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Everett pizza chefs to throw dough in Las Vegas competition

  • Wendy Gardner adds black olives to the Jack the Greek pizza she is making Saturday evening at Cactus Jack's Pizza in Lynnwood.

    Sarah Weiser / The Herald

    Wendy Gardner adds black olives to the Jack the Greek pizza she is making Saturday evening at Cactus Jack's Pizza in Lynnwood.

  • Dave and Wendy Gardner, left, and Patti and Mike Kane, right, are the owners of Cactus Jack's Pizza in Lynnwood.

    Sarah Weiser / The Herald

    Dave and Wendy Gardner, left, and Patti and Mike Kane, right, are the owners of Cactus Jack's Pizza in Lynnwood.

  • Wendy Gardner and Patti Kane will prepare Cactus Jack's Jack the Greek pizza, made with alfredo sauce, spinach, black olives, red onions, roma tomatoe...

    Sarah Weiser / The Herald

    Wendy Gardner and Patti Kane will prepare Cactus Jack's Jack the Greek pizza, made with alfredo sauce, spinach, black olives, red onions, roma tomatoes and feta cheese, for the International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas.

  • Stan Sussman, of Mukilteo, is a regular at Cactus Jack's Pizza in Lynnwood.

    Sarah Weiser / The Herald

    Stan Sussman, of Mukilteo, is a regular at Cactus Jack's Pizza in Lynnwood.

  • Patti Kane adds tomatoes to a pizza at Cactus Jack's Pizza in Lynnwood.

    Sarah Weiser / The Herald

    Patti Kane adds tomatoes to a pizza at Cactus Jack's Pizza in Lynnwood.

  • Wendy Gardner and Patti Kane will prepare Cactus Jack's Jack the Greek pizza, made with alfredo sauce, spinach, black olives, red onions, roma tomatoe...

    Sarah Weiser / The Herald

    Wendy Gardner and Patti Kane will prepare Cactus Jack's Jack the Greek pizza, made with alfredo sauce, spinach, black olives, red onions, roma tomatoes and feta cheese, for the International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas.

  • Dave Gardner talks with Stan Sussman of Mukilteo at Cactus Jack's Pizza in Lynnwood. Sussman is a regular at the restaurant.

    Sarah Weiser / The Herald

    Dave Gardner talks with Stan Sussman of Mukilteo at Cactus Jack's Pizza in Lynnwood. Sussman is a regular at the restaurant.

  • Wendy Gardner and Patti Kane will prepare Cactus Jack's Jack the Greek pizza, made with alfredo sauce, spinach, black olives, red onions, roma tomatoe...

    Sarah Weiser / The Herald

    Wendy Gardner and Patti Kane will prepare Cactus Jack's Jack the Greek pizza, made with alfredo sauce, spinach, black olives, red onions, roma tomatoes and feta cheese, for the International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas.

  • Wendy Gardner and Patti Kane will prepare Cactus Jack's Jack the Greek pizza, made with alfredo sauce, spinach, black olives, red onions, roma tomatoe...

    Sarah Weiser / The Herald

    Wendy Gardner and Patti Kane will prepare Cactus Jack's Jack the Greek pizza, made with alfredo sauce, spinach, black olives, red onions, roma tomatoes and feta cheese, for the International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas.

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By Sarah Jackson
Herald Writer
Published:
  • Wendy Gardner adds black olives to the Jack the Greek pizza she is making Saturday evening at Cactus Jack's Pizza in Lynnwood.

    Sarah Weiser / The Herald

    Wendy Gardner adds black olives to the Jack the Greek pizza she is making Saturday evening at Cactus Jack's Pizza in Lynnwood.

  • Dave and Wendy Gardner, left, and Patti and Mike Kane, right, are the owners of Cactus Jack's Pizza in Lynnwood.

    Sarah Weiser / The Herald

    Dave and Wendy Gardner, left, and Patti and Mike Kane, right, are the owners of Cactus Jack's Pizza in Lynnwood.

  • Wendy Gardner and Patti Kane will prepare Cactus Jack's Jack the Greek pizza, made with alfredo sauce, spinach, black olives, red onions, roma tomatoe...

    Sarah Weiser / The Herald

    Wendy Gardner and Patti Kane will prepare Cactus Jack's Jack the Greek pizza, made with alfredo sauce, spinach, black olives, red onions, roma tomatoes and feta cheese, for the International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas.

  • Stan Sussman, of Mukilteo, is a regular at Cactus Jack's Pizza in Lynnwood.

    Sarah Weiser / The Herald

    Stan Sussman, of Mukilteo, is a regular at Cactus Jack's Pizza in Lynnwood.

  • Patti Kane adds tomatoes to a pizza at Cactus Jack's Pizza in Lynnwood.

    Sarah Weiser / The Herald

    Patti Kane adds tomatoes to a pizza at Cactus Jack's Pizza in Lynnwood.

  • Wendy Gardner and Patti Kane will prepare Cactus Jack's Jack the Greek pizza, made with alfredo sauce, spinach, black olives, red onions, roma tomatoe...

    Sarah Weiser / The Herald

    Wendy Gardner and Patti Kane will prepare Cactus Jack's Jack the Greek pizza, made with alfredo sauce, spinach, black olives, red onions, roma tomatoes and feta cheese, for the International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas.

  • Dave Gardner talks with Stan Sussman of Mukilteo at Cactus Jack's Pizza in Lynnwood. Sussman is a regular at the restaurant.

    Sarah Weiser / The Herald

    Dave Gardner talks with Stan Sussman of Mukilteo at Cactus Jack's Pizza in Lynnwood. Sussman is a regular at the restaurant.

  • Wendy Gardner and Patti Kane will prepare Cactus Jack's Jack the Greek pizza, made with alfredo sauce, spinach, black olives, red onions, roma tomatoe...

    Sarah Weiser / The Herald

    Wendy Gardner and Patti Kane will prepare Cactus Jack's Jack the Greek pizza, made with alfredo sauce, spinach, black olives, red onions, roma tomatoes and feta cheese, for the International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas.

  • Wendy Gardner and Patti Kane will prepare Cactus Jack's Jack the Greek pizza, made with alfredo sauce, spinach, black olives, red onions, roma tomatoe...

    Sarah Weiser / The Herald

    Wendy Gardner and Patti Kane will prepare Cactus Jack's Jack the Greek pizza, made with alfredo sauce, spinach, black olives, red onions, roma tomatoes and feta cheese, for the International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas.

Pop quiz: What kind of restaurant has menu items with names like Flame Thrower, Frickin Chicken, Cheeseburger in Paradise and Frankly, My Dear, I Don't Give a Ham?
Answer: Your local, neighborhood pizza parlor on the Mukilteo Speedway, of course.
Yeah, we know: It's not very traditional.
But Cactus Jack's Pizza, tucked into the Albertsons strip mall complex at Beverly Park Road, isn't a traditional kind of pizza place.
And the two Everett couples who own it aren't your typical restaurateurs either.
Dave and Wendy Gardner and Mike and Patti Kane, all longtime friends, opened their restaurant two years ago, practically on a whim in an economy that threatened their day jobs.
It was an idea hatched over drinks one night. And it snowballed.
Fast.
In fact, today, Wendy Gardner and Patti Kane, the restaurant's lead pizzas chefs, are competing in the International Pizza Challenge at the annual International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas.
They're making one of their customers' favorite pizzas, Jack the Greek, in the nontraditional category, competing with pie makers from around the world.
Their recipe includes homemade dough (including a secret ingredient they will not disclose), Alfredo sauce, spinach, black olives, red onions, roma tomatoes and feta cheese.
Gardner and Kane, both 49, attended the pizza expo two years ago for research and thought it might be fun to attend again and also compete for a $10,000 prize.
Before they left, they were coming up with strategies for making their dough taste just right even when made in Nevada's high desert environment, perhaps and ironic challenge for desert-themed Northwest pizza joint.
"We're really nervous," Wendy Gardner said a few days before they left. "We have to take all of the ingredients and everything to make our dough and pizza.
"It's pretty crazy."
Their pizza will be judged on crust, sauce and toppings, overall taste, creativity, baking and visual presentation.
Last year, Theo Kalogeracos of Jakarta, Indonesia, won $10,000 in the nontraditional category.
Everett's excellent water is actually an important element of Cactus Jack's dough, so the women brought their own water, said Dave Gardner, 45.
Though some of the Cactus Jack's owners have dabbled in the restaurant industry, none of them are experienced restaurant veterans.
So how did they end up in the pizza business?
In 2008, three of the four were holding down jobs tied to the ailing building industry, which was shrinking fast in the recession. With eight grown children between the two couples, they were feeling a bit of empty nest syndrome, too.
So, one night over drinks, they hatched a plan to open a pizza restaurant not in Snohomish County but in Desert Aire, an Eastern Washington town of less than 2,000 people 20 miles south of Vantage.
Both couples owned vacation properties there as well as a laundromat they thought could be turned into a great pizza joint.
They wanted to create a friendly hangout, like the bar on "Cheers." Their timeline was relaxed. They would open a restaurant in mid-2010.
That was the plan.
"These two had different ideas," Wendy Gardner said, pointing at the two men.
Dave Gardner and Mike Kane quickly found a pizza restaurant for sale not in Desert Aire, but at their current Lynnwood location, where -- count them -- four other pizza places had failed.
It was priced right.
Four months later, they became owners of the former Vita's Pizza place.
They jumped right into remodeling and redecorating and opened six weeks later on Jan. 15, 2009, with a pizza counter and a few tables.
In April of last year, when the former State Farm insurance space opened up next door, they took it over, remodeled and redecorated on a much larger scale, and expanded their seating from 16 to 56.
They now do catering. They have eight part-time employees and a colorfully painted former ambulance used for home deliveries, which is 25 percent of their business. They do about 25 percent take-out, too.
All the rest of their business is their dream come true, loyal customers who sit in the restaurant for hours talking to the guys, who pull local microbrews and work the front of the house, and the women, who emerge from the kitchen upon request when the restaurant isn't slammed.
Though the owners have yet to take pizza parlor paychecks, they are having a ball, working many hours and juggling various shifts on top of their regular jobs.
"Every single day, we make dough," Wendy Gardner said. "We chop all of our vegetables fresh every day."
Wendy Gardener and Mike Kane, 53, who had quit their jobs at J Lee Floors of Everett, are now working there full-time again, thanks to a better economy.
Dave Gardner continues to run his own land survey company. Patti Kane, who had been a director of a day-care center, has started a business creating decorative signs.
One of the signs in the warm, cozy restaurant reflects the "Cheers" philosophy of their business, which is to know all the customers' names, something that is becoming increasingly difficult, Wendy Gardner said.
It reads: "Welcome to Cactus Jack's Pizza, where everyone knows your name, and if we don't, we'll make one up."
For Patti Kane, making pizza and serving customers, has been the perfect solution to the couples' collective midlife crises.
They didn't just want a new source of income, she said: "We wanted something different in our lives for the future."
Wendy Gardner said the couples weren't willing to simply wait out the rough recession.
"Our motto is 'It's not about waiting for the storm to pass: It's about learning to dance in the rain.'
"We decided to reinvent ourselves in the down economy, to learn to dance in the rain," she said.

Cactus Jack's Pizza
12926 Mukilteo Speedway, Lynnwood; 425-348-6644; www.cactusjackspizza.com.
Because of the International Pizza Challenge, the restaurant will be closed tonight and will reopen at 4 p.m. Thursday.
Regular hours are 4 to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays, noon to 10 p.m. Saturdays and 3 to 8 p.m. Sundays.
Learn more about the International Pizza Challenge at www.pizzaexpo.com.
Sarah Jackson: 425-339-3037, sjackson@heraldnet.com.








Story tags » DiningLynnwoodMukilteoFood

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