February 1, 2018 |

Pizza Today on the Road: King Dough, Bloomington, IN

By Jeremy White


Mobile to Mortar

Pizza proprietor makes a big move

Adam Sweet was kicking it for a well-established and successful pizza company in Arkansas, but something was missing. Though he played a prominent role in the business’s operations, he felt like the low man on the Totem Pole to a degree. Point blank: he wanted to do his own thing. There’s something romantic and invigorating about taking on a new project, and it’s even sweeter (what a pun!) when you create something from scratch. A musician at heart,  Sweet has a wandering soul and wasn’t averse to making a literal geographic move in addition to a career move. So that’s what he did: packed up his family and prepared for a new adventure. The destination? Bloomington, Indiana — one of Americas most iconic college towns.

Adam Sweet, owner, King Dough, Bloomington, Indiana

“My wife and I met here 10 years ago,” says Sweet, “so coming back to Bloomington made a lot of sense to us. We had friends here and the culinary scene here was really blowing up. Plus there wasn’t an overwhelming amount of great pizza here. There were some spots, like Lennie’s and Pizza X, that are really big here. Those places are great, but they are totally different from what I’m doing. There was nobody doing wood-fired pizza, especially not from this party, rock n’ roll vibe that we’ve got going on here.”

Sweet named the place King Dough based on a nickname he earned himself when he first settled in Bloomington.

“There is a place here in town called Finch’s that I worked at,” he explains. “It does have a wood-burning oven, but it’s not a pizza shop at all. They do serve a little pizza, but it’s more like a European bistro. It’s a nice restaurant and I love them. But when I was working there, I made the dough a lot of times because I just love it and I was the one who understood how pizza dough works. The chef there gave me the nickname King Dough because of that. It was a joke name originally, but it stuck around.”

It wasnt long before King Dough was mobile. Sweet didnt have the capital necessary to open a brick-and-mortar pizzeria, but he was able to secure one heck of a deal on a mobile wood-fired oven. He drove cross-country to Arizona and returned back to Indiana with $5,000 less to his name, a dream and a plan to start small.

“The mobile oven was by no means paying the bills when I first started operating it as King Dough,” says Sweet. “I still had to work other jobs to make ends meet. All the oven was doing was paying for itself and building a name for us so that people would know who we were right out of the gate whenever we did finally open our doors.”

Eventually, Sweet was able to raise the capital he needed to open a restaurant through crowdsourcing. He used an online platform to upload his business plan and solicit donors, and once he got the thumbs up and found a suitable space, it was game on.

“This building had been a pizzeria previously, ” Sweet says. “When I saw it was available, I knew it was perfect for us.”

It’s located on a square in Bloomington, just adjacent to the Indiana University campus. It’s ideally situated in an area that attracts students, university staff and locals alike.

“The previous place did more of a New York-style and had big deck ovens in the back,” Sweet says. “I wanted to move the kitchen out front where everything is visible. And of course I wanted to put in the wood-burning oven, which is the heart of the restaurant.”

 King Dough turns a hand-tossed, artisan pizza out of the wood-burner — and not much else. The menu is streamlined and simple out of necessity.  “The oven is the only cooking source we have,” Sweet says. “We don’t have grills or fryers, so everything we produce has to come out of that oven. That is it. Of course we do some salads, but we’re pretty limited overall with our setup. We do offer sandwiches and meatballs. We have a few select appetizers that don’t require using the oven, such as marinated olives or a charcuterie and cheese board.  And we have gelato. But that’s about it. ”

king dough, pizzeria, bloomington, indianaTruth be told, the small menu was probably a godsend when King Dough first opened. Sweet admits he had his hands more than full early on.

“We had a soft opening,” he explains. “I think I posted ‘Doors are Open’ or something like that on social media, but that was it. And the people literally came pouring in. It was crazy. I wasn’t ready for it, for sure. We were slammed.”

King Dough ran out of dough many times as Sweet was learning to ramp up his service. Every day brought a new lesson, he says.

Now that serving the masses seems to be in hand, the entrepreneur is hard at work on his next challenge — store No. 2. The new location is opening soon in Indianapolis.

“We’re trying to line up some pop-ups with some high-traffic restaurants in Indianapolis over the next few months to help build a base of customer recognition and get our name out there more,” Sweet explains. “We have some friends in the Indy food scene who are like-minded and are going to help us out with that. We’re also doing some events up there with the mobile oven to garner interest. But I think we’re going to be pretty busy in Indy based on the fact that a lot of people in the city seem to already know us and are asking about us. We’re always getting questions about when we’re going to open. So I think people are ready.”

While the Bloomington shop has beer and wine offerings, the Indianapolis location will have a full bar.

“I think with our location there, we’re going to be in an area where people are going to want to come in after work or before dinner and  have cocktails,” says Sweet. “So we’re going to make sure we can offer that to them.”

Though they might be slightly different markets, Sweet says he ultimately doesn’t expect the customer base to be that different between the two stores. It all comes down to executing great pizza, he says. Do that and you’ll stay busy, he believes.

“People want to eat what they love. But they want to know that what they’re eating is not garbage,” he says. “Give people a great product and you can be sure they’ll respond.”

Jeremy White is editor in chief at Pizza Today.