Raised in Boston, brothers Jesse (left) and Josh Jacobs have brought Detroit-style pizza to San Francisco with Joyride Pizza.
Raised in Boston, brothers Jesse (left) and Josh Jacobs have brought Detroit-style pizza to San Francisco with Joyride Pizza.

Joyride Pizza is a long trip from the hippie cuisine of their childhood

Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

As the children of machers in the world of macrobiotic food, Jesse and Joshua Jacobs remember some exceptions made to their healthy, mostly vegetarian diet as they were growing up. Jewish holidays were among those occasions.

Jewish food “definitely permeated our childhood,” said Josh. Added Jesse: “Even though what brought our parents together was their interest in macrobiotics, they couldn’t ignore their heritage, as long as it wasn’t red meat and was made from wholesome ingredients. The ‘why on this night do we eat differently’ really resonated with our parents that way.”

Given that background, it might be surprising to hear that the brothers have just introduced a new pizza brand to San Francisco: Joyride Pizza. (Unrelated perhaps, but growing up they ate tofu cheese pizza, and Jesse said he would spend his spare money on pizza bagels.)

The Jacobs brothers and their three siblings (one of whom, Daria Jacobs-Velde, until recently served the Bay Area as a rabbi) grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, a heavily Jewish Boston suburb, which also happens to be the center of the macrobiotic movement in America. Their parents, Barbara and Leonard Jacobs, moved there from the Midwest to be part of it; he served as publisher of the movement’s books, and she taught thousands of people how to cook with whole foods. Together, they wrote “Cooking with Seitan: The Complete Vegetarian ‘Wheat-Meat’ Cookbook.”

The family grew much of their own food, too.

“Our parents were like many people looking for radical change in the ’60s and ’70s, and made their way through a lot of the hippie movements and all they had to offer,” said Jesse. “Of all the communes and cults, this one had a noble cause, which was eating in balance with your environment.”

Joyride is the latest to join the Detroit-style square pizza craze (we’ve written about the Jewish owners of Square Pie Guys in this space as well) — in which cheese is baked into the crust, with the sides of a hot metal pan left to do its thing — and has opened in Yerba Buena Gardens and the Mission District.

Everyone loves pizza just as much as us, but we knew we had to do it differently than everyone else.

Before the pandemic, both locations housed their popular tea spot Samovar. In a now familiar story — but no less painful to live through — they had to close up shop after 20 years in business, after coming off one of their most successful years in 2019.

Like so many at home during the pandemic, Jesse kept busy with kitchen projects like making sourdough and pickles. But knowing that pandemics don’t last forever, he thought about next steps and landed on pizza, something that has brought joy to him and his family.

“Everyone loves pizza just as much as us, but we knew we had to do it differently than everyone else,” he said.

While the Jacobs brothers had both worked in Italian restaurants in their youth, they knew little about making good pizza. They brought on board a master pizza maker, Alastair Hannmann. While some ingredients, such as Wisconsin Brick cheese, are required for true Detroit-style pizza, everything else, from the grains to the toppings, are local and organic, with most of the produce coming from Sonoma County farmers. The dough goes through a three-day fermentation process.

“We’re elevating something so basic,” said Jesse.

Jesse opened Samovar in 2002 when he lived in San Francisco (he now lives in Sebastopol) at a time when no one was thinking about tea in quite the same way as designer coffee and cocktails. He had lived in Japan and had become a student of the Japanese tea ceremony. Tea was also the “social lubrication” for the macrobiotic movement, he said.

Joyride's Pestoriffic pizza includes smoked chicken, smoked bacon and pesto.
Joyride’s Pestoriffic pizza includes smoked chicken, smoked bacon and pesto.

After working in software, Jesse realized he wanted to make more of an impact, and settled on tea as a way to help farmers and to promote mindfulness. (Samovar was known for offering a free cup of tea to people who came and sat quietly, with their devices turned off.)

Josh, who lives in Maine, joined the business around 10 years ago and has always worked remotely.

“One thing that excited me was to look at tea as a Trojan Horse for having a more meaningful life,” he said. “It starts out just being a functional drink, as it focuses the mind, or gives you energy, or helps if you have a cold. But its very culture is tied in with mindfulness.”

Both brothers have regular meditation practices and say that they liked the idea that “we’d create a space for people to be more grounded and sane in the world,” said Josh.

Before the pandemic, they were working on expanding Samovar beyond San Francisco to Los Angeles, New York and more.

No longer. They have mourned the demise of the 20-year storefront business and have moved on. Samovar still exists, but only online — its e-commerce site had reached plenty of tea consumers before the pandemic, so it continues to do good business today.

Joyride Pizza is located in Yerba Buena Gardens at 730 Howard St. and at 411 Valencia St. in the Mission District. Also available for delivery.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."