Sliver Pizzeria owner loving new Montclair Village location
By Lou Fancher
An unusual entry and an adventurous journey in the food, service and management industries makes for a fun story and has landed Berkeley-born and -raised Eduardo Perez where he stands today; whipping up signature pies at Sliver Pizzeria in the Oakland hills’ cozy Montclair Village district.
The seventh and newest location of the small pizza business that he and his brother, Willy Perez, launched in 2012 had the 44-year-old entrepreneur in an interview describing Montclair as a welcome change.
“Restaurants are in jeopardy of becoming extinct because cities have gone from striving to be better places to being places of chaos, filth, decline. They feed us word-salads about improvement, but the commitment to small businesses isn’t always there.
“Montclair has caught my heart in two ways: it’s in Oakland, a city I’m proud to support, and residents of the Village are unique. The teenagers are supportive and polite, the families clean up after themselves, the business community’s merchants all introduced themselves to us.
“I’m not putting down other experiences, but the environment is often hard. We’re now like first responders and have to call 911 when someone with a mental health crisis comes in, for example. It has risen to where we’re calling in terror. In contrast, Montclair is almost therapeutic.”
Sliver Pizza shops follow core menus and business principles. Pizzas on 14-inch sourdough crusts are made with additive-free cheeses, fresh produce as a primary ingredient, no meat products and options that include vegan, gluten-free or partially baked.
Salads and sharable appetizers such as veggie nachos, waffle fries and corn on the cob, gain extra spice with Sliver’s ever-in-demand Fire Sauce and Green Sauce. Completing the menu are a few simple desserts and the wine, beer and alcoholic beverages that in Montclair await only the installation of a draft line to fully launch and will include the “What’s Up, Baby?” drink that Perez said is “a huge, double, sharable margarita.”
It’s amazing to think that Perez’s successful career establishing a pizza business during an especially challenging time for small restaurants began as an upstart, unruly 5-year-old tucked into a housekeeping cart at Berkeley’s Golden Bear Hotel.
“I’m the youngest of five and was a bit of a trouble-maker. My sister asked if mom would take me to work. She’d put me on a cart, and I would help her pick up the rooms and clean up vomit and dirty needles.”
From that experience and while watching his father work for 32 years at Berkeley’s (now closed) Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto, he learned respect for working-class people like his parents who work hard to support their families.
“Most of our stores have family members as part of the team. My son, brother and cousins are involved. I get asked by other business owners about staffing, and I’ve analyzed it. We created a culture of respect and go well beyond California law to treat our staff as family. We have little turnover, and staff who’ve been with us from 2013 do the hiring.”
Perez attended Berkeley High School and during the school’s open lunch hour, he and hundreds of other students would race to nearby pizza spots like the (also-now-closed) Fat Slice on Telegraph Ave. He says the thick, puffy slices high in sodium and had chemicals and other “unhealthy stuff that at age 44 would put me to sleep.”
Sliver was developed in direct contrast to mainstream pizza, and the company benefited from Perez’s 16 years overseeing efficiency and operations with North American Breweries. The beer company owned about eight restaurants and nine breweries across the country, and Perez was involved in establishing several of them. Adding to wisdom gleaned from those adventures are his brother’s instructions regarding sourdough.
“He taught me, and we developed our own touch and baking style. Sourdough is very elastic, less soft, stubborn and takes 32 hours to proof. You press it out with your fingers and it comes right back at you. But it’s also the most digestible bread.”
Together, they created a menu using only gourmet cheeses containing no powders, chemicals or preservatives and locally sourced ingredients whenever possible delivered by FreshPoint, a Bay Area food supplier whose high-tech warehouse system tracks quality and cleanliness and impressed Perez.
Asked “all the time” if they will ever add meat, Perez says, “We feel Sliver is best left vegetarian, instead of morphing into something that it didn’t originate with. I tell people how some big guys from Fresno came in and asked for the meat-lovers pizza. I served them two of our pizzas and said, ‘If you don’t like it, I won’t charge you.’ They ate them and said, ‘Dude, you have to open a Slivers in Fresno.’ ”
The most popular pizza so far in Montclair is the wild mushroom pie that arrives made with five types of ‘shrooms along with asiago, scallions, fresh herbs and garlic-infused olive oil. Among the gluten-free pizzas, the Roma tomato, onion, mozzarella and goat cheese pizza is favored.
Sliver’s interior designs are consistent throughout its locations: lots of wood, steel metal and a bright orange logo and signage. The menu of four core pizzas expands considerably with custom choices. Learning from a niece and her family how difficult it is for people who are allergic to nuts, he said, “We used to carry things with nuts, but now we don’t. We want every Slivers to be a safe, worry-free place.”
That doesn’t mean Perez and his team avoid carrying their own worries about the food industry into the workplace.
“When we started in Berkeley, it was with the vision to make one location work: to survive making payroll and completing all the processes and applications you need in California,” he said.
“We thought after opening our second location we’d have it down, but especially after COVID, we found California has no compassion for small, mom-and-pop businesses. The agencies you have to work through are complicated, and it’s extremely expensive. I sometimes say in a few years there will no longer be any small businesses.”
On brighter days, Perez said he knows Sliver’s amazing staff and solid business model have endurance. Committed to supporting youth causes and schools, he said he is “all about kids” and while not trumpeting community involvement, he’s looking forward to offering support to the “polite, curious and welcoming” people he has encountered in Montclair.