Leho Poldmae is a tried-and-true Marylander.
From his mom-and-pop New York J&P Pizza in Finksburg and a string of Greene Turtles—to owning and operating a quickly growing collection of Neo Pizza restaurants—the Baltimore native continues to maintain his local ties.
His newest Neo Pizza + Taphouse opened this May at 10995 Owings Mills Blvd. in Owings Mills.
It’s the fourth existing and fifth overall location for Neo Pizza. The establishment’s second location in Bel Air closed under the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Guests will find good pizza in a casual environment. Table service is available, but alcohol is self-serve.
Self-serve walls are an emerging trend but still aren’t that common yet, says Jerry Mazurowski, who’s served as director of operations since January 2020.
Neo’s Columbia and Mount Vernon locations also have one for beer and wine, but Owings Mills builds further on this concept with the addition of cocktails. Once your credit card is preauthorized, a “beer card” tracks your price per ounce.
This arrangement works better for big groups. It’s more streamlined for business, and it springboards creativity, Mazurowski says.
“They get to create their own experience as far as what cocktails they want to try, what drinks they want to try (and) how much they want to try,” he says.
With sixtel kegs (about one-sixth of a regular keg), Mazurowski says you could potentially see 12 new drinks on the wall within a week.
Neo does not rest on its novelty, however. At the end of the day, Neo has always been about pizza.
“The pizza is the key,” Mazurowski says. “Our signature pizzas are what we’re known for.”
Poldmae’s involvement with the craft goes back to training from his cousin’s husband, who is Italian. The individual let Poldmae work in his kitchen “almost like an internship” so that he could learn homemade Italian recipes, Poldmae says.
Since then, a California chef helped Poldmae build the core signature recipes for Neo’s menu, such as the Fuego—its most popular pie featuring spicy ingredients such as chorizo sausage, jalapeno pesto and chipotle aioli.
Another frequent seller, the Chesapeake Pizza, draws on Maryland’s seafood influence.
Neo’s artisan pizzas are scratch-made with hand-stretched dough and cooked in a wood stone gas-powered brick oven. Vegan and gluten-free options are available for some meats and cheeses, and for the crust.
The full menu also includes salads, subs and shareable sides such as white cheddar cheese curds, fried mac and cheese, panko-crusted zucchini and Brussels sprouts.
Despite having success at Greene Turtle, Poldmae wanted more creativity than being a franchisee could give him.
“The great thing with Neo is I try to teach each cook—pizza cook—to view this as artwork. Each one is handcrafted,” he says. “You can take pride in it …. You can almost put a signature on it.”
This mindset also falls in line with Neo’s name.
He didn’t want to associate his restaurants with a person as many traditional pizza shops tend to do, such as Tony’s, Joey’s or Vince’s. Poldmae felt Neo offered a sense of newness and energy.
His first location opened in Annapolis in 2015. A few years later, he added Bel Air, followed by Columbia, Mount Vernon Marketplace and now Owings Mills.
This footprint will continue to grow, he says.
His next location is already in the works—due to open in Towson by September or early October. Right now, the goal is to operate 10 to 12, Mazurowski says.