"We always had the idea for carry-out as a bigger component to Crust in the backburner," Kovaceski tells New Times. "But COVID-19 has changed the way people eat and do things to the point that, even when this is all behind us, I believe that a big portion of the restaurant business will remain based on off-site dining experiences. People will get used to the convenience."
The current real estate market made it a propitious time to act, Kovaceski adds.
"Crust is known for its location and service, and I don't want to change that even though I believe 50 percent of our sales from now on will be based on takeaway," he says. "But with so much commercial real estate available at the moment, a separate carry-out concept makes sense."
Kovaceski is no stranger to the to-go universe. The Macedonian chef has been a Miami resident since 1984, when he arrived to open the first U.S. outpost of Eastern-European eatery Jama. Ten years later, he opened his own restaurant, Crystal Café in Miami Beach. After serving modern takes on Old World classics for a decade, Kovaceski sold Crystal Café, took up consulting, and eventually landed at New River Pizza & Grill, a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, where takeout and delivery accounted for about 85 percent of sales.
Crust (668 NW Fifth St., Miami; 305-371-7065), his 2,400-square-foot Italian restaurant in the Miami River district, has been in operation since 2015. It made OpenTable’s 2019 "Top 100 Restaurants in America" list and was named in the Daily Meal's 2020 list of "The 101 Best Pizzas in America."
When the pandemic descended in March, Kovaceski was well prepared to pivot to takeout.
He says Crust's delivery service was already generating $16,000 a month in revenue but jumped to $65,000 a month. But takeout was a game-changer too, skyrocketing sevenfold from a pre-pandemic monthly average of $5,000 to $35,000.
Kovaceski says Crust2go will operate with neither dining room nor waiters. "It's a smaller, very casual café-like space, with food designed to be put in containers and an area where our customers can sit down somewhere and eat straight from the pizza boxes," he says.
The takeaway menu will feature Crust's family-sized pasta options, salads, meatballs, and risotto. Pizza will be offered in two sizes — the original 12-inch plus a 16-inch version — in options including Margherita, Hawaiian, and a surf-and-turf pie that's topped with shrimp, prosciutto, pepperoni, and shaved Parmesan.
The Kovaceskis intend to reopen Crust for dine-in service in two or three weeks. Crust2go is slated to debut by the end of the year, but they're taking their time picking out a location.
"The most important thing is to do it right — to find a place that offers parking, an informal area for those looking to dine on-site, and easy access for customers to pick up their food," Klime says.
"It took two years to find our first location," he adds, "but it worked just as we wanted it."
Crust. crust2go.com. Opening slated for December.