Paul and Lila Sarkis are the owners of Feral Slice Pizza, a take-and-bake pizza business based in Clinton, Washington. (Photo by David Welton)

Paul and Lila Sarkis are the owners of Feral Slice Pizza, a take-and-bake pizza business based in Clinton, Washington. (Photo by David Welton)

Slice of life: Whidbey Island pizza business offers redemption

A Freeland couple is accepting orders for Feral Slice Pizza, its take-and-bake pizza biz in Clinton.

CLINTON — For Paul and Lila Sarkis, the creation of their new pizza business offers them a taste of freedom.

The Freeland couple recently started accepting orders for Feral Slice Pizza, their Clinton-based take-and-bake pizza operation.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, they industriously built a spacious commercial kitchen from scratch, driving all over the state to purchase used equipment on the cheap and then fix it up.

“It was hilarious. This oven we transported, it’s like a couple thousand pounds,” Lila said. “And then we didn’t have the space yet. There was a lag time so we put the oven in our front yard.”

The eldest son of the owners of Village Pizzeria in Langley, Paul was born and raised in restaurants and has always felt comfortable in the kitchen.

“We saw this opportunity to kind of do our own thing and get out of the restaurant business a little bit, but still make pizza,” he said.

The label on each Feral Slice pie proclaims, “Feral as in wild; having returned to an untamed state after domestication or captivity.” It holds a special meaning for the couple, who met while Paul was serving a two-decade-long prison sentence. As a teenager on South Whidbey, Paul fell in with the wrong crowd and became involved in the drug business. When he was just 19, he was present when a group, led by a much older acquaintance, kidnapped a local man, drove him to another county and murdered him.

Since this misstep in his youth, Paul has worked hard to turn his life around, which included corresponding with the mother of the victim and testifying against his fellow defendants as a way to make amends.

“It’s been a long time and we just feel like, yeah, he did 22 years and it’s really important to him to be part of the community and be a good person, and he’s done that,” Lila said. “In prison he was such a role model for so many people. His meditation, he worked out all the time, he was a painter.”

Lila was a trainer at Island Athletic Club when she was introduced to Paul by his brother, who thought they had much in common since they shared a love for art.

“I had come back from the Caribbean and I was like, ‘I’m raising my kids. I don’t have time to meet some guy in prison,’” Lila said with a laugh. “And then we just started writing.”

Paul Sarkis throws some pizza dough up in the air. (Photo by David Welton)

Paul Sarkis throws some pizza dough up in the air. (Photo by David Welton)

The couple became pen pals in 2008, composing lengthy letters to each other. They talked about everything, including entropy. After about eight months, Lila visited Paul in prison for the first time. He eventually met both of her children.

“I have pictures of my son who’s 19 when he was three, sitting on his lap,” Lila recalled.

The couple married in 2010. Paul was released three years ago.

“I waited 12 years for him,” Lila said. “When you go through difficult things, it makes you really appreciate every day.”

It was a no-brainer for them to decide to continue living on Whidbey Island, rather than starting over in a new community. Lila credited the support of herself and Paul’s family in helping Paul to move onto a new chapter of his life.

In starting Feral Slice Pizza, Paul built the kitchen using electrical and maintenance skills that he picked up during apprenticeships while in prison.

“A lot of those guys, it seems like it’s hard for them to come out, but they’re productive,” Lila said. “The ones that survive in there, they’re hardworking, compassionate people.”

Above all, the business is a way to maintain a sense of autonomy, especially after so long behind bars. It’s the little pleasures, like being able to have your own space, that mean the most.

“We’re excited to have a good quality of life,” Lila said. “That was our main incentive, to have time to enjoy life and to be able to provide something for the community and contribute to the local economy.”

Dough for the 14-inch pizzas requires a two-day rest period. The pies are baked at 500 degrees for five minutes – in an oven likely older than himself, Paul joked – and then refrigerated after they spend a significant amount of time cooling down. Customers finish the baking at home at 450 degrees for four to seven minutes.

Current flavors include cheese, lemon ricotta and a few varieties with plant-based meat substitutes, such as Beyond beef with mushroom, olive and onion, and Beyond pepperoni with pesto sauce.

Paul Sarkis presents a finished pizza. He and his wife Lila Sarkis recently started a take-and-bake pizza business. (Photo by David Welton)

Paul Sarkis presents a finished pizza. He and his wife Lila Sarkis recently started a take-and-bake pizza business. (Photo by David Welton)

Feral Slice Pizza can be found at the Goose Community Grocer in Bayview, the Star Store in Langley and the Prairie Center Market in Coupeville. Additionally, orders can be made online at feralslicepizza.com and picked up at the commercial kitchen in Clinton during a designated time. Each pizza costs $22.

The couple are currently experimenting with some new flavors, including a Mediterranean pizza with roasted red peppers, kalamata olives and feta and a barbeque pizza with pineapple and jalapeno.

Unsold pizzas are being dropped off at Ryan’s House for Youth in Coupeville and enjoyed by teenagers.

“It’s always been our intention to give back,” Lila said. “Paul felt like that was part of his service, to have some community service and involvement.”

This story originally appeared in the South Whidbey Record, a sibling publication to The Herald.

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