The story of June’s Pizza is the story of the Bay Area food industry in a nutshell: ambition, well-earned hype and bureaucracy. Lively pizzeria opened in West Oakland’s Aggregate of craftsmen O2 in March of last year, shortly after the pandemic disrupted everyone’s lives. The restaurant became an instant hit, with praise from local media and a cult following for pizza lovers all over the bay. Then it was shut down by local health inspectors, after authorities discovered that the company did not have any of the required permits or inspections to operate as a restaurant in Alameda County.
Owner Craig Murli told Nosh that when he rented June’s space in one of the many refurbished shipping containers at the sprawling industrial site, her owners didn’t ask many questions. Murli took $ 23,000 from her savings and transformed the empty box, installing a wood-fired oven and recruiting unemployed friends to help her bake and serve the restaurant’s popular wood-fired pies. The yard stood out, with passages from popular Bay Area pop-ups like Okkon, and June’s began to sell whole pies more and more quickly. Simply by word of mouth, and without concerted marketing, June’s has grown and grown.
Murli was a private chef when the pandemic hit. He learned he was out of work when he received a text from his customers telling him not to show up that day because they had scampered off to Martha’s Vineyard.
Murli had been thinking about June’s idea for about a year before this fateful text, and decided now was the time to give it a shot. âI decided to open it as a pop-up without the proper permission, and it really took off,â he said. âAnd it became a question: do we want to stop for 4-6 months to be fully allowed, or see how far we can go until our space is too big? “
This question was answered for him in early October, when the Alameda County Public Health Department slapped a ticket on the door of the container the pizzeria was occupying. Murli was on vacation and learned about it, over the phone, from her neighbors. On October 6, the company announced its final closure at an Instagram post that was reported by the SF Chronicle, among others. June’s Pizza was closed almost as abruptly as it had become a sensation in East Bay.
For owner Craig Murli, the closure came as no surprise. He suspects that inspectors came across the unauthorized Junes during a health inspection in the nearby Soba Ichi neighborhood, and the rest is history. âWe’ve paid a lot of talented cooks, we’ve nurtured a community, I’m really proud of the product we’ve made. I did what I could with the resources I had and it finally caught up with us, âhe said. The last time customers of June’s Pizza heard about the business, it was a very successful sale of merchandise – t-shirts in particular, which Murli says sold out in two hours.
Murli said he briefly considered applying for a temporary permit, but ultimately decided to focus on the bigger picture. âNow that we have a lot of goodwill behind us, we are going to rebuild ourselves in a legitimate and secure space,â he said. He already has a few permanent brick and mortar locations he is considering in West Oakland.
âThis part of town has been really good for us,â said Murli. âOur brand is an alley; it’s not Rockridge or Temescal. And while he’s not disclosing any fundraising plans at the moment, Murli says he won’t be doing crowdfunding and that there has been a surge of support from loyal customers.
In his next spot, he wants to “focus extremely hard on just a few things, with very high quality.” Murli is just considering pizza, âcheap wine and beerâ and collaborations with local winemakers on affordable pours. He appreciates âthe simplicity of operationsâ at Gioia Pizza in Berkeley, the streamlined business model of Cholita Linda and the ingenuity of the Lion Dance Cafe. âA great product with a limited menuâ is what these places have in common, and this is also Murli’s motto.
Meanwhile, Mulri revels in the love he feels for the community and the fact that June’s Pizza, during its short-lived existence, has become something of a greenhouse, at least an accelerator for the chefs who had worked there. . Two of his former workers recently started their own business: Matt Solimano with Sfizio pasta, a creative pop-up in Berkeley, and Andres Geraldo Florez with the crowded Snail Bar. âJune provided a safe haven for talented cooks,â said Murli. “I always said [that] when you leave, you better start your own business! ”