Brian James of City Pizza and Pasta in Newtonville has really only ever wanted to be “a pizza guy.”
It is highly likely that the Framingham native even has red sauce running through his veins.
James opened City Pizza and Pasta on Feb. 6, 2012, approximately one year after closing his full-service, Northborough restaurant Lazio Italian Grill. He owned that location for seven years, but it was hardly his first foray into the world of Italian cuisine.
“I’ve been in the pizza business since I was 15,” James says, with a smile. “It’s been 20 years now!”
Once James started tossing dough at Peter’s Pizza in Wellesley at the age of 18, he quickly worked his way up to becoming a full partner in that business. But as close as he is to his mentor/former partner, who preferred that we not use his name in this article, James always dreamed of having his own place. Even after selling Lazio’s, he knew he didn’t want to go back to working at an existing restaurant.
“I’ve had my own place since I was 25, so [the idea of] going to work for someone else was kind of hard,” says James. “I have my own way of doing things, so right or wrong- it’s my way.”
It might seem as if opening a pizza place in Newton would be a daunting proposition, with much competition and a discerning community already dedicated to their favorite locales. But James notes that Newton actually has far fewer pizza places than some neighboring towns, especially if the size of the city is taken into consideration.
City Pizza and Pasta has already found several ways of setting itself apart from the competition. First and foremost, as advertised on the enormous banner outside the small shop, they are “the home of the $1 slice.”
Although City Pizza has been running that deal since they first opened, when the sign went up they went from selling 150 slices of Sicilian style pizza a week to 240, James says. Of those 240 slices, he estimates that about 210 are cheese (the aforementioned $1 slice) and another 30 are split among their specialty pizzas.
Newton North High School students are among James’ most dedicated customers, in part because it is possible for them to get a hearty lunch of a couple of slices of pizza and a drink for less than they’d pay at the cafeteria or the high school’s in-house bistro, The Tiger’s Loft.
But, as the name suggests, pizza isn’t the only thing City Pizza and Pasta serves. Though James is trained as a pasta maker, he actually doesn’t make their pasta by hand - but almost every other dish is made from scratch, including entrees, salads and salad dressings.
“Our chicken cutlets and eggplant parm are hand breaded,” he proudly states. “Everything has that fresh feel- the shrimp scampi, the chicken broccoli Alfredo- all of it.”
Yet another way that City Pizza and Pasta is making a name for itself is with their delivery service. While most of the pizza joints in Newton will deliver a pie, pasta and salad to your door, City Pizza and Pasta also delivers breakfast. This resonates with a particular segment of the population.
“I have some elderly folks behind me, that can’t get out of the house,” James shares, “So they’ll call up and get pancakes or make up their own specials, and I’ll give that to them.”
James has also helped out the community by teaching local preschoolers from Discovery Central Learning Center how to make pizza, and he will be providing food for the American Legion Post 440’s upcoming boxing event.
So it would seem that James’ “way of doing things” is more right than wrong, and that is certainly working well for patrons of City Pizza and Pasta.