EVENT Santa Cruz
Tech, Community & Pizza

Downtown Santa Cruz Pleasure Pizza is stepping into the 21st Century while still anchored in tradition.

By Mat Weir
March 30, 2024
Storefront of Pleasure Pizza in Downtown Santa Cruz

Sol Lipman and his partner, Erica, found themselves drawn to the city’s unique charm—a place where creativity flourishes and tradition intertwines with innovation. It’s this very essence that guided them to the heart of Downtown Santa Cruz, where Pleasure Pizza on Pacific Avenue awaited their transformative touch.

Sol Lipman and his partner Erica stand behind a counter full of pizzas at their Downtown Santa Cruz Pleasure Pizza

“The best example of why Santa Cruz is special is that it’s completely different,” says Sol Lipman, reflecting on the city’s unparalleled spirit. “The people are different here. There’s a really unique, creative mentality that exists in everything Santa Cruz.”

It’s that creative energy that drove Lipman and his partner, Erica, to purchase Pleasure Pizza on Pacific Avenue in Downtown Santa Cruz last year. While many might shy away from the restaurant business due to its instability, the Lipmans are no strangers to risk.
In fact, they come from the tech world, where they originally met while working at Yahoo eight years ago. Additionally, Erica has worked for Instacart and Owlcam (the latter of which was bought by Amazon). Sol was also one of the minds behind not one, but three local startups: 12 Seconds (a prequel to TikTok), DRVR (advocate software for last-mile delivery drivers), and Ya Doggie, the online subscription-based pet food delivery company that operated from 2017-2019.

“I think we’re very fortunate to bring the knowledge we’ve gained from tech into this,” Erica says. “We have so many fun and creative ideas we want to bring to this.”

One of those ideas is their Downtown Slice Delivery.

By scanning a QR code, they’ll deliver a fresh slice of Pleasure Pizza anywhere in Downtown Santa Cruz. This service will particularly help downtown employees who don’t want to waste time on their lunch break or for people like bartenders who might not be able to leave at all.

However, not everyone in the Lipmans’ circle was excited about the new venture.

“My mom!” Sol laughs. “She grew up in a restaurant and said, ‘You can’t! Absolutely not.'”

All jokes aside, the Lipmans say after the initial surprise of transitioning from the tech industry to the restaurant one, they have received full support from friends and loved ones. They’ve also received immeasurable help from Derek Rupp, the longtime chef and owner of the original Pleasure Pizza on Portola Drive and Pleasure Pizza East Side Eatery on 41st Avenue.

It was from Rupp that the Lipmans purchased the downtown location.

“He put us to work!” exclaims Erica.

For months, Rupp showed the Lipmans the ins and outs of the pizza business, starting from the ground and moving up.

“That man literally sat here one day and taught me how to mop a floor because I wasn’t doing it right,” Sol remembers. “That passion is really infectious.”

From mopping, Rupp showed them everything about the secrets to Pleasure Pizza’s unique crust, to staffing, supply ordering, and how to make the perfect slice.

“The idea is to return this place to its glory days,” Erica says.

Sol Lipman and his partner, Eric, owners of Pleasure Pizza in Downtown Santa Cruz stand behind the counter full of pizza by the slice

With that mission in mind, the Lipmans are holding themselves and their staff to the highest standards. If a pizza or even a slice isn’t “up to code,” then they won’t serve it.

They also know the only thing better than a good slice is a cold beer to wash it down with. So the Lipmans have tapped into the local scene to carry brews from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery, Santa Cruz Cider Company, Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, Discretion Brewery, Alvarado Street Brewery (Carmel), and Dust Bowl Brewing Company (Monterey).

Along with small changes such as the Downtown Delivery service and updating the in-store menus to digital screens, the Lipmans have also included the options of vegan cheese and gluten-free crusts for anyone with dietary restrictions. Currently, both options can only be ordered as part of a whole pizza, but will most likely be available for slice options in the near future.

While the Lipmans have plans to make more innovative changes in the future, for now, they want to focus on returning the downtown corner location as a hub for Santa Cruzans.

“We really wanted to have a larger part in our community and show our kids what hard work is,” explains Sol. “So every Saturday we run the kitchen as a family.”

Along with their five children behind the counter, Saturdays are also family day for customers with $3 slices for kids 13-years-old or younger. It’s small steps like these that are not only attracting new customers but making them regulars as well.

Drawings by Mikey Salcedo displayed at the Downtown Santa Cruz Pleasure Pizza

“I’m here almost every day,” says Mikey Salcedo. “I love the laid-back atmosphere and ‘no worries’ vibe the owners give you. Plus, the food is amazing, to say the least.”

A local artist, Salcedo likes to go in and buy a slice of Pleasure’s Hawaiian pizza, grab a coke, and sit at one of the tables while he creates drawing after drawing in his sketchbook. Keeping with the community vibes, the Lipmans have adorned one of the walls behind the counter with Salcedo’s art.

“They genuinely care,” he says. “It’s nice to have a place where you feel like people actually care about you.”