BERKELEY -- Like most good stories, the one about the opening this week of Sliver goes far deeper than filling a vacant commercial space on Center Street.
It's a feel-good, wish-you-the-best story of three men, proud Cheese Board Collective alums, who've created a partnership built on long friendship, experience working together, respect and concern for the community, within Berkeley and across the globe.
Behind the venture are three men from three different backgrounds who share a friendship shaped by hard work and common goals and the desire to share with their community and other important causes.
This partnership, matched with their expertise in building fine pizzas on a daily basis, has supporters rooting for their success.
The three men behind Sliver are Oakland-born Guillermo "Willy" Perez, Dwight Ferron, from Jamaica, and Artemio Maldonado, born in Mexico. Between them the trio has a collective 46 years experience at the legendary Cheese Board Pizza Collective in North Berkeley, much of the time working as a team and gaining skills to apply in the new venture.
With Maldonado in charge of procuring high quality, fresh ingredients for their daily vegetarian pizza and salad, and creating their signature dough; Ferron on hand as the master-spinner; and Perez filling in where needed while establishing good relations wherever he goes, the team has a well-established game plan.
Many would question what causes three family men to take a chance, to leave stable employment and open a new business, but, once again, the partners are on the same page.
"What motivated us to take this leap of faith was the cause of human trafficking," Perez said. "We wanted to lead the way in an experiment in culinary abolitionism."
To which Ferron added, "Pizza is what we know how to do so we take what we know and use it to help this cause."
Perez learned about Not For Sale and Not Forgotten Faces, both organizations dedicated to fighting the root causes of slavery, through his association with Living Hope Christian Church in Emeryville.
Owning a business was seen as a way to donate to this cause and bring an increased awareness into the community. "Every quarter we'd love to have Awareness Days, bringing in people from these organizations, with their information and videos," Perez said.
Ferron and Maldonado readily signed on, both supporting the cause and loathe to breaking up their well-honed working relationship, one they attribute to learning the cooperative working spirit at Cheese Board Pizza.
"We act like only one person is working, that's why I like these guys," Maldonado said. "We all know our priorities, we don't have to wait; it just gets done."
Just as important, "We listen to each other's views very well and that makes us work together well," Ferron said.
Unwilling to compromise on quality and looking to promote good health, the partners, along with manager Saba Ali, have created a welcoming space with a wood-burning oven and eight pizza ovens providing good food and a full bar serving cocktails, wine and six beers on tap.
Large communal tables ringed by booths provide communal and small-group seating. Monthly displays will feature local artists and live cross-cultural music will rotate daily. "We'll have everything from jazz to Afro-Cuban, folk, Mexican, bluegrass and New Orleans-style," Perez said.
Support has come from family, friends and vendors with whom relationships were made during the Cheese Board Pizza years, all looking toward helping the men behind Sliver create and follow their goals.
"I've never been an owner and it's a very nice experience," Maldonado said. "I feel like I'm in another world."
For now the vision is clear. "We want to build real community, for people to leave here feeling like not only did they get pizza but they met someone and learned a little more about how modern day slavery is affecting the world," Perez said. "We want them to leave with more than just pizza."
Sliver Pizzeria: 2132 Center St., Berkeley, 510-356-4044, www.sliverpizzeria.com. Open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday.