The Just Crust: Doing Pizza Justice

The Just Crust Pizzeria, located in Cambridge, MA, offers delicious, thin crust pizza with a side of social change.  Try one of their seasonal pizzas, such as the Basilico with house made, fresh basil pesto and topped with local ricotta. You’ll note the use of fresh, local ingredients both in terms of tastiness and how it coincides with the increasingly popular sustainable food movement. What you may not realize right away, however, is that your pizza was made and served by a truly happy employee, in fact a partial owner in The Just Crust. Diners can feel good about what they’re eating, not only because ingredients are fresh and locally sourced but also because The Just Crust has a firm grasp of fair labor practices. The pizzeria treats employees well, paying living wages, and offering full-time employees a partnership in the company.

Patrick Joyce, Operating Partner of The Just Crust, began his pizza career shortly after finishing college. While pursuing a career in education, he took a part-time position at The Upper Crust Pizzeria, also based in the Boston area. Over time he proved himself invaluable, and they asked him to come on as general manager, and he eventually took over as Operations. He helped them grow the business, taking The Upper Crust from two locations to seventeen pizza shops in six years.

Despite his integral role in the company, Patrick found over time that The Upper Crust owners were not engaging in fair labor practices, in fact exploiting their employees.  The Department of Labor caught wind of their malfeasance and ordered the owners to pay restitution. The Upper Crust, however, continued to take advantage of employees.  Fed up, Patrick reported them to the Department of Labor and left the company for good.

Patrick was approached by Shannon Liss-Riordan, who represented the former employees in the class action suit. She had decided to buy one of the former Upper Crust locations in Harvard Square, and asked Patrick to partner with her on the new venture. Patrick agreed, and became Operating Partner of the aptly named Just Crust Pizzeria.

Right off the bat, Patrick sought to hire back as many of the former, disenfranchised employees of The Upper Crust as possible. Fair, living wages and good labor practices were a top priority from the outset, and The Just Crust is set up to be profit sharing—any employee who is at the company 6 months is then vested in the company, and 25% of the company profits go directly towards full time employees.

Fair labor practices and employee co-ownership are just one of the ways Patrick’s pizzeria is truly doing pizza justice. The Just Crust strives to source its ingredients from local, organic farms. Their tomatoes come from an organic tomato farm in New Hampshire, and their flour is from Western Massachusetts. They try to get as much local produce as possible, and source their meat from Vermont. “We are trying to be sustainable from a food standpoint, and also treat our employees well,” Patrick said. The Just Crust is taking the sustainable food movement and translating that to fair labor practices.

The Just Crust is successfully uniting two formerly unassociated but simultaneously coinciding movements: fair labor practices and the sustainable food movement. Drawing from past negative experiences with labor practices, Patrick has helped create a business that draws from the positive aspects of the sustainable food movement and applies them to fair labor practices and employee happiness.  He has picked up on the fact that these two movements are not mutually exclusive, and can in fact draw from each other, creating a business practice that lends respect to both employees and the environment.

Patrick has started his own movement by successfully creating a restaurant that combines a healthy working environment with the use of local and sustainable food. Based on Patrick’s experience, is it possible to apply this union of social movements to the restaurant industry as a whole? Please feel free to comment below—we look forward to reading your thoughts on positive change and social justice in the restaurant industry.