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Turlocker finds sanctuary — and charity — through pop-up pizza shop
Sanctuary Pizza
Turlock resident Ryan Mondragon used his catering knowledge to start his own small-scale business model, Sanctuary Pizza (Photo contributed).

Name of business: Sanctuary Pizza

Type of business: Pop-up pizza shop

Location: Turlock

Contact information:; @sanctuary_pizza on Instagram

Specialty: High-quality ingredients


History of business:

When Ryan Mondragon’s profession as a pizza caterer was derailed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Turlock resident took matters into his own hands with a COVID-friendly business model.

These days, Mondragon and his small, portable Ooni pizza oven frequent outdoor pop-up and small gatherings, offering personal-sized pizzas made with one-of-a-kind ingredients. He bought the oven over a year ago, but it wasn’t until this year that he decided to put it to good use.

“It sparked the idea that I could still do little, intimate events with this oven. You don’t need a huge, 5,000-pound oven to do parties — you can still provide a pizza service for someone who’s having something small,” Mondragon said. 

Mondragon had previously utilized a bigger oven for larger events prior to the pandemic, but restrictions on large gatherings effectively put a hold on everything he had planned for the remainder of 2020 and looking ahead to 2021. Utilizing flavors inspired by his travels and own family’s cooking, he’s now building his own brand courtesy of the small-scale operation known as Sanctuary Pizza.

The pizza enthusiast takes pride in not only crafting his own recipes, but also in using high-quality ingredients — many of which he makes himself, like sausage. Some of his ideas which have been popular with customers include the “Azteca,” which features tomatillo salsa, Mexican chorizo and pickled candied jalapeños, or the “Frida,” which combines the complex flavor of Mexican mole sauce with ingredients like red onions, Oaxaca cheese and cilantro.

These one-of-a-kind ingredients coupled with 24-hour fermented dough create a pizza experience that is uniquely its own.

“I try to keep it very simple and get really creative and bring flavors that I grew up eating and have tried through my travels,” Mondragon said. “I try to keep it as fresh and organic as I can. In this time of need, people need good food and if I can provide that then I’m happy. I’m always excited for them to eat it because I put my heart and soul into this.”

Recently, Mondragon has made an effort to give back to local charities as well. Sanctuary Pizza raised $850 for Westside Ministries earlier this month via a drive-thru pizza pop-up event. Mondragon also makes an effort to feature local artists at each pop-up, who often utilize the Ooni oven as their canvas, and hopes to host art installations accompanied by pizza in the future. He has even inspired his friends, including one who saw Mondragon’s work and took to skid row in Los Angeles to make pizzas for the homeless. 

Mondragon currently travels to events in the Turlock, Modesto and Merced area for pop-up events and can be reached via email or social media. 

“I get hit up to do pop-ups all the time now, but I can’t do all of them because I’m just one guy and I don’t have a team of people yet,” he said. “But I’m working my way up slowly.”