CRUST
Pizzerias

CRUST Fights the Neapolitan Flop With Neo-NY Pizza Style

At first a reluctant restaurateur, Jim Cervone finally went all in. Now he focuses on high-quality ingredients and accommodating a wide variety of dietary needs.

An accountant, a home builder and a pizzeria owner walk into a bar. Here’s the punchline: they’re all the same guy, Jim Cervone.

Cervone, 62, opened CRUST in downtown Pittsfield in August 2020. He is on the verge of opening a second location up the road in Williamstown, across from Williams College. CRUST offers what Cervone has dubbed “Neo-NY” style pies—a mash-up of Neapolitan and New York-style—and an array of gluten-free and dairy-free options.

Cervone’s burgeoning career as a pizzeria owner—and the success that he’s seen in the field—belies the fact that he spent 35 years in careers that have nothing to do with pizza.

Related: The 25 Most Critically Acclaimed Pizzerias in the U.S.

Staff at CRUST shows off a pair of pizzas.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Cervone attended the University of Maine and trained to become a certified public accountant. He worked with Wall Street professionals for years before building up a finance firm that was eventually sold to Monster.com. The sale allowed him to take six months off and purchase a weekend house in the Berkshires. In his own words, a six-month vacation somehow turned into a 20-plus year relocation to Western Massachusetts, where he now makes his home.

Early on during his time in Western Massachusetts, Cervone began developing real estate. That turned into an accidental career as a high-end home builder in the Berkshires—something that was lucrative but didn’t exactly make him happy, he said.

What has always made Cervone happy is cooking. Of proud Italian heritage, he was an amateur chef at home. The thing was, Cervone didn’t want to open a restaurant. He had friends who had done that, and the headaches they endured looked like too much for somebody who had already spent nearly four decades working in a variety of high-pressure fields. So Cervone’s first foray into the foodservice space was a half measure: a frozen yogurt shop, called Ayelada, in Pittsfield, which emphasized high-quality, locally sourced ingredients. Also on the menu from the very beginning? Dairy-free frozen yogurt—there was something for everyone.

Emboldened by his success at Ayelada, Cervone began eyeing a potential pizzeria, despite his previous proclamations that he’d never want to do that. He saw a gap in the market in Western Massachusetts where, according to him, there wasn’t a pizza company doing high-quality pies that catered to a wide array of customers. He wanted to be the solution to that problem.

“Everybody does pizza on every single corner, but very few people do it well,” Cervone said. “A lot of people say, ‘Well, pizza is easy to make.’ And it is. But it’s not easy to make well. I saw a need for high-quality, consistent and flavorful pizza.”

The Neo-NY-style is a hybrid that came from Cervone’s culinary imagination. He had taken Neapolitan-pizza-making classes and really liked different aspects of it, including how fast a pizza could be made. But what he didn’t like was the floppiness of it. “I’m an Italian,” Cervone said. “I like crispy pizza. I don’t want to eat pizza with a fork and knife, you know? I want to be able to hold my pizza.”

So he began experimenting with different approaches to achieve his dream crust. He took some of the dough principles and quick cook times of Neapolitan pizza and mixed them with New York sensibilities and ended up with something somewhere in between. “I like the simplicity of Neopolitan-style, with organic red sauce and really good mozzarella,” Cervone said. “That, to me, is what pizza is. My Neapolitan, you can hold it in your hand, and it doesn’t flop. I’m using Italian flour, but I’m also breaking some of the rules of Neapolitan characteristics.”

The CRUST menu features pizza, salad…and that’s it. Cervone liked the idea of focusing on a smaller amount of items and adding depth within each one to ensure the best possible product. Pies include the Grandma’s Pie, featuring Avorio cheese, topped generously with a layer of red sauce and finished with oregano and EVOO. The NEO Pie boasts organic red sauce and fior di latte, finished with fresh basil, EVOO and Parmesan. A local favorite is the White Mushroom, with mushroom truffle cream sauce, roasted local mushrooms (shiitake and cremini), truffle Parmesan, black truffle oil drizzle and truffle salt. The menu also rotates specials, including a meatball pie with fan-favorite house-made meatballs.

Cervone also committed to a program that accommodated all different types of dietary restrictions. Every pie is offered on a cauliflower crust. His locations are equipped with a separate prep space and oven to accommodate gluten-free diners, for example, and his menu has many vegan- and vegetarian-friendly options as well. There is always an allergy-certified staffer on duty—he plans his schedule around it. This has been noticed by many in Western Massachusetts: Cervone said about 20% of his business is now gluten-free.

“I can’t tell you how many reviews, emails and phone calls I get with somebody who just wants to thank us for accommodating them and their family members,” Cervone said. “It’s kind of always the same: They say, ‘Thank you, we can finally bring our son or daughter out to a restaurant without having to go somewhere else to get them some food, too.’ You name an allergy or dietary concern—I always say let me know. It’s a big outreach of ours.”

When Cervone spoke with PMQ, he was standing outside of his soon-to-be-open location in Williamstown, dealing with the tedium that comes with opening a new restaurant. The restaurant has been running behind schedule thanks to a series of construction and permitting hurdles that took longer than Cervone had anticipated.

He said he’s gotten a lot of help from his son, Nick, 26, who has been an integral part of building the business. But Nick’s dream is to be a touring musician—he currently drums in Makeout, a pop-punk band with a single, “Crazy,” that’s achieved nearly 20 million spins on Spotify. In other words, Nick isn’t always around, and that leaves Cervone to handle most of the headaches that come with running and growing a business. He thinks CRUST is probably capped at three or four locations as a result.

Jim Cervone with his son, Nick, on Halloween.

“I’m 62,” Cervone added. “I thought I had one more business in me. My wife thought I was literally insane when I told her I wanted to open a pizzeria. But I started researching it and learning how to make pizza, and my wife finally says, ‘Your pizza is really good. I think you should give it a shot.’”

Cervone’s wife was right, and now they have a pair of pizzerias to prove it: Cervone’s pizza is no joke.