Quiet, unassuming, and innovative. Ian and Ashley Galbraith are not your average restaurateurs. They own an incredible pizza restaurant in Wilkeson called the Carlson Block.
The Carlson Block Hotel was built in 1910 by the building’s original owner, Gus Carlson. Ian Galbraith purchased the building exactly 100 years later. Not only is the old hotel now home to the Carlson Block pizzeria; it is also the Galbraith family’s home. The couple lives, works, and raises their darling daughter, Cleo, in the building where they make phenomenal pizzas. They are soft-spoken, brilliant, hardworking people, proving that the American dream is not only alive but thriving out in Wilkeson.
This historic coal-mining town with a population of about 500 had its boom in the early 20th century. It had a reputation as the roughest mining town in the west. Wilkeson hosted thousands of immigrants from all over Europe and Asia with one goal: producing enough coal and coke, a coal byproduct, to satisfy the industrial needs of the booming West Coast. At its height, the town ran more than 160 coke ovens. Over the years, as the need for coal and coke dwindled, the town became a shadow of its once-tough and wild reputation.
Ian was born in Santa Ana, California, but was raised in the South Sound area. After his time at the Culinary Institute of America — better known as the other CIA — he became disillusioned with his plan of becoming a grand chef. His aim shifted following a growing sense of elitism in the restaurant world. After some years of trying his hand at other crafts, he decided to follow his dream of opening a pizzeria, a place where his culinary sensibilities could shine. He wanted to make delicious Neapolitan-style pizzas with his own flair.
When Ian bought the Carlson Block building, it was in various stages of decay, but he knew that someday it would be home to his dream. Little did he know that the woman he’d marry one day had just moved to town as well. Ashley came to Wilkeson to help her folks run the saloon. Ian and Ashley met and fell in love in 2011, both working odd jobs to fix up the hotel. In 2015, they married in the café of the hotel’s lower level.
In 2016, after six years of hard work building a dream, they opened The Carlson Block, a pizza joint complete with the smells, sounds, and feel of a comfortable Brooklyn brownstone restaurant. Original architectural furnishes draw you into a slower yet exciting time when life was simple. Ian is a chef who approaches his craft with the meticulousness of a scientist. His crust is naturally leavened, meaning this dude has a sourdough starter he began in 2010, back when he bought the building. He lovingly named the starter Audrey 3 (for all you Little Shop of Horrors fans). This starter is the mother for every bit of dough that leaves the oven.
And the oven is impressive. It’s an imported French wood-burning oven that’s fueled by applewood and imported pressed logs from Italy. The wood provides a depth of flavor you can’t replicate in any other way — real wood, cracking and burning — cooks the pizzas in a swift two to three minutes. This oven is small but mighty.
Scratch-made and hyperlocal is their goal. The cheese curds they use to make the fresh mozzarella come from Ferndale Farmstead, and the flour is from Cairnspring Mills in Burlington. He strives to make sure everything he serves is sourced from within the state. Pickled serrano peppers and hot honey, along with fresh house-made fennel sausage are a few of the delightful surprises on the menu. The Galbraiths are doing everything they can to provide a memorable dining experience in the face of COVID-19 restrictions. Their business has been slashed by upwards of 50 percent. But this doesn’t stop them from pushing forward in the face of adversity and delivering a fantastically delicious pizza to the masses.