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CRISP, Walpole MA/VisitingNewEngland small business partnership - Local Small Business Stories

A Very CRISP Restaurant Opening in Walpole, Massachusetts

The pies at CRISPWalpole meet or surpass many of the legendary bar pizzas joints South of Boston while the rest of the menu approaches comfort foods perfection

South Shore bar pizza (cheese and tomato) from CRISPWalpole in Walpole, Mass.
Cheese pizza from CRISP.

Article and photos, unless otherwise noted, by Eric Hurwitz. Article created on 2/14/2020.

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Even before CRISPWalpole opened in Walpole, Mass. mid-January 2020, many locals could not only taste the mouthwatering South Shore-style bar pizza but also the possibility of a wildly successful business.

Social media chatter, people peaking through the windows to see the storefront development and an easily accessible, accountable, marketing-savvy owner helped create the buzz. Others anticipated the virtues of a good South Shore bar pizza -- a crispy, slightly greasy thin pie typically cooked in an amply-oiled 10-inch pan with sauce and cheese.

Soon, Walpole area fans of South Shore bar pizza would have such a place to call their own, much like those lining up for pies at legendary, long established spots like the Venus Cafe in Whitman, the Lynwood Cafe in Randolph, Town Spa Pizza in Stoughton and Cape Cod Cafe in Brockton. The South Shore, by the way, is considered by many as an area of Massachusetts spanning south and east of Boston to Cape Cod.


That anticipation of a bar pizza place closer to home for Walpole area residents turned into reality on Jan. 15, 2020.
CRISP owner Rob Carnes announced, largely through social media, that his restaurant would open at 4 p.m. The crowds coming in at that time, however, found they had to line up behind more crowds that had arrived well before the opening time. The next thing Carnes and staff knew, they were making up to 500 pizzas in just one day.

As a result, many customers experienced pizza orders taking up to two hours and other meals 30-40 minutes. Soon, however, Carnes and staff shifted into overdrive and found solutions to successfully serving the public with much shorter waits. Customers could soon be seen coming out of CRISPWalpole in much better moods, carrying out bar pizzas in the traditional cardboard plates with the pies wrapped in a brown paper bags.  Others preferred to dine at the long pleasant dining area with tile floors, hanging lights, a barnwood-style wall, and plenty of windows to let in light.


Dining area at CRISPWalpole in Walpole, Mass.
Opening day at CRISPWalpole.


Within a few weeks of opening, CRISP started working on a 650 sq. ft. addition with two new additional pizza ovens ordered to keep up with the overwhelming response. They are ready for the constant flow of business...

Pizza ready to go at CRISP in Walpole, Mass.
Ready for the pizza crowds at CRISP. Photo source: CRISP Facebook page.

"We are going non-stop," said Carnes, 50. "There's no break in the action. At first, it was overwhelming. On a larger scale, think of 100,000 people going to Gillette Stadium. Not everyone is going to get in. We figured out things pretty quickly, though."

The soft opening resulted in one of the most successful small business debuts over the past 20-plus years in Walpole. The downtown suddenly become that much more busy with cars jam-packing the CRISP parking lot and filling all spots around the corner on Front St. All those customers inside - easily viewable through myriad windows and ambient lighting -- revealed the small business American Dream seemingly achieved in less than 24 hours.

Those familiar with South Shore bar pizza knew with the first bite that CRISPWalpole's version either attained and surpassed the quality of the famed aforementioned pizza joints.  That's not a surprise, however, as Carnes found the knack for making bar pizza by working many years at the Venus Cafe. He has basically taken that mouthwatering template and perfected the art and science of making classic bar pizza. Anyone working for him also needs to adhere to those high standards.

Pepperoni pizza from CRISP in Walpole, Mass.
Pepperoni pizza from CRISP. Photo source: CRISP Facebook page.

"We already let a few people go because they just couldn't follow the rules," said Carnes. "Sometimes it is better to hire people with no experience so they can learn right from the beginning. Some of those with experience come in and think they know what they are doing when they don't. They say 'I know how to make a good bar pizza,' and I tell them, 'No you don't -- forget everything you've learned.' They feel like they have a license to make it their own way. That's not the way things work around here. There's a very precise way to make the pizza and it has to be done the same way each and every time. It's like cloning. I will not allow any variations. I have given away free pizzas when they aren't done correctly."

Bar pizza from CRISP in Walpole, Mass.
The Special: pepper, onion and mushroom.

One thing for sure: Carnes lives and breathes his business and knows pizza like the back of his hand.

"The dough has to be of a certain age," said Carnes. "The cheese has a certain blend. The sauce is more about taste. But the layer of dough is most important. It all comes together for an amazing taste."

Going Far Beyond Bar Pizza

Nick Miele executive chef at CRISPWalpole in Walpole, MA.
CRISP Executive Chef Nick Miele with some of his comfort food creations.

Carnes possesses a simple recipe for small business success: Give the people what they want, create food that surpasses even "the best of" type restaurants and be accountable for any success and failures.

He stresses that CRISP is not just about the pizza and that his other selections meet the high standards of the pies. Carnes has basically taken favorite comfort foods and ensured that each dish approaches perfection.

"Why serve anything that doesn't meet those standards?" said Carnes? "I mean, why even bother?
"


Right from the beginning when the building was virtually empty, CRISPWalpole, Carnes said with confidence he would serve the freshest seafood, best steaks and tastiest desserts. Some wondered, online, how that could be when the area already possessed some great places to go for chicken, steak and seafood?


Carnes brought in executive chef Nick Miele to help achieve those high standards. Miele, who has served as an executive chef at Barrett's Alehouse in  West Bridgewater, Mass. and North Attleboro, Mass., Nordstrom Bistro and The Local in West Newton. Like the food he creates, Miele's career was made from scratch, working his way up from a bartender to cook to chef. Miele has this innate gift that you just can't teach as he finds ways to create comfort foods with a twist.


The menu features a wide variety of foods -- something for everyone -- that includes, in addition to pizza, salads, homemade soups (including delicious New England clam chowder), appetizers, cold and hot sandwiches and wraps, fresh seafood, pasta, healthy bowls and entrees like steak tips ( as good as the famous Newbridge Cafe in Chelsea), chicken kebob, and stir fry chicken, beef or shrimp. CRISP also makes a tremendous lobster mac and cheese, as well as excellent lobster rolls.

"Yummy food!" said Jennifer Healy. "We've tried a few different kinds of pizza, salad, and steak & cheese... everything has been great!"

Let's take a closer look at some of these masterpieces...

The seafood platter with haddock, scallops, full belly clams, calamari and fries served with housemade onion rings and cole slaw, lemon and a side salad is as good as anything you'll find at well-known coastal seafood shacks and restaurants. Delivered fresh, the tender seafood can be either fried or broiled.

Seafood platter from CRISPWalpole in Walpole, Mass.
Fried seafood platter.

Those who have tasted an authentic Philly Steak and Cheese sandwich will not be disappointed with CRISPWalpole's version. Loaded with flavorful steak, peppers and onions, this might just be one of the best steak and cheese to be found in the area...

Steak and cheese from CRISPWalpole
Steak and cheese from CRISPWalpole.

This linguine with homemade meatballs dish rivals the most highly regarded affordable Italian restaurants in the North End of Boston.

Linguine with homemade meatballs from CRISPWalpole in Walpole, Mass.
Delicious pasta dish from CRISPWalpole.

"If you love those new city burger bars but not so much the price and attitude, CRISPWalpole comes up with its own juicy, flavorful affordable version of this American classic...

Burger from CRISPWalpole in Walpole, Massachusetts.
Cheeseburger with fries from CRISP.

CRISP also caters to the more health-conscious crowd with fresh salads...

Fresh salad from CRISPWalpole in Walpole, Mass.
Greek salad.

And selections like this mixed squash noodles bowl (yellow and zucchini butternut) with brown rice (with grilled chicken added)...

Mixed squash noodles with grilled chicken from CRISP Walpole in Walpole, Mass.
Mixed noodles bowl.

While many choose to dine-in or do take-out, CRISP also has seen a robust delivery service.

"I have only experienced delivery," said Christine Marcucella.  "Both times my delivery drivers were very personable. It was (delivered) earlier than the quoted time and this is worth mentioning because the restaurant was busy at those times, so a delay would have been reasonable to expect. I must point out I think the pricing is right, too, which is important to me because my teen and I do not always crave the same thing. The pricing allowed me to get what we both wanted, rather than compromise because I am the parent. The owner also seems to care about each customer. Again, so delightful, and makes me want to return!"

There's another element to CRISP, however, that takes this unique eatery to the next level, and actually far beyond...

Bringing the Bakery to Downtown Walpole

Montilio's Bakery cake at CRISP Walpole in Walpole, Mass.

As if it wasn't enough to bring one of the South of Boston's most prized dishes to Walpole in the form of bar pizza, CRISPWalpole found another legend from that area for customers to enjoy. CRISP fostered an affiliation
Montilio's Baking Company of Boston
to bring in fresh baked goods daily.

Montilio's Bakery truck delivers cakes and pastries to CRISPWalpole in Walpole, MA.
Montilio's truck delivers baked good to CRISP.

"Nice to have a place to buy pastry in town," said Linda Wigren, a Walpole resident and real estate agent.

Montilio's lemon cake from CRISPWalpole in Walpole, MA
Yummy cake.

The bakery section is surprisingly comprehensive, as opposed to an afterthought. That means specialty cakes...


Montilio's valentine's Day Cake at CrISP in Walpole, Mass.

Strawberry shortcake...

Montilio's strawberry shortcake at CRISPWalpole in Walpole, MA.

Cheesecakes...

Montilio;s cheesecakes at CRISP in Walpole, Massachusetts.

Cupcakes...

Montilio's cupcakes at CRISP in Walpole, MA.

Lobster tails...

Montilio's lobster tails at CRISPWalpole in Walpole, MA.

And, of course, the beloved whoopie pie...

Montilio's whoopie pies at CRISPWalpole in Walpole, Mass.

"I would suggest trying many items on the menu, plus the fabulous Montilio's!" said Joanne Mulligan, a Walpole resident.

Montilio's display case at CRISPWalpole in Walpole, Mass.
Montilio's display case at CRISP.

How Carnes Went From a Soggy to CRISP Career

Father Rob and daughter Hannah Carnes at CRISPWalpole in Walpole, Mass.
Rob and daughter, Hannah, who works at CRISP.

Like applicants who came into CRISP and thought they could make pizzas their own way, Carnes also was once that "know-it-all." The Whitman, Mass. native who graduated Cardinal Spellman High School in Brockton, Mass. and Bridgewater State College (now Bridgewater State University) in Bridgewater, Mass. worked at the Venus Cafe from 1985 to 1994  and next in the food service and facilities management industries at Sodexo, Seilers Food Service Corporation and Waltham-Weston Hospital (kitchen staff) before returning to the Venus again. He had also opened Robert's Pub in Taunton, Mass. that offered Venus-cafe style bar pizza, as well as steak tips and other pub foods before it closed after four years in business.

At that point, I was too immature as a business owner," said Carnes. "When in my 20s, I thought I knew everything. That was a mistake... Robert's Pub, it was bland and ridiculous and I couldn't have thought of a worse name!"

As a transitional career move, Carnes then gained invaluable experience for several years at Sysco.

"It was a great job," said Carnes. "I learned more about the food industry with the knowledge they imparted on me. I was a pizza guy and they taught me about everything else I needed to know to make it in the industry."

Carnes went onto work for Reinhart Foodservice (recently purchased by Performance Food Group Company) but eventually felt burned out and got a job in the insurance industry. Selling insurance just wasn't in his DNA, however.

"It bored the heck out of me,' said Carnes. "I could sell insurance, bonds and stock but it just wasn't for me."

Carnes returned to Reinhart and has been there ever since, first in sales and now business development management. He works there full-time along with owning CRISPWalpole (part of his emerging New England Bar Pizza Co. business). He says the CRISP opportunity (in a building that formerly housed Red Cherry Frozen Yogurt and Red Cherry Cafe) was too good to pass up. Initially, opening the business involved more than one potential owner but Carnes was ultimately the only one who committed. He couldn't be any happier.

"Are you kidding me -- being smack dab in the middle of town, all the traffic, the town green, all those apartments coming soon to the center," exclaimed Carnes. "I mean, we just had to be here. I jumped at the opportunity and I am glad everything fell into place."

Carnes added about Walpole, "It's such a close-knit community and the New England setting with all those New England buildings is really special."


Downtown Walpole, MassachusettsDowntown Walpole.

Carnes' daughters Hannah and Molly work at CRISP (the former full-time, the latter on Sundays). His wife, Maria Tassiopulos, who owns Islington Pizza, sometimes helps out at CRISP in between her very busy schedule. His mom and dad are proud of their son and wear CRISP jackets whenever possible.

"Yeah, they are happy with what I am doing," said Carnes. "But it just doesn't end with CRISP Walpole. I would like to market CRISP not as a chain but something that is replicable. I have the New England Bar Pizza Co. and do not just want to have a single mom and pop place."

Conclusion/Additional Perspectives

CRISP in Walpole, MA.
The front of CRISP.
 
If CRISP were a politician, it would win in a landslide vote as a populist selection for the masses. And if CRISP were a baseball player, the five-year wait rule for Hall of Fame induction might have to be waved, given home runs in the form of meals are hit one after the other.

There's something to be said about food that people actually like and creating it to the highest level possible. While typical restaurants standardize their food selections to adequate standards, Carnes has taken it a big step farther with standardizing CRISP selections to near perfection.

"I love how I can get a grown up meal -- seafood, lobster roll, salads, steak and cheese, egg rolls -- in the same place that both my kids get what they want," said
Ceallaigh Ni Chaoimh. "Everyone is happy when we go to CRISP! One stop has everything! And then the desserts!"

Additionally, CRISP has gained the respect of the community in just a matter of weeks by giving back. They brought surprise lunches to the Walpole Fire and Police Departments as an ode to and respect and appreciation for their service in keeping residents safe.

CRISP in Walpole, Mass. serves the Walpole Police Department.
CRISP pays a visit to the Walpole Police Department. Photo source: CRISP Facebook page.

CRISP has also been quick to support local sports organization. Walpole resident Heidi McGrath Valle explains...

"Crisp has already established a great reputation by supporting local sports organizations. Crisp donated an enormous amount of pizza to support the Walpole High School Wrestling team for a large meet at Walpole High School. Our Boosters organization was able to sell their product at our snack bar and it was well received and sold out in minutes. Extremely kind community gesture on their part, particularly as they were extremely busy that Saturday. Class act and we are grateful! Great community addition to the town."


Adds Carnes,"I didn't grow up here, but feel it's important to give back to the community," said. "We have committed to that right away."

Walpole resident Nancy Dayian sums it up best, reflecting what the community has experienced at CRISP.

"Rob Carnes endeared himself and CRISP to the Walpole community long before the doors opened," said Dayian. "The pizza is delicious, the staff is warm and welcoming, and the menu has something for everyone."

CRISPWalpole is located at 1049 Main St. (Route 1A), Walpole,MA. Tel. (508) 734-6541.

Web site:
https://www.crispizza.com/

Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/CRISPWalpoleMA/
Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/CRISPWalpole/

Twitter page: https://twitter.com/CrispWalpole

Hours

Monday - Wednesday 11a.m. - 8p.m.<

Thursday - Saturday 11a.m. - 8p.m.

(pizza available until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday)

Sunday 12 noon -6p.m.




If you enjoyed this article, please share through any of the social media buttons below -- thanks!



More local small business reading:
A look at downtown Walpole
Destination Downtown: a community-led organization to steer the revitalization of downtown Walpole

Oliva's Market, Milford, Mass.
Winsmith Mill Market, Norwood, Mass.





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