Upper Crust

by Aug 17, 2022North Brunswick, Restaurants

Crust NC, a mobile wood-fired pizza truck, reinvents the traditional pizza party.

If you’re from in and around the New Haven, Connecticut, area, pizza is what you live, eat and breathe. In a town nationally recognized for its pies, you never settle for less than the best.

Jeff Verderame and his wife, Sheree, went to a party about seven years ago in New Haven, where they were introduced to another level of pizza (even for New Havenites): a mobile wood-fired pizza truck.

“I was just overwhelmed and I was so taken with it,” Verderame says. “I think I spent the whole party hanging around next to where they were preparing the pizzas and watching the process. I talked about it for about a year and a half to the point that my wife simply said, ‘Either do something or just shut up about it,’ so I went out and researched it.”

The 60-year-old retired marketing entrepreneur reinvented the next chapter of his career by starting his own mobile wood-fired pizza truck business, Crust. He imported a wood-fired pizza oven from Italy, had a trailer for it custom-built and dove right into business.

“I thought, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’” Verderame says. “I have this beautiful brick Italian oven. If the business doesn’t take off, I’ll always have it for my own personal use. I started out as a hobby to see if I could make a go of it, and it turned into a full-fledged business.”

Crust took off with a bang for the next five years, as they were fully booked for private and corporate events in the New Haven area.

Wood Fired Crust Pizza NC

“We were very fortunate,” he says.

Verderame grew up in an Italian family with a mother and grandmother who were phenomenal cooks.

“What I did was try to employ some of the things that they taught me on how to cook,” he says. “I always loved cooking. I always loved feeding people, so it was sort of a natural progression for me to go into and make a business out of it.”

Crust launched into such a full-fledged business that it was renowned across the state, and Verderame was catering mobile pizza parties for up to 350 people or more.

But in 2020 when the Verderames decided to move south to Wilmington, North Carolina — away from the cold temperatures and high taxes of Connecticut — he sold Crust to a local restaurateur, who today carries on the legacy in Connecticut.

While Verderame was waiting for their home to be built in The Bluffs on The Cape Fear, he began planning the Southern version of his former business: Crust NC – Wood Fired Pizza Events.

Crust Wood Fire Pizza Leland NC

“I wanted to build a smaller version of what I had up in Connecticut,” he says. “I promised my wife that I would accept only catering jobs that were of a particular size, so we scaled that back and our sweet spot is anywhere from 50 to 100 people, with our parties starting at 25 guests.”

What can you expect from an event catered by Crust NC? Each one is a fun, delicious experience showcasing pizza that’s not your traditional pizza, but instead loaded with fresh ingredients and refreshing twists. For instance, Verderame created a lobster mac and cheese pizza, one with a marinated tenderloin with crispy potatoes, pizza topped with barbecued baby back ribs soaked in a sweet sauce that’s spiked with a pop of hot cherry peppers, brisket pizza, white oyster pizza, and more. Crust offers a lengthy list of options, including the standard toppings of fresh meats and vegetables, like local heirloom tomatoes.

“I typically offer to my hosts whatever they’d like or they can trust that I’m going to show up with the right ingredients for their guests after I talk to them and get a sense of what they want,” Verderame says. “We’ll make anywhere from 10 and 12 different pies, not just one or two.”

The pizza crust itself, he says, is unique and one of the things folks enjoy most.

The dough has a high water content, and Verderame ferments it for two or three days prior to each event. The thin crust is baked in an oven that climbs close to 900 degrees, resulting in a texture that’s light, airy and crispy-chewy.

Also, complete with every Crust NC catered event comes one of Sheree’s fresh seasonal salads featuring mesclun greens, candied pecans, feta, apples or pears (depending on the season) and a house-made balsamic dressing. Each meal is finished off with either Italian ice or gelato for dessert.

Leland NC Wood Fired Crust Pizza

“It’s my therapy in a lot of ways,” Verderame says. “I love the cooking and the prep, but the parties are my favorite part because I get to interact with people. … The oven is right there, and I love the guests coming up and talking to me while we’re stretching the pizza dough and making the pies and putting them in the oven only a couple of feet away. If there are children around, they’re always fascinated, and if I have the opportunity, I throw a little apron on them and they come back and help me make a pizza or two.”

Depending on the size of the event, the Verderames staff most Crust NC parties themselves. If needed, they will call on more staff to help out, but, regardless, you can count on him to be at every event, from birthdays to anniversaries to surprise parties and anything in between.

Word-of-mouth marketing from guests who have experienced their pizza parties seems to be a successful generator for business, as they’re booked out through October, but it’s nothing like the back-to-back party days of Connecticut.

“We’re taking a little bit more of a slow roll,” Verderame says. “I became a grandfather a few months ago, and my daughter moved from the West Coast to the Raleigh area, so I’ve spent a lot of time seeing her and my grandson.”

For more information:
Crust NC or to book a party, call (910) 779-3500 or visit nccrust.com

Photography by Glenn Guiao