to move away from spaces with large dining rooms.
“We’re throwing a wrench into some people’s ideas, but I think in a good way,” Medlock said.