When real estate developers Jim and Jim Eckel, father and son, decided to get into the restaurant business, they envisioned an eatery that would be upscale and would satisfy discerning customers in Southampton — while having something for everyone.
They brought in friend David Wiesneski, who has more than 25 years of experience in food service, to be manager and co-owner, and opened at their shopping center at 850 County Road 39.
Wiesneski said they aim to appeal to local families, as well as seasonal visitors and the trade parade that travels past on the highway.
“We wanted to be more upscale then a deli, but we didn’t want to get into fine dining either," he said. "We wanted it to be fast, casual and affordable.”
“I wanted to eat the best food,” the elder Eckel quipped.
The concept behind Café Crust centers on a wood-fired oven and using fresh, high quality ingredients.
The pizza crust is a simple recipe: Flour, water, yeast, and a pinch of salt.
But, rather than the typical bleached flour, Café Crust uses caputo flour, imported from Italy.
“It’s much lighter," the younger Eckel explained. "It’s a lower protein, lower gluten pizza, which means you’ll see the dough is a softer dough.”
The sauce is made in house with organic tomatoes, every day, and Café Crust makes its own mozzarella daily as well.
To train the staff on how to prepare the wood-fired pizzas, which come in 10-inch and 16-inch pies, the owners brought in a chef who's worked for Wolfgang Puck at the original Spago.
“He flown all over the world and all he does is teach people how to make Neapolitan pizza,” the elder Eckel said. He made two visits to Southampton to train Café Crust chef Luke Ferrara and his kitchen staff.
The restaurant quietly opened its doors on July 12. Since then, the owners said, they have been trying to spread the word that they do much more than pizza.
While pizza is a big part of the menu — including breakfast pizzas with ingredients such as organic eggs and nitrate-free bacon — Café Crust also offers 10 different salads and 10 kinds of panini, as well as wood-fired ribs and lemon-rosemary wings on the appetizer menu.
The calamari appetizer comes with three kinds of dipping sauces — marinara, pesto and citrus vinaigrette — all made in-house.
There is also a half-pound burger on the bill of fare, with buns baked fresh on-site every morning.
For dessert, the restaurant offers homemade gelato, a root beer float with vanilla gelato, and apple pie and Nutella turnover made in the brick oven.
Café Crust serves beer and wine, and among the non-alcoholic drink menu is Puck's soda, made with pure cane sugar.
On top of that, “We make some pretty drop dead smoothies, all with fresh ingredients,” the elder Eckel said.
A couple of the smoothie selections are Tropical Sun with coconut water, mango, pineapple and lime juice, Mango Bango with mango, pineapple, orange juice and yogurt, and Blueberry Bahia with blueberries, banana, vanilla almond milk and honey.
And for breakfast, they have both a sit-down and a grab-and-go menu, featuring oatmeal brulee, bagel and lox, french toast, parfait, pancakes and more.
Before the Eckels decided to open their own restaurant, a Starbucks, an Outback Steakhouse and, most recently, a 7-Eleven were envisioned for the space. Because of various roadblocks, none of those ideas panned out.
The building itself was completed three years ago. A Sleepy's store and home goods pop-up shop are there now, and a liquor store is soon to come to the last open storefront.
“It worked out for the best," the elder Eckel said, pleased to now be a restaurateur, though he admitted he never imagined he would become one.
He lives in Oyster Bay and has also had a home in Southampton Village for the past 34 years. He worked as the president of a company that manufactured medical devices, such as artificial heart valves and pacemakers, prior to becoming a developer. He son followed him into the business, he said, and they have worked together on many commercial and residential projects, including homes here in Southampton.
Wiesneski and the younger Eckel have been friends since they attended Carle Place High School, they said. With Wiesneski's food service experience, the Eckels took advantage of the opportunity to bring him into the fold and make Café Crust a success.
Café Crust is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Take-out and delivery are available. Call 631-259-8880.