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The Square Pie Guys Are Launching a Virtual Hot Chicken Sandwich Shop

Flamin’ Hot Cheetos were the inspiration for — and an actual ingredient in — the signature sandwich

The signature Hetchy Hot, which comes topped with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos
The signature Hetchy Hot, which comes topped with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos
Daniel Beck

Even before the coronavirus crisis, Square Pie Guys, the wildly popular Detroit-style square pizza restaurant in SoMa, was exploring ways to expand its business through what’s commonly known as a “ghost kitchen” or “virtual kitchen” — an online-only offshoot of the business that would offer takeout or delivery without any corresponding physical dining space. Now, with the coronavirus-related shutdown keeping dining rooms closed for the foreseeable future, chef-owners Danny Stoller and Marc Schechter are launching a new online-only restaurant run from the Square Pie Guys kitchen as a way to extend more work opportunities to their staff. Called Hetchy’s Hots, the online operation will focus on one of the trendiest food items to hit the Bay Area recently: Nashville-style hot chicken sandwiches.

The restaurant launches on Monday, April 27, with highly Instagrammable takeout and delivery available through Caviar, DoorDash, and the restaurant’s own website. At least initially, Stoller says, it won’t be open on weekends, when the delivery apps tend to be less reliable.

Stoller and Schechter say they’re aware of the way that Nashville hot chicken — and other, Nashville-adjacent spicy fried chicken sandwich concepts — has spread like wildfire here in the Bay Area in the past year. But the chefs wanted to put their own stamp on the sandwich, and so initially, they came up with a version that used Calabrian chiles to provide the heat, giving it a kind of Italian twist that seemed appropriate for a pizza shop. A boneless chicken thigh gets dredged in rice flour, egg, and gluten-free panko; deep-fried; and then they pour hot oil and spices on top of it. (There will be an option for a gluten-free bun, too, making it possible for gluten abstainers to partake.)

The name was inspired by a trip Stoller, Schechter, and a small group of friends took to Yosemite — they noticed Hetch Hetchy, the reservoir that provides all of San Francisco’s drinking water, while on the trip. They’d already created the original Calabrian version of the sandwich at that point, and, at the end of a long hike, they were hit by a monstrous craving for it. Before long, they’d built a whole new restaurant concept around that theme.

With Hetchy’s Hots, they’re introducing four additional variations on the sandwich, each one with its own distinct flavor profile. The headline-grabbing one is the restaurant’s signature Hetchy’s Hot, which, as Stoller explains, not only mimics the mix of spices that dust a Flamin’ Hot Cheeto but also comes topped with a handful of said Cheetos — plus garlic mayo and pickled jalapeños. The sweet-and-spicy Szetchy Hot incorporates the dry rub from the Square Pie Guys chicken wings. The Rancher Dancher is dusted with ranch powder and topped with pickled onions. Finally, there’s the Mexican-inspired El Hatcharacha, one of the spiciest options, which incorporates taco spice, cilantro crema, and a gigante bean spread. (You can see the full menu here.)

Stoller says friends have joked, “Oh, you guys are doing a Taco Bell/KFC” — a somewhat apt comparison, though the Detroit-style square pizza and hot chicken combo is probably the most of-the-moment version possible of that kind of store-within-a-store concept.

In these desperate times for local restaurants, it sometimes feels like chefs are throwing random ideas against a wall just to see what sticks. But Stoller stresses that Square Pie Guys has weathered the COVID-19 crisis very successfully. In many ways, the restaurant was built for this moment: Its Detroit-style pizzas were already highly takeout- and delivery-friendly; the company already had a strong online presence; it had a DoorDash account that was already set up and just needed to be activated. The upshot is they haven’t had to lay anyone off, and Hetchy’s Hots feels more like a fun, ambitious entrepreneurial experiment instead of some do-or-die moonshot. If the business takes off, they might be able to hire an additional staff member, and, in that case, they’ll most likely continue Hetchy’s in some form even after the coronavirus shutdown is over.

There’s also a philanthropic element to the new business: Stoller and Schechter will donate three percent of all proceeds from Hetchy’s to three charities that are helping people who are particularly impacted by the coronavirus crisis: Frontline Foods (which pays restaurants to feed healthcare and other frontline workers), the Restaurant Worker Community Fund, and the One Fair Wage service worker emergency fund.

“We wanted to make sure that we’re actually giving back to folks because there’s something callous about entrepreneurial endeavors that don’t really pay attention to the space we’re in,” Stoller says. “And there are a lot of folks in our industry that are hurting — I mean, even before COVID-19.”

The Hetch Calabria
The Hetch Calabria
Daniel Beck
The Rancher Dancher
The Rancher Dancher
Daniel Beck
The Szetchy Hot
The Szetchy Hot
Daniel Beck
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Square Pie Guys

1077 Mission Street, , CA 94103 (415) 872-9290 Visit Website

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