It has been four years since Alex Walker and Victoria Featherby met on a cruise ship.
Both were working in the entertainment department - Alex was a singer and Victoria a production manager - and perhaps surprisingly, given their exotic surroundings, the pair quickly began talking about starting a business back in Durham-born Alex’s native North East.
“We wanted to open a venue which served up great food and gave performers from the region a space to show what they could do,” says Alex, 34, who studied performing arts at Northumbria University.
“That was a huge project and I think we were maybe a bit wet behind the ears,” laughs 29-year-old “southern fairy” Victoria, who hails from Wimbledon. “We quickly realised that would cost so much money to get going, so we thought, what can we do that’s affordable, has potential and that we can enjoy?”
Pizza, that’s what.
“We love pizza,” says Alex. “When we decided four years ago we were going to start a business, we committed to a year out to work in hospitality. It just so happened that I got a job working in Pizza Express, so I had the underpinnings of how to put a pizza together and to keep a tidy kitchen.”
And Victoria? “I worked for the Brandling Arms in Gosforth. It was a hard year for both of us,” she laughs. “But we’re so glad we did it and we learned so much. It would have been such a shock to try and do this without having done it.”
This summer, Alex and Victoria realised their new business ambitions when they launched Scream For Pizza, from the back of an old (1978) French army ambulance who now goes by the name of Goldie the Scream Wagon following a spray-paint makeover and pizza oven installation.
They fired it up for the first time at the end of August (“people keep asking if they can take selfies with her”), having spent the early part of the year in Naples, learning how to make the perfect Neapolitan pizza (think thin crispy base and a fluffy crust to tap-dance for) and researching the best ingredients to top it with.
“We spent five weeks over there, eating lots of pizza in the name of research,” says Victoria, who some may say drew the short straw.
“I did the course at a pizzeria called La Notizia, which is one of only three pizzerias in the world to have a Michelin fork,” she explains.
“It was packed every night and I got taught by their dough master, a guy called Bruno. We weren’t allowed to cook a pizza for two weeks. It was all about the dough discs. He was mean.”
Alex laughs openly. “She came home every day crying and covered and flour while I was out in Campania sourcing some amazing ingredients.”
Thankfully, Victoria has also reached the ‘we can laugh about it now’ stage.
“It was really worth doing, though. You have to understand yeast, rising times, humidity...all the things which affect the dough. Anyone can make a basic thin crust pizza, but the Neapolitan really does take skill.”
Having cultivated the required skills between them, the ladies put in one last shift on the cruise ships to pay for Goldie’s catering conversion before moving into Dunston Staiths, Gateshead, and setting about sourcing the best of North East ingredients.
“The region has got so many great producers and there are a lot of people out there doing really cool things,” says Victoria.
“It couldn’t be any better for us really,” adds Alex. “Everyone is so accommodating and amenable too. We get this amazing black pudding sausage from the Sausage Emporium (on Westgate Road, Newcastle), and if we ever want any tweaks or anything, we just ask them.”
“It’s the same with Peelham and Dropwell farms (Berwickshire and County Durham, respectively). There’s a real community feel in the region and we want to be part of it.”
Alex and Victoria also want to be at the centre of a “street food revolution” on Tyneside and beyond.
“Street food is massive in London and other areas of the UK, but it seems to be very much in its infancy in the North East,” says Victoria.
“We’re in the Bigg Market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and there’s pretty much only us there. We’d love more street vendors to come down and join us. It’s ripe for this kind of regeneration.”
“Street food can really lift the landscape,” adds Alex. “You can see it up near Grey’s Monument when the farmers’ and food markets are on.”
Goldie can also be found at the Newcastle Quayside Market on a Sunday, and will also be making herself known to students in the city in the coming weeks.
Alex adds: “There’s so much potential up here.” And not just for food.
Although plans for a Scream for Pizza venue have been put on the back (wood)burner for a couple of years, the girls are still thinking of entertainment as a side dish to their main pizza course.
“We’re hopefully going to be having buskers performing next to the van,” says Alex. “The idea is that we’ll get some tables and chairs out and people can sit down and enjoy the music as well as their pizza.”
And so to the pizza. Having decided that they want to keep things relatively simple to start with, Scream For Pizza currently offers a quartet of savoury options, which Alex is more than happy to gush about.
“So we’ve got the classic Wor Maragaret - the Margherita - using San Marzano tomatoes from Naples and a fior de latte mozzarella from Naples as well, with basil and oil.
“Then there’s the Spicy Siren - we’re planning to get a siren for the top of the van, what with it being an old ambulance - which has Dropswell Farm chorizo, local chilli oil, mascarpone, pecorino and fior de latte.
“The Lady Natasha, which my friend designed, has garlic mushrooms, ricotta, parsley and fior de latte, and then there’s the Big Geordie Breakfast Pizza.”
Featuring the aforementioned black pudding sausage, a “bright yellow egg yolk”, good old Heinz beans, and Dropswell Farm pancetta, Alex and Victoria are hoping to tempt the commuting crowd with their creation.
“It’s fiddly to make, but it’s really nice when it comes out,” Alex assures. We also have a sweet one called So Choc and Roll, which is filled with Nutella and mascarpone. It’s lovely but it gets some funny responses. I think people think it’s going to have cheese and tomato in there as well,” she laughs.
“We also want to do a Craster crab and saffron cream one, a pulled pork one using pork from Peelham Farm and maybe a pheasant one for Christmas!”
As well as regular pitches in the Bigg and Quayside Markets in Newcastle, you should expect to see the distinctive van turn up at events all over the region too.
“We really think street food is going to be massive in the North East,” says Vicrtoria, and we’re pleased to be getting in at the beginning.”
For more information, follow the girls on twitter @scream_pizza or like their Facebook page www.facebook.com/scream4pizza