BY KATHLEEN HILL, Sonoma Index-Tribune

I first encountered former stock brokers Jimmy Crompton and Randy Martin outside their Vineyard Crust Company pizza tent at the Sonoma International Film Festival a few weeks ago. In a hurry to fly to Napa on my magic carpet to interview a fabulous gelato maker, I stopped desperately at their stand and wood-burning oven and asked how long it would take to get some pizza.

90 seconds. What? And that’s for extra crispy.

Putting the flat pizza box on the passenger’s seat, I tore out my first piece and chomped into it, stomach growling away. Oh my word! Sensational.

So who are these two guys running a super successful mobile pizza oven around Sonoma County (and coming soon to the Tuesday Night Farmer’s Market in Sonoma)?

The two longtime friends grew up in Philadelphia, with Martin learning to cook at a young age. With a single working mom, Martin made meals for himself and his brother out of what he could find in the fridge and cabinets. Now, that’s called creative cooking.

The two eventually became stockbrokers, eventually working as derivative brokers at the Pacific Coast Stock Exchange.

Having been exposed to Polish, German, and Italian cooking in the neighborhoods of Philadelphia, Martin liked hanging out at his friend’s grandmother’s, partly because of her pasta and meatballs and wondered how she made her “gravy,” or sauce. He first tried to imitate her “gravy” by opening a can of tomato paste he found in his mother’s kitchen and adding water.

Later in life he needed a peaceful hobby while working in the men-dominated, noisy, and crowded floors of stock exchanges.

Both he and Crompton lusted after the simple life of “making people happy with food.”

So, while still living in Philadelphia, a friend asked the two to cater her wedding inexpensively. Having no clue what to do, they said yes anyway. Overnight Martin produced chicken breasts stuffed with ricotta and spinach with Champagne sauce and roasted baby carrots, to the wedding couple’s delight. They hired a friend to bartend because they figured he drank the most and should know how to mix a solid cocktail and pour wine. And they served pizzas.|

Crompton and Martin figured they had the confidence and could figure out how to do whatever they needed to do, and they did. Married to former Swiss Hotel staffer Danielle Reynolds, Crompton says, “We like to go out on a ledge. We’ll figure it out, and have lots of other concepts and plans.”

“The keystone of Vineyard Crust Company is our custom Mugnaini wood-fired oven imported from Italy, specializing in artisan wood-fired pizza made with great quality local ingredients,” says their website. With 800-plus degrees of heat blasting out, their oven is a serious piece of equipment.

Vineyard Crust Company’s catering menu includes everything from Margherita and Italian sausage with roasted peppers to more adventurous pizzas like fresh mozzarella with salt-cured capers and olives, smoked salmon with fromage blanc and dill, smoked pork belly with pineapple and sweet banana pepper spread or fig preserves with proscuitto, gorgonzola and balsamic. They also do breakfast and brunch pizzas, salads and more.

Martin admits, “We stick to the classic Neapolitan style of pizza, but we do Sonomanize it a little bit.”

The duo have lined up engagements at several winery and entertainment venues around the Valley. “We take our oven to places food trucks can’t get to.”

Portions of this article appeared in the Sonoma Index-Tribune.