Mild-mannered medical devices pro by day, wood-fired pizza superhero by night: the story of Jerry Campbell & City Crust.
Most people would just put a wood fired oven in their back yard and be done. Not Jerry Campbell.
By day, Jerry is a mild-mannered sales & marketing pro in medical devices. By night, he’s slinging pies with friends and family from a slick new trailer with a wood-fired pizza oven onboard.
How does a man who has spent his career working with products which help children with scoliosis end up side-hustling as owner and operator of a wood-fired pizza wagon? It pretty much starts exactly where it does with most of us: We want to make pizza for our friends and family. And then it just snowballs until you find yourself going home at night covered in flour.
I met Jerry recently at a backyard party in Park City. The hosts had hired bartenders, a band—and Jerry’s pizza rig, which travels under the name City Crust.
Jerry and his team were slinging pies like crazy. Two women were circulating through the party with trays of pizza. They were offering guests slices of fresh Neapolitan-style pizza hot from the oven.
It was pretty clear that this was the real deal. The pizzas were fresh and tender and leopard-spotted from high-heat baking. Fresh mozzarella. The tomatoes were excellent. A big can of Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes in the window of the kitchen confirmed that this was a top-shelf operation. (Bianco DiNapoli is part of what has become the world-famous Chris Bianco pizza empire that started in the back of a Phoenix grocery store in 1988.)
Once the woodsmoke cleared and Jerry had some time to talk pizza, I asked him a few questions. It seems unsurprising that Pizzeria Bianco figures in this narrative.
FREE THE PIZZA: Thanks for doing this, Jerry. We all have a favorite pizza memory? What’s yours?
My favorite pizza memory would have to be sometime around 2005. My wife and I had between two and four kids (depending on the exact day). I was working a ton in the medical device industry. On my drive home from work, I would stop and get in line at Chris Bianco’s pizzeria on 7th St. in downtown Phoenix. I would time the line (which started forming around 4:00pm on a Tuesday/Wednesday). I’d try and get into the second seating. They would quote me 1.5-ish hours. So I would go home & pick up my wife. My mom would stay with the kids and we would head back to Bianco for the best pizza in the world.
FTP: It's pretty spectacular pizza. When we went, it spun my head around. But your pizza is pretty good, too. How long have you been making pizza as a) an amateur and b) as a semi-professional?
I have a day job in the medical device industry. I’ve been involved in technology for kids with scoliosis for almost 27 years now! I started making my own dough balls and pizza in my home oven in 2015. I took delivery of my mobile pizzeria in October 2020. We had our first paid event on Halloween 2020.
FTP: How did you start making pizza?
My first real job was as a 14-year old in Phoenix, Arizona in 1982. I made pizza (and Italian subs) at a mom & pop shop called Appetito’s on 7th St and Bethany Home Road.
FTP: What makes a sane man do such a thing as starting a business like City Crust?
My whole life I've enjoyed cooking for people I love. My good friend Matias Gonzalez taught me how to make dough balls from scratch in 2015. We started getting really positive feedback from friends and family. I've wanted an Italian wood-fired oven for 20 years but could never pull it off. Early in 2020, my wife suggested a mobile unit so we could make pizza anywhere. After considerable research, we ordered my oven in June 2020.
FTP: What’s the biggest challenge of making pizza as a pro?
Initially, it was oven temperature control and consistency over several hours of pizza production, trying to avoid high and low fluctuations. Recently, it’s hydration percentage based on outside temperature and humidity.
FTP: Makes sense. I realized how much difference those things matter when I moved from making pizza in a dry climate at sea level, to an even drier climate at 8,000 feet, then back to sea level and high humidity.
What are your plans for City Crust? Staying small, or are you building an empire?
Right now, staying small as I have a really cool day job. But my wife works locally in commercial real estate, so we’re always keeping our eyes open for the perfect location to take it full time!
FTP: If you're like most pizza makers I know, whether amateur or professional, making pizza never gets old. Why do you think that is?
Because it’s always different: whether audience, location, outside temperature, toppings, etc. For me, creating something from nothing, with my wife and friends, and that has a positive and passionate reception is a great thing. And, everyone loves pizza!
FTP: Yes. That. Pizza Love. I also think it has something to do with transformation of such mundane ingredients into such a fantastic food. Are there any pizza-making secrets you'd like to share with the home pizzamaker?
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Every pizza you make will likely be better than the last! We just made 91 pizzas at an event last month, and in my humble opinion, they were the best we have ever made. You learn so much and continue to get better from just doing it over and over again.
FTP: Eegad. 91 pizzas! That's crazy--and out of that one oven in that one trailer. That's impressive. Last question. You’re at the Oscars accepting the Best Pizza Award for City Crust. Who do you thank?
My wife and kids for their unwavering support! And it literally wouldn't be possible without my good friend Matias Gonzalez. He taught me how to make dough balls from scratch and has been by my side assisting with production at every one of City Crust's events. Matias' wife Carolina. My wife Jill and our amazing friends have been there to help us at every single City Crust event.
Big thanks to Jerry for playing with Free The Pizza. If you want to find City Crust, you'll eventually be able to find them online. They're so crazy busy making pizza, there's been no time to build a website or maintain their Instagram account. But if you'd like to contact Jerry about City Crust, text him at 435-315-8904.
If you're still at the beginning of your pizza journey and want the simplest guide we know to making great pizza in your home oven, check out Free The Pizza! on Amazon by clicking here.
Free the pizza!
Blaine Parker is the award-winning author of the bestselling, unusual and amusing how-to pizza book, Free The Pizza. Also known as The Pizza Geek and "Hey, Pizza Man!", Blaine is fanatical about the idea that true, pro-quality pizza can be made at home. His home. Your home. Anyone's home. After 20 years of honing his craft and making pizza in standard consumer ovens across the nation, he's sharing what he's learned with home cooks like you. Are you ready to pizza?
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