Forget a signature sneaker deal: In the food-obsessed Bay Area, maybe one of the biggest signs you’ve made it as an athlete is when a well-loved local restaurant names a menu item after you — say, in the case of basketball star (and Palo Alto native) Jeremy Lin, a custom-designed pizza that bears his name. His “JLIN” pie makes its debut at San Francisco’s Square Pie Guys, the popular Detroit-style pizza shop in SoMa, on January 5 as part of the restaurant’s new winter menu.
What, then, does the point guard like on his pizza? Quite a lot of stuff, it turns out: The JLIN features a lemon-garlic ricotta cream base, cupping pepperoni (i.e., the kind that curls up into little meat “cups” when they bake), a drizzle of green goddess Caesar dressing, red pepper flakes, and the crispy-cheese crust edges that are characteristic of the Detroit style pie.
According to Square Pie Guys co-owners Marc Schechter and Danny Stoller, the collaboration was born out of a mutual admiration. Lin had dined at the restaurant a few times over the course of the past year and apparently liked it enough to declare that it was his favorite pizzeria in the U.S. Meanwhile, the restaurant’s GM, Louise Tang — a Jeremy Lin superfan — recognized the basketball star right away when he picked up a takeout order over the summer. Over the course of several takeout visits over a two-week period, the team noticed that Lin kept on asking for the same custom modifications on a garlic ricotta cream–based pizza called the “Big Von.”
Schechter, who describes Lin as “a very down-to-earth, low-key person,” says Square Pie Guys typically has a strict no-substitutions policy, but both he and the staff were starstruck enough to make an exception for Lin — and eventually. Schechter says, “I was like, well, if he’s going to come do this every time, we might as well reach out and say, ‘Hey, do you want your own pizza?”
He did. And the eventual JLIN pizza was the culmination of “many text messages,” as well as a tasting of four different variations on the pizza he’d been requesting all along, as Lin himself explains in a video he recorded during the aforementioned taste test (embedded below).
There’s a philanthropic angle to the collaboration as well: Square Pie Guys will donate 5 percent of the sales from the JLIN to three local charities of Lin’s choosing, one for each month the pizza will be available: the Community Youth Center of San Francisco (January), Oakland’s Harbor House Ministries (February), and Alameda-based Food Shift (March). Lin will match those donations.
It’s been a long time — more than 10 years, in fact — since Lin last donned a Warriors’ uniform as an undrafted rookie fresh out of Harvard. But Lin’s Bay Area bona fides are unquestioned, and for many of the region’s Asian Americans, in particular, “Linsanity” — that magical month-long stretch in 2012 when Lin, newly thrust into the New York Knicks’ starting lineup, became the biggest story in all of sports — remains a seminal moment of cultural pride.
Hard as it may be to believe, we’re now coming up on nine years since the peak of “Linsanity.” After spending this past season playing in China, Lin is currently on the NBA comeback trail, as an unsigned free agent. In fact, just a few weeks ago he was on the brink of joining the Warriors’ G League team in Santa Cruz. That deal, which was stymied, at least for now, by a logistical issue, would have opened a path for Lin to eventually return to the the Warriors — an exciting homecoming, and not just because it would give Lin regular access to his namesake pizza.
For Square Pie Guys, the collaboration with Lin is just one of a number of somewhat splashy moves the restaurant has in the works. Of particular note, in February it’ll be opening its first Oakland outpost, in the old Benchmark Oakland space in Old Oakland, where the JLIN pizza will be part of the opening menu.