There isn’t a lot of space to wander around inside Holy Cross pizza shop Futuro. Not that this matters at the moment. A spiffy red-tiled counter greets you at the entrance, and in lieu of tables and chairs, bumper sticker–sized “WAIT HERE” signs on the buffed concrete floor instruct customers to stand six feet apart, doing that awkward coronavirus shuffle while they wait for their pies. Eventually, Futuro (among Indy’s 2021 class of restaurants that opened during a global pandemic) will set up some indoor seating, along with an upper-level dining room and new picnic tables beyond its two roll-up garage doors. An expanded menu will come later, and maybe a beer program. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Owners Luke Tobias and Sarah St. Aubin understand the value of a meticulously slow restaurant opening as opposed to the flashy grand variety. Tobias has worked in kitchens his whole life and remains a minority partner at Fountain Square burger bar Kuma’s Corner. St. Aubin runs a hair salon out of their southside home, a business that completely shut down for 13 weeks at the onset of last year’s COVID-19 closures. They had no income, a new daughter and teenage twin sons to raise, and an affinity for cheese pulls.
At first, they made pizzas for people they knew as a side hustle that occupied a couple hours of their day. Folks would come by and pick them up, or St. Aubin would deliver them herself, relishing the rare, mid-quarantine opportunity to socialize from her car. “It just became this thing. People started telling us that we should do something with our pizzas,” says St. Aubin, who had worked restaurant jobs as a teen and while attending cosmetology school to pay the bills. “My husband and I sat on it for a few months. I went back to work in my salon, and he stayed home to watch the baby.” They crunched some numbers, mixed some dough, and eventually decided that they could, indeed, open their own restaurant if the right opportunity presented itself. “And it did,” says St. Aubin.
Specifically, they landed a sweet location—a small, angular two-story building off a brick alleyway that cuts through the former Angie’s List campus just east of downtown. Employees of the once-sprawling internet company used the building as a dining hall and workspace before Angie’s List fell on hard times a few years ago. After cleaning the place out—mopping the floors, peeling grease off the walls, and getting rid of unneeded equipment—the couple bought a 50-quart mixer and found two refurbished Bakers Pride ovens from a dealer in Florida and (successfully) solicited a couple of burly Instagram followers to help them move those stainless-steel monsters into the bowels of the kitchen.
Then they made more pizzas, focusing mainly on Detroit-style pies, a hefty Motor City import baked in rectangular steel pans, with a thick and porous crust crisped around the edges with the style’s iconic rim of caramelized cheese. Racing stripes of extra-chunky tomato sauce top a layer of Wisconsin cheese, buttery and sturdy with a sexy stretch—the stuff of endless influencer money shots. Each 10-by-14-inch creation supports a calibrated combination of meats, veggies, and sauces. The Chicken Limo features a ranch dressing–based sauce and Buffalo-tossed chicken, while the garlicky Veglord drips with spinach, mushrooms, and banana peppers. The Spotted Pig is a heavenly marriage of applewood-smoked bacon, jalapeños, goat cheese, and silken dollops of ricotta, all drizzled with hot honey. Early prototypes had a fatter, denser crust that was later tamed down to a springier inch-thick base that can still support the tonnage of ingredients while somehow delivering a delicate crunch, like a big-shouldered focaccia.
Futuro’s smartly topped ’zas do America’s Comeback City proud, but it isn’t the only place in town currently making fat-bottomed pies that are all right angles. (See also: Sam’s Square Pie and Edges Detroit-style Pizza, both local pop-ups.) And Tobias and St. Aubin have also mastered equally impressive thin-crust, tavern-style pizzas, as well as a deep-dish Chicago pie that houses such a high wall of tomato-sauce lava that customers are advised to let it cool a bit before slicing into it.
None of this delicious alchemy would have happened had Tobias and St. Aubin not spent weeks training their staff on the nuances of running a neighborhood shop and the art of making pizza, a delicious research-and-development stage that involved a lot of experimentation with ingredients like ground pepperoni, housemade meatballs, pulled chicken, vegan cheese, and crushed garlic. The team baked pie after pie, many of which they gave away as samples. In late February, Futuro started cranking out scores of spec pizzas and handing them out, hot from the oven, first come, first served. All they asked for in exchange was a bit of constructive criticism. “Because what were we going to do with all of those pizzas?” St. Aubin asks. “We weren’t going to eat them.”
Instead, Futuro announced the giveaway on social media, alongside months of construction photos, job postings, menu teases, and excruciatingly cute photos of their toddler, Luci. It proved a brilliant marketing strategy, especially during this past pandemic winter of shared isolation, when smartphones served as lifelines to the outside world and users scrolled nonstop in search of puppies, succulents, latte art—and some kind of connection. “People are looking for transparency right now,” St. Aubin says. “We have been very open about what we are doing here, and it has made a huge difference.”