'Delancey' focuses on the messy process of opening a restaurant

Famed food blogger Molly 'Orangette' Wizenberg tells the messy, explosive, and exhilarating story of giving birth to a restaurant.

Delancey, by Molly Wizenberg, Simon & Schuster, 256 pp.

Some people might be able to eke out a memoir in the sunset of an adventurous life, when there is time to reflect and consider what is worth sharing. Then there are those so finely tuned to their thoughts and feelings as their days unfold around them that writing them down in a compelling way seems to come as naturally as breathing. Molly Wizenberg is one of those. 

Wizenberg, the Seattle food blogger and author of “A Homemade Life,” has released a new memoir that chronicles the first five years of her marriage to Brandon Pettit in Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage.

A shared love of good food was the mortar of the foundation Wizenberg laid with Brandon. They met through her food blog, Orangette – he was a fan and a fellow foodie. Her first memoir, a fresh coming-of-age story, details their long-distance romance that ends with their wedding, complete with recipes throughout.

“Delancey” picks up where the first memoir left off. But this is not a book about newlyweds pattering around in the kitchen wearing pajamas on Sunday morning feeding each other pancakes and dreaming of a shared life in food. No, this is a book about giving birth to a restaurant – in a messy, explosive, and exhilarating way.

Brandon, previously a grad student in music at the University of Washington, hums with an East Coast energy (he’s from New Jersey) that plays against Wizenberg’s laid-back Midwestern demeanor. While Wizenberg is prone to details and routine, Brandon thrives on the thrill of risks, focusing intensely on one hobby (building violins) until he abandons it for the next (building boats). When he gets the idea to build and open a pizzeria, Wizenberg keeps waiting for the impulse to pass.

It doesn’t.

When Brandon decides to officially drop out of his PhD program to pursue the perfect pizza crust, she greets this decision with “what might be described as pathological nonchalance.” It becomes more of a reality when a would-be partner bows out and Wizenberg reluctantly steps in as pantry cook. Recipes and conversations about food are still a part of “Delancey,” but mostly this is the story of how a wood-fired pizza restaurant came to be during one of the hottest summers on record in Seattle. Wizenberg chronicles it all with her intimate, measured voice.

She also writes with authenticity. Her willingness to show the cracks in the foundations of her marriage as the stress of building a business bears down draws readers right into the heat of the kitchen. You can’t help but root for the pizza dough to rise just right and feel the panic when Wizenberg realizes there is no way she can plate salads fast enough to satisfy a restaurant full of children in Halloween costumes and their parents.

“While I sobbed into the greens, I wondered how Brandon, standing a few feet away at the pizza oven, could handle the onslaught of tickets. Answer: he’s an East Coaster. In a pinch he has access to such concepts as … Let ‘em wait, and I’m working as fast as I can here. I am a people-pleaser from Oklahoma, where life is placid enough that it’s considered song-worthy to watch a hawk making lazy circles in the sky.”

If you hold entrepreneurial dreams of striking out on your own, “Delancey” is an up-close look at that process with valuable insights (know your craft, write a budget, check references). In addition to the frustration, it has the magic of things falling into place at the right time so that the hero, Brandon, is able to march steadily on despite the formidable odds of opening a business during a recession and living with a wife who, on the verge of losing it, suddenly decides she is not that enamored with the idea of owning and running a pizzeria. It’s also a peek at the maker culture of Seattle, how collaboration triumphs over competition in a city that creates the space for risk-takers, and how neighbors and friends share knowledge and resources readily.

The task of opening a restaurant even as Wizenberg juggles the success of her first book – when neither had done those things before – during the tender first years of marriage is a feat so remarkable that the birth of their daughter, June, is really just an aside in “Delancey.”

As the pages of “Delancey” come to a close, Brandon, Molly, baby June, and the restaurant are well on their way, sails trimmed with a reliable staff and a loyal customer base. We wish them Godspeed and can’t wait to see what they cook up next.

Kendra Nordin is the Monitor staff editor and produces the recipe blog Stir It Up!

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