Skateboarders, as a group, really like pizza — at least the skaters who are in the same orbit as Brad Staba, a 20-plus-year veteran of the Bay Area pro scene. “You’re on the road a lot,” he explains. “You don’t have time to sit down to have a three-course meal.” So Staba has spent the past couple of decades grabbing a slice in cities all over the world, thinking about the kinds of pizza he likes, and, eventually, experimenting with making his own. It makes sense, then, that the Berkeley resident would open his very own pizza restaurant: Raymond’s Pizzeria, a Richmond pizza shop serving East Coast-inflected thin-crust pies and slices in the East Bay city’s quaint Point Richmond neighborhood.
Open since July, the pizzeria is a joint venture with Nathan Trivers, who also owns the Up & Under Pub and Grill next door. In many ways, it has already established itself as the most ambitious pizza restaurant in Richmond, which has a host of modest, delivery-oriented pizzerias and old-school Italian restaurants that serve pizza — but not a lot of places that are touting their house-pickled peppers and lovingly slow-fermented pizza dough, as Raymond’s does.
Now 40, with the bulk of his pro skating days behind him, Staba is probably best known as the founder of Skate Mental, the Nike-affiliated skateboard and apparel company, which had previously been the chief repository for Staba’s pizza obsession, in the form of pizza-themed skateboard decks, deck grip tape, and even sneakers. In fact, Staba says his very first pizza oven was one that he installed in his company’s old warehouse in Richmond — he’d tinker around with it while his employees were shipping out skateboards. Now, he uses that same oven to heat up the spices at Raymond’s.
“I attacked this whole project like I do skateboarding,” Staba says. “I didn’t go and hire somebody to teach me how to do the shit, you know? I just went and fucking did it.”
Staba decided it would be too tacky to go with a full-on skateboard theme for the restaurant, but as a nod to his other life, the wooden stools at the counter are all made out of recycled skateboard decks. And the name, “Raymond’s,” is a reference to the chef’s earlier stints as a skateboard photographer, when he would publish work under the alias “Rick Raymond.”
What the restaurant isn’t lacking is personality. A neon sign outside reads, “Free Time Travel Consultations,” the menu tells customers that they can “Buy One Pizza at Full Price...Get Second Pizza at Full Price,” and there’s a painting of the famously pizza-loving Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on one wall. The overall vibe might be summed up in what Staba says is his next big project: installing a projector so he can play Rambo, projected onto the wall at 100 inches, on a constant loop. “When’s the last time you had a slice of pizza while watching Rambo in a restaurant?” Staba says.
As far as pizza taxonomy goes, Staba says he didn’t actually set out to model his recipes after any particular regional style, but the pies at Raymond’s do tend to skew toward an East Coast aesthetic: the thin, foldable crust; the enticing slick of grease on top; the relative simplicity of the topping selection. Specialty pies have tongue-in-cheek, sometimes seemingly nonsensical names: The “Rules Are Meant to Be Broken” features four different spicy components, including house-pickled hot peppers. The “Happy Birthday” turns out just to be Staba’s version of a pepperoni pizza.
The item that seems to have generated the most excitement, though, are the square-shaped pan pizzas, which resemble what a New Yorker might describe as a Sicilian or grandma pie — though again, Staba says he’s mostly just doing his own thing. For these square pies, Staba makes an entirely separate dough and bakes the pizza in an inch-deep pan in such a way that the cheese at the corners chars and crisps, forming a hard, crunchy edge he calls a “cheese shelf.” These pan pizzas have turned out to be so popular, and so labor-intensive, that the restaurant had to take them off the menu temporarily, but Staba says he’s planning to bring them back soon on a limited basis — maybe 10 pies a day.
Ultimately, Staba says, Raymond’s is something of a hybrid between a quick-service slice shop and a nicer sit-down restaurant — like “a Prius,” he says. Customers seat themselves and grab their own cans of soda. But there’s also a popular vegan Caesar salad and serious craft beer on tap, including Pliny the Elder and options from San Francisco’s Cellarmaker Brewing.
Whatever success the pizzeria attains, however, Staba says he gives all the credit to skateboarding: “Dreams came true because of a piece of wood with some wheels.”
Raymond’s Pizzeria is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day except Wednesday.
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