Building Pizzas and Relationships

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Newport Coast First Class Pizza co-owner and operator, Julie Neal, poses for a photo in front of the pizzeria recently.
— All photos by Charles Weinberg

It’s been almost 10 years since a local restaurant began dishing out first class pizza and first rate customer service in Newport Coast.

It’s fresh, high quality food and personal care that has kept the customers coming back over the years, said Newport Coast First Class Pizza co-owner Julie Neal.

“I think we’re unique, not just as a pizzeria but as a restaurant, because we know our customers,” Neal said. “It’s the personal touch. Our customers know us and we know them. I think that makes a big difference.”

“It’s a relationship you build with your customers and we build it because we care about them,” she added.

On top of the personal care, the ingredients are top quality, Neal said.

The dough is made fresh on-site, every day, as well as the sauce, which comes from Neal’s own recipe with the shop’s own hand-mixed spice blend.

Faustino “Tino” Chavez adds cheese to a pizza recently at Newport Coast First Class Pizza.

The vegetables are bought a case at a time, as needed throughout the week, so they are fresh and at peak quality. All the veggies, as well as the meats, are all sliced by hand at the shop.

“I think that’s what it is [that makes the pizzas so good], plus the Italian love that goes into it,” she added.

The family owned and operated pizzeria, located in the shopping center at the corner of Newport Coast Drive and San Joaquin Hills Road, has made several improvements in the last few years, Neal said, including upgrading the logo, which is a drawing of Neal’s uncle, Salvatore Gulino, starting a website, joining facebook and adding a salad bar. They also just recently added online ordering.

“Hopefully the online ordering will make ordering food much easier for our customers,” she said. “I think that will be a great benefit to them.”

They have also applied for a beer and wine license. It took about a year to get all the paperwork through the city and have submitted everything to the state department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and are now awaiting response.

“I’m very excited about that,” Neal said. “I think our customers really wanted to be able to have beer or wine while having their pizza and they’ll be very happy about that.”

The name may also be changing fairly soon, Neal said.

Their lease is renewing in the March and are planning on changing the name to “Newport Coast Pizzeria.”

“It’s the same people, the same food, the same everything. It’s just the name is (changing),” she said. “When our lease renews then that’s when we’re going to finish the evolution of the name to Newport Coast Pizzeria. I think it better reflects the area where we are. And it’s a better description of the kind of place we are.”

The only thing that hasn’t changed? The prices, which Neal said have stayed steady even during the worst of the economy.

A few of the chefs behind all that dough, cheese and toppings at Newport Coast First Class Pizza include, (from left to right) Faustino “Tino” Chavez, Eddie Perez, and Brian Serrano.

Loyal customers throughout the years have made that possible, she said.

“I quickly learned that our customers are very loyal and they kept us going during that very difficult time,” Neal said. “Things are better now and are slowly improving.”

Neal came on board at the pizzeria right in the middle of the recession three years ago. She quit her corporate job as a claims manager, where she had worked for 23 years, and joined her nephew, Raymond Salvatore, to run the pizza place.

“It was a lot to take in all at once because what I did before was so very different from the restaurant business,” Neal said.

It’s been a lot of fun learning the industry, she said, and getting to know the customers.

The combo pizza is probably the most popular, Neal said. The ‘Basilicous’ is also a favorite, she added.

The buffalo chicken is probably ordered the least, she added.

They also have off-the-menu options that include the ‘Out-N-In,’ like an “In-N-Out” cheeseburger, and the ‘Alfredo Chicken Bacon,’ created by one of the delivery drivers.

Chavez tosses pizza dough in the air, spinning it into the perfect pie shape for his next pizza.

Neal’s favorite is the Zesty Italian, and maybe the Veggie with chicken. Her son likes a half Basilicous, half Spicy South-Western, which have very different tastes, Neal said, but all the employees have their own tastes.

Prices vary, depending on what the customer wants: For a giant slice of cheese or pepperoni it’s $3.25 or for an entire pie of an extra large, loaded specialty it’s $30.49.

Regulars Patrick Hauser of Newport Beach and Will McKee of Fountain Valley said they stop in almost every day since it’s right along their work route.

The pizza is delicious, both men agreed, and a “real fair deal.”

The ingredients are fresh and the people are really nice. they said, and the toppings are piled on.

They don’t weigh or measure the cheese or toppings, Neal said, they just pile it on so the pie is full and flavorful.

“They’re really heaped up and most people are surprised by that,” Neal said.

She’s been surprised a few times since she joined the First Class Pizza team, she said, and she’s learned a lot, she added, and loves the work, the people and the pizza.

“I like to say this is the perfect place for an Italian mother,” she said, “because I get to talk to people all day… I get to feed them.. I get to clean… And I get to tell men what to do all day long. So it’s perfect for an Italian mom.”

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A combo pizza stacked with toppings and hot out of the oven.
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  1. i would classify first class pizza as neither really good, nor really bad pizza, while it is considerably better than the dreck you get from domino’s, pizza hut,, it does not measure up to truly great pizzas. the crust as others have said is very good; flaky and crispy on the outside, puffy and doughy on the inside. the toppings were fresh and tasty. i was disappointed by the near absence of sauce, it was there but hardly noticeable, next time i shall ask for extra. i also found the cheese was a bit too plentiful and stringy for my liking. taking a a bite felt like performance art piece as i tried to wrap the cheese around and around until it snapped.also tried the “extra spicy” chicken wings and had a similar reaction: not the best, but not the worst. the notion these were even moderately spicy let alone “extra” is laughable, i’ve had spicier bags of doritos. they were overdone, but were not overly salty like so many wings are. the benchmark for chickens wings is still crab zone in laguna beach.the atmosphere is non-descript and forgetable bar the antics of the self-entitled, noveau-riche of newport coast. service was good without being noteworthy.