Many endearing characteristics have made The Pizza Box, The Pizza Box…
The inconspicuous setting of a food shop, the fainted store-front sign, The Uncle Sam, the old school lettering menu boards, the low to nearly no indoor lighting, the space being filled with a silent jukebox, not to mention discarded-looking arcade games — altogether, these things add up to the idiosyncratic nature of The Pizza Box we all know. Growing up, this was everyone’s after school eatery, to which we hopped on over after a visit to Golfland. This was the place where you could pick up a slice and add your personal favorite topping(s). This was the place where a family of four could enjoy a simple and affordable pizza dinner.
And it still is.
I sat down with new owner, Jay Sanchez, to chat about the experience of continuing with The Pizza Box, a Milpitas legend. When it comes to making the same old Pizza Box pizzas, owner Sanchez declares, “Rule #1. It cannot change.”
He continues, “Preservation and restoration is the ultimate focus. Our goal for the people of Milpitas is to be happy.”
Sanchez momentarily steps away to check on things in the back. He is kindly preparing a menu-tasting of sorts. While sipping my water, to clear my palate for our lunch, I find that the sudden quietude allows for the sound of space blasters to become clear. Turning around, I am pleasantly surprised to see the refurbished Neo-Geo arcade game that many loyal patrons once witnessed sitting so abandoned. Patrons will be happy to see the retro-nostalgic vibe is not lost.
In keeping with the Neo-Geo, which sits at a height that will fare well with young/little Pizza Box customers, a low-seated vintage Asteroid arcade game has been added as another fun way to keep you occupied during the brief wait for your pizza order.
Just then, I get an enticing whiff of something hot out of the oven. It’s not the pizza. Not yet. Sanchez brings out freshly baked garlic knots to precede our pizza-tasting. After a minute of cooling, I take my first bite and immediately take notice of the soft, pillowy texture. A single serving instantly has me pining for more. Slightly buttery, well-seasoned, and with a suitable amount of cheese for an appetizer — with the garlic essence ever-present — this flavorful starter is a scrumptious addition to the menu.
Shortly after, Pizza Box’s new personal-sized pizzas come out of the oven.
Pizza slicer in hand, Sanchez pauses for a moment and does a quick, visible study of the beautifully sweltering pies. It is evident he is focused, and keen on the mission of maintaining the simple elements of the pizza so dear to our hearts.
As Sanchez begins to slice, the lovely crispness of the crust can be heard from my seat at the table, bringing comfort to my ears and assuring my stomach of that same great taste and quality.
At this point, my mouth is watering, ready and willing to savor the return of this hometown pizza. Perhaps my own experience is a representation of the anticipation many Milpitas families have, in seeing the reopening of their favorite neighborhood pizza shop.
Pizza Box Manager Marina Rodriguez says, “We are still a family business. We are keeping that comfort of a family environment.”
Sanchez chimes in, “Yes, we’re the millennial mom and pop.”
Rodriguez, whom I found very pleasant, is indisputably an excellent figure to serve the loyal Pizza Box brigade. She leads a new crew, which is ready to serve the families of Milpitas with the utmost hospitality.
This tiny but dynamic pizza shop will offer the traditional menu and a la carte pizza slice items. The shop will also introduce 10 new specialty pizzas that families can order with ease and speed. On the extreme end of the menu, there’s “The Almighty,” loaded with pepperoni, salami, sausage, bacon, bell peppers, onions, olives, and mushrooms. The other end of the spectrum showcases “The Margherita,” a classic Italian offering of mozzarella, tomato, and fresh basil.
Meat aficionados will love the “All You Can Meat” pizza, heavenly brimmed with pepperoni, sausage, ham, bacon, and even Canadian bacon. When it comes to the vegetarian community, a favorable volume of vegetables top their “All Veggied Out.”
The “Big Kahuna,” which connotes a Hawaiian flavor, is not your typical island pizza. In addition to using the familiar pineapple and Canadian bacon elements, Pizza Box is the only establishment around to include SPAM as a topping.
Those with a penchant for spicy or Latin flavors will want to try the “Papa Juan,” a chorizo and jalapeno pizza topped with corn, tomatoes, scallions, and cilantro. More enterprising customers will want to explore the flavors of “East Meats West,” a culturally-subtle blend of Chinese sausage, chicken, scallions, garlic, and sesame seeds.
Lastly, “Chicken Dinner,” and of course the 1986 original recipes of Simply Cheese and Simply Pepperoni, complete the specialty menu. Garlic Knots, Calzones, the House Salad, and Hot Wings with their house-made sauce may accompany your meal.
For those who believe that Pizza Box’s signature item is oversized pizza, there’s no need to fret; the Uncle Sam is here to stay. In fact, Uncle Sam has grown two inches in diameter.
“Customers can still call or walk in to order the Uncle Sam. When they walk into the shop and place an order for an Uncle Sam, a walk-in special of a slice and a beer (or regular beverage) can be redeemed while you wait for your order,” Sanchez shares.
This gratifying gesture to patrons is sure to get dads and moms running to Pizza Box for an Uncle Sam. Who wouldn’t want to take a breather, enjoy a complimentary slice, perhaps with a beer, and watch updates on the Warriors or Sharks games on the newly installed flat screens (three to be exact)? This is indeed a cool way to get a roughly 20-minute break from the daily grind — a standard wait time for walk-in pie orders.
Sanchez explains, “You come in, place an order and typically you’ll have your pizza in just 20 minutes. Everything is the same. The only thing we have done is make the ordering process easier for the people. We want to get pizza out the door faster for our customers.”
If you’re wondering about the New York giant slice, they are available as before to be dressed with any toppings of your choice.
On the beverage deck, an extended selection of beers is readily available for all who wish to enjoy it with their slice while watching “the game.” Pizza Box currently offers 12 selections, a mix of domestic and international beers. Some of these include Saporro, Red Stripe, 805, Tsingtao, Modelo, and Heineken.
How about the King Kong?, you ask? On ribbon-cutting day, Sanchez reports, “King Kong has been killed. He was eaten by the Milpitas Monster.” This announcement clearly telegraphed a new name for the 24-inch pizza, paying tribute to the 1976 Milpitas film of that title.
Respect for the community, its history, and its people is evident. As Sanchez states, The Pizza Box is “doubling down on Milpitas.” Community engagement leading up to the reopening has thus far been impressive. Joining a public email list, yet an exclusive one, is encouraged by Sanchez for residents to receive a sneak peak of early tastings and promotions. And although preservation is the main goal, they have initiated a few familiar modern elements such as a menu brochure, stamp cards, bonus cards, and a fun pizza bingo card.
Participants on the email list may receive a privileged invitation to taste future menu items. “Some businesses create an item, just throw it on the menu and that’s it,” says Sanchez. However, Sanchez and team prefer a different method, one which places value on the perspective of the people of Milpitas: “We’re allowing residents and true fans to be a part of The Pizza Box.”
Regular visits may prove to be fun as frequent patrons may pick up hints on a secret menu. Currently, four mysterious items are off the menu, so be on the lookout.
Sanchez foresees a bright future for Pizza Box, and looks ahead with plans to expand the restaurant to the Great Mall. Still, he’s not looking at a vast expansion: “You don’t need more franchises. You need more independents. We are doubling down on Milpitas. We are amplifying the quality.”
Pizza Box has further amplified this philosophy by instituting The Giving Hour, their version of “happy hour,” which will give back to the city of Milpitas. When customers order a pizza during The Giving Hour, for every pizza ordered a slice is donated to the city’s homeless shelter and other organizations in need.
Meanwhile, not only does the philosophy of preservation apply to the food and menu, but to the space and restoration of the shop, as well. Rodriguez notes, “We just cleaned up. The counters, flooring, and beverage storage remain the same.”
The original menu panels hang comfortably above the ordering counter, as they have for over 30 years. The engraved wall panels previously situated behind the arcade games have been preserved and repositioned to embellish the original front counters. Additional cocktail tables, a seated window panel, and a new, instagrammable wall has been installed for patrons to post and share their pizza photos on social media. The setup is very inviting for more patrons to stay and enjoy their food while catching up on sports highlights.
Whereas many of the traditions of pizza-making are upheld, they are not holding back here in terms of expanding; they’ll soon be offering a new breakfast service. In the near future, customers can look forward to the breakfast calzone; two vegetarian flavors and three meat flavors will be offered. Family affordable pricing is maintained at $5 for each breakfast calzone, to be enjoyed with coffee.
Sanchez’s determination should be commended, as transitioning the store ownership was no easy task. He serves up perspective, explaining, “The Pizza Box opened so many years ago and now we have instantly fast forwarded to a completely new set of restaurant and business codes.”
Indeed, the original storefront opened over 30 years ago, and as you can imagine, city regulations and codes have since then been upgraded. As Milpitas residents anxiously awaited the reopening of this beloved pizza stop, the new ownership patiently endured meeting the requests of present-day regulators and inspectors, which has paid off by bringing the shop up to code.
Meanwhile, Sanchez is proudly preserving the classic Pizza Box menu while maintaining the shop’s external and internal ambiance and invaluably sustaining its affordable pricing.
On ribbon-cutting day, Sanchez and team work diligently to serve the excited and eager residents of Milpitas, who stand in a lengthy line for complimentary pies in honor of the re-grand opening. I see Sanchez mingling and thanking residents, after which he disappears to the back of the house and gets to work.
Place your orders. The Pizza Box is still open for business.
The Pizza Box
1253 Jacklin Road
Milpitas, CA 95035
Accepts cash and all major credit cards
Join the email list: https://www.thepizzaboxmilpitas.com/