Pizza Dad Joe

Photo of Joe Prota with his arms raised (middle) and a man and his son from Dad's Night on either side of Joe, smiling for the camera. The dad is holding two light brown cardboard pizza boxes and a four-pack of yellow beer cans. The little kid is on the other side of Joe, smiling.

Do it for the kids

Nothing beats getting the day off of school in the second grade for a class Halloween party, holiday shindig, St. Patty’s Day leprechaun hunt, etc. Or, if you were lucky enough, show and tell was still a thing back in your day. But until Joe Prota dropped us a line about his homegrown pizza business created in the name of his kids and their elementary school, we were quite unfamiliar with the concept of Dad’s Night. Basically, a whole night where dads from Joe’s local community do things like cook 60-plus pizzas in their backyard or dress up like celebrities and challenge each other to roller skating derbies to raise money for their kids. Good and wholesome, just the way we like it. More on Pizza Dad Joe below.

How’d you get into the business of making pizza?

Joe Prota: Does folding pizza boxes at Pop’s Pizza in ’96 count as being in the business? No? Okay, then it all started during the pandemic. My dad got us this little pizza oven and one day I decided to try it out in the backyard. It was a great thing to do with the kids and being outside made life feel normal again. Plus it was pretty delicious. The next thing I knew, I was making my own dough, watching pizza videos on YouTube until two in the morning and making pizzas for friends and family every weekend. People seemed to like it and I loved trying to perfect it. It was “love at first slice” as my old Pop’s Pizza t-shirt said. 

Photo of a rectangular chalkboard sitting on the street against a car. "Dad's Night" is written in all capital, bold white letters and underlined in light red. between the words "Dad's" and "Night", there is a hand-drawn piece of pizza walking with its hand up in the air holding up a peace sign

Tell us more about Dad’s Night. How did you first get involved?

JP: Dad’s Night is the best thing to happen to dads since Father’s Day. It’s an organization that has been going strong for 80 years! Dad’s Night is a combined effort between two of the elementary schools in town. Every year the dads put on a skit show for their partners and kids. All the profits go back to the schools. That means that every year the dads get together on Thursday nights for six months to practice the show and go hang out after. It’s a great escape … I mean it’s for the kids.

I got involved when my eldest son went into kindergarten. You must have a kid in elementary school to be eligible. The skits have become more sophisticated as the years have gone on. Last year, one dad was lowered from the ceiling in a full sequin jumpsuit singing “Rocket Man.” I was involved in a skit riffing on Back to the Future that had a video and a live component, and we won “Skit of the Year” (no big deal). I’m lucky enough to have a younger son starting kindergarten soon, so I’ll be a part of Dad’s Night for about 10 years total.

Photo of Joe's setup for making pizza. There is an outdoor gray marbled bar with condiments on the left and a medium-sized wood-burning pizza oven in the corner. In the storage cubbies under the bar, there are piles of would, dozens of light brown cardboard take-out pizza boxes, a bright red fire extinguisher and a small dark gray yeti cooler.

Tell us about the menu. Most popular pie of the evening?

JP: Putting the menu together was really fun! I’d never made that many pizzas before and I’d certainly never sold them to anyone. I thought a lot about past pizzas that people loved and ones that I could make with quality ingredients while still making a profit to donate back to the kids. In the end, I landed on three pies: Classic Margarita (San Marzano tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, Pecorino, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil), Roni (San Marzano tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, fresh basil and extra-virgin olive oil) and Sausage and Pesto (San Marzano tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, sausage, Pecorino Toscano, nut-free pesto and caramelized onions).

The Classic Margarita was the most-ordered pizza of the night. I guess it’s a classic for a reason.

What do you hope to see the profit go toward at the school?

JP: I personally hope the profit goes towards an outdoor brick dome pizza oven and an accompanying infinity pool at the playground. But our funds actually always go towards a direct need voiced by the principal. Recently, Dad’s Night and the school’s HSA were able to fund a much-needed air conditioning system in the school gym. Graduation ceremonies on hot summer days are now much more enjoyable thanks, in part, to Dad’s Night. I hope the pizza drive contributes to whatever the teachers and principals have on the top of their list for the kids.

Group photo of a bunch of dads at Joe's Pizza Night event posing with their arms around each other. It is dark outside except for the lanyard of outdoor lights lining the patio. Joe is in the center of the group wearing his once-black apron covered in white flour.

Something you took away from this experience?

JP: It’s all about the kids. This was just an idea amongst friends, but because it was for a good cause it caught on. Six of my friends took a day off from work to help make this happen. That’s a big commitment for professionals with young families. Over 60 people ordered pizzas and came over to show their support. Even a local brewery donated beers to help us raise more money because it was for a good cause. People signed up in advance and came to my house at a specific time. By the end there were about 50 parents and kids hanging out in the yard eating pizza, playing, having a beer and jamming out to ’90s hip-hop. I’m still blown away by everyone’s support and generosity for the cause.

Something you hope the kids took away from this experience?

JP: The ingredients for this event (see what I did there?) were industriousness, creativity, dedication, hard work, benevolence, community and fun. I hope the kids somehow absorbed, even subconsciously, what it takes to do great work and the importance of helping others. 

Ideally, they took in the notion that this was all for them; we came up with this idea and executed it among family and friends to raise money so that we could improve their school for their education, and we had a blast doing it.

Photo of the 11 stacks of individual pizza dough rounds (5 per stack) that Joe prepped ahead of the Pizza Night event. Each pizza dough round is sealed in a black plastic, take-out-type salad container and the stacks are marked with pieces of paper labeled "Wave 1," Wave 2," etc.

The most valuable feedback or constructive criticism you got from the kiddos?

JP: A few days after the event my oldest son told me we need a new pizza on the menu for next year’s pizza drive. “Maybe a chicken nugget pizza or a calzone.” I look forward to spending the winter in the test kitchen with him.

What are some other events you’ve done for Dad’s Night?

JP: For the skit show, I battled Daniel LaRusso on roller skates, rapped the children’s book Llama Llama Red Pajama and performed a few of Lafayette’s lines from Hamilton. I made it to the championship game in our annual football tournament, The Butter Bowl, lost more balls than I can count in the golf tournament and had a short but profound run in our pickleball tournament. Nevertheless, I had a great time, and it was all to raise money for the schools.

Any big plans for your next success?

JP: Give me a call for your next event, Whalebone. I’ll make some pizza and bring some awesome kids to keep things interesting.