Searching for a slice

By Bud Denega
The Sheridan Press


While it may not have an array of pizza choices like Italy, Sheridan boasts several pizza-centric options for locals and out-of-towners to enjoy a slice or two. The Mercantile in Big Horn,  Powder River Pizza and Hetty’s Pizza food truck in Sheridan, take great pride in their flagship product — pizza.

From the dough to the sauce to the toppings, nothing goes unnoticed.

These two establishments don’t aim to simply feed patrons, they aim to give them a unique and fun eating experience, one that they’ll return to and recommend to friends and family alike.

“It’s really fun to see and to watch the reactions and see people’s faces light up when they try a pizza,” said Angela Atherton, the general manager at the Mercantile. “Food feeds the soul, and that’s one thing that I really stand by.”

Powder River Pizza managing partner Mike Browne believes in constructing the best pizza possible. That entails high-quality ingredients, and more of them.

Powder River receives its dough from a place called the Dough Shop, which is dedicated solely to making dough. Powder River makes its own by creating crusts in three different forms: signature, thin and gluten-free. Signature crusts are opted for when customers prefer their pizzas “Wyoming style,” or when the crust is eaten with honey at the end of the main slice. Thin crust, similar to the Merc’s single-choice thin crust, allows the consumer to focus on the loads of toppings and sauce base combinations.

Hetty’s, a local wood-fire pizza food truck, also creates their 14-inch pies with homemade Neapolitan-style dough.

Most pizza makers will tell you that the magic rests with the flavor of the sauce and the quality toppings. “I’m a firm believer people will pay $20-plus if the value is there,” Browne said. “We are not buying the cheapest pepperoni that you can get. We are buying the high-end stuff. You put all those together, and do it consistently, and you have a winner.”

Some of the meats utilized hail from locally-owned Legerski Sausage. General manager Jimmy Legerski approached Powder River and the Mercantile four years ago about the idea of using their meats, and the local relationship has been fruitful ever since.

“It’s really important,” Legerski said. “People go there and eat, and then they’ll come and buy products from me. It’s all self-advertising. It’s great for everybody.”

Browne agreed, saying that tourists especially like to experience local flavors. “So if everybody in the town supports each other, whether it be other restaurants, the end goal is to have them come to Sheridan, and the end goal is to spend their money with us — dining, drinking and shopping downtown,” Browne said.

“We all partner together, and that makes us successful as a whole.”

The Mercantile resides in the small town of Big Horn, and it also sources locally. Atherton frequents Verdello Olive Oils & Fine Foods to hand select oils and vinegars. Atherton uses those ingredients as bases, calling them oil-enhanced pizzas.

Atherton also shops locally for ingredients and toppings, Legerski Sausage playing a role once again.

“It enhances the pizza,” Atherton said. “You can tell a difference. I’ve been in other pizza places before, and there’s a big difference between using stuff that comes in on a truck, that is pre-made, and using stuff that you can cook yourself. It’s worth the extra prep time.”

Atherton truly enjoys experimenting and letting her imagination take hold during the pizza-making process; the Mercantile aims to release a new pizza each week with a unique twist.

For example, Atherton constructed a “Getting Figgy With It” pizza using a homemade fig jam coupled with bacon, caramelized onions, goat cheese and vanilla pomegranate vinegar from Verdello.

All of the Mercantile’s pizzas are cooked in an oven that formerly resided in Italy. In fact, the oven is so large and heavy that a portion of the floor inside the Mercantile needed revamping.

For Travis Hetland, pizza has long been a passion. Hetland and his wife grew up in Worland, ended up with teaching jobs in Casper, and then moved to Sheridan. While Hetland’s wife, Elizabeth, became a stay-at-home mom and the “brains” of the pizza operations, Travis Hetland can be found in the food truck slinging dough all around town.

Recently, he proved his pie powers by partnering with EMIT Technologies to build a 6-foot pizza.

Powder River Pizza, the Big Horn Mercantile and Hetty’s Pizza understand the challenges that come with running a pizza business in small-town Wyoming. The product must encourage tourists and out-of-towners to try it and convince the locals to come back.

It’s not just pizza to these creators. It’s a one-of-a-kind eating experience. They’re giving people a slice of northeast Wyoming.


About The Sheridan Press

The Sheridan Press has served Sheridan County, Wyoming, since 1887. The award-winning independent newspaper offers print and online news delivery platforms to the thriving community, which boasts a college; a lively arts, culture, and music scene; a bustling downtown; and many other amenities, including unlimited outdoor recreational opportunities. To subscribe to The Sheridan Press, click here.