New Haven Pizza Truck: A Party On Wheels

Part of the American dream is finding a line of work that satisfies you while providing financial security and the opportunities to live a full and happy life.

For some, like Frank Bernardo, it means getting to be your own boss, which was his intent when he transformed an old 1946 International firetruck into the New Haven Pizza Truck, a mobile pizza kitchen serving up New Haven-style pies almost as fast as you can think up topping combos.

You can find the New Haven Pizza Truck slingling slices near Yale's med school, at summertime festivals and public events, or if you're lucky, at your friend's next backyard summer party.

"Every job that I go on, I'm going to a party. My job is going to parties. And I meet all different kinds of great people, and I'm in different atmospheres every time I go out," Bernardo says.

Bernardo runs the truck with his wife, Joanna, and son Frank Jr. He has experience working with family, having spent many years in the kitchen with his father, Luigi Bernardo, chef and owner of Gigi's Pizza in New Haven. Luigi came to America from Naples and opened a bakery and pizzeria, enlisting his five sons to help in the kitchen.

Bernardo's father isn't the only one who had a hand in the birth of the New Haven Pizza Truck. Bernardo worked for Douglas Coffin, owner of the Big Green Pizza truck, for five years.

"My dad taught me how to make pizzas and run a brick oven, but when I went to work for Doug, he showed me the things that he does, so between the both of them, I became a professional," Bernardo says.

Two years ago, Bernardo had a 1946 International firetruck transported from Tennessee.

"It was in no shape for driving," says Bernardo, who spent two years fixing up the truck, kicking into high gear last November, working 14 hours a day to get it ready for summer. Coffin told him where to get truck parts, and will sometimes pass customers to him.

The truck is its own self-contained cooking and serving operation. The prep and serving tables are the truck's sides, which are secured during travel and attach to legs stowed on the back of the truck. A wood-fired brick oven imported from Italy sits in the heart of the truck. For dessert, a cappuccino machine and freezer full of little cups of different flavors of New Haven's Gelato Giuliana.

"When we go to parties, the host of the party can actually sit down and enjoy their event. We supply the paper goods, the forks, the napkins, the serving table, and all they gotta do is just show up and bring their drinks and enjoy the party," Bernardo says.

During a party earlier this summer, Frank, Joanna and Frank Jr. were set up in the corner of the hosts' yard, away from the center of the action. After the guests' arrival, they began making pizzas. As many as six pizzas can fit inside the oven, which Bernardo never lets fully cool.

The pizzas cook in about three minutes. The result was a steady stream of pizza for the line of eager and hungry partygoers. Bernardo cooked up a regular mozzarella pie, bacon and onion, mashed potato and bacon, spicy buffalo chicken, spicy shrimp, a garlic bread pie and a host of other combos that had everyone drooling.

The pizza itself has a thin New Haven-style crust. The flavors in the cheese and toppings tasted like these pizzas could have been made on one of New Haven's premier sit-down pizza places.

Bernardo has started taking his pizzas to the streets, selling slices on Mondays and Tuesdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. near Yale's med school campus. He's had such a positive response that he plans to continue slinging slices for the early-week lunch crowd.

You can also find the New Haven Pizza Truck at farmers markets and the upcoming North Branford Potato and Corn Festival July 31 to Aug. 3 at Augur Field. Slices are are $3. Pricing for parties of 50 people or less start at $1,000. Find more menu and pricing information at newhavenpizzatruck.com.