Sneak peek: Build, Berkeley’s ambitious new pizzeria

New Roman pizzeria Build is roaring into downtown Berkeley next weekend: the restaurant features blown-up black-and-white photos on its walls, including this one of Maria Weston riding a BMW in 1952. Photo: Tracey Taylor

It’s called Build because you will build your own pizzas there. It was nearly called A90 because that’s the name of the freeway that encircles Italy’s capital, and Roman pizza is what’s on the menu. The ambitious new restaurant that will open next weekend on Shattuck Avenue on the corner of Bancroft Way, is, like Gather and Comal before it, taking a chance that downtown Berkeley has an appetite for a buzzy, big-city eatery.

And the restaurant is just the start. Later this year, Build’s owners, Lisa Holt and David Shapiro, whose background is in hotel development, are planning to transform the property’s 8,000-square-foot basement — formerly Shattuck Down Low — into a happening underground culture club serving up drinks and food along with the comedy and music acts.


Build’s bar area has reclaimed wood floors, upholstered couches and a big screen for game watching. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Meanwhile the countdown is on for Build, which the pair said will open on the weekend of April 12-13-14. (“We are hoping for Friday 12th, but don’t want to make any promises in case there are last-minute hitches,” said Shapiro.) [Update, 4.8.13: Owner David Shapiro said the opening has been postponed to Tuesday evening April 16.]

The 6,000-square-foot space — in the 1906 Morse Block building designed by Dickey and Reed, whose firm also designed the Claremont Hotel — was most recently occupied by Indian restaurant Pasand Madras. It has been gutted, opened up, and completely redone. Original steel support beams and newer moment frames have been exposed, giving the place a touch of industrial chic. The design was overseen by Holt in collaboration with Keith Morris of Berkeley’s Abueg Morris Architects.


A chalkboard configuration laying out pizza options was created by local artist Dennis Owens. Photo: Tracey Taylor

In keeping with the owners’ wish for the restaurant to be as sustainable as possible, both in terms of décor and what’s on the plate, the floor is made of reclaimed boards from a grain barn in Washington State. Blown-up monochromatic photos — one by photographer Robert Altman depicts a 1960s moment of ecstasy in People’s Park — and a chalkboard piece by local artist Dennis Owens, complete the airy, stylish look.

The “Building Department” is the restaurant’s centerpiece — where chefs will prepare tailor-made pizzas for customers once they have snagged a table or barstool. Master pizzaiolo Brian Langevin is at the helm — formerly of Toni Gemignani’s Pizza Rock in Sacramento — and ingredients will be sourced locally as much as possible.

Customers start with a choice of one of three bases — white cheese, pesto-green or tomato marinara. They move on to toppings, which are likely to be priced at $1 a piece, and include a host of familiar ingredients, as well as imported prosciutto from Parma and truffle cheese made by Italian monks (those cost a little more). A gluten-free dough will be available, as will a selection of salads.

Master pizzaiolo Brian Langevin at one of Build’s two wood-fired ovens whose temperatures can rise as high as 1,000 degrees. Photo: Tracey Taylor

“It’s ‘as you like it’ or ‘come piace a te’ in Italian,” said Holt, who lived in Rome and wants to emulate the thin, crispy-crust pizzas that are the norm there — cooked in two or three minutes in the wood-fired oven. “Simply done with the best ingredients,” she said. “Sometimes I think we overcomplicate pizzas here.”

Well-known local mixologist Scott Beattie, author of Artisanal Cocktails, has been recruited to design the drinks menu. The bar will be run day-to-day by Jay Crabb. Unpacking several boxes of fresh citrus this week as the restaurant prepared for D-Day, Beattie said the drinks will focus on his signature seasonally driven cocktails, using lots of locally grown fruits and flowers.

“We’ll also be doing whiskey drinks with hand-cut ice cubes,” he said. “Nobody seems to be doing them here. The big clear cubes look cool and keep the drinks colder for much longer.”

The restaurant’s dough station and central hub, where customers build their pizzas, with the bar on the other side. Photo: Tracey Taylor

There will be 12 Californian wines on tap — possibly the largest selection of tap wines in the Bay Area — including Iron Horse, Au Bon Climat, Qupe and Coppola, as well as several bottled Italians. Beer aficionados will be well served. Brandon Borgel, a veteran of the craft beer movement, curated the restaurant’s beer selection which includes 16 brews on tap, including Berkeley’s own Trumer Pils.

Holt and Shapiro, whose projects include Milliken Creek Inn & Spa and Hotel Yountville, plan to replicate the Build concept in other locations, around the country and globally, but Berkeley is the flagship. Shapiro said they have employed around 70 staff for the restaurant.

“We chose Berkeley because of its rich history — it’s the home of slow food in America — and because it’s a culinary flashpoint,” said Holt. “We also wanted to be part of downtown right now with so much happening here, and be close to the university.”

Mixologist Scott Beattie is overseeing the cocktail menu which focuses on artisanal, seasonally driven cocktails. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The restaurant is large, at 6,000 square feet, and boasts a loft-style, airy interior. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The Build bar will serve pizzas and bar food such as Arrancini and portobello burgers. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Upholstered seating in the bar area which also has big screens for game watching. Photo: Tracey Taylor


Build Pizzeria Roma is in the 1906 Morse building designed by Dickey and Reed, whose firm designed the Claremont Hotel. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Build will open initially for dinner, then add a lunch service after a couple of weeks. The bar, which has a big-screen TV for games and more subdued lighting, will serve pizzas as well a small selection of bar-food items like portobello burgers and Arancini (fried risotto balls).

Build Pizzeria Roma is at at 2286 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. Follow the restaurant on its Facebook page for updates on its opening date.

Thin-crust pizza restaurant to open in Rockridge [01.10.13]
Benchmark: Wood-fired pizza comes to Kensington [12.11.12]
New Roman-style pizzeria to open in downtown Berkeley [11.16.12]
The best pizza in Berkeley? Our readers have decided [06.10.11]

For the best East Bay food and restaurant stories, read Berkeleyside Nosh, and follow Nosh on Twitter and on Facebook. Email

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  • Doc

    Berkeley overall is the nicest it has been in a half century, maybe ever. Hope the basement club is fun and successful.

  • This was Kramar’s idea back on Seinfeld. Open a pizza shop where you build your own pizza.

  • Maurice Edmond Sailland

    Anyone recall a place on Piedmont Ave. called “Topless Pizza”? You got a partially baked “nude” pizza. You then went over to a sort of smorgasbord/salad bar and “built” your own pizza to your own exact specs. You could really heap on the olives if you thought the regular pizzeria was sort of chincy with those (or whatever). Long story short, it turned out to be a pretty bad idea. Joe Schmo does not know how to make his own pizza well and many people did not come back. It also opened to a lot of buzz and crowds but folded fairly quickly.

  • chip

    Yep. I actually liked it, but you did have to be careful not to overdo it.

  • Chris J

    Hmm. In terms of Topless Pizza being a ‘bad idea’, the positive could easily be interpreted that they have good, solid local ingredients. But then, you have to trust that the ‘builders’ will make a decent combination that, well…they might not like, even if it is their own concoction.

    Follow your dream…

  • galaxy_pie

    Yay, I look forward to any revitalization of downtown Berkeley, all new businesses. As a city transplant, It feels good to be able to get to cool places by foot. Now let’s just hope the Shattuck cinema doesn’t get kicked out!!

  • Ellen

    does the Lakireddy family still own the building? do they have an interest in Build?

  • Maurice Edmond Sailland

    As a former pizza maker myself, my only point is that without a real “deeper” understanding of when more of some topping you like becomes too much or how to balance different toppings and flavors, the idea of do-it-yourself (while appealing in the abstract) does not necessarily result in a better tasting pizza than one “made to order” for you by a “normal” pizzeria.

  • Hilldah

    I can’t wait to try it.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “Build Pizzeria Roma” sounds wrong to me. Shouldn’t it be “Build Pizzeria Romana”?

    Translated, it should be “Roman pizzeria” rather than “Rome pizzeria.”

  • guest

    Inquiring minds want to know… I would hate to have to boycott this place, but I won’t support human trafficking/slavery.

  • BerkeleyD

    “…the floor is made of reclaimed boards from a grain barn in Washington State.” Wow, sustainable. Trucked 1,000 miles on a flatbed diesel. Good job.

  • I am very excited that I will finally be able to create the pizza of my dreams through BUILD


    Love everyones coments! Had to postpone our opening to Tuesday evening April 16th. As far as Building your own, the fact is that there are literally 2 trillion trillion possible combinations and more then a few would be horrible!!! However, everyone who has gone through the process ends up loving their pizza, and that the point. You know what flavors and tastes you like, and that is what is so amazing about pizza. Its a fairly neutral base for toppings that you know you like, and just in case your not too inclined in the kitchen, we have many recipies available to everyone from our chefs for you to follow. Check out our Facebook page for additional info. David -Build Owner.

  • Name

    Still better than new construction.
    Worlds better than imported exotic hardwood.

    Go whine somewhere else.

  • guest

    Like there’s no wood to be reclaimed around here. Come on.

  • Bill N

    Better than the Indian rest that was there. Still the question about the Lakireddy family remains unanswered. By being unanswered I suspect that’s the case.

  • @facebook-649736322:disqus I know. I wanted to open a spot like this on Telegraph and Parker a few years back. People kept reminding me of the Seinfeld episode. Now who’s laughing?

  • B.real

    Yes, it is still owned by the Lakireddy family.

  • B.real

    Yes, the building is still owned by the Lakireddy family

  • Mrpersson85

    The executive chef at this place knows his shit and took lesson under michael mina(dont know if i spelled that right) i worked with him and have tasted his pizza before great bold flavors and the crust always on point “topless pizza” probably didnt do well cuz of lack of depth and experience in pizza.

  • eao

    If you’re avoiding shops/restaurants in buildings owned by the Lakireddy’s, you basically can’t shop downtown.