Above: Childhood friends Danny Basso (l) and Tyler de Ford now find themselves partners in the pizza business.
By David Ferguson
Photos by David Ferguson
Crackling firewood and the scent of freshly baked pizza greet customers at Stone Mill Pizza as they line up in front of a black marble countertop. Behind the counter, Tyler de Ford greets everyone with a smile as he takes their orders.
Beside him, covered in a dusting of flour, Danny Basso kneads a dough ball. He stretches the dough, twirls it, tosses it overhead and catches it lightly. Then he places it onto a peel, paints it with a coat of red sauce, arranges an assortment of toppings, and slides the pie into a glowing wood-fired oven.
“Four minutes for each pie,” he says. “That’s all it takes in this oven.”
de Ford, 31, and Basso, 33, are partners in the Lancaster Pike pizzeria — Hockessin’s latest culinary endeavor. It’s a partnership that is born of friendship and the shared dream of breaking from the norm.
The partners’ journey began at a Chichester skatepark when Basso was 16 and de Ford was 14. Their mutual love of skateboarding quickly evolved into a tight friendship.
“Skateboarding was our bond as kids, and still is. Whatever it is now, we just click . . . even if Tyler is kind of weird,” laughs Basso.
Basso’s culinary odyssey started at 15 when he went to work at Prima’s Pizza in Hockessin. That experience sparked an ambition to someday own a pizzeria.
“Prima’s Pizza taught me the ins and outs of pizza-making and cooking,” he says. “I still cross paths with the old crew now and then. They’re good dudes.”
Basso didn’t follow a straight trajectory from dough-tossing to pizzeria owner. In between were a variety of jobs, including pizza chef, plumber, car detailer, and server. But his goal never changed.
“Even with all those odd jobs, I always thought about having my own food place someday. I wasn’t certain if it’d be pizza, burgers, or something else, but I knew I could whip up tasty food and make people laugh. Those jobs, though — I don’t know what I was thinking,” Basso chuckles.
Something of Their Own
de Ford, meanwhile, graduated from Delaware College of Art and Design in 2014 with a degree in graphic design. He held jobs that included pizza delivery driver and FedEx worker. But like Basso, he craved something different from the standard 9 to 5. He wanted something of his own.
“Danny and I have worked the same jobs over the years, including our time at Cotti’s Pizza (in Hockessin — now gone),” de Ford says. “After leaving there, we went on separate paths but stayed tight friends. Danny always toyed with the idea of opening a place. We’d talk about it each time we’d skate. Then, when this space became available, I thought about the highs and lows of running a business. But I always came back to that one idea: If I did it, it would have to involve Danny. We talked it out, and he jumped on board quickly.”
For Basso, de Ford ‘s proposition had an easy answer. “When Tyler pitched the idea, I just said, ‘Hell yeah, dude!’”
So it was that in the spring of this year, Basso and de Ford inked the lease for Stone Mill Pizza. But delays with oven delivery, health inspections, and ventilation pushed the opening date of July 1 back a week, then another three weeks.
“Yeah, the delays happened, but it’s all cool,” says Basso. “It gave us time to focus on things in-house. I mean, Tyler’s an artist. Look at how he’s transformed this place — right from the logo to the interior. Tyler’s really good at creating.”
With a venue secured, it was time to build a menu that would set them apart.
“Danny’s got the magic touch when it comes to that,” de Ford says. “He was playing with dough recipes at his home and cooking using his conventional oven, trying to get some recipes down.”
Local and Seasonal
“Our menu had to be different from the standard pizza places around here,” Basso says. “We’re all about infusing textures and flavors. Our cooking approach involves an open flame and a stone oven. It means that each dish requires attention to dough recipes, consistency, and ingredients that work well with the flames.”
Stone Mill menu emphasizes local and seasonal ingredients. “Our mission will always be changing the menu with what food is in season and sourcing as many ingredients from local farmers as possible,” de Ford says. “But we know regular customers will expect certain things, so our staples like the ‘Prosciutt of Happiness’ and ‘The Classic’ remain on the menu year-round.”
Their dedication to culinary excellence has meant an emphasis on quality, not quantity. “Most places are just okay at making a lot of dishes,” Basso says. “We want to be excellent at making a few dishes.”
The community seems to have taken note. On Aug. 1, nearly a month after expected, Stone Mill Pizza flung open its doors to the public. de Ford says the welcome they received was overwhelming.
“The community’s backing has been great,” he says. “People supported us right away and still are. They leave honest reviews, post a lot on social media, and tell their friends. We haven’t had a slow moment since we opened.
“I think people connect with what we stand for. The fact that it’s just two friends trying to make an honest living really lands with people. We’re about creating great food and having fun.”
— Stone Mill Pizza is at 7313 Lancaster Pike in Hockessin. For more, visit StoneMillPizza.com.