Some might argue that opening a new pizza restaurant directly opposite one of the East Bay’s most cherished pizza joints is asking for trouble. But Jeff and Heather Clapp, the couple behind Jules Thin Crust, which is slated to open in March at 5804 College Ave., are confident there are enough customers around for both Zachary’s and their new launch.
“I love Zachary’s deep-pan mushroom pizza,” said Jeff on Tuesday this week as he worked on fitting out the space formely occupied by Las Palmas taqueria with his father-in-law. “We used to live in Rockridge and would come to Zachary’s often. We see Jules as offering something very distinctive.”
In fact, Heather describes the Jules product as more akin to a flatbread than a pizza. It’s all about a very thin crust laden with fresh, seasonal, organic and healthful ingredients, she said.
The Clapps brainstormed the concept behind Jules Thin Crust nine years ago over a pizza at Oliveto Café with their friend John Ordway who went on to launch the first of four such restaurants in Pennsylvania. Then, three years ago, the couple decided they also wanted to pursue the idea, formed a partnership with Ordway, and opened a Jules Thin Crust in Danville. The pair weren’t finding fulfillment in their careers and the recession offered the opportunity to think about pursuing a new direction. “It was an overnight success and we were thrilled,” said Heather.
The Rockridge opening brings the couple full circle, within spitting distance of where it all began at Oliveto — and, of course Zachary’s. Their timing is auspicious with Rockridge currently enjoying a foodie moment: The Ramen Shop opened just days ago a couple of doors from Jules and is already buzzing; James Syhabout of Commis fame plans to open a new eatery in the old Somerset spot at 5912 College, and the owners of San Francisco’s A16 are moving in on the Garibaldi’s space at 5356 College.
Jerome Buttrick of Buttrick Wong Architects, who worked on the original Doylestown, PA, Jules Thin Crust, is designing the Oakland restaurant. “It’s going to be a simple palette with an emphasis on the color red,” he said. “We aim to make it appealing without being slick, or funky backdoor Berkeley.”
The Jules thin-crust pizzas are made in a distinctive surfboard shape — easier to cut into manageable slices and more room for toppings, said Heather — and will be offered in 10-15 varieties. “Customers can also choose organic white or wholewheat crust as well as a gluten-free option,” Heather said. Also on the menu: fresh salads and, in time, organic soups courtesy of Fork Full of Earth.
One of the goals for the Clapps, who have three children, is to provide a healthy option for kids. “We favor Californian style pizzas over the New York style,” Heather said. Their inspiration close to home? Pizzaiola, Gioa Pizzeria and Dopo.
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