Ed and Mark Miller had almost a spiritual way of looking at pizza.
“Pizza is so much about family – it’s emotional,” said Ed, who with his brother owns Crust Brothers Pizza in Scottsdale.
“People get really excited about pizza,” Ed explained. “They all have a specific story and an emotional response to pizza from their childhood. It harkens back to an older day, an older time when every family member met at a certain pizza place on a Friday night. Or when kids came home from college or family visited. Families got a certain type of pizza because that’s what we did together.
“For Mark and me, the number one thing that’s exciting about doing what we’re doing is our family – not just our family, but bringing other families together.”
Ed recalled standing in the dining room and looking at his 14 tables: he knew the families at 12 of them.
“And we’re only 1-1/2 years old,” said Ed. “They were all sitting at their favorite tables. It was a really neat feeling. This was special for them. This is something they do on a regular basis. We’re on their rotation. They come to Crust Brothers every week.”
The brothers estimate their repeat customers comprise about 75 percent.
“The biggest compliment Ed and I ever get paid is when someone says, ‘This reminds me of when I was little,’” said Mark. “That is so exciting for us because that’s exactly what we want. We want people to walk into the store and say, ‘This reminds me of the place I went to with my parents or my brother and sister. We grew up on pizza like this.’ To me, that’s what’s really exciting about what we’re doing in this restaurant.
“That’s what really ties us to this concept. We obviously love pizza. We wanted to do something that’s very direct and be great at a few things. We only have pizza, subs and salads. We don’t have fryers. It’s a limited menu.”
“We have 5 stars on Yelp, 4.9 on Google,” Ed added. “The reviews are awesome. Anyone from out-of-town who looks up pizza, we pop up. We get a lot of people from out-of-town mainly from California, Colorado and Texas. We get a lot of traveling single people late at night,” adding they’ve even had a customer from Guam. Many guests live in Gilbert.
“We touch every table,” said Mark. “We talk to every guest…Every guest is going to get care.”
Noting there are about eight other pizzerias within a quarter of a mile of theirs, the brothers said what sets Crust Brothers Pizza apart from the competition is the crust.
“It’s almost two crusts in one,” Ed explained. “It’s a very thin, crispy cracker bottom and there’s a floating dough on top with lots of air pockets. So, it’s light and it’s airy. It’s not thick.”
The dough is made fresh daily takes about 12 hours.
“We make our sauce,” said Ed. “We get our sauce from a sauce producer in Toledo, Ohio. It comes with crushed tomatoes and a little citric acid to preserve. And then we add. A lot of sauces in this industry come pre-seasoned. We prefer not to do that. I want to know what’s going into the sauce.”
Dressings are also made fresh almost on a daily basis and vegetables are cut fresh every day.
“Fresh is the key,” explained Ed. “Those are the little details that separate us from other places. We even roast our mushrooms…We put a lot of care into our food. We love our food. We want to make sure it’s great for our guests when they come in.”
The most popular pizza the restaurant sells is pepperoni.
For specialty pizzas, the Meat Lovers is #1 followed by a pizza called Cory’s Creation. “This is a pizza from a former partner of mine in Columbus…I recreated it here,” said Ed. “It’s olive oil, garlic-based pizza, cheese, caramelized onions, parmesan cheese, and gorgonzola. It’s delicious.
“It’s an odd pizza to be #2 but people love it because it has such bold forward flavors. It’s followed up by our Dori’s Favorite – which is named after my wife which is tomatoes, mushrooms, onions and banana peppers.”
For dessert, the restaurant offers Nanny’s house-made peanut butter buckeyes.
The business opened right before the pandemic which created many challenges.
“Literally Mark and I worked 90 hours a week,” said Ed.
Prior to the pandemic, he said, “We were on our way. Our sales were spiking. We were really busy. We were doing well. Things were going in the right direction. We started to hire. And then, boom. It dropped off. It was like a bomb. And we went down to one employee who worked at night.’
The restaurant didn’t have time to build a loyal customer base when COVID hit but the great reviews helped the business survive.
“We were a 5-star then and we’re a 5-star now,” Ed said. “When people got tired of their favorite pizza, they gave Crust Brothers a try. That benefited us greatly because people who try our food really love it and they want to have it again.”
“Simplicity has allowed us to be successful even in the lean times,” he added.
Other family members also work there, including Ed’s wife and son and Mark’s three kids.
“We have a lot of fun doing it,” said Mark. “People eat it up. They love it. Who doesn’t love a family business?”
Working together as brothers have proven to be a successful combination.
“We have a great relationship,” Ed said. “It’s pretty healthy. We’re able to be honest with each other,” adding they’re equal as far as ownership. “It’s an effort focused on the end product and the guests having a great experience.”
“You hear so many nightmares and you don’t ever think those could come true because we have such a great relationship,” added Mark. “We balance each other really well. We sit down and talk a lot about how we’re going to make tough decisions.
“We put a rule in place that whoever is most passionate about an issue, that person gets to make the decision. There are things Ed does exceptionally well that he loves doing. There are things I do well. It’s a big balancing act. We both wear a lot of different hats. You just got to get it done.”