Glass Nickel Pizza

Photo by Eric Tadsen

“I would never win an award for not loving pizza.”
- Dwayne Johnson

“Those pizzas I ate were for medicinal purposes.”
- Amy Neftzger

“Pizza! Pizza! Pizza!”
- Jerri Blank (Strangers with Candy)

Is there such a thing as a day that isn’t made better with pizza? Even if you get hit by a pizza delivery truck, the first thing that crosses your mind is, “Hey, maybe I’ll get free pizza.” We can all agree that life’s too short to eat bad pizza, but I’ll eat bad pizza to hold myself over until good pizza arrives. With so many great pizzerias in Madison, it’s not always easy to choose where you’ll get your next pizza from, though I’ll bet Glass Nickel Pizza makes a lot of locals’ shortlists.

The high level of community support for Glass Nickel feeds into the pizzeria’s founding philosophy: the 4 Cs—crew, customer, community, company. Megan Nicholson, co-owner, says, “We really feel like if we take care of our crew, they’re going to take care of the customers really, really well. And if the customers feel taken care of, that’s a benefit to our community in multiple ways. And if the community is taken care of, then that comes back to the company so that we can keep the cycle going and keep doing more.”

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

To Megan; her husband, Tim Nicholson; Tim’s business partner, Brian Glassel; and Brian’s wife, Rebecca, giving back to the community isn’t just something they set aside to do for a set amount of time each year. They’re always ready to give back when the opportunity presents itself. “We have schools that come to us,” says Megan. “We have gift cards for silent auctions. We feed volunteer groups, donate to healthcare workers.” They also get involved in sponsoring youth sports teams and other local organizations.

As for their more focused contributions, Megan says, “Four times a year, Glass Nickel sets up company-wide donation days, where we can do something statewide more collectively as a group.” This includes supporting Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Goodman Community Center and other foodbanks, Dane County Humane Society, Multiple Sclerosis Society, and Wisconsin Honor Flight.

Shifting to the food and customer side of things, Glass Nickel encourages patrons to get creative in the pizza process. “If we’ve got the ingredient in all of our build-your-own stuff, we can make it,” says Megan. “We love that. Every once in a while, we’ll even have a customer send us a specialty pizza idea.” And being creative isn’t limited to ingredients. Their Make at Home kit means you make the pizza yourself. Personally, I love building a pizza with my three-year-old. It’s not only fun, but the pizza always comes out delicious.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

“You obviously have to have good pizza and good food,” says Megan. “Whether you’re coming to work, whether you’re coming to pick up a pizza, whether we just live in the neighborhood next to you and you know we’re a business in your area, we just want everyone to have a good experience.”

The crew goes out of their way to make customers genuinely feel appreciated, and they feel like part of the company because they’re treated as such. “We’ve always talked about keeping employees in the forefront of our mind and making sure that we keep looking into how we can make the workplace a better place to be, not even just in wages, but what types of benefits we can offer and benefits that people are interested in.”

Most recently, Glass Nickel worked to prioritize health over profits with their approach to COVID-19. Even though owners decided to close the dining room before the official mandate and had to let serving staff go or offer them back-of-house options, most crew, regardless of which position they worked, were appreciative of the extra steps and precautions taken early on. Glass Nickel immediately began doing preshift temperature checks and offering contact-free delivery and pickup, maintaining the lobby and dining room closures even after partial reopening was allowed.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a Glass Nickel pizzeria that doesn’t display the same level of awareness and regard toward its employees and customers because “they’re all owned by previous employees,” says Megan. “That makes us feel good too. That somebody at some point has worked either with us or with another Glass Nickel, and that they have wanted to open their own.”

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

Each owner is by extension part of the undertaking Tim and Brian started 23 years ago. “Tim and Brian met each other working at another pizza place in Madison and became friends. Tim had always worked at pizza places around the country. Brian had owned a pizza place before and had just come back to Madison. They were talking about what type of pizza was in Madison at the time, and they said, ‘I know we can do it. I know we can do it better.’” After overcoming the hurdle of finding a lease, many thought Madison didn’t need another pizza place, Glass Nickel started writing its lengthy chapter in Madison’s pizzeria story.

Over the years, trends and accommodations have been embraced and built upon. Every off-the-wall and traditional flavor that comes out of any Glass Nickel pizzeria is a joint decision that doesn’t leave room for sacrifices in quality. It took years before the crew and owners were happy with their gluten-free crust. And if any dough isn’t coming out right, Brian’s on the case. “I always laugh and call Brian the dough whisperer. … He can walk in and see dough, and he just knows what needs to be tweaked or adjusted.”

Making great pizza, building relationships with customers, it’s all part of the business, but there’s so much more. Megan says, “We really appreciate the community support, especially now.” The support positions Glass Nickel to continue the reciprocal relationship they’ve made their company’s keystone. Under the 4 Cs, ordering pizza might just be the ultimate love letter to the Greater Madison area, even if it is a little cheesy.

Kyle Jacobson is a copy editor for Madison Essentials, and a writer and beer enthusiast (sometimes all at once) living in Sun Prairie.

Photograph by Barbara Wilson

Glass Nickel Pizza Co.