Jabee brings quality pizza and a slice of history to NE OKC.
The difference between a gimmick and a meaningful feature is often intent. The pizza crust at Eastside Pizza is black, thanks to the addition of activated charcoal from carbonized coconut shells. As part of owner Jabee Williams’ strategy to create an eatery that tells the story of where he grew up in Oklahoma City, black pizza crusts mesh neatly into the overall narrative of the evolving neighborhoods.
“I wanted an educational component to Eastside, so I collaborated with artists to tell the story,” Williams said. “If someone comes in who doesn’t know who Clara Luper is, they’ll see a picture of her with her name and words. These are heritage pieces, and the subjects look like the things I learned as a kid.”
As part of the ULI-award-winning EastPoint development, Williams has a space in the first new retail development in decades on the east side. He’s concerned about the changing landscape as large-scale development encroaches on historically Black neighborhoods.
“Any trace of us was eliminated from Deep Deuce, and NE 4th St. is almost wiped of our history and presence,” Williams said. “I wanted Eastside to be a record of what the east side looked like when I was growing up and how it looks now, so if in 10 years everything around us has changed, people over here will still have this record.”
The record is mostly included in the art, a collection of works from Jake Beeson, Steven Paul Judd, Jesse Warne and others. Williams even got photos from the Oklahoma History Center.
“It’s been a very collaborative process,” he said, “and I’m grateful for everyone who took ownership of the vision. We’ve been very intentional. The east side neon hand sign is something kids around here start throwing up in elementary school. It’s not even a gang thing; it’s an east side thing. The colors in Jake’s (Beeson) mural were chosen to transcend gang culture, and then those colors were used throughout the restaurant.”
Eastside was definitely going to happen — it and Kindred Spirits were the first to sign leases — but it wasn’t always going to be pizza. Williams said they considered burgers, poke, sushi and other things, but the pandemic brought him around to pizza, something that’s easy to deliver or carry out if people can’t gather in restaurants.
“I had the names of the pizzas first,” Williams said. “I knew the Deep Deuce would be two meats, and I’d had an elotes pizza at Jones Assembly, and I loved it so much I knew we’d have one too. I just needed someone to guide the process.”
To facilitate that, he collaborated with Chef Shelby Sieg, Oklahoma City’s star chef who beat Bobby Flay in the eponymous Food Network competition show. “I knew I couldn’t afford a Shelby full-time,” Williams said, “but I definitely had someone who could execute the recipes.”
Sieg and Williams talked through his ideas and came up with workable solutions. The Deep Deuce would be shoulder bacon and sausage with red sauce. The elotes pizza? It’s the Jabee, appropriately. There are vegetarian options and a traditional crust option, and the black crust is airy, flavorful and soft. There is enough on the edge to make outstanding breadsticks, which come in handy if you start with the beer cheese bread bowl, also black bread. Williams said the restaurant team is working on personal size pizzas, desserts and a gluten-free crust for the near future.
You won’t find alcohol at Eastside. To keep the collaborative theme alive, and taking advantage of the relatively new common patio legislation that allows different concepts to share a single patio, Eastside partners with Kindred Spirits, owned by his long-time friends Chaya Pennington, Sandino Thompson and Quintin Hughes.
“I wanted people to order our pizza and eat it on the patio with a cocktail or glass of wine from Kindred, and for Kindred customers to be able to order our pizzas,” Williams said. “We put QR codes on the tables so customers can order directly from both places.”
The menu is rounded out by starters like the cheesy bread bowls, garlic knots and salads, including a delicious “pizza salad” with a deconstructed pizza on greens. Outside of the decor, one of the first things customers notice is how affordable the food is.