Eco-friendly pizza truck expands into trailers and brick-and-mortar restaurants

| by Elliot Maras
Eco-friendly pizza truck expands into trailers and brick-and-mortar restaurants

With 30 trucks in his fleet, Max Crespo has established one of the largest food truck businesses in the country, driven by his commitment to develop an eco-friendly pizza truck.

By designing a truck powered by compressed natural gas, he was able to win the support of Clean Energy Fuels, a clean energy supplier, as noted in part one of this two-part series about Neapolitan Express. And while his journey has included expansions into mobile trailers and brick-and-mortar restaurants, Crespo remains committed to making food trucks safer and more environmentally friendly.

"We wouldn't be able to do what we do without clean energy and our commitment to the environment and to a better food product," he said.

Designing the truck, which consumed all of Crespo's personal resources and more than a year's worth of dedicated toil, was only the first step in his journey to the leadership position he holds today as an eco-friendly food truck operator.

Winning government support

Wanting to expand beyond his first truck in 2013, Crespo approached New York City government to see if it would support a pizza truck that didn't spew emissions into the air. Under the leadership of then Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he found support.

Max Crespo found a waiting audience for his pizza trucks in Midtown Manhattan.

"I cold-called them," Crespo said. Christyne Nicholas, the former head of tourism for the city and now a public relations consultant, was immediately interested in Crespo's idea for a clean energy food vehicle.

The city eventually authorized a pilot program to allow 500 food trailers Crespo designed to operate in the city. In 2014, Crespo founded Move Systems, a separate company that manufactures eco-friendly food trailers.

Move Systems builds trailers for established brands and operates some of the trailers on behalf of the brands. The most visible partnership is with Nathan's Famous, which began in 2015.

"We wouldn't be where we are without them," Crespo said of the public officials who have supported him. "I think elected officials are interested in what we're doing because they see food trucks as a growing industry, but we have to also look at ourselves and say, 'hey, what are we doing from an environmental perspective and a public safety perspective?'"

Expansion into brick and mortar

By the time Move Systems launched, Crespo was operating four Neapolitan Express pizza trucks in Manhattan. At this juncture, he opened the first of seven Neapolitan Express restaurants in the borough with the goal of expanding the brand.

"Food trucks don't work everywhere," he said. But the menu, which includes eight different pizzas, salads and beverages, is the same for the restaurants and the trucks.

While the publicity for the clean energy helped promote Neapolitan Express, Crespo is quick to point out that success has also been based on the quality of the food.

Neapolitan Express restaurants serve the same menu items as
the food trucks.

The pizza at Neapolitan Express has been named as some of the best in the city by New York Magazine. Crespo feels fortunate to have a pizza expert in partner Giulo Adriani.

"In New York, pizza is the toughest business in the world," he said.

Neapolitan Express also has established partnerships with corporate foodservice operators such as Compass Group and Thompson Hospitality.

The company has since expanded to 18 trucks in New York City and 30 in total, including trucks in Austin, Texas, as well as in Los Angeles, South Florida and Washington, D.C.

A foundation for continued growth

Looking forward, Crespo hopes to continue to grow both the food truck and restaurant businesses. In particular, he believes that his success with food trucks in New York City should enable him to succeed in any market, as the city has exceptionally tough food truck regulations.

"The mobile food industry is chaotic at best," Crespo said with respect to New York City. It's also expensive. A mobile food permit requires a $25,000 investment, he said.

Despite his success, Crespo has not become a high-profile personality, which has been by design. He doesn't even have a title at his company.

"I believe a brand should stand on its own two feet and it shouldn't be tied to an individual," he said. "A brand identity is irrespective of what I do." He points to Papa John's as an example of what can happen when the identity of the founder is tied to the identity of the company.

For Crespo, it's enough just to have proved that an individual with limited means who is motivated by a unique vision and dedication can make a difference to society and be personally rewarded.

Photos courtesy of Neapolitan Express

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Equipment & Supplies, Food & Beverage, Franchising & Growth, Independent Operators, Social Responsibility, Systems / Technology, Vehicles

Elliot Maras

Elliot Maras is the editor of and

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