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‘Food that welcomes everybody in’: The power of Nomad Pizza

<h5>Nomad Pizza at an event at the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Understanding.</h5>
<h6>Zoha Enver / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Nomad Pizza at an event at the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Understanding.
Zoha Enver / The Daily Princetonian

Nearly sixteen years ago, a lucky find on eBay brought Nomad Pizza to life. Today, the pizzeria-on-wheels continues to operate out of the same eBay-bought truck and is a Princeton University staple.

Nomad Pizza was co-founded by Tom Grim, who also co-founded Thomas Sweet ice cream shop. After a life-changing trip to Napoli, Italy in 1999, Grim stepped away from his dessert business toward his love for pizza. 

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To fuel his newfound pizza-making hobby, Grim invested in a wood-fired oven for his home with the intention of perfecting his skills. The oven transformed Grim’s home into a community gathering place where friends and family would enjoy regular pizza parties. 

Among these friends was Stalin Bedon, another co-founder of Nomad. The business partners met during Grim’s Thomas Sweet Days. In addition to working as a landscaper, Bedon was also busy getting his feet wet in the food industry as an employee of Grim.

“This was pretty much two years of our lives [2004–2006] doing this at his house, just having pizza parties,” said Bedon in an interview with The Daily Princetonian.

With salads, beer, and most importantly, hot pizza, the parties were a hit — turning out crowds of 50 guests.

“Then as time went on, Stalin and I said ‘We could probably make a business out of this.’ So Stalin found a beautiful REO Speedwagon truck on eBay and bought it, and we outfitted it as a pizza truck,” Grim explained.

“Back then, eBay was the place to find antique vehicles, and we bought it [at] Niagara-on-the-Lake for $5,000,” Bedon added, speaking about the purchase of the first truck in December 2006. “And then it took a whole village to convert this into what you see now.”

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Six months later in May 2007, the truck was fully operational and ready for business. Sporting an oven, a generator, a sound system, and a hot water sink, what was once a regular truck was now officially a restaurant on wheels.

“It was a job, but it was fun,” Grim noted, sharing that refurbishing the truck was a labor of love involving friends and tradespeople from across the community.

In reference to the pizzeria’s name, Grim explained, “We started our business out of a pizza truck, so we didn’t have a home, per se. So we were nomadic — doing parties here and there … We wandered all over the place doing pizza events.” 

Word of the unique venture traveled quickly, with Nomad receiving coverage in the local media.

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“I have to say when we started in 2007 there were maybe five wood-fired pizzerias in the country. It was unknown. I mean, now it’s, like, ubiquitous, but in the beginning, no one had experienced it before. And so it was a revelation to everyone,” Grim said.

As Nomad continued to garner attention in the community, Grim and Bedon opened a cozy 30-seat restaurant in Hopewell, N.J. and added a second truck to their lineup. Nomad has also expanded its presence to include a second permanent New Jersey location at the Princeton Shopping Center. 

Additionally, Nomad has made its way to a corner restaurant on 7th Street in Philadelphia, Pa. Later this year, Nomad will be on the move once again, this time following Grim and a long-time Nomad manager as they retire to Portland, Maine and hope to establish a brick-and-mortar in their new hometown.

While Nomad has seen widespread success regardless of University support, Princeton University has been their single biggest customer since early on in the pizzeria’s history, often booking the truck for a slate of campus events four times per week and over 50 times per year. 

“The University has just been really great to us. They’ve accepted us and students love us,” said Bedon. “Their Reunions are completely booked for like a whole week straight. We’re all working about 80 hours that week.”

Among Nomad’s many loyal patrons at the University is Gabriel Crouch, Director of Choral Activities and Professor of the Practice in Music. He also serves as Director of the Princeton University Glee Club (PUGC) and the Princeton University Chamber Choir.

“When I was looking for somewhere to live, I looked around Princeton quite a lot and realized it was out of my league price-wise. And then as soon as I started looking in Hopewell [I] realized I was going to be able to live there happily, but also that I would be within easy reach of this amazing pizza restaurant called Nomad,” said Crouch.

“At the time, their only restaurant was out there in Hopewell. And it’s a beautiful, bucolic, very laid-back joint where it always smells divine and they have lovely outdoor seating. And the pizza’s absolutely gorgeous,” the Crouch continued.

Crouch also expressed an appreciation for Grim and Bedon’s commitment to their craft. For Grim, “recreat[ing] that Italian experience” starts with the ingredients. 

“I saw all these farmers drive up in their cars and little trucks and drop off produce to the pizzerias in Italy. I was thinking, ‘I’ve never seen that in the United States.’ A big Sysco truck pulls up [with] canned vegetables and all these things from a truck, and there are no fresh things put on pizza,” he said.

Because of this, the Nomad duo is known for their trips to Italy, during which they shut down the restaurant to take their staff to the source of Grim’s inspiration.

“We’ve taken our entire [full-time] crew to Italy to have pizza and to go to the buffalo mozzarella farm, and the parmesan farm and the meat or tomato suppliers. And we would meet every night at a different pizzeria in Rome and Naples. We’ve done this three times. We do it about every three years … so that everyone who works for us can understand what we’re trying to achieve with pizza,” Grim explained. “I know it's cliché, but we use the absolute best stuff we can use to make the best pizza. That’s our goal.”

In September 2012, Crouch, desiring the signature taste of Nomad pizza, selected the truck to cater his wedding, which was accompanied by performances from PUGC. 

“We had a lot of guests, obviously, who came over from England for this ceremony, and they were absolutely floored by the quality of this pizza,” Crouch said. “I’m sure it was one of their strongest memories of the weekend, this amazing food — they were just great.”

Nomad Pizza has also become a tradition in the larger PUGC culture. Each year, Crouch hosts a PUGC social at his home featuring the Nomad Pizza truck in his driveway. “It’s a great social lubricant,” he explained. “And it’s a conversation piece in itself, isn’t it?”

“It feels like it’s a food that welcomes everybody in because, you know, you don’t need a huge amount of money to eat it. You don’t need an exclusive invite. We can all just sit around on the grass and munch away on these big pizzas. [We can] all take a piece each, take care of each other, [and] have a great time,” added Crouch. 

Sloan Huebner ’23, who works closely with Crouch in her role as PUGC president, shared a similar perspective on the role of Nomad in the club’s community.

“Yelling free pizza is always a good way of getting people to come. But bringing Nomad always means that almost everybody sticks around and wants to talk to each other. It’s a great way to bring people together.” 

It is this relationship-building quality that inspires PUGC, among a wide array of campus organizations, to book and rebook the pizzeria for their gatherings. According to Bedon, Nomad has been hired by nearly every academic department and is a frequent presence at various residential college and welcome events.

For Grim, the relationship with the University is mutual.

“It’s always very festive when we’re on campus. Just youthful, a lot of fun. We just love doing events on campus,” he said.

Sejal Goud is a Features staff writer for The Daily Princetonian. She can be reached at sejalgoud@princeton.edu

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