Eco-Conscious Neapolitan Express Plots an Empire

Pizza with a conscience
Pizza with a conscience

When it comes to pizza, New Yorkers are fiercely loyal to their favorite parlor. In fact, mention the word franchise and you're likely to be rebuffed faster than you can fill up a fountain cup. However, the first brick-and-mortar location of Neapolitan Express (232 East 111th Street; 888-828-8199) aims to redefine the perception of a pizza chain by flipping the script written by its predecessors. One major plot twist: The oven is unlike any you've probably seen; it follows in the same vein as the business's eco-friendly food trucks.

Rather than use a classic wood- or coal-burning oven, owner Max Crespo is a fan of modern electricity to melt mozzarella -- electric ovens can heat up a pie in 90 seconds. His restaurants -- both mobile and now brick-and-mortar -- use 100 percent clean energy, and his food truck was the first in NYC to be powered completely by alternative energy sources, drawing the praise of former mayor Michael Bloomberg. Crespo's new East Harlem restaurant continues to build upon the foundation of his mobile fleet with a solar-paneled roof and a soon-to-debut community garden. The location acts as a hub for trucks to refuel, too.

Crespo's innovative approach may become standard one day, as regulations are in place in New York to make wood- and coal-burning ovens more environmentally friendly through improved filtration systems. "Anybody who has ever stood in front of progress loses that fight," says Crespo.

This environmentally conscious stance also connects with millennials. "When you talk to millennials, their drive for social good online has a lot to do with the environment," says Crespo, adding that where food comes from and how it is prepared is a major component of this movement.

Neapolitan Express also partners with armed service organizations such as Wounded Warriors. Crespo says that any veteran interested in owning a franchise would have their fee waved. "They paid their franchise fee on the battlefield," he says. "In fact, we owe them."

But even as Crespo looks to build a franchise empire, all outlets of his company will use the same pizza recipes, which are time-tested and traditional, and come from pizzaiolo Giulio Adriani, the Forcella founder Crespo met through a mutual friend. Adriani uses ingredients such as Caputo flour and San Marzano tomatoes. The business is also transparent about its nutritional information -- calorie counts can be viewed on its website. The current menu features seven varieties of pie, including pizzas covered in everything from mozzarella di bufala to Nutella.

The burgeoning enterprise also plans to open soon at 40 Wall Street and 805 Third Avenue, and plans are in place to expand nationwide.

Neapolitan Express's new East Harlem location will serve as a restaurant and refueling station.
Neapolitan Express's new East Harlem location will serve as a restaurant and refueling station.

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