Thin crust and corruption-free.
Spirits were high Saturday, June 8, at the newly opened The Just Crust Pizzeria in Harvard Square. Filled with white and purple balloons and crowds of people who had graciously accepted free pizza offerings,
The Just Crust was celebrating rising from the ashes of the corrupt, former Upper Crust with a new and just outlook on business.
You may remember the Upper Crust as a successful pizza chain that was once rapidly spreading throughout Greater Boston and beyond. And you may remember when the company filed for bankruptcy in October 2012 and the unraveling of the chain with reports of underpaying workers and the owner’s personal use of company money (to say, buy a plane). I spoke with Shannon E. Liss-Riordan, the lawyer who represented the Upper Crust employees during this time of outrage and inequity. Here’s what went down:
The Upper Crust relied on the labor of immigrant workers who received little pay for their long hours of operation, according to a 2010 Globe investigation.
Workers went to the Department of Labor, who cited the Upper Crust for not paying overtime and ordered the company to pay back the $340,000 in back wage overtime payments to more than 100 workers. Company executives then allegedly told the workers that if they wanted to keep their jobs, they would have to pay that money back. Those who wanted to keep their earnings lost their jobs.
Those who wanted to keep their jobs either paid the money back or had money deducted from their paychecks over a series of months.
After a much-needed lawsuit filing, fallout among the Upper Crust owners, bankruptcy filing, indefinite closings of 10 of their 16 locations last November, and 140 former Upper Crust employees on the street, “the wheels started going off in my head,” said Liss-Riordan, “to think about whether there was some kind of creative response or something that could happen to help the workers—not just the workers from the lawsuit, but also the workers who lost their jobs as a result of the bankruptcy filing and the abrupt closing last fall.”
Last December, Liss-Riordan and her husband purchased the former Upper Crust location in Harvard Square at an auction “with the plan of making it a part worker-owned operation and making it a model workplace for the benefit of employees and to show that you can run a successful business, valuing and respecting employees, and making them a part of the operation.”
The Just Crust was born.
At the grand opening, they offered unlimited free slices and good vibes, which also came by the unlimited supply. Even Senator Elizabeth Warren showed up, among numerous other local politicians, standing alongside Liss-Riordan in officially opening the site with a ribbon cutting.
Not only are they committed to the improvement of labor relations, as more than half of their staff are former Upper Crust employees, The Just Crust is also committed to using locally sourced ingredients.
Their menu cites all of the New England farms that provide their necessities, including organic tomatoes harvested by Valicenti Organico in Hollis, NH and flour from Four Star Farms in Northfield, Mass. “We’re really proud of and excited about our menu and, so far, we’ve gotten really great feedback on the food being really top-notch,” says Liss-Riordan.
Slices on opening day included pepperoni, margherita, and even a heftier asparagus, summer squash, broccoli, and ricotta slice. The thin crust was crispy, the sauce was tasty, and the melted cheese slid right off with each bite.
As overheard by a satisfied taste-tester with a dribble of sauce descending down his chin: “Yeah, it’s pretty damn good.”
Boston’s pizzeria industry can sigh a breath of relief and maintain hope for the future; justice has finally been served (with a beer and plenty of napkins).
THE JUST CRUST. 49B BRATTLE ST., CAMBRIDGE. @THEJUSTCRUST. THEJUSTCRUST.COM.