One Restaurant Is Turning the Wood-Burning Pizzeria into a Thing of the Past


This past Earth Day, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city would no longer provide permits for wood-burning pizza ovens. Currently outlawed in San Francsisco, the wood-burning ovens give off horrendous amounts of smoke and burn wood pretty rapidly. But what is New York without a traditional pie?

Max Crespo, the owner of New York's Neapolitan Express may have the solution: alternative energy.

Neapolitan uses electric Cuppone pizza ovens, built in Italy by hand and the first of their kind in the United States. Pizzas take under 90 seconds to bake in the oven and energy can be preserved when not in use, unlike traditional wood-burning ovens which must constantly be fueled. Crespo says the oven costs about 35 cents an hour to operate, an extremly low cost that should lure other pizzerias.

Neapolitan Express pizzas are thin and crisp, served with a dark leopard crust inherent to successful Neopolitan-style pizzas: one would never guess a traditional method wasn't used in their preparation.

Neapolitan imports ingredients like caputa 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes and mozzarella from Italy, but the company deploys alternative energy trucks to pick up the crates of imported food. When possible, Neapolitan uses locally grown basil and greens from Gotham Greens and utilizes a green roof in the spring for ingredients like kale and arugula. 

Crespo, an East Harlem native, began building his first alternative energy food truck back in 2011.

"Every food truck on the road is basically illegal," he said. "They're basically bombs with propane tanks and I don't want to kill myself."

His food pizza trucks run on electricity, some of which is procured from solar panels and micro turbines on the roof of his East 116th St. garage and newly opened pizza restaurant. 

Crespo knew early on that clean energy was the future.

"A sixth grade class can tell you that alternative energy is better than diesel or biodiesel," he said. "I'm proud that I was stupid enough to fall into this, I wasn't a genius and made mistakes, but it worked out. It's humbling. It's cool."

For Neapolitan Express, being environmentally friendly is not only conscientious, it's good for business. Being sustainable also benefits economics. The brand saves money through alternative energy and via other methods such as pizza boxes that tear up into plates or fold into smaller carry-out containers.

After launching in 2012, Neapolitan Express now runs several alternative energy food trucks and is working on opening stores around NYC, including Wall Street's first pizzeria (to be open 24 hours to accomodate Wall Street schedules). 

The chic East Harlem eatery is a bit of an anomaly in the neighborhood, which Crespo says is a food and public meeting place desert. It's traditionally been difficult to find free wifi and organic coffee in the neighborhood, both of which Neapolitan provides.

"The idea of food groups here is bodega and Chino Latino," said Crespo. "The time has come to make fast food good food—it doesn't have to be crap."

Neapolitan's individual pies are the same price point as the nearby Papa John's or Domino's: under $10 a pizza.

"Just because it's organic and without GMOs doesn't mean that it has to be expensive," said Crespo. "You don't have to be rich to be an environmentalist." 

In the coming months, Crespo plans to have more community programs at his East Harlem location, educating neighbors about organic food, gardening and ways to cut down on pollution. While we're still waiting for a solar-powered ramen pop-up, it's nice to see progress in the fast food industry.

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