Calorie- free cookie dough? Meatless ribs? Of all the guilt free food possibilities, I think organic pizza sounds the most delicious. And, it is! Earth Pizza, a Mom and Pop pizza restaurant located in the scenic Redbank, New Jersey is all that and the bag of kettle chips! The restaurant, formerly connected to franchise Pizza Fusion, severed its ties six months ago in favor of better serving customers with dietary options they’d been asking for. With choices ranging from gluten free,dairy free pizza with the vegan favorite–Daiya cheese, to gluten free dessert, organic salads, vegetarian hummus and veggie wraps, to whole wheat crust, and buffalo pizza, it’s a dream come true for any diet.
Owner Paul Finkler and I sat down to discuss the restaurant. The former IT worker of 25 years explained that he left the corporate world to pursue the dream of opening a “green, organic, eco-friendly” restaurant. Of the organic movement, Paul says “We buy organic at home. It’s better for you. It really is. Who knows how cancer is caused?” During the interview, he gets a visit from a local spice shop celebrating its grand opening. When the ladies are done showering him in free samples, I ask them if they’ve ever eaten here. “The barbecue pizza was amazing!” declares the woman who appears to be the owner. Her mother, a little more ambivalent says “It was different.” Followed up by “I had the thin crust…We would come back again.” Phew.
“I did the same thing when I opened,” Paul says. “I just walked around with pizza samples.” In the same way that the business was built from the ground up, so too was the building it manifests in. “There were dirt floors when I got here.” Paul explains. “We installed floors made of recycled material, the paints are low v.o.c., and the tables are made of reclaimed wood, and the countertop is made of recycled soda bottles. You can actually see the pieces of glass in it.”
In the same way that this shop owner’s mother seems ambivalent about the pizza, customers question Paul about the pizza’s size or texture, unsure of why an extra large is large,but not quite what you would see at a run-of-the-mill shop. Often times, these customers come in assuming Earth Pizza is your standard pizza, and not knowing that it’s organic, or what difference that even makes. This can be a tense situation for a shop owner who works hard to make a superior product, ordering fresh, organic ingredients shipped in daily from an organic grocer in Brooklyn. But, receives feedback cards (left at the table after you eat) at a day’s end implying that customers don’t understand his product or don’t care about the difference it makes to their health. Yet, what comes through in the interview is that part of this fatherly, down-to-earth, Everyman owner’s success has resulted from his choice to perceive things to his advantage. “But, people travel long distances to eat it “he counters. His hard work has paid off.
So, this owner’s thorough work really has paid off. Not only has he found the heartiest gluten free crust I’ve tried (and there have been many), but his restaurant provides some of the best customer service I’ve ever encountered with a friendly, accomodating waitstaff. “My niece has celiac disease and diabetes. I know how hard it is [for these folks] to eat out. You can ‘bring your own pasta’ and that’s about it.” In a lot of ways, Paul is a hero. A champion of the small business trade who has taken a risk by doing the right thing. “We really take care of people with all kinds of allergies so they feel safe when they eat here. And, we’ve never had a problem.”
If you’re in the Northern Monmouth area, stop into Redbank and catch a show at Two River Theater; one of only two regional theaters in NJ. Or, see a performance at the Count Basie Theatre which has hosted everyone from Ani DiFranco to Jerry Seinfeld, and is within walking distance from Earth Pizza. Having a “not too full” feeling after eating pizza is a nice change. Savor, digest well, and enjoy!
Kaitlyn Bader-Autoimmune Allyby