Soul Sessions Podcast: Gray Welch's Poppy Pies
On this episode, Gray Welch is the owner of Poppy Pies, a popup oven fired pizza venture specializing in Neapolitan style crust and creative flavor combinations.
Gray says he sees the future of Jackson's creative class and wants to be a part of the positive change in Mississippi's capital city.
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PAUL: This is Soul Sessions, conversations on culture from Jackson, Mississippi. I'm your host, Paul Wolf, bringing you a look at the people, the places and the events that make us the City With Soul. And on today's show, Gray Welch is the owner of Poppy Pies, a popup oven fired pizza venture specializing in Neapolitan style crust and creative flavor combinations. Gray says he sees the future of Jackson's creative class and wants to be a part of the positive change in Mississippi's capital city.
PAUL: Gray Welch from Poppy Pies. Hey, thanks for being here on Soul Sessions.
GRAY: Thank you so much for having me.
PAUL: We're going to start with a big question. Poppy Pies, obviously pizza. And why, for you, pizza? Tell me more about how you got into the pie game.
GRAY: Yeah. So this might be a little longer winded of an answer than you might have asked for, but I'll try to condense it. So basically I did a lot of work for a production company for a lot of big news networks and things like that. Through COVID and whatnot, that dried up a little bit. I had previous restaurant experience and the timing worked out really well where Sal & Mookie's in Madison was opening up. And so I said, you know what, I've never been a part of an opening before I'm going to go see what this thing is about. I went there, and I'm going to be totally transparent about this.
I kind of thought pizza was a joke. I did. I looked at it like, 'Oh, that's just like, that's not real cooking.' You know what I mean? As if I knew what I was talking about. And so I dove into that and it just clicked. I realized this is so unbelievably fun. Restaurant work on its own is very fast paced. So you have to have a specific kind of personality towards that. But pizza in particular, I don't know, something just clicked. So I was the kitchen manager at Sal & Mookie's and that's where I discovered how much I actually like making pizza.
PAUL: Oh, and who doesn't love pizza? I love a good pizza and I like all different kinds of crust. But you have a very specific, very special style, more of a Neapolitan style crust, right?
GRAY: Yes. As far as I know, there definitely are not any in that style offered in Jackson. There are some that are somewhat close. But I think we have a bunch of really good pan pizzas and New York style, but this is the first Neapolitan for Jackson.
PAUL: Okay. And what exactly for those who might not be familiar is a Neapolitan style crust?
GRAY: Neapolitan in general is a lot less dense. It's very light, but don't mistake it for a thin crust. While technically the bottom is really hair thin, it's not designed to be crispy. So it's extremely soft, highly digestible, and really flavorful.
PAUL: Now I know we've got folks who are listening to us right now and saying, where is Poppy Pies? You're everywhere, right? You're a mobile pizzeria?
GRAY: Yeah. So we do a ton of caterings, markets, festivals. You know, all of us involved with Poppy Pies currently work full time during the day. So we're relatively limited with how many places we can be at one time. But we frequent Fondren at least once a week we're there. We try to hit every festival that we can. That's the current M-O.
PAUL: We see you often at Highball Station, close to the Capri Theater at Highball Lanes where you typically sell out of pies before the night's over.
GRAY: Yeah. Yeah. I think we've been very, very blessed to have the reception that we have. And all of the partners there in Highball and the Capri and the Tiki Bar, they've been very gracious for letting us be there.
PAUL: I had the opportunity several weeks back to try one of your pies. And when I saw it on the menu, I thought, 'I don't know.' But you called it "The Captain." And if you've ever had that Southern casserole, you know, you dip your corn chips into it, the Captain Rodney's dip. This was Captain Rodney's dip as a pizza, and it was fantastic. You come up with a lot of inventive combinations that we've not seen before.
GRAY: I'll brag on myself a little bit by saying that that was completely an original. I haven't cheated yet with any recipes or copied anybody. And I just knew that, what sounds good? I like this dip, so let's figure out how to make it on a pizza. And so we did, and now it's a thing where I can't sell it that often because people won't try other stuff because they want that one.
PAUL: It's a good one for sure. And then your classic pepperoni, I've heard raves and great reviews on that one. What other flavor combinations might you have coming to the streets near us soon?
GRAY: I've been working on a ton of different things. The one that has been the most popular recently is our street corn pizza. And that one, if you're familiar with elote, which is a roasted corn, heavily spiced and very, very good. So that's been the most recent one that we've worked on. And others are TBD. It takes some time to, well, I guess I should say I have the pressure of The Captain on my shoulders now. So I'm a little nervous to release something that isn't quite up to par.
PAUL: We're looking forward to your flavorful combinations. And we're going to put links in the show notes to your website and social media so that people know where to find you on any given weekend here in Jackson. Now, living in Jackson most of your life, where would you take family and friends if you had a chance to show off the city, your 24 hours in the City With Soul?
GRAY: Naturally, Fondren is a spectacle to behold. I mean, just in knowing from when I grew up that not a whole lot was there. There were grocery stores and some minor shops and things like that, but just amazing the development that's happened there. Not biased at all, this just happens to be a conversation that I had the other day. I was asking some of my sisters, because they're much younger than me, what's the place where you go if you're 21, 22, fresh out of college?
And pretty much across the board, everybody is saying Fondren. Now, just because of the concentration of really great things that are consistently happening there. But I think I would be remiss to not mention the new Belhaven Town Center area. I mean, that place is so cool. And it just goes to show that when you have some folks who are all dedicated to taking Jackson just at least one step further, a lot of good things come from that. So I definitely think start in Fondren, end up in Belhaven, or maybe even swap the two. I don't know. But as long as you're 24 hours involves a long time spent in both Fondren and Belhaven, I think that's a winning combo.
PAUL: All right. I'm planning my next day trip around Jackson on your itinerary because it sounds like a great time. Gray, we talked maybe a couple of weeks ago about your love for the city and how you kind of have a special place in your heart for the city of Jackson and wouldn't want to see your business start off and succeed anywhere else, but here in the capital city, first and foremost. So what makes Jackson so special to you?
GRAY: I mean, I think Jackson to me, and this is going to sound like a strange answer. I mean, it has trees and it has green things in it and it has parks. And now I say that as somebody who for a little while was displaced to not only Memphis, but then also Los Angeles. And I know that the one thing that I missed that I did not understand that I was going to, was just the open space and the ability to breathe. Now, Jackson for me has been my home my entire life. So we're going to ignore any bias that I might have as best as I can. But it just feels right. I mean, does that make sense? I know that business can work in a lot of different places. But to me, Jackson just feels good.
PAUL: And it's Mississippi's capital city, so important for Jackson and its people to succeed.
GRAY: Absolutely. I think that, I don't know how much I'll be able to really speak on this, but while there are certain parts that are still being worked on, I would like to be a part of that work rather than choose to go elsewhere.
PAUL: We're going to put links to Poppy Pies, your social media and your website and all the ways people can reach you and find out what you've got going on with this new upstart food venture here in Jackson. Gray Welch from Poppy Pies, thank you so much for being here today.
GRAY: Absolutely. Thank you.
PAUL: Soul Sessions is a production of Visit Jackson. Our Executive Producers are Jonathan Pettus and Rickey Thigpen. To learn more about our organization and mission, head to visitjackson.com. I'm Paul Wolf and you've been listening to Soul Sessions.