By Tammy La Gorce | NY Times
Each spring, George Triola invites his golf buddies and their families over for a backyard party at his home in Milltown, N.J., to celebrate the end of the Masters golf tournament. As the guests watch the finale on an outdoor TV, the beer flows, and most years, Mr. Triola, 35, grills hot dogs.
This year, he had another idea for feeding his more than 40 guests: oven-fresh pizza, from a truck.
Lombardi Pizza Company, based in Edison, catered the party hosted by Mr. Triola and his wife, Dawn; the company’s blue-and-white truck was parked in front of their house during the gathering, which took place in April. Inside, a two-man team spun the dough, added toppings and baked the pies in a 900-degree wood-fired oven. A third member of the Lombardi crew hustled the hot Neapolitan-style pizzas to the backyard, where one guest, David Surdukowski, of East Brunswick, pronounced them “insanely good.”
Lombardi’s is one of a handful of pizza trucks now pulling up to New Jersey homes for private events.
Demand is brisk. “I haven’t done any advertising at all, and already I’m booking one or two parties a day on weekends,” said Peter Lombardi, 29, a co-owner of Lombardi’s, which was launched in 2011 and will expand to include a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Martinsville in late summer or early fall. Lombardi’s Neapolitan-style pizzas are sparingly topped discs roughly 12 inches in diameter, baked in the blazing oven for 90 seconds and served piping hot.
Mr. Lombardi, who owns the business with Steven Goldblatt, of Jackson, learned his technique from a master pizza chef in Naples. But he also owes his skill at churning out pizzas — at the Triolas’ party, the menu included standard margherita pies, as well as pies topped with soppressata and honey and pies sprinkled with roasted corn and a jalapeño purée — to another New Jersey pizza entrepreneur, he said.
Before Mr. Lombardi and Mr. Goldblatt opened their own business, they worked at the Nomad Pizza Company in Hopewell, a Neapolitan pizza restaurant with a second location in Philadelphia. Nomad opened its first restaurant in Hopewell in 2009 after two years of working out of a converted 1949 REO Speedwagon with a 3,000-pound wood-burning oven shipped from Italy. It continues to cater parties and sell pizza from the truck at street festivals.
“We’re all still friends,” said Tom Grim, co-owner of Nomad, in a recent phone interview. “And there’s plenty of business to go around.” Mr. Grim, 61, of Pennington, also experiments with local, seasonal ingredients like corn when helping hosts choose party menus. (Among his specialty pies is the Tartufo, made with toma cheese from Cherry Grove Farm in Lawrenceville.) The trucks’ prices are similar, and so are many of their policies: Lombardi’s events start at $1,000 for two hours of pizza-making, serving 50 guests; Nomad’s start at $1,100. (Mr. Grim charges more on weekends.)
Both trucks will travel at no extra charge to within 30 miles of their hometowns, with fees added for longer trips. Nomad will serve up to 150 guests; Lombardi does not set a cap. Both will provide salad, dessert and drinks at extra charge.
Nomad caters mainly between April and November, but Lombardi goes out year round. So does Pizza Vita in Summit, another mobile Neapolitan pizza unit.
“Last summer was our first summer, and we went right through fall and into winter. We did some Super Bowl parties,” said Ernesto Santorelli, co-owner, with his cousin Rocco Flores, of the newly expanded fleet; a second Pizza Vita truck hit the road last month. A tent and a space heater enable Pizza Vita to cater during colder months.
The sit-down Pizza Vita restaurant came first, opening in Summit in 2011. But Mr. Santorelli, 45, of Nutley, said he saw then that there was a demand for fresh, high-quality products from food trucks, and has since been traveling to festivals, farmers’ markets and private parties in his truck. His Web site shows prices starting at $1,100 for a two-hour party of up to 50 people, but he is very flexible, he said.
Pizza Vita catered a late April party in Nutley hosted by Michael and Lauren Fazio, with 50 guests gathering under a backyard tent to celebrate the first communion of the Fazios’ 8-year-old daughter, Giuliana. A truckside menu board listed the afternoon’s four selections; the breakfast pizza, which included San Marzano tomatoes, house-made mozzarella and soppressata, pecorino Romano, basil and an egg cracked over the top, inspired the most questions. Joseph Piazzi Jr., 25, of Belleville, snapped a picture of his breakfast pizza to post on Instagram before he dug in: “If it tastes half as good as it looks, it’s going to be awesome,” he said.
Lombardi, Nomad and Pizza Vita can bake four or five pies at a time in their heavy truck-bound ovens. None limit the number of pizzas they will produce at private parties. And all struggle with the popularity of Saturday events: “I get 10 party requests a day, most of them for Saturdays. I have to turn a lot down,” Mr. Grim said.
Fresh pies without the truck are also an option. Coney Island Pizza, a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Riverdale, caters parties year round with a wood-fired oven attached to a trailer, not a truck. Jed Hersh, the owner, who began catering in 2007 and opened his restaurant in 2012, can bring the oven to outdoor locations not big enough to accommodate a truck. (Two-and-a-half-hour parties for up to 50 guests begin at $950.)
Mr. Hersh, 29, of Montville, is reluctant to classify his pies as Neapolitan, even though they are a similar size.
“To me a lot of that is just marketing, and I’m not a great marketer,” he said. “Call it whatever you want, it tastes good and people like it.”