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Neighborhood Gem: Nick’s Pizza in North Oakland

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Nick's popular Tarte Flambée pizza. Photo courtesy of Nick's.
Nick's popular Tarte Flambée pizza. Photo courtesy of Nick's.

by loakavore, Oakland Local (9/22/14)

Nick’s Pizza owner Nick Yapor-Cox has an easy smile, an infectious enthusiasm for his hometown and a childlike zeal for sourdough. The down-to-earth entrepreneur grew up in North Oakland, just a few blocks away from where he opened his pizza business in 2012.

Nick Yapor-Cox, owner of Nick’s Pizza. Photo courtesy of Nick’s.
Nick Yapor-Cox, owner of Nick’s Pizza. Photo courtesy of Nick’s.

“I liked the idea of opening a neighborhood joint,” says Nick. “Pizza is a regular food, and I enjoy being a regular part of people’s lives.” Indeed, Nick’s has a strong neighborhood following, which is broadened somewhat by his evening delivery service. As we talk, Nick nods appreciatively to a customer seated across from us who lives a few doors down from the shop.

You might not guess from the unpretentious storefront that Nick cut his teeth at two of Manhattan’s finest restaurants (he worked as a pastry chef at Eleven Madison Park and Alex Guarnaschelli’s Butter Restaurant). Nick’s fine dining experience in New York made him homesick for the Bay Area, where he returned to continue his pastry training at the now-shuttered B Restaurant in Old Oakland and at Mary Canales’s then-new ice cream shop, Ici.

Nick started making pizza at B Restaurant, but it was his more recent experience at the worker-owned Arizmendi Bakery in Emeryville that crystallized his entrepreneurial vision and inspired a love of sourdough.

Nick’s Pizza on Shattuck. Photo by Adrienne DeAngelo.
Nick’s Pizza on Shattuck. Photo by Adrienne DeAngelo.

“Sourdough is the pulse of what I was excited about at Arizmendi,” says Nick, moving in a little closer to explain what makes sourdough such a compelling medium. “You really have to have a relationship with the dough,” he explains. “You have to watch it. You have to be careful with it.” Nick asks if I want to see the starter he uses, then leads me to the refrigerator to point out a bucket of the glistening, bubbling dough that he has used to start every delightfully chewy pizza crust he’s made since the tiny shop opened.


While Nick’s tenure at Arizmendi certainly informed his pizza making, he has a style all his own, which he describes as “Oakland-style.” It’s a happy medium between down-home and fancy, he says, a cross between New York and California. Nick’s hand-tossed, sourdough-based crust is more subtle than Arizmendi’s crust, and it integrates well with his eclectic toppings. A touch of olive oil baked into the dough imparts a rich and buttery flavor. Nick’s pizzas are baked on the floor of the pizza oven–a more New York-style that makes the crust golden brown and pliable.

Nick’s offers six to eight pizza varieties every day, many of which are available by the slice. He uses organic produce almost exclusively, locally-sourced ingredients whenever possible, and rbST-free cheeses. He uses organic flour from Central Milling (the go-to brand for many top Bay Area bakers) and California-made olive oil for his chewy crust. His sauce is homemade and characteristically light on his pizzas.

Nick’s pizza specials. Photo by Adrienne DeAngelo.
Nick’s pizza specials. Photo by Adrienne DeAngelo.

While Nick has Classic Pepperoni and Classic Cheese pizza on the menu nightly, other offerings depend on the season and the chef’s whims. Customers love Nick’s prosciutto-topped pizzas and anything he makes with stone fruit. One of his more popular pizzas is Tarte Flambee, a sweet and savory combination of caramelized onion, bacon and goat cheese. Another unusual pizza that’s making a repeat appearance soon is the Figgy Piggy, which combines black mission figs, bacon and goat cheese. It’s a riff on a dessert Nick used to make at B Restaurant. Nick says he appreciates his customers’ willingness to trust his “crazy pizza ideas.” He admits that some people find his clam pizza “totally nutty,” but he argues that keeping the shells on is the only way to do it right.

As for Nick, he likes his pepperoni pizza, which he describes as chewy and crispy with the just the right proportion of cheese and lightly spicy pepperoni. Nick special-orders the all-natural, nitrate-free pepperoni from the East Coast. In addition to pizza, Nick offers a seasonal menu of green salads, a whole-grain salad, and several desserts. He’s known for his thin and chewy chocolate chip cookies, which are made fresh daily. His delivery crew makes a point of nestling the cookies just so next to the pizza so that they arrive at their destination warm and melty. (Make sure you have milk at home!)

Bushrod Sourdough. Photo courtesy of Nick’s.
Bushrod Sourdough. Photo courtesy of Nick’s.

Until very recently, Nick served breakfast pastries, like chanterelle mushroom croissants and sourdough fougasse with walnuts, grapes and rosemary, but he had to suspend the operation when his best friend and baker, Aron Ford, injured his hand this summer. He plans to start his breakfast business up again when Nick’s opens a second shop in the next year–most likely in downtown Oakland. Exact dates and location are yet to be determined. In the meantime, Nick still offers two fresh-made types of bread: Bushrod sourdough and kalamata sourdough, both browned to perfection with a crisp, rustic crust.

Nick’s menu is updated weekly.

Nick’s Pizza
6211 Shattuck Avenue
(510) 658-3903
Open Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Closed Monday. Delivery begins at 5 p.m.
Neighborhood: North Oakland

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