×

What T. Boone Pickens, food trucks share in common

What do T. Boone Pickens, a former NYMEX chairman and a pizza food truck have in common? A lot more than you might think.

Neapolitan Express, launched by Max Crespo in 2012, touts itself as the first mobile restaurant powered entirely by alternative energy such as compressed natural gas and solar panels.

According to Crespo, the food truck has also attracted some well-known investors, including former NYMEX chairman Richard Schaeffer; Clean Energy Fuels, which provides natural gas for transportation and counts Pickens as a minority investor and board member; and payments processor First Data.

'Good for America'

Neapolitan Express Margherita pizza
Katie Little | CNBC
Neapolitan Express Margherita pizza

"They are true entrepreneurs who happen to make great pizzas," Pickens told CNBC via email. "They have big expansion plans, and a big idea—using a clean, safe and abundant American resource to cook their product. Anyway you slice it, that's good for them, and it's good for America."

This is the first time Clean Energy Fuels has partnered with a mobile food truck, said Peter Grace, the company's senior vice president of sales and finance. More common users include garbage trucks and buses.

"We're always looking for new opportunities to use natural gas as a transportation fuel and other applications that help clean up the environment," Grace added.

Read More9 pizza franchises hoping to deliver millions

Neapolitan operates eight company-owned food trucks selling individual pizzas ranging from $7 to $13. Three physical stores are set to open in New York City by early next year.

Although small, the company has an ambitious expansion plan to add 25 additional food trucks in Austin and Houston, Texas; California's Venice Beach; Boston, Atlanta, and Philadelphia. The financing will come from Clean Energy, and Crespo hopes it will all be franchised.

By the end of 2015, Neapolitan aims to have a total of 125 trucks. The company also expects to open 50 brick and mortar units, as well as 10 regional distribution centers, it said.

The pizza truck's moment?

It's a big gamble on the pizza space, but Crespo said he expects now is the category's moment.

"This is it," he said, comparing the potential for pizza to the rise of the "better burger" segment with fast-paced growth from brands like Smash Burger, Five Guys and Habit Burger.

Crespo is far from the only brand trying to dot the country with fast-casual pizza locations. Pie Five has more than 400 announced company-owned and franchise units under contract in 16 states and D.C., in addition to its 29 current locations.

Meanwhile, Blaze Pizza just opened its 50th restaurant this week and by the first quarter will have 70 units open with more than 330 under contract or development. Pizza Rev is also quickly expanding with franchise agreements in place with 14 restaurant groups, in addition to the 19 locations open now.

Natural gas' efficiency could help provide some edge to Neapolitan Express' financial picture.

Read MoreWall Street banks making huge bets on natural gas

Crespo said natural gas' efficiency helps boost his bottom line, adding that the trucks are profitable.

"It's one of the few times when doing the right thing makes sense and makes money," he added.