Lee Kindell and Nancy Gambin set Seattle’s pizza cognoscenti aflame last year with Moto, their Detroit-style pizzeria in West Seattle. Here, in a converted cottage, Kindell mixed his dough by hand with help from a 100-year-old sourdough starter and an 18th-century wood mixing trough.
But when the couple opens a second location this summer, says Kindell, “there will be pizza robotics involved.”
Moto’s owners have taken over the former site of Renee Erickson’s Boat Street Cafe (and Boat Street Kitchen), writing a happy—and unexpectedly high-tech—new chapter at 3131 Western Ave. This new outpost will offer online pizza orders, a walk-up window, and some no-frills seating much like the original in West Seattle. (But much easier to access for fans who don't live on the accidental island.)
A slightly larger menu will offer Kindell’s signature rectangular deep-dish pies—like the clam chowdah, the crab-topped pie, and the Harlem chop—plus a few more. This Moto will also serve beer, wine, and batched cocktails via a self-pour system that interfaces directly with your phone.
Inside the space, Kindell will nurture some new ideas the way he nurtures his century-old sourdough starter, Betty. He’s partnering with a farm to install vertical hydroponics, growing greens like arugula within yards of the kitchen that will eventually use them. “The future of food is in the city,” where the pathway to the plate is as short as possible, says Kindell. “It loses so much traveling literally hundreds of miles.”
He's also setting up a production space so he can bottle and sell Moto’s garlic chili crunch oil. Kindell currently fields lots of requests for his housemade condiment, “and it’s gotta be for the pizza!” (It’s also fun on Moto’s soft serve.) Meanwhile, he’s busy doing R&D for a packaged, frozen version of his pies.
This might seem a bit of a swerve for a guy who once mixed his own dough sans machinery. Kindell’s hands-on approach generated 120 pizzas a night; tack a few more zeros on the back of that number and you’ve got a safe approximation for Moto’s fan base.
About six months ago, Kindell hurt his arm, and realized it was time to try using a mixer. “It changed the way I think about pizza,” he says. “I always thought of myself as a craftsman, and that my hands are my tools.” After trading them in for actual tools, Kindell revised his manifesto about what makes great pizza: “It comes down to technique and ingredients.” He thinks the myriad projects inside his new space will improve both.
If the self-pour drink system hints at Kindell’s fascination with technology, the robotics he’s got planned for his new pizza assembly line will expand Moto’s production by orders of magnitude. Put another way, you might actually be able to get your hands on one of Kindell’s creations without setting a calendar reminder when orders go live each month.
This interest in disruption is a new thing for Kindell; he and Gambin owned a travelers hostel in Belltown before he upgraded his pizza-crafting interest from obsessive hobby to official pandemic pivot. Terms like “automation” and “scaling” give off all the warm fuzzies of an overnight shift at the Amazon warehouse. But Kindell says all this tech can improve the caliber of his pies, but also his connection to customers (and make jobs here more appealing for the staff). “How Moto ties into the human experience is fascinating to me.” he says. He ponders why Moto’s pizzas sell out three months in advance while other restaurants don’t have the same experience, “even though they’re just as good as us.
Restaurant superfandom is often built on intangibles, as well as great deep-dish. Kindell’s social media presence is much like him—buoyant, busy, and not opposed to a goofy selfie as a means to highlight other businesses in the community. That personal connection, he says, is as essential to his product as impeccable dough structure.
It figures that a guy who could turn a tiny holdout cottage into a pizza hotspot, and repurpose a recipe for 16th-century Transylvanian chimney cakes into a bangin’ soft serve vessel, is eager to try new things. And while many of his project timelines are still nascent, Kindell hopes his second Moto location will be serving pizza by the second half of summer. Keep tabs on his Instagram for updates.