The big, round pizza-shaped sign that reads "Nick's Pizza: Made in Oakland" arrived intact at its new location. After eight years at 6211 Shattuck Ave., proprietor Nick Yapor-Cox moved his business a couple of short blocks down the street. In the week since they've reopened, Nick says that it's been "mind-blowing" how busy they've been. "We have a really loyal neighborhood following and fantastic customers who understand what we do and are willing to go along with the ways that we can be unconventional to make our business manageable," he says.
He says the set menu they established at the old address—that Nick fondly refers to as "6211"—allowed for that unconventional approach to pizza-making. "We didn't do any modifications, and it changed every couple of weeks." Because substituting or omitting ingredients was verboten, the restaurant was able to focus on being creative with seasonal ingredients while still maintaining speed and consistency. The small size of the location also informed the way Nick ran the business—the front counter being within an apron's reach of the nearby kitchen.
Now, with a few hundred more square feet at hand, the staff is adjusting to the larger space and an expanded menu. "We feel like we're more of an official restaurant now," Nick says. "We have ticket printers and an actual point-of-sales system." On the busy corner of Alcatraz and Shattuck—prepare to park a block or two away—Nick's Pizza has left the analog world behind. For the most part. The freshly baked loaves of bread do still have hand-drawn signs to identify them.
Nick's menu now has a "build your own" pizza option, which is something they've never done before. "I think this speaks to the idea that our customers trust us," he says. Even though they now have more choice, Nick noticed that, at the end of a recent business day, only three or four pizzas out of a hundred were custom orders. "That's been inspiring to me," he says. "It's nice to see that people are excited about the ingredients that are on the menu."
Loaves of bread and bagels (Sundays only) aren't new items, but deli sandwiches are. Nick has always considered himself to be, first and foremost, a baker. But bakeries, he believes, are very difficult to turn into profitable businesses unless they're large scale. "I'm not interested in running a factory," he explains. And then jokingly adds, "If you really want to make dough, you make pizza. You really want to make bread? Make sandwiches."
As of this first week, customers can choose between a ciabatta or sourdough roll (which is tangy and baked to hold a crunch). Nick, himself, has been baking the bread every morning. "I try to remember that there are people in the world who don't want so much exercise when they're chewing their bread," he says. "There's this sweet spot for a sandwich where you have to think about the engineering and the way it eats."
About his homemade sandwich breads, he says, "They're both essential daily breads for the cultures they come from." Ciabatta, Nick says, has this "very lazy shape" that's ultimately cheaper to make. "It speaks to rustic Italian food as opposed to the more refined French approach to cooking." The baguette is "finicky" and it requires more skill to achieve its particular shape. "You're going to get ciabatta on the table more quickly," he says, "and you don't have to be so persnickety with it."
Growing up in the East Bay, Nick recalls eating croissants at La Farine and bran muffins and misshapen cookies at Nabolom. Later, when he worked as a stock clerk at a pet supply store across the street from Acme Bread on San Pablo Avenue, he'd bring an avocado from home and buy a whole loaf of bread for lunch. "Which, apparently, is the kind of fuel you need if you're unloading pallets of dog food," he says. "Having access to bread and baked goods like that is one of the things that makes living in the East Bay really special."
Nick's Pizza, open Wed–Sat 11am to 8pm, Sunday 9am to 8pm, 6400 Shattuck Ave., Oakland. 510.658.3903. oaklandstylepizza.com.