• Calla Norman

From Pop-Up to Icon: Local Pizza Maker Expands to Second Location with a Crowdfunding Campaign

Updated: Aug 10


Pete Tolman, owner of Iron Born Pizza in Pittsburgh, smiles and poses with two pizzas and a plate of wings

Does Detroit-style pizza really stand a chance in Pittsburgh? Pete Tolman has proven that it not only can survive, but it can become a prosperous business!


Pete started Iron Born Pizza in 2017, starting as a pop-up restaurant at restaurant incubator Smallman Galley. In just the first six months, Iron Born Pizza sold 23,000 pizzas before moving to a tiny to-go restaurant in Millvale. With customer demand still increasing, Pete laid his eyes on his next big goal: opening up a larger restaurant with sit-down dining for 50+ people. With a clear goal in mind, that’s when he turned to Honeycomb.


Pete’s campaign raised $107,000 from 49 investors to help build out his second location in the Strip District, a large space with seating, a bar, and an upgraded pizza oven. Since the Honeycomb campaign in 2019, Iron Born Pizza has been slinging out pizzas from both locations, partnering with other local businesses, and growing their customer base even further!


This Pittsburgher knows pizza


Pete is a Pittsburgh area native, born and raised in Kittanning, Pennsylvania. He went to Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he got his culinary degree.


After graduating, Pete worked in fine dining for a number of years and eventually became a manager of prepared food at Giant Eagle.


Pete discovered Detroit-style pizza in Colorado, of all places, and decided it was something unique that he should bring home. Detroit-style pizza has a thick, focaccia-like crust, and is traditionally cooked in steel pans reminiscent of pans once used in automotive manufacturing.


After this discovery, Pete spent a year researching and recipe testing before starting his business to bring Detroit-style pizza to Pittsburgh.


The name Iron Born Pizza also pays tribute to his hometown, celebrating the industrial heritage and blue-collar roots that Pittsburgh boasts.


Since its early days at Smallman Galley, Iron Born Pizza has been getting national recognition for their pizzas, from Andrew Zimmern on the Travel Channel to Zagat and Pizza Today Magazine.


Locally, Iron Born Pizza consistently tops the lists of foodies, with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette giving the pizza spot a shout-out, and Good Food Pittsburgh naming Iron Born Pizza’s Detroit-style pies as one of Pittsburgh’s most iconic dishes—joining the hallowed ranks of Prantl’s almond torte and the famous Primanti Brothers sandwich!


“Our small, little, 800-square-foot restaurant was called one of the best new restaurants, so it put the pressure on,” said Pete.



Community investors put some serious dough into Iron Born Pizza


At the time of its campaign, Iron Born Pizza brought in the largest Honeycomb Campaign campaign total ever - $107,000! This amount, along with a loan from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, made the new location possible.


The funds from the Honeycomb campaign also allowed Pete to refinance some high-interest merchant cash advances he had from Kabbage, which helped free up cash flow to buy equipment and open the new location. This is a big problem for many business owners who may have taken on merchant cash advances in the early days of starting their businesses


Pete said, “The investment allowed me to pay for all of our equipment in full, which was amazing.”



When the campaign succeeded, Iron Born Pizza threw an exclusive thank-you party for their investors in the new space to celebrate the soft opening of the Strip District location.


In addressing the crowd, Justin, an investor in Iron Born Pizza’s campaign and longtime friend of Pete’s, said, “Not only have you shown your support for this concept and these people, but you believe in supporting local businesses, and that’s really what Honeycomb does.”


The new restaurant now has seating for over 50 people, a full bar with cocktails, wine, and local beers, and fresh pasta! In fact, their pasta has gone viral on TikTok thanks to Iron Born Pizza chef Ryan Peters, who has over 1.7+ million followers at this point.


In the year since working with Honeycomb, Iron Born Pizza’s Instagram has grown from 8,500 to over 16,000 followers, and they’ve become an exemplary success story to inspire other small businesses on social media.


Ready to turn your pop-up into a superstar?


We’ve all seen it, that one pop-up that just skyrockets to success through passion, hard work, and talent, just like Iron Born Pizza.


Do you have that next great idea, and need help growing your business? Check out how you can crowdfund your next step toward growth at www.honeycombcredit.com/restaurant


Get more information by signing up here: