Kelly Roderick / For The Lantern
Pizza, beer and music might seem like a classic trio. Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza and Live Music offers all of the above with a slight twist.
Owner Natalie Jackson started the business with her dad, Charlie Jackson, after talking about it for years.
“It’s funny because my dad and I used to joke about when we had our own place and how we would run things, so it’s weird that it’s actually here,” she said.
The business is a combination of her love of coal-fired pizza, which she discovered while living in New York City, and her father’s passion for live music. It opened in August after more than a year of work.
This is Natalie Jackson’s first business, and her only previous restaurant experience was working as a waitress.
Executive chef David Koenig, on the other hand, has been in the restaurant industry since he was 12 years old. He worked in the Whole Foods pizza kitchen before coming to Natalie’s, but he said it took some persuading for him to leave.
“The gentleman that owns (Natalie’s) building came in and watched me or whatever and said, ‘Hey, you should call these guys,’ and I said OK and I took his number and threw it away,” Koenig said.
It took two more tries to secure Koenig, but once he came on board he developed the restaurant’s menu. He said he tries to focus the limited menu and rotating specials on what is in season. Much of the menu is prepared fresh daily and was inspired by Koenig’s travels in the U.S. Navy.
“This is a pretty cool place and we’ve got a pretty unique product, and even though pizza is what you would consider an oversaturated market, this is a little different,” he said.
The difference comes from the coal oven used to bake the pizzas and other dishes.
In addition to the distinct pizza preparation, Natalie’s has live music on many evenings. It features what she calls an “Americana format,” which includes jazz, blues and rock.
“We’re kind of all over the place. I think the only thing we really haven’t had at this point is too much of the screaming rock type,” Jackson said.
Kate Wannemacher, a diner at Natalie’s and owner of Wannemacher Designs, said her favorite item on the menu is the Funky Funghi pizza, which features wild mushrooms. She stopped by Natalie’s originally after hearing good things about the business and has been back twice since.
“It sounded awesome and I had heard good reviews from friends. I know that they play music and stuff like that, and it’s a cute interior,” she said.
Combining the two businesses did not come without issues though. Some customers have taken to review sites such as Urbanspoon to complain about being charged a cover for the live music when they only came for the food.
Jackson said she feels it’s important for people to respect all parts of the business.
“We want to be taken just as seriously as being a music club as being a restaurant, and I just think in order to do that you kind of have to have a cover,” she said. “We kind of want to be in that category with other venues in Columbus.”
Koenig has faced his own challenges with a “kitchen the size of a nickel.” One of the main issues is keeping the anthracite coal burning at a consistent temperature.
“It’s a science and an art,” he said.
In the future Jackson said she would like to offer a brunch service, but the kinks still need to be ironed out. She said she is “extremely lucky” to have the support of her family and staff.
“The concept was just to create a place and an atmosphere that we loved and create something that we enjoyed doing on a daily basis,” she said.
Specialty pizzas range from $11 to $15, and the restaurant also serves pasta and salads.
Natalie’s is located at 5601 N. High St., about six miles from campus, and is open from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday, and 4 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.
Bluegrass and folk duo Scioto Station is slated to perform at Natalie’s Wednesday at 9 p.m.