Posted in

A Q & A with John Carruthers: Pop-Up Pizza for Charity

john carruthers eating pizza

John Carruthers is a Chicago native who’s known around town both for his quirky, down-to-earth food writing and his tavern-style pizza. His company, Crust Fund Pizza, which he calls a “bootleg pizza shop,” began at the start of the pandemic as a way for him to raise money for local charities. One night a month, he puts his menu on Instagram and takes orders – and is usually sold out within five minutes. To pick up your pie, you meet him in an alley at an undisclosed location. Carruthers only asks you make a donation to a designated charity of the month. So far he’s raised more than $18,000.

His Insta posts of crispy-square and triangle-cut pizzas not only made us hungry, they made us curious. So we caught up with him between gigs to learn how he started, how many pizzas he makes and hear more about his career in journalism.

pizza pin

When did this all begin?

March 2020, when I started making pizza for movie night with my family. Pizza that I grew up on and that was interesting to me. I brought it to other chefs and they said it was restaurant quality, so I continued.

When the protests started, I felt helpless. But I knew one thing I could do was sell pizzas. It’s incredible to fund the work Chicago organizations are doing, whether it’s on domestic abuse, racial equality or food insecurity. All the money goes to things that make the city better at the ground level. There’s no advocacy or policy, but it’s doing something visible in the community. I thought this would make me feel like I’m at least doing something. Everything that came after (notoriety, press) is all antecedent to the point that I am just trying to help out in a way that puts other people’s work in the spotlight.

I run this out of my own kitchen. I put out the menu. I don’t take any money. I run this like I’m allergic to money. I just ask those buying pizza to contribute to the charity of the month, screenshot the receipt and that’s good.

How many pizzas do you make in a night?

I have two ovens in my kitchen. It’s really weather dependent because I’m in Chicago and pickups are in the alley. If it’s winter and I must shovel the alley, I can usually do about six or seven. However, if it is summer and the windows are open and music is going, I can do up to 15.

What is your favorite pizza you’ve made so far?

Honestly, I’ve made a lot of fancy stuff and I’m always enthused with the results. But I’m so honed in on Italian Sausage and Giardiniera, which is a pickled vegetable salad and Italian Chicago classic. I make my own sausage. It’s a colossal pain in the butt to make 10 pounds of sausage, but when I taste this on the pizza versus store bought, I’m like, yep, I have to keep doing this.

meatball pizza

Do you mind sharing about your dual trajectory in journalism and marketing?

When I first started out in journalism, I was working at a newspaper in Hawaii and eating very cheaply. I found a bone in a Hot Pocket! I was like, I am going to start cooking, because anything is better than finding a bone in a Hot Pocket. I’ve always been an obsessive cook in the first place and I naturally write, so those two things were easy to get behind. I realized that I should be writing about food.

I started food writing in 2010 for Sears and Curious Eats. I wrote my first cookbook in 2013, and not long after started cooking more frequently.

I had a career in marketing. I went to graduate school for public relations and advertising and worked in that field for a long time. Now I work as a communications manager for Revolution Brewing Co.

Where do you come up with ideas for your food stories?

I always like to look deeper into the things I enjoy. I don’t know what you call this particular energy: when you like something, and you don’t just like it, you like it so much you want to interact with it all the time. Then you find something new about it that people aren’t talking about. That’s how I am with pizza which led me to this.

Next steps?

My goal is to keep raising money for Chicago charities. I like running my pop-up when I do. I like the exclusivity of it being secret. I like writing articles and cookbooks. However, I don’t want to move this over to my day job. I love my day job at Revolution Brewing and writing about beer. That was my goal. That’s where I like being. The pizza is good and the writing is fun. And I will keep making pizzas as long as people want to give credit card numbers to the charity of the month.

You can find out more about Carruthers at his website, Nachos & Lager.


Victoria Pardo

Victoria Pardo is a practicing historic preservationist for FEMA with a dual interest in food and architecture. She earned her master’s in Historic Preservation from Columbia University, and enjoys consulting with historic sites and house museums, finding ever-changing ways to interpret food history. She has worked in the restaurant industry since the age of 16. She spends most of her time between Nantucket Island, MA, and Maine, working on her website, Food and Architecture, sharing stories, recipes and travel recommendations.



Leave a Comment